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Audio-Technica ATH-WS55 review: Sub-$100 headphones that sound great

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Audio-Technica makes a lot of headphones and several of them, including the ATH-M50 ($160) and ATH-M30 ($60), offer excellent sound for the money. The company's ATH-WS55 Solid Bass, a smaller over-the-ear headphone, isn't as well known as those models, but it, too, delivers solid bang for the buck for a bit less than $100. While it may not be the most comfortable headphone for long listening sessions, it does indeed deliver very "solid" bass without sacrificing the performance of the midrange and treble. If there's such a thing as an affordable audiophile headphone, the ATH-WS55 fits that description.

Audio-Technica ATH-WS55BK Solid Bass (Black)
7.9

Audio-Technica ATH-WS55

The Good

The <b>ATH-WS55 Solid Bass</b> over-ear headphones offer impressive sound for less than $100, with tight, punchy bass and very good detail. They also seem well built, and are fairly compact and lightweight for an over-ear model.

The Bad

No inline remote/mic for making cell phone calls, and the headphones' comfort level doesn't match their performance.

The Bottom Line

While they may not offer the perfect fit for everyone, the ATH-WS55 Solid Bass headphones offer impressive sound for the money.

Design
The headphones appear to be well constructed with earcups that have aluminum backs (the headphones are available in a few different colors); they also fold flat but do not fold up for more compact storage.

The headband and earcups are pretty nicely padded, though I can't say this model is incredibly comfortable. Part of the reason for that is that the earcup is a little smaller than your typical over-the-ear model. I liked that they're more compact and well suited for mobile use, but they felt a little tight on my ears, so I ended up having to adjust them every 5 to 10 minutes. I found that they fit best if I placed the headband slightly back on my head rather than straight over the top of it (in the middle). The angle takes a little pressure off.

The earcups swivel and fold flat. Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike the ATH-M50 and ATH-M30, these guys have a dual-cord rather than single-cord design (each earcup has a cord coming out of it). While those cords aren't as thick as the single cord on the aforementioned models, which are ostensibly "studio monitor" headphones, the WS55's cords are still comparatively beefy and seem durable. You also get an L-shaped plug, which most people consider more durable than straight plugs. However, if you have a smartphone with a thicker, tough case on it, you may not be able to get the plug into your phone's headphone jack.

Features
You don't really get anything as far as extra features go. There's a step-up model, the ATH-WS55i, which includes an inline remote and microphone, but it appears to be a "Japan Import" and is a bit difficult to find here in the U.S. That's a shame. There's also the AT-WS70, which you can pick up for around $120 ($150 list) and has a bit swankier design with a similar fit.

Performance
As I said, the bass is really punchy without being overbearing or causing the headphones to vibrate at higher volumes. And while this is labeled as a "bass" headphone -- it has 40mm drivers -- it's well-balanced with impressive detail and a sound profile that leans toward a warmer, more natural vibe. You'll get more detail and bass out of the ATH-50, which has more-refined sound, but you could say this is a good compromise between the M50 and M30, particularly for mobile users.

With their tight fit, the earcups do manage to seal out a decent amount of sound, and I thought they were pretty ideal for my commutes on the New York City subway. When faced with a lot of ambient noise, it's better to go with headphones that push out more bass because that external noise can end up muscling out lower frequencies.

The headphones have a dual-cord design. Sarah Tew/CNET

Aside from comparing these headphones to the ATH-M50s, I also put them up against the Creative Aurvana Live headphones, which list for $99 but can usually be had for less. Though the Creatives don't fold flat, they're clearly more comfortable and also offer excellent sound for the money. I did think WS55s' bass had a little more punch to it, and I'd say the WS55s come out on top in terms of overall sound quality, but just by a touch. (Of course, sound quality is very much a matter of taste, so your opinion may vary from mine.)

The cord terminates in a sturdy L-shaped plug. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
The ATH-WS55s deliver excellent sound for the money, with tight, punchy bass that's matched with refined midrange and treble performance. They're not quite on par with Audio-Technica's more expensive ATH-50 headphones, but they're lighter and more suitable for mobile use.

The only strike against them is their comfort level. I wouldn't call them uncomfortable -- and naturally they'll fit some people better than others -- but their comfort rating simply doesn't match their performance. My advice would be to buy them at a place where you have the option of returning them should you not like their fit. But aside from that caveat, I can strongly recommend them.

Audio-Technica ATH-WS55BK Solid Bass (Black)
7.9

Audio-Technica ATH-WS55

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 9