Audio-Technica ATH PRO-500MK2 : Affordable DJ Headphone

I offered to do a review for the ATH PRO-500MK2 to Ms. Mariane, Audio-Technica Indonesia representative in one of the local audiophile forum. After a few private messages, she agreed to give a loaner unit to me for a review. So, thank you Ms. Mariane and Audio-Technica Indonesia for the kind loaner.

The Audio-Technica ATH PRO-500MK2

First impression

It’s a DJ pair of headphones. The unit that I received came without a box, so I didn’t have any unboxing experience nor knew what other things that came with the packaging. But that’s alright, in the end it’s the cans that matters. My unit is a red, or should I say burgundy, with doff metallic finish. The material is plastic, but the build is sturdy. The headband is covered in pleather which is soft enough on the dome. Albeit a little bit heavy, it didn’t give any unnecessary pressure to my head when worn.

The ear cups are rather small for my ears. However it IS a circumaural headphone. The sound isolation is good. I tried cranking the volume all the way up and just a tiny bit of sound leaks outside. But when I take the headphone off and put it on my desk, I can say that the volume is quite loud. To get a more proper seal, I tuck my ear inside the cup. Thank goodness the clamping pressure is not strong, otherwise my ears would soar or I might get headache. That being said, right now maybe some of you may think that the clamping is not good. That is not the case. The clamping is not strong if you’re thinking that you can go head-banging with this headphone. It will definitely slip off of your head.

Some DJs do jump around while performing, but most of the time their headphone is worn around the neck. On that application, the Pro-500MK2 can be laid nicely around my neck with its swiveling cups’ pads facing down. The cups also can swivel in another axis which makes the cups facing outward. This is very useful for DJs who want to check for their beats and cues while holding the headphone with just one hand. It’s also useful for folding the headphones for travel use.

The cable is thick enough to withstand normal abuse. It’s coiled so that you don’t have to deal with messy cable on your DJ rig, but still can give a nice length for you to travel back and forth between your turntables and your LP or CD carrying case inside your bag that you put behind you. The cable is detachable, you just have to twist to open. It’s terminated with a small jack. However, based on what the jack looks like, I think the PRO-500MK2 also come with a big headphone jack adapter. DJs will also find this feature useful.

Preparing the sound

Since it came without a box, I have to assume that my unit had already been burned in. I read on the website that the can quite is easy to drive, based on the impedance. So I tried to think like a non-audiophile who loves bassy tunes or like a DJ. What will they do? Do they have DAC and amp? Maybe an amp, but not necessarily so. I’ve seen my friend, who’s a DJ, plugged his DJ cans right into his DJ mixer. So I guess I’ll just plug it in directly to my PC.

DJ cans should be able to handle bass, right? So the first thing that I do was prepare a list of CDs and music on my PC that are bass heavy. I think I’m all set. Let’s see how it went.

How does it sound?

I can tell that the ATH PRO-500MK2 handles bass well. It can reveal those low sub bass sounds as well as tight and punchier bass. Though sonically it’s in the mid-fi level, but if you’re not doing critical listening, it can deliver a really good bass. Besides, who’s doing critical listening to fun club music anyway? :P

In Skrillex’s Kyoto, I can feel the sub bass rumbling. On Chemical Brother’s album “Further”, I can feel the bass rumbles on to the head band. I felt tingle on my dome. On Deadmau5’s “4×4 = 12” and “For Lack Of A Better Name” albums, I felt the bass rumble lower to my shoulders. On Noisia’s “Split The Atom” album, I noticed that the Pro500MK2 not only handle bass well, it also handles mids and highs real good too. I’ve never enjoyed drum n bass music as intense as this. I also tested John Digweed’s “MMII” album, “Transitions Vol.2” album, and DJ Jeno’s “United DJ of America Vol.7” album. I got carried away and was lost in the mix.

As I progress to more popular genres, I felt that the bass is also well controlled. I didn’t think I’ve noticed any bleed to other frequencies so far. I tested the cans on Timbaland’s “Shock Value II”, “Total Club Hits 4”, “Ultra Dance 11”, Rahzel’s “Make The Music 2000”, Scratch’s “Loss 4 Words”, Pandji Pragiwaksono’s “Merdesa”, and “Miike Snow”.

What about the other genres? Now this is where it gets pretty unique for me. If I didn’t test on other genres other than the typical “basshead”, I would have said that this is a basshead headphones or at least a typical V shaped or U shaped headphones. I was quite surprised to realize that I was wrong.

My first suspicion came when I tested Adele’s “Someone Like You”. The vocals were not recessed, at least not as I would have expected from a bass head cans. However I did feel that it’s a bit congested. From memory alone, it reminded me a bit of the ATH M-50.

I was so curious that I have to tested it with another set of tunes. My collection is mostly jazz, so I chose the “Benyamin on Jazz” album. Inna Kamarie’s voice on “Hujan Gerimis Aje” sounded good. The track “Superman” came very enjoyable too on the PRO-500MK2. On goes the playlist with Jamiroquai, Suara, Owl City, Lady Antebellum, RHCP, The Lost Fingers, Yuna, and many more. However, I noticed that once in a while, the bass have a tendency to overwhelm the rest of the frequency. I found this very annoying in The Lost Fingers’ albums (gypsy acoustic guitar). I didn’t notice this issue in the “bass head” music genres. So I guess the PRO-500MK2 is still a basshead headphone.

What about performance with low quality MP3s? I think the PRO-500MK2 is quite a forgiving headphone. If you’re unfamiliar with that term, simply said the headphone can play those kinds of MP3s and still performs nicely. You will still notice the drop of audio quality but not on a large scale. So you will quickly forget about the quality and back to enjoy the music. I’ve tested it with Noisia’s BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix that I’ve got, which is an MP3 with 128 kb bitrate. And if you’re unfamiliar with the numbers, high quality audio that’s commonly used are in FLAC or WAV format, which can carry bitrates over 1000 kb, which means richer audio details are carried within the file.

The quick sum up

Overall, I think that the ATH PRO-500MK2 is a mid-fi priced hi-fi headphone that can handle bass really well. A pair of DJ cans that works on a broader genre of music, at least up to a certain point. The bass, which is it’s selling point, is tight and packs a punch while also able to go to the sub bass level. The sound stage is typical of closed cans, not too wide though not as narrow as on ear headphones, and the depth is quite shallow. But if you’re DJ-ing with this headphone, it won’t matter, really. The PRO-500MK2 can handle fast paced music well, thus creating exciting toe tapping factor. However, just remember that this headphone is priced in the mid-fi level, so expect it to perform in that level too.

Does the ATH PRO-500MK2 live up to its promise or as advertised? Yes it does. On a longer listening session, I felt like I was back in the days where I always go to a club every weekend to enjoy some music, dancing, and sightseeing. So if you’re looking for those kinds of qualities in a DJ headphone or just starting to learn DJ-ing, then the ATH PRO-500MK2 might just be the one for you.

I would like to add some notes. I wish the ear cups were a bit bigger so that the cup can actually go around the outer part of my ear. I wish sound isolation could be a tiny bit better. The pleather material can cause sweat around the ears. I do recommend using it in a cool environment. Put the AC on if you happen to have one in the room.

Impressions from non-audiophiles a.k.a. your average consumers

“It’s less aggressive than my HD202. I can crank up the volume to where it supposed to hurt, but my ear drums are still okay. It’s not fatiguing. It feels a little heavy on the head. I can hear hiss in the background. It’s light on the ears. Cool bass impact.”

Dini (wears hijab):
“It has the feel of an earphone (she uses IEM – red), the bass is not bloaty. Feels good on the head and ears. Great detail. Cool design.” Take account that she wears hijab which would effect on her impressions. However she’s very interested in the PRO-500MK2, she even googled it.

His first impression was, “Enak”. After I encourage him to be a little bit more detail in his impressions, this is what he told me, “I really like the high. They’re clear. Crunchy. I’m not satisfied with the bass and the mids.”

Ibe (metal head):
His first impression was also, “Enak”. And then “But the sound is kind of like lacking some room. It’s like too close to my ears (he probably referring to the sound stage – ed). I’ve tested directly to my iPod, and I can really notice when I changed the EQ, unlike when listening from my speakers. I would probably got fatigue when listening for a long period of time because the ear cups are small.”

Rayan (gamer):
His first impression was about the sound stage. He said, “It doesn’t sound open like your other headphone”. After I explain that this is supposed to be a DJ headphone, he understood the PRO-500MK2 better. He said, “No wonder. DJs don’t need headphone with high technicality. I think this (the PRO-500MK2) is more than enough.” He gave a thumb up after knowing how much it cost. “That’s a good value for the sound”.

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