Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z Headphones

Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $649

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Made in Japan
Neutral sound balance
Two-year warranty
Minus
Cable isn’t user-replaceable

THE VERDICT
The Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z somehow looks brand new and classic at the same time, and we could say the same about the sound.

The ATH-A2000Z is the top model from Audio-Technica’s Art Monitor Series, and its polished titanium earcups are a not-so-subtle hint about the headphone’s status in the company’s pecking order. It’s made in Japan, just like AudioTechnica’s very best headphones (such as the ATH-W5000). The company has been making ’phones since 1974.

The ATH-A2000Z is an overthe-ear, closed-back design with a Double Air Damping System to better control the driver’s sound within the earcup. That’s cool, but it doesn’t do much to isolate the wearer from external noise compared with, say, my Audeze EL-8 closed-back headphones; that one does a better job hushing noise.

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The ATH-A2000Z bears a striking resemblance to the ATH-A2000X headphones that debuted in 2008. The biggest and most noticeable change between the two designs is the driver. The ATH-A2000Z uses a hand-assembled driver that Audio-Technica says refines midrange and treble clarity, and enhances the low end for more bass oomph. The engineers redesigned nearly all of the driver components, including the diaphragm, flange material, magnet, and acoustic resistors. The new 53mm diaphragm uses a DLC (Diamond Like Carbon) treatment to better control the frequency-response characteristics compared with the older driver. The ATH-A2000Z’s headband has something you don’t see on most other headphones: small self-adjusting “wings” to better distribute the weight on your head.

The gambit really works. This headphone’s earcups aren’t mounted on sliders or any other type of adjustment. They don’t need to be, since the wings automatically place the earcups where they need to be. The user-replaceable earpads are pleasantly cushy and non-fatiguing. I found the ATH-A2000Z extraordinarily comfortable.

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Two nitpicks: The 9.8-foot cable isn’t user-replaceable, but it’s terminated with a 3.5mm plug, with a screw-on 6.3mm adaptor plug. And unlike most premium-priced headphones, this one doesn’t come with a storage case.

As for the ATH-A2000Z’s sound, there’s resolution of fine detail, but it doesn’t try too hard to impress. The ATH-A2000Z just go about their business, and over time, I started to realize how good they are. Philip Glass’s dense score for the film Powaqqatsi was stunning. It’s a mishmash of world music and Glass’s orchestrations, and I’m happy to report that this 1988 recording had plenty of dynamic range over the ATH-A2000Z.

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That album led to Bass and Mandolin, a sparsely populated album with Edgar Meyer on acoustic bass and Chris Thile on mandolin. These two brilliant players exchange at times gentle and at other times spirited bowing and plucking, and the recording puts you right in the middle of the action. At this point, I popped off the ATH-A2000Z and switched over to my Sony MDR 7520 headphones, also a closed-back, over-the-ear design. At first, the sound wasn’t that different: Tonal balance and imaging were in the same ballpark. But as I listened more, I felt the ATH-A2000Z added just a little too much lower-treble energy, while the MDR 7520 sounded more natural in that range. The ATH-A2000Z pulled ahead with Meyer’s luscious bass, without adding one iota of false thickening. There was a more satisfying “woodiness” to the sound of the stand-up bass with the ATH-A2000Z. I conducted those listening sessions with my Oppo HA-1 headphone amp.

Just before I packed up the ATH-A2000Z, I listened to Van Morrison’s newly expanded live album, It’s Too Late to Stop Now Vol II, III, IV, with Tidal streaming lossless files delivered to my iPhone 6S. The ATH-A2000Z was super-easy to drive, so the 6S could play the ’phones nice and loud. Morrison was never better live, and the Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z left no doubt about that!

COMPANY INFO
Audio-Technica

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