Most of the world is living in the dark ages of headphones. (iPod earbuds, I’m looking at you.) That’s sad, because it’s a great time to buy pro-quality headphones: they’re better-sounding and cheaper than ever.

One trusted maker is Audio-Technica, which has generously taken its previously Japan-only headphones and released them here in the United States as the “Import Series.” (See the press release; no word on the rest of the world, readers — I’ll try to find that out.)

There’s a set of cans for everyone:

  • Reference/Audiophile: For studio applications or just enjoying listening, there’s a range of new open-air and closed-back models. Here come the clunky model numbers: ATH-AD700, ATH-AD500 and ATH-AD300 Open-Air Dynamic Headphones and ATH-A700 and ATH-A55 Closed-Back Dynamic Headphones.
  • DJs: Pro reference headphones for DJ applications: ATH-PRO700 SV, ATH-PRO5 V and ATH-PRO5 MS.
  • Replacing those $#&*$# iPod Headphones: Clip-on headphones and earbuds for listening to your portable player the way it was intended to be heard: ATH-EW9, ATH-EM9r and ATH-EM7 GM Adjustable Clip-On Headphones; ATH-CM7 SV and ATH-CM7Ti Ear-Bud Headphones; ATH-EC7 GM Ear-Bud/Clip-On Hybrid Headphones; and ATH-ES5 SV Portable Folding Headphones.

  • Coolest of the new announcements are the portable headphones: they have an avant-garde design reminiscent of Bang and Olufsen, and are made of materials like Japanese Hokkaido cherry wood, aluminum, and titanium. I’m still partial to the Shure E series headphones because they can do double-duty as onstage monitors, but I’m intrigued by the new A-T offering.

    Prices starting at US$119 and running up to about $300 list. Then again, I keep seeing people buying $400 iPods and $1000 audio interfaces but listening through total crap. Hint: start spending where your actual ears are.

    Got a favorite pair of headphones for listening in your studio? At the gym? (Hey, sitting here and programming Max/MSP patches ain’t gonna keep me in shape.) Hit comments and let us know.

    • tristan

      My current three pairs of headphones:

      1) Grado SR-60. Open air headphones that look retro (not necessarily in a good way), but sounds great and are inexpensive ($60.00 I think?). I use these for listening to music on the computer. Very nice sound to them. Good for long listening.

      2) Sony MDR-V6. Closed-ear headphones. Very good balanced, analytical sound for only $70.00 at I use these for recording when I need the closed-ear, monitoring, and just plain pleasure when I want to focus in on what I'm listening to. The bass is quite nice on these, not over-emphasized like most Sonys. They're a little hard to find though.

      3) $30 Panasonic earbuds. These are sort of like in-ear shure/etymotic wannabees. I bought them on a whim when I needed portable headphones. Seriously? They're not very good. I mean, they're better than stock earbuds, but they're not great. Maybe I'll check out this AT portable line.


    • andrew woods

      tracking/mixdown/dj cans.. Sennheiser HD-280 pro, sound is good enough and i've been with them now for long enough to be able to use these for all of those applications to satisfaction.. amazing cans.

      overdub/dj cans.. Sony MDR-V700 they haven't broken completely yet, and they are not as hifi as the Senns, but they still get use when i dj or overdub tracks.

      listening/overdub cans.. rare Calrad Pro Series model 15-133 with individual volume controls for each side.. not the greatest high frequency, but man are they cool with the cloth pads, aluminium and stitched leather, they were probably top of the Japanese-made crop back in the seventies.

      i also use cheap walkman non-earbud headphones for street and because when i mix down i listen to as many different speakers as possible.. and believe it or not, i find that a lot of these cheapos actually sound pretty good considering.

      i've been into AT microphones for a long time, just bought a few more and since i like their mikes i'm definitely considering a pair of their cans for mixing and possibly other things if they're versatile enough which they just might be.

    • Steven P. Contreras

      After years of apartment dwelling and constant travel for work, I have been into headphones for a long time. My inventory includes Shure electrostats, AKG K1000's powered by a dedicated tube amp, Sennheiser HD 580's, Grado HD 580's and SONY 600's.

      For travel and Zune listening, I use earbuds. I tried & put away Bose Quietphones (too bulky). I have been a Etymotics fan for 8 years…I favor the ER4's. I have also used Sure's E3's (decent for the price)and Sony's noise reducing earbuds (aweful). The only downside to earbuds is that they tend to disappear…after long flights they may remain in a seatback pocket or overlooked in a hotel room, so every few years I need a replacement.

      Last week I found myself looking for a replacement and came across AT's Import Series ATHCK9's at a deep discount on Circuit City's website ($144 versus the $299 list price), so I gave them a shot. They arrived last night & I have been thoroughly impressed. They offer a crisp, transparent sound and reproduce lows, highs & midrange extremely well. For portable listening, these have been the best bang-for-buck earbuds I've tried so far. Compared to the Etymotics, there are no filters that get gummed up with earwax & require preiodic replacement. Compared to Shure ER6's, the sound is notably better in every respect (although the Shures have a nicer portable case). These are sleepers… get them while you can at deep discounts since they see to have been a market flop for AT here in the US.