We’ve long been fans of Audio-Technica’s premium series of wooden, closed-back headphones. The new range-topping Kokutan simply reinforce that positivity.
They are named after the Japanese striped ebony hardwood used for the earcups, although in some markets they also go under the somewhat less characterful name of ATH-AWKT.
At 405g, these headphones aren’t flyweights, but the wide headband and generously proportioned earpads make them comfortable. There is enough in the way of adjustment on the headband for them to fit most people well, even those with smaller heads. That isn’t always the case with all large premium alternatives.
Kokutan is a high-density wood claimed to have good self-damping properties, which makes for a low-resonance enclosure for each 53mm driver (one per side) to work from.
These Audio-Technicas are supplied with two detachable 3m leads – one with a standard 6.3mm jack and the other with a four-pin XLR balanced connector, should your headphone amplifier be suitably equipped.
The Kokutans are intended for use at home, but we still wish that the leads weren’t so good at transmitting mechanical noise into the earcups every time we move and brush against them.
Type Closed-back dynamic
Frequency response 5Hz to 45kHz
Max power 2,000mW
Weight 405g (without cable)
Overall though, build quality is as good as the price demands. These headphones feel well made and sturdy, while the beautifully finished wooden earcups and hard-wearing sheepskin covering used on the earpads and headband add a decent dose of luxury.
The Audio-Technicas' obvious rival is the excellent and similarly-priced Sennheiser HD 820s, but there are much cheaper options, such as Beyerdynamic’s semi-open T1s, that still set a high bar for the Kokutan to reach.
Connect them to a suitably capable system and, on the whole, they succeed. Our main set-up is Audio Research’s CD9 SE CD player feeding Nagra’s legendary PL-P preamp (which has a terrific headphone output), but we also give Chord’s hugely capable 2go/Hugo 2 music streamer combination a spin.
While these cans will work with phones, tablets and budget DACs, if you go down this route, you won’t hear just how capable the Audio-Technicas are.
We start with Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite and are impressed by the Kokutans’ clarity. They resolve plenty of detail and present it in an organised and cohesive manner. There’s a lovely sense of spaciousness to the sound, something that’s hard to get in a closed-back design, and a lack of sonic clutter that’s genuinely pleasing.
We’re thankful that Audio-Technica has resisted the urge to super-charge the bass frequencies. While the industry as a whole has followed this excess bass philosophy for a number of years now – thanks to the phenomenal commercial success of the Beats brand – the Kokutan take a subtler, more balanced and ultimately more satisfying approach. The lows are agile and textured, giving a firm foundation for the rest of the frequencies, but they also blend in seamlessly.
This more sophisticated attitude to music replay is obvious in the way that no single part of the frequency range sticks out. Sure, the highs could be a touch sweeter, but such is the precision and insight on offer that we don’t mind too much. Certainly, it takes an overtly aggressive recording before this part of the Audio-Technicas' nature becomes noticeable.
Dynamics are fluid, though the presentation is a little restrained. When the orchestra gets going, the Audio-Technicas hold back just a bit to make things easier on the ear. It’s an approach that results in a less demanding experience, but it also rounds off the sense of drama a touch.
We switch to Wyclef Jean’s Carnival Vol. II set and find plenty to admire in the Kokutans’ sound. Their composed nature makes sense of Jean’s energetic mish-mash of musical styles. An expressive midrange makes it easy to follow the (often) rapid-fire lyrics, and there’s enough in the way of nuance and precision to make the album a pleasure to listen to.
It’s not perfect though. That civilising effect is also apparent here in the way the headphones don’t quite deliver the punch of the music with the aggression it deserves. Rhythms are still conveyed in a surefooted way but lack just a bit of enthusiasm and drive.
But when it comes to cutting through a dense mix and getting right to the heart of the musical message, there’s little to complain about here. The Audio-Technicas communicate well despite the slight loss of drama.
The Kokutans remain accomplished performers. They’re informative and organised, and deliver recordings in a cohesive and musical way. Those who value subtlety and sophistication above all else will find much to like here.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
Read our Sennheiser HD 820 review
Read our Beyerdynamic T1 review