Out of the box, the SP-5 is a modest sight. Packed in a moulded hard-leather travel case, it has a simple black look that doesn’t aspire to let you know it retails for $895. The bare black isolated padding fits the closed-back circumaural headphones well and provides a comfortable fit that doesn’t constrict, although does give slight sound leakage. Impressively, the phones weigh just 290 grams – approximately the same as Audio- Technica MX-50’s – and have smooth folding joints to make them very travel-friendly. Two detachable cords are included – one coiled with a studio jack and one straight with a headphone jack – both of which do the job, though some extra length on the coil would be welcome.
As mixing and monitoring headphones, the SP-5’s sound is incredibly pristine; mixes are a completely flat and neutral audio plateau. The balanced definition in the high and low end is virtually unparalleled in the mid-tier monitor market, with a frequency response range of 8 Hz – 38 kHz. The SP-5 achieves its pedigree through the Ultrasone S-LOGIC® Plus sound staging technology, aiming to “send music around your head, not just into it”. The sound staging decentralises the headphone’s driver position, meaning it lowers and moves forward about an inch. This means sound hits your outer ear first and bounces around the natural shape of the hearing canal, giving you a purer, almost surround-ear sound.
What’s even better, however, is its management of ear-fatigue – the balanced sound staging results in a reduction of sound pressure levels at the eardrum by up to 40 percent (3-4 dB). For lengthy mixing sessions, this is biblical. Paired with the weightless design, these headphones are endlessly usable.
The SP-5’s extremely neutral sound palette does keep the product somewhat studio focused. Take any wall-of-sound shoegaze, dream pop or post-rock sounds and the headphones disconcertingly separate out every naked audio element. Listening to ‘Myth’ by Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House was akin to eating a deconstructed Big Mac off a China plate. House music and extreme high fidelity production was the polar opposite. Tested with Nicholas Jaar’s experimental house project Against All Logic and D’angelo’s Black Messiah, the sterile mix was frankly near perfect. It’s important to note, however, that Adam Audio did not design the SP-5 for recreational listening.
Inevitably, the SP-5’s price-tag is the caveat to the entire package. It ricochets past mid- to lower-tier competition like Audio-Technica, but on a pros and cons basis, it’s difficult to justify paying nearly $600 more. Having said that, if you’re considering the SP-5 it’s unlikely this is your first foray into the monitor market, and these are impeccably made headphones. The Ultrasone S-Logic technology is a mammoth leap forward, offering a genuinely different sound experience and true neutral mix, without an inch of hyperbole.