By Paolo Toledo
When it comes to headphones, I personally opt for function over fashion. Performance, build, and audio quality are on top of the list, even if the headphones are used just for casual listening. Aesthetics will come in second—although I wouldn’t touch any of the bulky eyesores out there. Striking that precarious balance between both internal and external goodness is always the key for me.
Given the argument, Audio-Technica has always delivered a satisfying set of headphones in its product line, with various models and price ranges that hit all the right targets in performance, comfort and appearance. I own a pair from the Japanese audio equipment manufacturer, and I am very happy with its audio quality.
But for this review, the cups in question are the Audio-Technica ATH-XS5 headphones. This pair is considered an entry-level set given its price range and overall features. It’S also a part of the brand’s X-Street Style line, which is the rugged product series aimed more for the active young listener, and designed to face “extreme” conditions and rough handling.
Durability is indeed the main draw of the ATH-XS5. It’s features a “double headband” made of rubberized plastic that’s flexible enough to bend in almost insane angles. But do keep in mind that this IS an entry-level set so don’t go about abusing it to its limits. The ATH-XS5 also has an elastomer frame and is engineered to absorb external impact, while comfortably fitting snugly around your dome.
Which brings us to its second key feature: comfort. At first, the band of the ATH-XS5 might seem irregular-shaped but when fitted onto your head, the design actually allows the double headband to sit flat on the skull. This not only relieves uncomfortable pressure points on the head, but also allows you to conveniently wear it even on top of a baseball cap. And with the full frame made out of the same flexible lightweight material, these headphones offer light comfort at just 155g.
Both earcups are designed to be elongated and nicely cover each ear without developing a sticky itch, while also containing the sound and preventing a certain degree of external noise to leak in. The pads themselves are fitted with a patterned soft pleather that both feels and looks great—although it does seem prone to develop sweat during prolonged usage outdoors.
Audio quality is quite superb, given its entry-level standards. The 40mm drivers in each cup deliver a wide range and crisp sound reproduction across various musical genres and/or audio files. Looking at the cups closely, each driver within the pad is angled for a better overall acoustic and sound orientation locked around each ear. The closed can does develop a tad amount of reverb to some sounds, but the overall quality is warm and smooth across all levels, although there are some cases where bass lacks that desirable “thump,” or when high levels lack emphasis against the noise. Of course, not to get too critical since the ATH-XS5 is still in the lower-to-mid priced sound range, but it does offer its own surprising audio brilliance without nitpicking the details reserved for the high-end performance headphones.
Wrapping up the review on the ATH-XS5 is its overall aesthetics (as I have said is the last priority for me, but is no less important as a purchasing factor). The good thing about these headphones is that while it delivers excellent durability, comfort, and audio quality, it also looks great. If you can get over the irregularity of the flat double headband, the matte-black lightweight plastic build gives it a classic and clean look. My favorite touch is actually the glossy finish (in either white, black or red) on the cups themselves, which serves as a funky yet classy accent.
All things considered, the Audio-Technica ATH-XS5 headphones is one of the best entry-level investments out there when looking for rugged, everyday listening ear cans.
Audio performance is well above expectation, while durability and comfort are well covered. It indeed strikes the good balance while giving you that X-factor in Street Style appeal.
Output Sound: 100dB/mW
Freq Response: 10 – 22,000Hz
Max Input Power: 1,000mW
Weight: 155g (approx.)
Plug: 3.5mm gold-plated stereo mini-plug
Cord: 1.2m (Y-Cable)
• Double headband offers extreme durability
• Comfortable soft ear pads
• Ear-covering cans deliver warm and crisp sound
• Classic, fashionable look
• Some may find shape irregular
• Bass lacks thump at times
The Audio-Technica ATH-XS5 head-phones are a good set of entry-level ear cans. Audio quality is superb, while durability and comfort are the main draws in its design, not to mention a classy, no-nonsense look.
Buy Meter: 8.9
[This review originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Gadgets Magazine]