Meters by Ashdown Engineering – OV-1 Headphone Review

COMPANY: Ashdown Engineering – Meters Music

MODEL: OV-1

COST: $299 USD

TYPE: Closed, dynamic with ANC (Active Noise Cancelling) and VU meters

DRIVER SIZE: 40mm dome

FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 20Hz – 20KHz

IMPEDANCE: 32 Ohm@1Khz

SENSITIVITY: 94DB/mW

WEIGHT: 380 grams

COLOURS: Tan (brown) as reviewed, Black, Rose (white + pink)

 

INCLUDES:

USB to micro USB cable
3.5mm 1.2m input cable
3.5mm 1.2m input cable with 3-button inline microphone
3.5mm – 1/4” gold-plated adapter
Clamshell hard-sided carry case with zipper closure
Cleaning cloth
Multi-language user guide
VU sticker
Warranty card
High-quality cardboard box with magnetic closure

 

Build, Aesthetics and Comfort

Let’s get something out of the way first. Who are Ashdown Engineering and why are they now making headphones? The company was established in 1997, and is primarily known for two things:

  1. Making bass amplifiers (and other pro parts) for professional musicians including: Foo Fighters, System of a Down, The Who, Lenny Kravitz, U2, Jamiroquai, Rage Against The Machine, Green day, Arcade Fire, Black Sabbath, and more. That’s quite a resume.
  2. Putting cool looking VU meters on their gear.

Mark and Dan Gooday are a father and son team behind the OV-1 and are headquartered in Colchester, UK. They realized that the amp world has been in decline as the headphone market has blossomed, so they decided to diversify to meet the needs of music lovers, rather than just the makers.

So let’s get back to those VU meters. Clearly the company philosophy is fundamentally linked to these retro-cool icons. It’s the defining feature of Ashdown Engineering and the new Meters Music brand. In my experience, the design choice seems to be very polarizing with consumers. The audiophile responses seem to range from skeptical to disdainful and overall this demographic regard the meters as a pointless gimmick. Of note, the meters are calibrated to EU volume safety standards, so an argument can be made that they are a visual warning for others (parents?) to ensure listening levels are at a safe volume. The fashion conscious, and/or the burgeoning retro nostalgic demographic (note the resurgence of vinyl and tube amps these days) are going to be attracted to these backlit, undeniably appealing analogue meters. (Ok, I admit it; I’m firmly in the camp that loves warm glowing indicators and dancing needles). To expect Ashdown Engineering to have done anything different is entirely missing the point; meters are an integral part of the company’s identity, and their unique, iconic way of differentiating themselves in the market.

There is no getting around it; these headphones are large and conspicuous attention-getters. Thankfully they are also well built, classy and very comfortable. At almost 400 grams (although not overtly heavy feeling) and sporting a generous cup width, the ANC electronics, battery and VU meters clearly do have an impact on ear cup size. The cups do fold for storage in the included case, and click securely out into place for listening. The gimbals and outer cup face are brushed aluminum with polished edges and look fantastic with the supple protein leather on the ear pads and headband. The sides of the cups are plastic, ideal for weight savings, however this does detract from the overall luxurious impression, especially when room lights are low and the VU meters are active and lit from behind. The internal light bleeds through the thin plastic walls and unfortunately devalues the OV-1 appearance. Perhaps a lightproof foil backing on the internal light would suffice – it is a disappointment as otherwise the lighting is great, natural and warm (it appears accurately incandescent).

Comfort and fit are very good. The headband and ear pads are thickly padded with memory foam and the artificial leather is luxurious to touch. The firm clamping force, large cups and generous padding ensures that the OV-1 seals securely around the ear (greatly eliminating sound leakage) and that it also remains comfortable for long listening sessions, but as expected, it does get warm. The headband is spring steel and the size adjustments click securely into place.  Cables are not microphonic with a micro-ridged rubberized texture.

The OV-1 is quite feature-packed, however, execution is a bit of a mixed bag. Hidden under the gimbal on the left ear cup, there is a 3-way switch allowing selection of a passive audio mode (meters, lighting, and ANC all off), ANC (meters and lighting on) and EQ (meters and lighting on, ANC off). This means that you cannot enable the meters without using the ANC or EQ setting and conversely you can’t disable the meters while using those settings. Separate switches for meters, backlight and sound setting would be ideal. Also on the left ear cup is a tiny indicator LED, 3.5mm cable port and micro USB charge port. The ports are positioned very close together, so it is not possible to charge and use the headphones simultaneously. Charging takes less than an hour and is rated for 10+ hours of usage.

My greatest complaint with the OV-1 is the EQ setting. I’m assuming it was included as an option to utilize the meters when not using ANC, but it is audibly inferior to the other two sound settings. I’ve struggled with determining its intended purpose; is it attempting to create the raw and exciting feeling of a live concert? In use it sounds like boosted midrange, adding a nasally, somewhat unpleasant tone to vocals.

In the passive setting, there’s a touch more volume, adding a bit more high-end extension and treble brightness than with ANC enabled, but the mids seem to get a little congested and some of the bass impression is blurred. That all being said, I preferred the ANC setting for music listening, so my impressions below of the sound signature are made with this mode enabled.

 

Sound Signature and Quality

If ANC is a feature on headphones, I assume that it is the intended primary use. Ashdown Engineering clearly expects the OV-1 to be used in this manner: the VU meters are active and ANC simply sounds better than the other two modes. Combined with the great head seal, the ANC is quite successful at eliminating low-frequency hum and most background noise, although perhaps not quite as effectively as the ubiquitous Bose ANC offerings. There is a very low-level audible hiss present in a silent room with no music playing (or without a source connected) when ANC is enabled. It is in no way audible once music is playing.

With what we know of Ashdown Engineering’s lineage, it should come as no surprise that bass is where these headphones shine; massive, stunning, deep, tight, and controlled bass. Turn off the bass-boost on your amplifier or music player it is no longer needed. Efficiency is also very good, and the OV-1 can be driven well directly from a smartphone.

I tend to be a fan of the lighter, delicate sound signature synonymous with open headphones, however, do I enjoy the warmth and power of tube amplification and prefer laid-back musicality to clinical presentation of music. Look elsewhere for ruler-flat measurements, or uncoloured accuracy to analyze acoustical tracks. Conversely, if you are looking for an extremely fun, non-fatiguing and refined sound, with spectacular bass and depth, the OV-1 delivers in a way I haven’t heard before.

The soundstage is intimate, but the excellent control ensures that the music remains uncongested and clear. The sense of power and intensity makes listening to music an all-encompassing experience. I truly believe the OV-1 was tuned by ear, by experienced music professionals that had a desired sound signature in mind and that they achieved their goal.

Midrange

Vocals are clear and pleasing, without sting or aggression. They aren’t lost in the mix, but the overall impression is of low-end bias. These headphones are unapologetically polite (perhaps as a Canadian I can relate?) yet, as the sound dips lower in the midrange, the listening experience becomes visceral and emotional. There is weight and substance to the sound.

Treble

From upper mid-range up into the treble region, the sound signature is extraordinarily smooth, ensuring the OV-1 remains eminently listenable and non-fatiguing over long listening sessions. At first, I was concerned that clarity may be lost, but the detail and sweetness of female vocals are still there, but it does take second-stage to the sheer impact and magnitude of the low end.

Bass

Ashdown Engineering is known for pro-level bass amplification and the OV-1 is no exception. The overall impact is one of controlled power. It booms and thumps, but remains taut and firm. It resonates with commanding authority and muscle but doesn’t become muddy, flabby or overwhelming. It’s a fine line to walk, but the designer’s expertise really shows and the listening experience is remarkably affecting and potent. The OV-1 makes music fun and entertaining, and truly shines with tracks that revel in low-end punch.

 

Conclusion

Thank you to Bob Rapoport, CEO of Essence For High Res Audio (www.essenceelectrostatic.com) for providing the OV-1 for review purposes.

The Ashdown Engineering Meters OV-1 headphones are unlike anything else I have owned. I regard them as a conscious choice by the designer, true to their lineage, both in aesthetics and sound signature. Ashdown describes the OV-1 as “Deep, dynamic, articulate, detailed.” They assert, “We know what great tone sounds like. We also understand the importance of quality.”

The sound quality is infectious. Put on your favourite Prince track and I challenge you to keep your feet from tapping and your head from nodding along. In a land of flashy, unrefined and plastic cars sporting fart-cannon exhausts, the OV-1 is a purring Bently with a trunk full of immaculately installed subwoofers. A pleasure to behold, touch and experience.

Unique looks. Powerful sound. The Meters OV-1 delivers the intended experience.

 

SPECIFICATIONS & FEATURES

WEIGHT – 372g / 0.82lbs
FREQ RES -20Hz – 20KHz
ACTIVE VISUAL MONITORING
MEMORY FOAM EAR-CUSHIONS
83% BACKGROUND NOISE CANCELING
SPRUNG STEEL FLEX FIT HEADBAND
SYNTHETIC PROTINE LEATHER
LIGHT WEIGHT ALLOY CONSTRUCTION
10-12 HRS BATTERY LIFE
20 MIN CHARGE = 2-3HRS LISTENING
45MIN – 1HR FULL CHARGE