Audio-Technica’s classic 60th anniversary celebration is in full swing as the Japanese brand introduces the world’s first wooden wireless headphones that also offer the world’s first hi-fi capability.
The company resurrected its iconic Sound Burger portable turntable as well as unveiling a high-end transparent deck set last week as part of its birthday celebrations, but these groundbreaking new ATH-WB2022 cans may be the most interesting of the three iterations.
The limited edition headphones have built-in balanced stereo, a feature beloved by audiophiles that until now has only been available in high-end wired cans, which would also need to be used in conjunction with similarly balanced headphones.
Balanced stereo means the cans have a completely separate signal path for each earcup, resulting in limited interference and no crosstalk.
The ATH-WB2022 achieves this with two built-in ESS DACs ES9038Q2M, one for the left channel and the other for the right.
The headphones also support Sony’s high-definition LDAC codec and AAC and SBC compatibility, while built-in multipoint support allows the ATH-WB2022 to connect to multiple devices via Bluetooth and seamlessly switch between them.
The striking wooden ear cups aren’t just for aesthetics, the solid Flamed Maple, Walnut and Mahogany materials used in the construction of the cabinets absorb acoustic vibrations and thus minimize distortion.
It’s no surprise that this feature set comes at a price, with the ATH-WB2022 set to retail for a hefty $2,700 / £2,599 (around AU$4,200) when they launch next year.
Analysis: The ATH-WB2022 is a great breakthrough in wireless headphones … at a high price
Anyone who has listened to music on headphones with a balanced audio setup knows how the sensational extra clarity makes it difficult to go back to the usual set of cans afterwards.
A wireless headset capable of handling this feature has long been the holy grail for audiophiles looking to ditch wires, but the closest we’ve gotten so far is cans with a single higher quality DAC.
Make no mistake, Audio-Technica has pulled off a great feat here, but this sonic goodness comes at a considerable payoff – we may be looking at some of the best over-ear headphones available, but we’ll have to test them to make sure, naturally.
As you might expect, powering the dual DACs takes a lot of juice, and despite having separate batteries for each channel, the ATH-WB2022s are only able to offer nine hours of playback on a full charge – a huge drop from the over 60 hours they run Sennhesier Momentum 4 Wireless.
This is probably a compromise many audio purists will be happy to consider for sonic nirvana alongside the staggering price tag.