Before we get into this ADAM Audio SP-5 headphone appraisal I want to make it absolutely clear from the outset that I am an ADAM Audio fan boy. Over the past ten years I have used… and literally abused… a set of their excellent old school P22A monitors. Recently I paired these bad boys with an ADAM sub8 which together sounds glorious might I add!
…Did I mention I was also bitten by the ADAM Audio T Series bug?
Yes, we own a set of the baby 5 inch T5 monitors which sit pride of place in our humble little home studio. I’m really impressed with these budget minded monitors, they do indeed sound excellent for the money.
I’m fairly confident I know the sound, or to be more specific, the sonic signature of ADAM monitor products. Considering ADAM’s new SP-5 headphones, do their first excursion in headphones feature some of that ADAM Audio sonic magic that embodies their monitor range? More on that shortly…
Sworn To Secrecy
Roughly six months ago I was let into a hush hush secret… ADAM Audio would be releasing a new set of studio grade headphones. This news was intriguing as ADAM Audio are known solely for producing premium studio monitors. I was curious to know what they believe they can do differently in an already heavily saturated pro studio headphone market? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.
Should You Buy A Set Of ADAM Audio SP-5 Headphones?
I’ve had a set of ADAM Audio SP-5 cans on loan for a couple of weeks. In this time I’ve extensively tested the performance of these premium headphones within a variety of typical studio applications including mixing, mastering, instrument tracking & dialog recording. I’ve also been testing these from a consumer point of view as well, listening to music through the SP-5 headphones outside of the studio for the shear fun of it.
There are quite a few questions surrounding these headphones that I’ve seen pop up on social media and other forums that I feel it is important to address. The best way for me to be as thorough as possible in this review is to present this article in a Q&A format to help really dig into discovering the qualities of these ADAM Audio SP-5 headphones and to help you to appreciate what ADAM Audio has achieved in the SP-5, their first ever studio headphone offering.
The Elephant In The Room - The $499 Price Tag
When we review studio gear at Production Expert we typically talk about the price of “said” product towards the end of our findings, however, in the case of the ADAM Audio SP-5 the price has been questioned a fair bit on social media so it’s best from the outset that we address the elephant in the room as $499 is without doubt a lot of money for anyone considering a new set of headphones.
Let’s put the SP-5 price tag into perspective. What else can you buy for that kind of money? Let’s start by looking at the SP-5 headline specs:
Closed back circumaural headphones
Ridiculous frequency response ranging: 8 Hz - 38 kHz
2 different detachable cables included (one for 1/4 inch jack, another for mini jack)
Gold plated 40 mm transducer
Impedance: 70 Ohm
Sensitivity @ 1 mW per ear: 95 dB
Features S-LOGIC ® Plus technology
What Technology Is Behind ADAM Audio SP-5 Headphones?
If you look closely around the headband you’ll notice that ADAM Audio were not alone in developing the SP-5 headphones. ADAM Audio partnered with a fellow German based company and headphone gurus ULTRASONE. I’ve got it on good authority that the thought process behind the ADAM headphones was simple. Use a current set of tried and tested headphones (from a brand that know their onions when it comes to headphones) as the basis for the SP-5 then ADAM Audio got to work tweaking and tuning the performance to match the magic, vibe and of course the beloved sonic signature of ADAM monitors.
Sounds good in practice but did both companies achieve this or did ADAM Audio just simply slap their logo over an already great set of ULTRASONE headphones and call it a day? Without yet hearing a set of comparable ULTRASONE headphones I can’t really come to any conclusions with any certainty… but understand that the ADAM Audio engineering team over over a year developing the SP-5s, so they must have done something in that time.
You may have noticed listed in the tech specs a technology called S-LOGIC PLUS? What is this? Here is what ULTRASONE have to say about this technology, a tech developed by ULTRASONE and until now unique to their products:
S-Logic® sends music around your head not just into it, because this technology uses decentralized driver positioning. Did you know that you use and need the outer ear for your three-dimensional understanding to define the direction and distance where a sound comes from? Instead of hitting the inner ear directly, with S-Logic® the signals are reflected off the surface of the outer ear in different directions before entering the auditory canal to create a natural three-dimensional Sound. S-Logic® is the only headphone system which includes your entire sense of hearing. S-Logic® does not change your personal hearing, it intensifies it for your individual needs and listening pleasure. S-Logic® does neither need artificial echo nor digital sound processing or cross over run time delay. You can hear the sound just the way the sound engineer has mastered it.
This technology that reflects sound off the outer surface of our ears is certainly an interesting concept… in practice I have found works rather well.
Cut To The Chase - How Do ADAM Audio SP-5 Headphones Sound?
As we all know, there are countless pro studio headphones on the market these days, many of which I’ve found to sound a bit congested, as though the sound stage is struggling to get focus somehow. Not the case in the SP-5 headphones. In short, the overall sound stage is crystal clear, deep and detailed. The low end reproduction is incredible. These are not bass heavy headphones by any stretch of the imagination, instead the low end performance is tight and rounded and the reproduction of low sub bass sounds planted and purposeful.
I tested the SP-5 headphones on a mix that I completely recently, which features some subtle sub bass rumbles throughout the chorus sections. On other budget headphones I own this sub energy could not translate, however, with the SP-5 headphones the sub sounded balanced and faithful, as though I was listening to the mix through my main ADAM monitors and subwoofer. I’m not for one minute going to say that the SP-5’s are “monitors for your ears” but they do come extremely close to providing a full range style monitoring experience for your head.
Mixing with the ADAM SP-5 is a great experience. The depth and clarity of the sound stage is so precise that small EQ moves and subtle reverb tweaks are heard immediately with confidence. Importantly, the overall sound of a mix through the SP-5 doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the sound (tonally speaking) coming from my main monitors which is great when I’m tracking with headphones and making quick mix discussions with both monitors and headphones at play. The tonal similarities between my monitors and the SP-5s stopped me from second guessing my microphone placement choices and my frontend mic preamp EQ settings which is a valuable time saving plus!
The SP-5 Headphones In Hand & On Head - How Do These Feel?
Over the years I’ve owned several “pro” studio grade headphones that cost similar money to what the SP-5 cost from the likes of Shure. Notice that I said “I’ve owned”. All these top end headphones have broken or snapped within a period of three to four years, which made me come to the conclusion that buying and using expensive headphones in demanding studio work is a bit of a false economy. Why buy expensive “workhorse” headphones if they are only going to fall apart within a short amount of time?
I’ve examined the SP-5 headband and hinges up close to try and determine if there are any possible weak points in the design and build. Firstly, the design and construction is second to none. These are certainly not going to win and trendy fashion awards on the catwalk but they do look the business and feel extremely well put together. There’s no squeaks or rattles from any of the twisty ear cup hinges either. The padding around the top of the band is adequate but I must say the ear pads are the party piece. The isolation from these ear pads is incredible, so good in fact that I found I was more confident than usual when I was monitoring my acoustic guitar, drums and vocal performances in a recent tracking session. The isolation really helps to dismiss the outside world which in turns provides a listening experience which is more intimate and upfront when performing behind a microphone.
The pressure on the head caused by the SP-5 is fairly tight, you’ll notice this the second you put them on your head. This clamp like effect is quickly forgotten though as these headphones are in fact very comfortable. The longest period I wore the SP-5s was around 3 hours. The headphones never gave me that braced feeling around my ears that I sometimes get from wearing other headphones which generally puts me off using headphones for long mix and editing sessions.
Durability Concerns - How Strong Are The SP-5 Headphones?
Earlier we touched on the excellent build quality of these headphones, however, there is one smallish area in the design which causes me a little concern. As I mentioned earlier I have owned many expensive headphones in the past which all ended up snapping at the adjustable arm because plastic was used instead of a stronger material such as metal. I feel, for the price of the SP-5s, these components should have been constructed with a stronger material as these are common weak points on headphones that, overtime, can develop small cracks which inevitably cause them to shear. A spokesman for ADAM Audio have informed me that the headphones are modular which means all parts are easily replaceable if a breakage occurs in the future.
Verdict - Are ADAM Audio's First Attempt At Top End Studio Headphones A Hit Or Miss?
Without a shadow of a doubt, ADAM Audio’s SP-5 headphones are in my books a big hit. Yes, these are what I consider to be an expensive purchase but the benefits of the smart S LOGIC tech and overall comfort outweigh the outlay. For me the SP-5 compliment my current ADAM monitoring setup as the two share tonal similarities which saves me a little time in my tracking workflow from second guessing my preamp choices in tracking situations.
I do have some concerns regarding the adjustable arms on the sides. However as with any new studio gear, time will tell, so I’m going to hold on to these headphones and report back regarding their durability in around six months. I’ll be putting these through their paces in my daily studio work to see if ADAM Audio’s first set of studio headphones are as durable as their monitors. I’m sure these will be… but let’s wait and see.
For more information about ADAM Audio SP-5 Headphones do visit the ADAM Audio Website.