• Price: US$499
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Adam Audio SP-5 Headphones Review

Last updated 27 August, 2019

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The Lowdown

The Adam Audio SP-5 is a pair of headphones for producing, mixing and critical listening. It sounds fantastic: the lows are expansive and punchy, the mids are tight and the highs are brilliant and sound every bit an Adam. They sound so good, in fact, that my only comment here is that they do too much of a good job sounding great instead of reproducing sound as ruthlessly honest (ie “boring”) as possible, which is what a pair of mixing headphones aim to do. It’s not cheap, but I’d gladly pay double for this. Highly recommended.

Video Review

First Impressions / Setting up

The Adam Audio SP-5 is a closed-back pair of headphones that have 40mm drivers onboard. The ear cups sit around your ear (they’re big enough to cover your ears) and provide a seal to block out ambient noise. They’re meant for music production and mixing use, so they are designed with comfort in mind: the headphones themselves are light and made of plastic, but don’t feel cheap. That said, you probably wouldn’t want to take this to the DJ booth because they don’t feel as sturdy as a workhorse pair of gigging headphones like the HDJ-X10C or similar.

The SP-5 ships with its own zippered carrying case that fits the headphones and a cable, but nothing more (you aren’t gigging with these anyway). It also comes with a straight cable with an 1/8” jack, and a longer cable with a 1/4” jack for studio use.

I plugged them into my Universal Audio Apollo X6 interface loaded a couple of tunes and got to work.

In Use

Sound

The SP-5 is meant for music production, critical studio monitoring as well as mixing.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way: the SP-5 sounds fantastic. The lows are expansive and detailed, considering that these are just 40mm drivers. I love just how tight the mids are, which makes it easy to pick out stuff like vocals, lead synths and other instruments. The highs are brilliant: they’ve got this sheen that just makes high-frequency content float effortlessly without sounding brittle (the bane of my headphone testing!). They sound every bit an Adam, a company renown for its X-Art (and S-Art) tweeters. They’ve just got that signature “Adam brilliance” that is unmistakeable in the music production and sound engineering world.

My favourite part about these cans though is how putting them on sort of transports you “into” the music. it’s like you’re “in there” with the instruments – there’s no other way I can explain it. This mainly deals with the soundstage of these headphones (eg how they reproduce the stereo sound field). According to Adam Audio, it has to do with the “S-Logic Plus Technology” that lets the SP-5 recreate sound in such a way I don’t know what that means exactly, but what I do know is that these cans play back music in a damn realistic manner.

I tried them out with a variety of music styles: My first port of call was Aphex Twin’s classic Avril 14th. The way this track was recorded was you get a lot of piano “noise” that almost acts as a percussion. It’s a delicate piece, but that “percussiveness” adds a rather dark reminder that this isn’t some blissed out piano piece, but an Aphex Twin production. On lesser headphones, you do hear all that.

But on the SP-5, suddenly you are taken out of wherever you currently are and you are dropped dabsmack in the middle of that piano, and you hear every key press, every subtle vibration. It’s like you are hearing the skin of Richard D. James lightly tapping on each key with greater urgency. It’s like transplanting your brain and ears putting it under his fingernails – I’m sorry, there is no other way to describe the experience (and no, I’m not on acid right now).

And it’s not just because it’s a brilliantly produced piece of music: I put on my trusty Audio Technics M50 and all those transportive elements disappeared. These Audio Technicas are good cans by the way – it’s just that the SP-5 is so next level.

I wanted to try it out with a newer production, so I loaded Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy. This is a bass heavy track with upfront vocals that are in between being whispered and spoken. I’ve dropped this at different sound systems in my DJing, and with a crappy set of speakers the “weight” of the track becomes a muddled mess. Same goes with cheap consumer cans – it’s just the way the track is. You need a set of speakers or cans that can handle the low end energy.

The SP-5 had absolutely no problem doing that: my favourite parts are towards the end where the song goes into half time and you get those huge, subby bass drop that sounds so full and rich in the SP-5 that you even get to hear the “hair” of the bass. It made me appreciate the track even more. It sounds like Billie is right there in front of me.

The SP-5 excels at tracking acoustic instruments and vocals thanks to its closed-back design that minimises headphone bleed.

I’ve been using the SP-5 for a few months now for different listening applications: I’ve used them to produce and mix music in my studio, and I’ve taken them on a trip abroad for casual listening. I’ve also had the pleasure of comparing them to other high-quality cans, including the sublime (and eye-wateringly priced) Focal Utopia, which costs approximately eight times as much (!). Of course the Focal Utopia is better (more “transportive” qualities, really places you “inside” the music) but I wouldn’t say it’s eight times better. That’s how good these Adam Audio headphones are for the price.

On the producing front, I used these cans extensively as an alternate monitor to my Focal Twin 6Be pair. They were essential in my being able to dial in the low end for a track I had produced for a local band (I’ve added it in the Spotify playlist above). I was gunning for a deep 808 bass sound for the verses, and while I could hear them on my big monitors, I had to be sure that they sounded tight on headphones, so the SP-5 was perfect for this.

I also wanted to create a wide, spacious mix for this song that really put the listener into a different space (it’s a synthwave / 80s track. Think Stranger Things…). I’m used to doing pans with my Focals, but having the SP-5 on hand really allowed mo to place my production elements with precision. I ended up saving a lot of time because I had a reliable reference with which to crosscheck my Focals, and the track turned out to be great.

Comfort

The SP-5 is lightweight and comfortable to use for extended periods of time, which is great because spending hours behind a DAW screen is basically what happens when you’re producing or mixing. The ear cups fit well around my ear which makes for a tight seal, and their closed-back nature means you get added acoustic isolation. This also makes these cans good for tracking vocals and other acoustic instruments where you’d want to minimise headphone bleed (metronome / click tracks bleeding into the mic is a nuisance to say the least).

Conclusion

The Adam Audio SP-5 is one of the best music production headphones you can get in the sub-US$500 range.

Overall, the SP-5 is awesome. The bass is exceptional, the mids and highs clear, and the soundstage is excellent and you get a clear idea of where instruments sit in a mix. They sound so good, in fact, that my only comment here is that they do too much of a good job reproducing your audio instead of being as ruthlessly honest as possible, which is what a pair of mixing headphones aim to do.

But you do get used to them after a while, and when you do you are treated to a pair that is equally at home in the studio as it is for just pure listening enjoyment – it’s the only headphones I can recommend for both producing and casual use. If you want to start taking your production seriously, these cans are a no-brainer.

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