First off, I’d like to thank the folks at Audio-Technica for the sample of the WS99 for review.
Here it is, the pinnacle of Audio-Technica’s “Solid Bass” line of portable headphones, the WS99. Arriving in a big, audacious black box, the WS99 makes its presence known with its sharp (literally) aluminum accents, its large but not heavy construction and promises of excellent bass and sound quality. Jumping into the premium price bracket, with an MSRP of $250, sending it into direct competition with the Beats by Dre Studios, the original consumer focused portable headphone and, frankly, fashion accessory. So, does the WS99 measure up as a suitable king of the Solid Bass hill and make a solid case for your cash? Read on to find out.
Accessories: The WS99 includes two interchangeable cables. The first cable is a standard extension and the other features a built in microphone, sliding volume control and one button remote.
Design and Build Quality: At the top of the Solid Bass food chain, the WS99 is a hefty and beefy portable headphone that feels heavier and more solidly built than the WS77. The detachable cables are nicely built and feel durable.
Comfort: The WS99 is actually quite comfortable with its bigger and slightly softer pads. Despite the fact that I don’t particularly love on-ear headphones, I found the WS99 to be quite comfortable over long periods.
Isolation: The WS99 isolates well for a non-circumaural headphone, despite the fact that the WS99 is semi-open.
Burn in: These were given 100+ hours of burn in prior to review. A lower treble spike I noticed early on mellowed out over time.
Having heard its siblings, I was hardly surprised by the type of sound signature the WS99 presents. Put simply, it’s an evolution on the signature of the WS77 but with refinements in key places that make it audibly superior.
The low end is, like the WS77, very full bodied and well detailed but with a bit more sub bass extension to really liven things up. Though the bass is obviously emphasized, it’s totally unobtrusive and really only steps forward when asked. In some cases, you might not notice that it’s emphasized until you put on a song that calls for a meaty low end, say Daft Punk’s Get Lucky and the WS99 really shows how punchy and engaging it can be. That 53mm driver can produce some powerful, but controlled, bass.
The midrange is lush and smooth, lacking the slight hollowness I noticed in the WS77 and sounds quite full and pleasant. It’s quite clear despite its warmth and smoothness and sounds absolutely lovely with Jazz and R&B pieces. The lower treble is a bit forward which occasionally results in a tiny bit of sibilance but nothing especially annoying or irritating. The treble presence is neither forward nor recessed but carries a nice sense of sparkle and is well extended.
The soundstage is fairly wide and deep for a closed portable can but the WS99 is also quite good at presenting a sense of intimacy due to the smooth and lush nature of the midrange and the sonic image is quite accurate. Its overall presentation is a well-balanced one, despite the enhanced bass, one that isn’t neutral but is well controlled with good linearity through the midrange and treble that makes for a quite pleasing sound.
The WS99 sits at the pinnacle of the Audio-Technica’s “Solid Bass” line and unsurprisingly sounds the best of the three headphones in that line. Its sound is rich and engaging and works with a wide array of different genres. The casual crowd should love it for its emphasized bass and good looks while the audiophile will appreciate its attention to detail and engaging sound.
The Audio-Technica WS99 is available from a number online retailers for prices hovering between $170 and $220 on Amazon and even higher than its $250 MSRP, which is rather mind boggling. At the $211 price (at the time of writing) from Amazon directly, I think the WS99 is a great portable headphone that earns its keep with its sound quality alone.
The only problem is, at about $100 more than the WS77 based solely on its MSRP. If I were to grade the two, I’d say the WS77 is maybe 85 to 90 percent of the WS99 in terms of pure sound quality but the WS99 gains more points over the WS77 in terms of build, comfort and versatility. So, if money is tight, the WS77 is still an excellent choice but if you can afford the extra cash, the WS99 is definitely the headphone to buy for its more refined and engaging sound signature and certainly the best I’ve heard in a portable headphone. I hate sounding like a shill, especially since I’m not being paid for this, but if you’re willing to pay the relatively high price (and seeing as Beats Audio holds a commanding portion of the upper end headphone market, I’d imagine many are), the WS99 is a great headphone for the price.