A slightly mixed bag, but the Audio-Technicas’ eccentricities are appealling
dextrous, articulate midrange sound
Bass can be swampy
would benefit from greater dynamics
The Audio-Technica ATH-ES88s are nothing as humdrum as a pair of headphones. No, what they are (according to the company, at least) is an earsuit.
So if you like to get your ears looking sharp before you leave the house, the ATHG-ES88s want to be part of your wardrobe.
Slightly less contrived than the 'earsuit' business, but no less curious, is the way the ATH-ES88s fit to the wearer's head.
Most headphones use an adjustable headband to manoeuvre the earcups into position, but the Audio-Technicas headband is fixed.
Quirky design, comfortable fitInstead, the earcups themselves pivot to achieve a fit – we tested the ES88s both stationary and on the move, and while they remain secure and comfortable (they're very light) they don't feel the grippiest and it can take a while to assimilate the fact that they're not about to fall off.
More after the break
Their on-ear arrangement makes the ES88s an obvious candidate for outdoor use, though the lack of an in-line mic or remote control makes them slightly inconvenient.
We're not big fans of having cables on both earcups, either, although at least their cable is flat and doesn't transmit noise when bumped.
A warm, weighty listenWith the right-angled 3.5mm jack inserted into an iPhone 4S and an Apple Lossless file of Róisín Murphy's thumping Overpowered playing, the ES88s are revealed as a warm, weighty listen. They're not the last word in control or dynamism, but they strike a nice balance between poise and attack.
Low frequencies enjoy decent presence and tonal variation, though they can't quite control the leading and trailing edge of individual notes with absolute authority, and so can drone a touch.
There's a lop-sided element to the ES88s' sound; a bottom-heavy quality that can be problematic if your listening tends towards the house/hip-hop area where bass demands martial control.
Above there, though, the midrange is detailed and has no problems describing the attack and decay of individual notes, while the top of the frequency range is, sensibly, on the safe side – what treble sounds lack in out-and-out bite they make up for by remaining composed and balanced at higher volumes.
Deftly musical tooSwitch to something with a different emphasis, though (Roy Harper's The Same Old Rock, for instance), and their characterful midrange reproduction comes to the fore.
The Audio-Technicas prove deftly musical, and have all sorts of pertinent observations to make about timbre and tonality.
They're too compromised to warrant the full five stars, but the ATH-ES88s are a quirky design and a likeable listen. And they're more than intriguing enough to warrant an audition.