First off, I'd like to say that I am not a full-fledged audiophile. Maybe a budding audiophile, at best. This is mostly because I don't think I have a "golden ear," but also because I just can't afford all that fancy equipment. Nevertheless, I like to buy quality equipment when I can afford it, and the Audio-Technica ATH-M40fs Studiophones definitely fit in that category. I do not use these for studio mixing; rather I use them for general home listening.
Recommend this product?
I needed a new pair of headphones because my sister damaged my Koss R/80s by turning the volume WAY too high. As in, she didn't know they were plugged in, and assumed my 200W stereo was just quiet for some reason. I have every confidence that these 'phones can handle that kind of strain, although I don't think they ever will have to.
It is my opinion that headphones in my area are way overpriced for what you get, and so decided to buy these online. Because of this, I had to rely on raw specs and user reviews to make my decision. My decision to buy the Audio-Technica studiophones was based on these criteria; the specs were excellent, and I didn't find many negative reviews on the net. Plus, Audio-Technica seems to have a pretty good reputation. The ATH-M40fs studiophones seemed to be the top-of-the-line model in the US, and so these were the ones I chose.
The ATH-M40fs studiophones are made entirely of black ABS plastic, with leatherette earpads and headbands. There are no obvious seams from the plastic injection moulding, and it appears that most of the parts are screwed together, not snapped together. This may be because these headphones are designed to have field-serviceable cables, drivers and earpads. A nice feature, if you have extra parts lying around. I would also like to add that unlike most fully enclosed headphones, you don't look goofy wearing these phones.
The cord is a fairly lengthy eleven feet, made of course using oxygen-free copper. It is heavily shielded and thick, but also flexible. The cable enters the headphones at a single point on the left ear cup. The connector is a metal-bodied 1/4" gold-plated phono plug, with a metal spring strain relief. The box does NOT include a 1/4" to 1/8" converter.
Although these headphones are the fully-enclosed type, the ear pads are actually more shallow that what I was used to with the Koss headphones. In fact, they are shallow enough that the driver sits almost directly on your ear, much like a set of high-end Grados would. This of course ensures that you get the most accurate sound in your ear, but if they are not positioned perfectly on your ear, sore spots could develop after a while. I have to position the left ear cup just right, so that my left ear doesn't hurt after hours of listening.
The ear cups swivel a full 180 degrees, which is nice if you are DJ'ing or simply need to listen with only one ear. The headband is pretty soft, and adjusts to accomidate almost any head size. It is tensioned just enough to keep the drivers pressed to your ear, and exerts even pressure no matter the head size.
I am quoting these specs directly from Audio-Technica's website, and from the package:
Driver Diameter: 40mm (a little over 1.5 inches)
Voice Coil: Copper-clad aluminum
Frequency response: 5Hz - 28,000Hz
Sensitivity (1 mW): 100dB
Magnet Type: Neodymium
Impedance: 60 ohms
Max Input Power: 1600 mW at 1 kHz
Weight (less cable): 8.8 oz (250g)
Cable: 11' (3.4m), left-side entry, OFC litz wire
Connector: 1/4" (6.3 mm) phone plug
I should also add that the ATH-M40fs studiophones boast a flat response from the above mentioned 5Hz to 28,000Hz.
BUT HOW DO THEY SOUND???
Well, now for the tricky part of the review. To state the obvious, they sound really good. Even for someone with an untrained ear, details come out of music that you could not hear with lower quality headphones. I will do my bes to describe what I'm hearing:
My test subjects included The Joshua Tree and the Elevation Tour (live in Boston DVD) by U2, Thirteenth Step by A Perfect Circle, Mellon Collie by The Smashing Pumpkins, and Everything to Everyone by the Barenaked Ladies. Test equipment included an Aiwa mini system and an Apple PowerMac G4. Both systems easily drive the 60 ohms impedance of these headphones.
First off, the sound from these headphones is very sharp and clear. They are probably the most transparent headphones I have ever owned (or used, for that matter); it would be reasonable to say that I am hearing exactly what's coming out of the stereo/computer. Note that I cannot say that I'm hearing exactly what was recorded.
The Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle CDs were good tests of the bass capabilities of these phones. One track in particular on the Thirteenth Step album, called "Lullaby", has some of the deeped bass I've heard that was not a harmonic or part of a greater sound. In my car, this song makes my speakers buzz, but these headphones handle the bass with ease. I'm sure the frequencies are reaching my lowest hearing threshold, but I could not detect any distortion as much as I tried.
Midtones, like the bass, are crystal clear. I can hear every detail as Bono shouts out the words to Beautiful Day, the grit in Billy Corgan's vocals in Bullet with Butterfly Wings, and every bit of emotion in Maynard Keenan's delivery in tracks like The Outsider. If that description isn't technical enough, I can also say that I can detect little, if any, colouration in the sound. No other headphones I've used produce as rich and accurate a sound as these.
With a top frequency of 28,000Hz, and a rolloff obviously far above most people's hearing threshold, treble is also very good. Unfortunately my collection of classical music is pretty much non-existant, so I cannot make any comparisons using classical stringed instruments as a reference. All I can say here is that like the lower frequencies, I cannot detect any distortions. Everything is crystal clear.
The flat response of these headphones is a real treat. Usually I use an equalizer to balance the weaknesses in a set of headphones (ESPECIALLY earbuds), but no such adjustments are necessary with the ATH-M40fs studiophones. Every frequency is rendered as it was recorded, which is how I like to listen to music.
As I said in my review of my now-defunct Koss R/80 headphones, the sound reproduction of a headphone seems to be pretty dependant on the person doing the listening. While one person my hear a fully transparent reproduction, another may detect some colouration. If possible, I would recomment test-driving any new headphones before buying. However, if you don't have the luxury of being able to test out a dozen different headphones, at least you will know that these are a good buy.
WHERE TO BUY?
I bought my ATH-M40fs stereophones on eBay, from a seller called yourmusicstore.com. They cost $60 US plus $13 US for shipping to Canada, for a total of $73. Very reasonable, and a very friendly seller to boot. Audio-Technica products are also available elsewhere on the web, as well as finer retail stores.