Japan’s Audio-Technica thinks of itself as a producer audio gear that simply occurs to additionally do some consumer-grade stuff. Its best-selling and most generally recognized pair of headphones, the M50x, match that picture completely: designed for skilled use, however embraced by the broader public. They’ve grown well-liked nearly accidentally, benefiting from phrase of mouth suggestions and a consensus endorsement amongst YouTube video producers. Solely factor is, the M50x aren’t Audio-Technica’s finest pair of headphones for the professionals. Nor are they my favourite pair from the corporate. Each of these prizes go to the Audio-Technica R70x.
The $349 R70x have been available on the market for a few years now, however Audio-Technica has put zero effort towards advertising them. You’ll know why that’s the second you first take heed to them, as a result of their sound is worlds away from the favored Beats tuning of exaggerated bass and pleasure. If Beats are the Michael Bay of headphones, the Audio-Technica R70x are the geeky documentarian fastidiously recreating occasions precisely as they have been recorded. This uncolored sound is relatively much less emotional, and I’ve beforehand written about how ill-suited it’s for entertaining informal listeners, however the R70x in some way defy previous preconceptions. They’re impartial and detailed sufficient for use for severe studio work, and but nice and enjoyable sufficient to additionally attraction beginner ears.
Anytime impartial sound and a sub-$400 value determine in the identical dialogue, headphone fans will instinctively level you towards Sennheiser’s long-tenured and universally revered HD 600. It’s no overstatement to say that the R70x are mainly Audio-Technica endeavoring to construct its personal model of the 600s. After I spoke with engineers contained in the Japanese firm, certainly one of them cited the Sennheiser HD 650 — an in depth sibling of the 600 — as his all-time favourite headphones, and it was obvious that Audio-Technica measures itself in opposition to its greater German rival.
Like Sennheiser’s HD 600 and 650, the Audio-Technica R70x have a skinny steel mesh on the surface of every ear cup, an opulent pad on the inside, and a stripped-down, industrial-looking building. I’ve at all times discovered the performance-to-size ratio of Sennheiser’s 600 sequence spectacular, however Audio-Technica takes it up a notch with even smaller, even lighter headphones that sound (spoiler alert) higher. Weighing 210 grams (7.4oz) with out the cable hooked up, the R70x are among the lightest over-ear headphones you should purchase, whether or not for severe or informal listening. One other nice trait of the Sennheisers that Audio-Technica has recreated with the R70x is how discreet the headphones look when worn: their ear cups don’t stick out to offer you that Princess Leia look and their headband virtually disappears from view. At a minimal, they’re elegant; I’d name them good-looking.
The perforated cup design implies that the R70x are acoustically clear, which is to say you’ll hear issues outdoors them nearly as simply as you’ll while you’re not carrying the headphones. And folks in the identical room will hear no matter you’re listening to as nicely. That’s the value you pay with open-back headphones, however I at all times assume it’s price it when such a pair displays sound you simply can’t get with in-ear or closed-back over-ear headphones, and that’s what the R70x do.
Earlier than I get into the sonic qualities of those headphones, although, it’s price addressing their ergonomics extra intently. The additional mild weight of the R70x actually makes a distinction in how snug they’re over longer listens, and I’ve been ready to make use of them for hours at a time forgetting they’re on my head. Audio-Technica makes use of some fancy composite supplies to offer power and stability regardless of the lightness, and I discovered no creaks or weak factors within the R70x. The supplied cable is tremendous lengthy at roughly three meters in size (studio use, bear in mind), and it attaches to the headphones through a proprietary locking mechanism.
The most important challenge I can foresee anybody having is with the small-ish measurement of the R70x ear pads. I’ve comparatively massive ears and the pads contact each the highest and backside of my ear, which isn’t instantly snug. After some time, the sense of contact fades and I get on with my music listening, however that is likely to be extra problematic for others. The odd-looking wing pads that exchange the standard padded headband on these headphones work very nicely, and the general clamping power is ideal for maintaining them securely on my head with out creating any sense of undue stress.
The sound of the Audio-Technica R70x got here as a shock even to me, an avowed audiophile. I evaluate loads of headphones costing north of $1,00zero, and the constant factor with them, simply as with these costing $100 or much less, is that they’re attempting to impress the listener. Low-cost headphones pretend it, costly headphones even have superior supplies like beryllium to flex actual muscle mass, however in all instances you possibly can detect some preening on the a part of the producer. Studio headphones are imagined to be precisely the other, and I discover the R70x embody that spirit to the fullest. Like their dwelling nation, the R70x make a advantage of self-effacement.
Sitting down and ready to be wowed by the R70x is the mistaken transfer. I do know as a result of I’ve tried it. I can’t level to any specific factor that these headphones do that offers me goosebumps or the impulse to rise up and begin dancing. However it’s after I depart them on and put my focus elsewhere that I really respect them. The music’s personal, pure thrives begin to come via and simply tickle (as a substitute of bludgeoning) my pleasure receptors.
This true-to-life high quality of the R70x takes a while to get accustomed to, however finally it turns into a little bit addictive. I’m particularly keen on how pure voices sound via these headphones, one thing that even grandiose planar magnetic monsters just like the $three,799 Last D8000 can’t enhance on. However I additionally don’t assume that Audio-Technica has performed it completely straight and impartial: there’s nonetheless simply sufficient of a touch of heat within the bass division to maintain a basshead like me . That’s actually the place the R70x surpass the HD 600: Audio-Technica’s headphones have deeper bass extension and their sound comes throughout with extra influence and conviction.
The place the weaknesses of the R70x come up, they’ll solely be detected by comparability to pricier headphones. The soundstage, as an example, shouldn’t be notably broad or enveloping — that’s one of many strengths of the posh phase of the headphones market. Absolute element extraction can be lower than you’d get from the aforementioned D8000 or Sennheiser’s HD 800 S, whereas Focal’s Clear and MrSpeakers’ Aeon Circulate Open each supply a smoother, extra refined sound. The R70x’s treble by no means offends the ear, although it may not be fairly as completely balanced because the bass and mid-range response of those headphones. In any case, at their $349 value level, these headphones are robust to beat.
An vital function that the Audio-Technica R70x share with dearer headphones is the demand for energy. These headphones have an impedance of 470 Ohm, an order of magnitude increased than your typical headphones, which suggests I’m pushing the standard headphone amplifier in my laptop computer to its restrict and even the DragonFly Purple feels a bit anemic powering them. They nonetheless sound nice plugged into the Huawei MateBook X Professional (at 100 % quantity), however to expertise them at their finest, you’ll desire a devoted amplifier. That being stated, a pair of R70x and a extremely good amp just like the $399 Schiit Jotunheim nonetheless price lower than many fancied-up headphones that don’t sound almost pretty much as good.
A great deal of my enthusiasm for the R70x stems from how unbelievably mild they’re. I do know I can’t take them on my work commute or to the health club, however I additionally respect their understated look. There’s nothing inherently interesting about headphones the scale and weight of VR headsets, and Audio-Technica deserves reward for shrinking the efficiency of the R70x right down to the scale that it has. The very best headphones are those you attain for most frequently, and the R70x have rapidly grow to be my second favourite after the AirPods, which excel in the identical parameters of lightness and ease of prolonged use.
The “R” in R70x stands for “reference,” which is a time period I’ve heard abused so many occasions in relation to headphones that I’ve give up utilizing it. However Audio-Technica has constructed one thing arguably higher: fulfilling reference headphones. If you wish to know what your music really seems like, and also you don’t have 4 figures to indulge that curiosity, these nominally professional headphones are price your consideration.
Pictures by Vlad Savov / The Verge
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. For extra info, see our ethics coverage.