Lotoo PAW Gold Touch
Lotoo’s PAW Gold Touch gives the ADX5000 a lighter, airier and more refined profile. It doesn’t sound as forward or – for lack of a better word – aggressive. Rather, its delivery is now smoother, more restrained and more effortless as well. The treble especially is wetter and laid-back. But, extension and air are there for a clean, black backdrop. Spatially, the Touch brings great precision, tightness and definition, even if – again – instruments don’t contrast against each other as much.
It’s more of a unified wall of sound, rather than individual instruments jumping out at you. But, what this calmer sound does is deliver a greater sensation of depth, even if the image in this pairing isn’t particularly large. The Touch also falls short down low, where the ADX5000’s bass – while still full and solid – isn’t as weighted, present as guttural. Regardless, it is a perfectly fine source if you want to rein the headphone in for a smoother, airier, more matter-of-fact-sounding sig.
Chord Qutest & SMSL SP200
The SP200-and-Qutest combo makes a wonderful pairing that compliments the ADX5000’s clarity with vividness, texture and contrast. Instruments all around are more vibrant and impactful, and there’s greater presence in the upper-mids as well. Dynamically, this means you get a lot more intensity when listening to – say – the horns on Liz & Opie or the electric guitars on Blockheads. The stage perhaps isn’t as airy or open as it is on the PAW Gold Touch because of this added zing, but you still get similar amounts – if not more – of definition, imaging precision and stability. Plus, this forwardness also promotes transparency, giving you a closer look at those instruments to more deftly discern all those individual nuances.
Compared to the Lotoo player, you’ll get a lot more impact along the extremes. The bass is more textured, guttural and engaging. It isn’t as restrained or compressed as it was on the Touch, allowing the full extent of its presence and weight to come through. Similarly, the top-end is more articulate and energetic. While perhaps not as forgiving as it was on the Touch, this combination brings greater texture, body and resolution, resolving instruments like hi-hats more effectively. Lastly, the SP200-and-Qutest combo delivers wonderful dynamic range as well. Instruments pop in out of nowhere with vividness and speed, which contrasts the Touch’s more reserved, refined delivery. Percussion particularly benefits from this, with tracks like Gallant’s Doesn’t Matter harbouring more impact; ideal if presence and punch are what you’re after.
Between the PAW Gold Touch and the SP200, SMSL’s M500 strikes somewhat of an in-between. The DAC/amp’s v-shaped response has the Touch’s openness, refinement and restraint in the mids, as well as the SP200’s punchier extremes. Also similar to the Lotoo device, the M500 adds air and depth to the headphone, giving its instruments a slightly leaner, more open sound. Its overall tonality is a touch brighter too; not as substantial or rich-sounding as it was on the SP200 combo.
Down low, the M500 brings the presence and weight the SP200 did. Though, the latter still comes away the punchier and more visceral of the two. The former also invites articulation and sparkle to the top-end, but in a different manner to the SP200. While the that amp added impact to the lower-treble, the M500 adds openness and air to the upper octaves. As a result, its stereo spread and width are the strongest of the three with its out-of-head staging. But, the SP200-and-Qutest combo does take the edge in resolution and texture. So, the M500 is ideal if you want open air, but with good punch too.
Sennheiser HD800S ($1699.95)
Compared to Sennheiser’s flagship HD800S, the ADX5000 comes across more rounded, vivid and natural. The HD800S is thinner, wispier and crisper, due to a strong emphasis at 5kHz. Transients have a brighter, harder, more digital-sounding edge, which may sometimes mask the finer nuances in – say – hi-hats and cymbals. The ADX5000 is more suited towards revealing those textures in a more balanced, refined manner, while the HD800S’s crisper, airier presentation emphasises image sharpness and separation. Spatially, the HD800S’s more prevalent air frequencies give it an edge in openness and width. But, the two go blow-for-blow in depth. And, in terms of pin-point precision, the ADX5000 is a stronger performer.
Tonally, the ADX5000’s instruments are more vibrant and forward-sounding. The HD800S’s calmer upper-midrange gives it more neutrally-positioned instruments. And, in conjunction with its energetic highs, its midrange doesn’t have as much punch, presence or body either. As much as I harped on a situational discrepancy between the ADX5000’s transients and overtones, the issue is more consistent and prevalent on the HD800S. So, apart from being more dynamic, engaging and vivid, the ADX5000’s timbre is more linear and coherent too. Down low, the HD800S is mid-bass-focused, contrasting the ADX5000’s sub-bass emphasis. So, it’ll bring more of that looseness and presence, while the ADX5000 will come off more focused, guttural and textured. However, through sheer extension, the latter takes the lead in physicality and resolution.
Audio-Technica’s ADX5000 is a pristine studio reference that does not skimp out on presence, vividness and punch. With its precision comes vibrant, articulate and finely-textured instruments, leaping at you with speed, energy and finesse. As a result, the headphone’s presentation is rhythmic and engaging, yet clean and controlled at the same time. Although its centre-mids could use a hair more solidity, and its stage isn’t the largest in the world, it is a headphone that nevertheless sports transparency in tone, discipline in separation and a mighty dynamic range. For a piece that functions both for pro use and casual listening, Audio-Technica have soared with the ADX5000: Finely-balanced, revealing and a load o’ fun too.