If you have not heard proper high-end sound before, I would almost call you lucky. Because if you have heard a stereo system for 100,000 kroner and higher, it will be a little shocking to go back to the soundboard in the living room afterwards. Maybe just as well not to know what to miss.
But what if I say you can get that dream sound, and only needed to shell out just over a tenth of the price? Then it starts to get interesting. The only thing you have to give up is to share the sound with others. On the other hand, you can hear music with this sound almost everywhere you go. I’m talking about headphones.
If you ask me what are my favorites among headphones, then I am tempted to answer Audio-Technica ADX5000. Perhaps the best open headphones I have heard for 2,000 bucks, and which in several ways plays rings around the famous Sennheiser HD 800 S. The sound is exceptionally well balanced, and the bells sit like a dream on the ears. However, the fact that the headphones are open means that they are locked to the home or office. You do not take open headphones with you around much.
Closed is more portable
For that you need closed headphones. The best sound I have heard from such is also signed Audio-Technica. They are called L5000, and crush everything else acoustically. The problem is, they do not fit my head. The bells cannot be adjusted vertically, as an important hinge is missing. They are thus only for a few selected head shapes. Then there is the price: we are talking 40,000 kroner madness!
AP2000Ti is made of titanium
Now the Japanese manufacturer is on the field with a pair of closed headphones at just over a third of the price of the L5000. Namely AP2000Ti. It’s still the real high-end we’re talking about, with pure titanium watches to keep the weight down. 300 grams is too lightweight to count in this price and quality class.
The titanium watches are beautifully shiny, with hints of gray. But be aware that they are also very prone to grease stains and fingerprints. If you are concerned about appearance, it can be an advantage to have a dry microfiber cloth easily accessible.
The pillows are thick, in soft leather for the best possible comfort over time. Things are more thoughtful, where the watches are equipped with the hinge that is missing in the L5000. Thus, they fit virtually all head shapes. Also signed. And let me add: wow, for a comfortable fit!
Each speaker element has a diameter of 53 mm, and as with the much more expensive L5000, the diaphragms are coated with a layer of artificial diamond to achieve optimal rigidity. It also enables them to reproduce high frequencies, in this case up to 40 kHz. This also makes them better suited for reproducing high-definition music, so that the high frequencies do not instead result in unwanted distortion in the audible range.
We are also promised efficient airflow thanks to the optimal placement of the speaker element in the house. This is to reproduce the midrange and treble with a more transparent character, not unlike the one we know from open headphones.
For portable use?
High-end headphones almost always require a dedicated headphone amplifier to sound optimal. But Audio-Technica has clearly also thought of those who want to use them portably, because the impedance is at a comfortable 44 ohms, while the sensitivity is at a decent 100 dB (1 mW). This should make them a relatively easy charge for even a mediocre cell phone.
Therefore, it comes with both a long (3 m) and a short (1.2 m) cable with a small 3.5 mm plug, and also a balanced short cable with a 4.4 mm plug (Pentaconn). The latter I would still like to see with 4-pin XLR plug instead. First, it is limited with portable players that use 4.4 mm balanced output.
Secondly, I do not think it is so important with balanced cable when you fly around and do your daily chores around. The differences between balanced and unbalanced cabling become clearer when sitting still, in a quiet environment. And then in ten out of ten cases I would rather have a proper stationary headphone amplifier. Almost none of these have a 4.4 mm balanced output, but very many have a 4-pin XLR. Luckily I have a Sennheiser HDV 820 inside, which has both. More on that later.
The sound of a solid uppercut
When I describe the sound of the AP2000Ti, it’s tempting to resort to the boxing world. Instead of a heavyweight, imagine a light-footed and lightning-fast middleweight, dancing in a controlled and feathery manner around the ring – before landing a solid uppercut in the middle of the opponent’s planet. Then retreated as fast as he attacked.
The headphones follow the rhythms playfully easily, and deliver every single beat with lightning precision – and really hard!
Together with my own Auralic Taurus headphone amplifier connected to the Hegel HD25 DAC, Eminem’s new song Godzilla is a joy to listen to. The headphones are extremely articulated throughout the frequency range, with lightning fast and hard-hitting bass drum. It hits hard, and pulls the blow as fast as it delivered it. The synth bass is cash like few, and also has such a good harmonic structure that I get a feeling of being in place in the recording studio.
Eminem’s words and phrases rage away on this song. It would be difficult to keep up, but the AP2000i has such a razor-sharp focus that it becomes playfully easy. There are no coloring bumps here, the bass never masks for the midrange, all frequency ranges are rendered intact. And the touch of the cymbals is complete. This is addictive.
Act 1 from the opera Lakmé, sung by Sabine Devieilhe sounds absolutely beautiful, the sound is tight like a campania wine, while the sweetness in the chest sound is intact. It’s like a window into music. A truth serum.
A truth serum where the fun is kept. Some super-honest headphones also remove some of the involvement in the music, but here the fun factor is also present. Just listen to the party song Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys) by Japanese-English Rina Sawayama (hence the reference to a Japanese fashion brand in the song title). It bounces off the rhythms, the bass is tough and juicy, with Rina’s voice in the center. The headphones strike sparks all the way.
The sound character of the headphones is definitely not hot, but not cold either. It is instead neutral, on the analytical side. It never leans towards boring, but be a little careful when choosing an amplifier. The slightly full-bodied Auralic Taurus is a dream match. But it does not have a 4.4 mm output, so to test the headphones balanced, I switch to the Sennheiser HDV 820.
The HDV 820 is at least as analytical as the headphones, and not really my dream choice for these. But it emphasizes the differences between balanced and unbalanced cable. Though, it’s not really balanced, the only difference is that the left and right ear speakers get separate ground. It removes the possibility of interrogation between the two channels, and in theory provides an even broader stereo perspective.
Also in practice. Because there is a noticeable – albeit small – difference between unbalanced and balanced cable. Cymbals spread even more to the sides, there is simply more space between the instruments. But, again, I prefer the Auralic Taurus to these headphones.
I mentioned portable use. And it should be said that the AP2000Ti works better with my iPhone 11 Pro Max and headphone adapter, than for example the Sony MDR-Z7M2. Which gets slow and muddy in the bass in proportion. The AP2000Ti sounds far more controlled, and can also play a little louder. The downside is a slightly more coarse-grained treble (but no crisis), and that the sound is generally flatter all the way than with a proper amplifier. Again, no crisis, but it always sounds better with a good amplifier. Plus I almost always have my cell phone on full blast, because the headphones are no more than just light enough if you want to listen with a little loud sound.
When we talk about headphones and stereo perspective, it is not possible to get the deep, almost three-dimensional, sound image you get from speakers playing in a room. It does not work when the music is pumped directly into the listener’s head.
There is still a big difference between closed and open headphones in that way. With open headphones, some sound leaks between the right and left earphones, where the leak is somewhat delayed compared to the direct signal. This is different from electric interrogation (unbalanced cable), where the signal comes at the same time and only narrows the stereo width.
Acoustic, slightly delayed interrogation, on the other hand, helps to give the feeling of a larger, more open soundscape. Since this does not happen with closed headphones, the stereo perspective becomes more of a straight line between the left and right ear. But because the AP2000Ti has such airy overtones, you still sense a small bubble of sound. Just not to the same extent as with a pair of Sennheiser HD800S or for that matter Audio-Technica ADX5000.
Competitors to AP2000Ti.
1,000 pounds is a lot for a pair of headphones, no doubt about it, and I do not think these compete against open headphones in the same price range. If you can live with the usage limitations of open headphones, both the Sennheiser HD 800 S and Focal Clearenda are better. However, if you are closed and want to use them even when you are on the go with your mobile, the competition is far less.
The half-open Klipsch HP-3 can only forget this detail. The Sony MDR-Z1R has a much heavier bass than the AP2000Ti, but also sounds more colored and is not close when we talk overtones. Beyerdynamic T 5 p G2 has a warmer bass and midrange, if you love the sound structure of Beyerdynamic you will probably think the AP2000Ti is too analytical. But the impulse response, speed and not least transparency are in another league, Audio-Technica is also better suited if you need a pair of closed headphones for studio use.
Audio-Technica ATH-AP2000Ti is one of the roughest of closed headphones in its class. They are starting to seriously compete against really good open models, and that is an achievement in itself.
There are few closed models I have heard that beat the ATH-AP2000Ti, when we talk speed, resolution and transparency. These are downright honest, without getting boring. And they also work well with mobile players – also with the iPhone – without an amplifier in between.
All the closed headphones I come across that turn these on cost more. I have tried to find something to draw on, but everything I come up with is attributed to taste and pleasure. This can probably therefore quickly be the best headphones in its price range. Both in terms of sound quality, ease of use and comfort.
If you want to tame the midrange a little, you can use an amplifier that is a little warm in the sound.