PHILIPS A5-PRO professional DJ headphones
IT’S amazing how much technology has evolved in the head-fi world over the past few years. The breath of components, designs and engineering incorporated into headphones, and desktop and portable headamps these days is just astounding. So much value can now be had without breaking the bank.
I realised that in the course of my head-fi years, I have never actually owned or used cans by Philips. So when the opportunity came to have a go with the Philips A5-PRO Professional DJ headphones, I welcomed it.
But first, allow me to do a little confession – I’m not a deejay nor do I fully understand what deejays require in a set of cans. Thankfully, I do have a friend who is a deejay and, as you will read further on, he has kindly given his thoughts on the A5-PRO.
BITS AND PARTS: The A5-PRO is a supra-aural headphone that has been co-designed with internationally-renowned Dutch deejay and producer Armin Van Buuren. It is a closed-back design, thus offering passive noise cancellation for use in noisy environments.
Build quality is solid, with aluminium hinges and an alloy steel headband, which comes thickly padded in genuine leather. The white Philips branding is nicely stitched into the headband, although with frequent use, it is likely to lose its flash over time.
Each ear cup is fitted with a 50mm high definition neodymium driver that covers a frequency range of 10-24,000Hz. Maximum power handling is rated at 3,500mW while sensitivity is quoted at 105dB at 1 mW. The A5-PROs have a surprisingly low 16-ohm impedance, making them very easy to drive direct via portable electronics like laptops and mobile phones.
A neat feature I found is the dual-sided locking cable input. Unlike some cans in the market such as Grados, which come with fixed “Y” cables, the A5-PRO gives users the preference to choose between the left or right ear cups for the cable input.
Each ear cup swivels 90 degrees, but in opposite directions to each other. Ear cushions, available in three sizes (80mm, 93mm on the review unit, and and studio), are easily replaceable as Philips has cleverly engineered a twist-and-click mechanism that functions in a similar way a camera lens does when it is fitted into a DSLR body.
The A5-PRO comes with a 1.3m (extendable to 4.7m) replaceable coiled cable, 6.3mm threaded adapter and carry pouch because the cans can be folded for portability. It weighs in at a hefty 440g with detachable coiled cable (370g without cable). I guess Philips had to make a compromise when employing good materials.
IN CONCERT: Right from the start, the A5-PRO delivered a pleasant, big bold sound. Listening to free streaming Spotify revealed that the A5-PRO was not fussy with source files. Of course, feed it with higher quality tracks and you’ll be able to hear better definition.
I found the overall frequency extension good from highs to lows. Vocals were nicely resolved while low to mid bass lines had punch. High frequencies were pleasant, though not as extended as my resident PS500e.
I could not detect any harshness even by streaming audio standards, so that shows Philips put some effort into the engineering of the drivers. The closed-back design offered good passive noise isolation, although I could not put this to real world test like in a club environment. The 16-ohm load made it very easy to drive to loud levels, be it directly from my laptop or headamp.
When compared with the PS500e, the A5-PRO definitely fills up the low end spectrum of things. This may be due to the fact that the A5-PRO drivers are larger at 50mm vs 44mm in the PS500e. Plugged through the Chord Hugo headamp, the A5-PRO presented greater control across all registers.
Daft Punk’s Random Access Memory album (24/88.2) came through the A5-PRO with decent rhythmic drive and energy, accompanied with a taut bottom end. However, the midrange sounded congested. There were occasions I felt that the A5-PRO conveyed Daft Punk’s music “politely”, leaving me wondering if the A5-PRO was exercising restraint in its delivery.
I also found the A5-PRO lacking air around instruments and notes to give these elements a palpable believability. I suspect this could be due to its closed-back nature. My views aside, I thought it beneficial to get a deejay’s perspective on the A5-PRO.
My deejay friend had this to say: “Unlike my Audio Technica ATH-M50X, the A5-PRO’s headband is definitely more robust and durable. In terms of build quality, the A5-PRO is definitely more solid and this includes the removable coiled cable.
“However, the ear cup swivel is limited – only 90 degrees but in opposite directions for each ear cup and about 10 degrees top to bottom for each ear cup.
“The ear cups on my ATH-M50X swivel 90 degrees left to right and 180 degrees top to bottom, which gives me more flexibility when mixing. Sure, these things can be a matter of preference, but as I use my right ear mostly when mixing, the A5-PRO’s limited ability to swivel top to bottom is a turn off for me.
“Sound-wise, the A5-PRO has more depth and a wider soundstage compared with the ATH-M50X. But I feel far from the instruments. The ATH-M50X gives me a crisper top end, which I prefer. Somehow, I find the A5-PRO tuned more for music listening than being used as a deejay monitoring tool.”
APPLAUSE: There’s no doubt that the A5-PRO is robustly built. In the sound department, there’s a smoothness to the way the A5-PRO conveys music regardless of genre. Personally, I find the A5-PRO tuned to deliver a “safe” sound – somewhat shy of offending the listener in any way. Because of this, it can lack that boogie factor and insight that draws a listener in, something that other makes in this price range can offer.
BUT…: Despite the nicely padded leather headband, I could feel the weight of the A5-PRO on my head during prolonged listening sessions, making it somewhat uncomfortable. While the closed-back ear cups offered decent acoustic sealing and cushioning, I did feel some pressure around the ears over long term use. I tried stretching the headband a bit to alleviate this symptom but it did not ease up. So do factor in the comfort level when considering the A5-PRO.
FINALE: I’m left wondering if these cans have an identity crisis. There are hints of audiophile qualities in the Philips A5-PRO but it’s branded as a professional deejay headphone. It may have been co-designed and modelled according to Armin Van Buuren’s preferences but the reality is, not all deejays around the world share the same preferences.
The A5-PRO does offer decent sound but at this price point, choices are aplenty. For me, I can’t help but wonder if Philips is attempting to blend the best of the audiophile and professional deejay world in the A5-PRO. I guess you, dear reader, will have to audition it to answer that question.
Lenovo Yoga 3-14 ultrabook running foobar2000 (Ver 1.3.8); Chord Hugo DAC/headamp; Grado PS500e headphones.
Price: US$390 / €300
Malaysian price: RM2,119
Review unit courtesy of Amplified Armature (+603 7732 6658 / +603 7931 6510 ) / Available at numerous stores, including Amazon.
Suraj Raj is a passionate headfier and music lover who’s ditched the corporate world after discovering that a simpler, more meaning life can be had if one is willing to take the road less travelled.