What do you get an audiophile who has everything? Something very different. And preferably in leather. Indeed, the sound signature on these cans is nothing like the ones that brands like Audeze, Focal and Final have ever produced. Certainly, the balance profile is an acquired taste, even in the audiophile world. So, what makes these aesthetically gorgeous headphones so different from the rest? Let’s find out in this Audio-Technica ATH-L5000 Review.
Audio-Technica ATH-L5000 Review
Picture reclining into a plush leather seat of a giant Cadillac, and you’ve got the L5000 fit in a nutshell. This headphone is luxury on steroids. No yolk to fiddle around with. Absolutely no adjustment necessary. Put these leather cans on, and the floating pads below the headband automatically find the ideal level for your head. It’s also very light, considering all the bells and whistles. In fact, the fit and feel of L5000 might be my favorite thing about these attractive babies.
We’ve got 58mm dynamic drivers with a lightweight CFRP flange. I had no idea what “CFRP flange” meant, so I looked it up. Very boring. And I still don’t get it. There’s a limit to the amount of technical jargon my little marbles can tolerate. But in short, the design improves the airflow between the diaphragm and the flange. That’s what she said. The diaphragm has a diamond-like carbon coating which minimizes distortion. And Audio-Technica has also employed sycamore wood housing, which allows the headphones to age like a fine Barolo. Okay, fancy pants, let’s move on.
The headphone comes with two cables that use A2DC connections. I used the regular ¼ inch unbalanced connection for this review. But if you want to go balanced, Audio-Technica has thrown in a balanced 4-pin XLR cable. At 3 meters, the cables are pretty long too. So you can twerk around the living room in your red velvet robe without ripping the jack out of the socket.
At 48 Ohms, and a sensitivity of 100dB, these cans are very easy to drive. And you can use a simple player without any amplification. I used the IFI Black Label Micro to drive them because I was looking for a DAC with a relatively neutral profile. But was it the right choice? Let's find out...
The low-end amounts to a teaspoon of light Italian dressing on a wedge of lettuce. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s no goulash. And it certainly isn’t a headphone for Audeze fans. Remarkably conservative, you’ll hear a very recessed bass with minimal impact. In fact, listening to pop, you’ll primarily hear the high frequencies. So, this may not be a headphone for Michael Jackson or Bruno Mars die-hards. And since the highs are so accentuated, the shy low-end makes the sound profile extremely bright. I started to wonder, is my (usually neutral) IFI Black Label discernibly influencing the sound? Certainly, these cans are very easy to drive, and maybe it sounds better without any amplifier. So, I hooked it straight up to my iPhone, and the bass became slightly more generous, while the whole listening experience (at the same volume) became a tad easier. So, I think it’s important to combine the L5000 with the right DAC. And definitely be careful with your choice in amplification.
The good news is that the bass is very tight and clean; even though the cans give absolutely no richness to rock songs, the lows are well separated from the higher frequencies. And in terms of clarity, these headphones are primo. Listening to double bass, the slaps conveyed a wealth of nuance and resolve. And cellos in this range had plenty of texture and natural timbre. So, jazz and classical music might be the best genre for these leather ladies. And if you suffer from clinical bass-anxiety, it might be the perfect sound signature for you.
The high mids come out to play here. Vocals sit forward, and it’s not a headphone that gives you the full scope of sound in this range. But what these cans do offer is a really fast and clean feel. Listening to rock, you can expect tight snares and well defined electric guitars. I played Tom Petty’s Time To Move On. Electric guitar picks felt precise and crystallized, while percussion was super crisp. There’s a zen-like neatness to the sound that’s extremely disciplined and controlled. And this profile often lends itself well to folk music. Listening to Bob Dylan’s Girl from the North Country, the beautifully separated guitar strums, along with the skillfully displayed subtleties of Bob’s vocals made for an emotive presentation of the song. But once Bob’s harmonica came out to play, I had to turn the volume all the way down because it was grating on the ears. So again, it leans very bright, and can be fatiguing after long periods of listening.
Hearing strings, you’ll notice a nice balance between transparency and smoothness. Then, playing a little Miles Davis and Coltrane, there was tons of breath and tonality. And I have to say, listening to the trumpet in the highest registers wasn’t too piercing on the ears compared to many other headphones with bright profiles. So, yeah. Jazz and classical are the way to go on these cans. But moving back to pop, percussion in this range was too sizzly to make for an enjoyable listening experience.
The soundstage is one of my favorite things about the L5000. It’s certainly as spacious as many of the high performance open-backs out there. What most impressed me was the sense of height. Listening to Sting’s Englishman In New York, the piano seemed to be placed on a mile high cloud. And with songs like this, where imaging is extremely complex, the rich sense of dimension was adeptly conveyed. And my guess is that the balanced cable will bring it to an even more colorful level.
The L5000 does many things incredibly well. Acoustic instruments sound divine; fantastic separation, a fast transient response, great resolve, and overall, a super clean listen. But it’s far from balanced, and thus, it’s quite hard on the ears. In short, it really lacks versatility. So, if you're searching for headphones that you can use across genres, you’ll need to keep looking. Indeed, this is headphone for audiophiles with a penchant for high frequencies or for collectors who already have a ton of different sound signatures to work with. For these folks, the L5000 can be a unique and interesting (though pricey) addition to their repertoire.
Model: Closed-back Dynamic
Frequency Response: 5 to 50,000Hz
Output Sound Pressure Level: 100dB/mW
Impedance: 48 ohms
– 3.0m cable (6.3mm to A2DC, dual-sided)
– 3.0m cable for balance connection (XLRM4P-A2DC, dual-sided)
– Hard carrying case
BUY - Audio Technica ATH-L5000
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