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Audio-technica ATH WP900: High performance sound

Mala Bhargava | Updated on October 20, 2021

These Japanese.headphones are precision engineered for audiophiles

These closed-back portable headphones have none of the features we look for these days in audio products. No Bluetooth. No noise cancellation. No smart presets. Not even buttons on the ear-cups. What they do have is incredible sound performance — nothing else matters.

As I listen to some of my favourite Western Classical pieces on Audio-technica’s AH-WP900, it’s like coming out of some fog, it’s that clear and clean. If you’re familiar with Chopin’s Nocturnes, in particular No 20 in C-Sharp Minor, you’ll know how tender, delicate and beautiful that can sound. On these headphones, it’s as if the piano were right inside my head, with every note playing in my brain. It’s a difficult experience to describe, but it’s enough to bring tears to my eyes, as I discover this piece of music as if for the first time.

This music was not the only example. For a long time I’ve been looking for a clear ‘open’ sounding recording of Mozart’s Requiem, but none of them have given me the satisfaction of being able to hear everything there is to hear; somehow, the orchestra always seems to overwhelm the voices. Now, I just picked up the first recording on the list and am surprised to find all the voices in this mass sound clear and discernible with the WP900.

Close to the sound: I’m also very fond of Hindustani Classical and listened to some of my favourite pieces. It was an interesting intimate experience, unusually ‘close’ to the sound. On these headphones, you won’t hear an undue emphasis on the deeper sounds of the tabla, for instance, because it doesn’t sound that way in real life. Jazz sounded particularly good as there are numerous instruments and none is missed, again seeming to come from inside my own head. As for pop, rock and electronic, one misses the emphasis on bass that other headphones usually come with.

The ATH-WP900 headphones are actually precision engineered for audiophiles. Each component has been thought out and selected to enrich the sound. Not being a proper audiophile, I don’t look for or encounter high performance audio products, but these specialised headphones are nevertheless an absolute delight to listen to and I have begged to keep them on for a week, though they may spoil me for other headphones.

Audio-technica has intended the WP900 for some amount of portability. There are two types of cables (a little over a metre long) in the box and you will need to connect them to the 3.5mm jack on a playback source that supports hi-res music, such as a music player where you have hi-res files. I used Apple Music, listening to lossless and hi-res tracks using the iPad Pro. I also listened using a DAC, which took the experience up significantly.

The WP900’s look is very unusual, with the ear-cups being made of rigid wood in maple flame. The wood is what many musical instruments such as the guitar are made of, and it enriches the sound and vibrations. It looks the part as well. The foam on the inside is just right and the headphones sit on the head very comfortably indeed. You can wear them for hours, and although I often have said that India is too hot to be a headphone country, these just don’t feel hot or itchy, even during a long session. The cups do articulate to be laid flat. They come out of a large box, which also has a soft fabric case so that you can store them without getting them scratched up. There’s nothing else other than the headphones, case, cables and paperwork.

With general users not really accustomed to paying Rs 1,13,390, the price of the ATH WP900 would no doubt come as a shock. But these are not headphones for bass-heads, who want casual listening. Rather, these are meant for those who make a ritual out of listening to music, looking for purity, separation and realism. They’re not for everybody, but for those who look for a specialised product and a one-of-a-kind experience.

Published on October 20, 2021

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