MSRP: $499.00 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $412 from amazon.com
Build Quality (8.5/10): The construction of the ES10 is highly reminiscent of the older ESW9 except for the polished titanium earcups replacing the beautiful wood of the ESW9s. As with the ESW9, the forks and headband trim are all plastic while the headband itself is stainsless steel. All of the bits on the larger ES10 are beefier and more substantial but the headphones still aren’t quite as industrial as the Sennheiser HD25 or Beyerdynamic DT1350 – while far from fragile, I can’t see myself treating them as poorly as I do my HD25. The soft and flexible dual-sided cable is sturdy but somewhat thin for a portable headphone. The fact that Audio-Technica, as usual, has only bothered to include a soft carrying pouch doesn’t help matters.
Comfort (9/10): The ES10 is quite large for a supraaural headphone – significantly larger than the HD25 or DT1350 and approaching the size of an AKG K181DJ or Beats by Dre Studio. The pads have a large diameter and while they don’t enclose the ear, the general feel is somewhat similar to the semi-circumaural Phiaton MS400. The earpads and headband are generously padded but the material isn’t as nice as the lambskin used on the ESW9. The structure is highly adjustable and the clamping force is generally mild – in my opinion about as comfortable as a large supraaural can be.
Isolation (8/10): The large earpads and collapsible structure provide low leakage and isolation similar to that of the Phiaton MS400. They don’t quite keep up with the DT1350 or HD25-1 but should be tolerable for commuting.
Sound (9.25/10): While the ES10 slots just above the ESW9 in Audio-Technica’s extensive product lineup, its sound signature is more reminiscent of the lower-end ES7 than the smoother, more mid-centric ESW9. Generally speaking, the sound of the ES10 is slightly v-shaped, albeit no more so than that of my beloved Sennheiser HD25-1. The bass has impressive extension, reaching deeper than that of the HD25-1, and the low end may be the most powerful of all the higher-end portables I’ve heard. The HD25-1 seems to a bit more mid-bassy in comparison and yet the bass of the ES10 remains punchier and more aggressive – and at times more intrusive – than that of the HD25. Like the ESW9, the ES10 is not quite as quick as the HD25 but it can hardly be labeled ‘slow’. It can nearly match the bass quantity of the Klipsch Image One but sounds much cleaner, more detailed, and more controlled. Compared to the ES10, the Image One is bloated and muddy, with a distinct lack of texture and very poor definition. The Denon D1100, too, carries a bit more bass impact than the ES10 at the expense of being boomier and slower. Even the decidedly less bassy Phiaton MS300 yields to the ES10 in clarity and control.
The midrange of the ES10 is slightly laid-back compared to the low end but it is smooth, clear, and very well-textured, with detail levels comparable to the HD25 overall. Vocals simply come alive with great intelligibility and tons of texture. The HD25 still sounds a touch more crisp than the liquid and smooth ES10 but the difference isn’t huge. The gap between the ES10 and Klipsch Image One is much wider, with the mids of the Klipsch sounding hollow and veiled at the same time. The Denon D1100 and Phiaton MS300, too, can’t keep up with the midrange clarity of the ES10. The AKG Q460 can, but at the expense of note thickness and realism. The cooler tone and poorer dynamics of the AKGs don’t do them any favors in the accuracy battle against the ES10 and lose the ‘fun factor’ battle outright. The ES10, while clean and detailed, is hardly neutral or clinical, but it sure is smooth.
Staying true to the typical Audio-Technica sound, much of the coloration of the ES10 comes from the shiny, prominent treble. Between the punchy bass and treble emphasis, the ES10 reminds me of the company’s CKM99 in-ear earphone, albeit with better overall refinement and lower listening fatigue. The treble of the ES10 is bright and energetic but it is neither harsh nor sibilant except where warranted by the recording. On the same less-than-perfect 80s metal tracks, the ES10 makes the HD25 sound splashy and unpleasant but – unlike the ESW9 – loses no sparkle or detail points to the Sennheisers. Extension on the top, as on the bottom, is very good.
The presentation of the ES10 does not put it ahead of the HD25-1 or Beyerdynamic DT1350 but it is – at the very least – competitive with the Germans. The soundstage is reasonable in size but not huge. The ES10 tends to be a bit forward, especially at the low end, and lacks the ambient feel of some of my full-size headphones, but it doesn’t sound as small as the HD25-1, either. There is not much more depth than with the HD25 but the ES10 layers a bit better. Instrumental separation and imaging are good and the ES10 does not share the softened dynamics of the ESW9, nor does it suffer from the closed-in, cavernous feel present in some of the other sealed, bass-heavy headphones (e.g. Denon D1100). Not unexpectedly, it does like external amplification when plugged into a portable device. The sensitivity is certainly high enough for use with an iPod or iPhone but the bass doesn’t quite reach the amazing levels of effortlessness and the sound isn’t as refined or spacious overall. The difference is small, but noticeable.
Value (8/10): The ATH-ES10 is undoubtedly a top-tier portable headphone that, in typical Audio-Technica fashion, combines gobs of style with tons of substance. The Titanium finish is somehow befitting the clean, bright, and punchy sound, and though the wood cups and lambskin earpads of the ESW9 were arguably more impressive as far as finish goes, the beefier ES10 is more comfortable and slightly better-built. Like the other higher-end ES-series headphones, the ES10 is easily scratched and won’t be as handy on the go as the industrial-strength DT1350 or HD25-1 but those willing to pay a premium for the aesthetics and then exercise some extra caution to keep the headphones pristine are not likely to be disappointed with the ES10.
Frequency Response: 5-40,000 Hz
Impedance: 42 Ω
Sensitivity: 102 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 3.94ft (1.2m); Straight Plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: Flat-folding
MSRP: $499.00 (manufacturer’s page)