ESS 422 Headphones Review

ESS 422H Headphones Review

ESS 422 Headphones Review

I recently tested the ESS 252 and was impressed by the build and sound quality for the price. Unlike the ESS 252, the more expensive ESS 422H has a hybrid driver setup. In fact, it’s a very unique design in the headphone world. This is because the ESS 422H are the first cans to utilize The Heil Air Motion Transformer (AMT). The company used old parts from a German military aircraft to make the headphones levitate. Not true. Let’s figure out what AMT actually means. And let’s see what effect it has on sound quality in this ESS 422H Headphones Review.

ESS 422H Headphones Review

IN the BOX – ESS 422H Headphones Review

Semi-hard carrying case

Detachable 3.5mm cable with ¼” adapter

FIT – ESS 422H Headphones Review

One thing’s for sure. These headphones are a much more comfortable fit than the ESS 252. Though very firm, they don’t push on the jawline as much. And you still get isolation that is as good as some noise-cancelling headphones out there. 

DESIGN – ESS 422H Headphones Review

Let me introduce to you the Heil driver. An unfortunate name, and it takes all the moral strength in the world for me not to make any more jokes. So what the heil does AMT mean?

Without getting too boring or complicated, the diaphragm of the headphone has a pleated shape, and moves much like an accordian. It pushes currents back and forth in a way that prevents air from escaping in the wrong direction. The smaller motion range allows for a very rapid response rate. It’s similar technology to an electrostatic driver. But because of the folded design, more air is moved than would be by a cone or electrostatic driver. This, together with the small motion range allows the design to act as a larger driver. Basically, the result is less sound distortion and “sound as clear as light.” So, that was indeed boring. And complicated. This technology has been used in tweeters, but never headphones. Until now…

The ESS 422H is a hybrid of a dynamic driver and a Heil driver. I’m guessing, dynamic (40mm) for the low frequencies and Heil (20*30mm) for the heis.

At 32 Ohms, these foldable headphones are perfect for on the go use with a phone and maybe a portable amp.

The ESS 422H is made from walnut, a semi-dense wood that, theoretically, should provide a pleasing balance between clarity and soft, melodic bliss. Paired with a solid metal frame, these headphones are sturdy and look great. I should also mention that they’re a little heavy. But I didn’t feel the weight while wearing them.

SOUND – ESS 422H Headphones Review

Smooth, transparent and well-balanced.


The bass is significant enough to really enjoy pop, hip-hop and EDM. Purists might say it’s a little too emphasized, but it was perfect for me, and I’m not a bass-head. It’s a little relaxed, slightly lacking in punchiness. But that doesn’t take too much away from the experience. It finds a nice balance between smoothness and texture; although it’s not extremely dry, it still has some grip. The lows are well separated too. I sensed almost no bleeding into the higher frequencies.


We’ve got a beautifully balanced mid range here. No harsh upper mids, no muddy lower mids. This range has great transparency and separation for the price, and it almost sounds like a planar magnetic headphone, but with a tad more “bigness.” The result? Acoustic guitars feel accurate with a lot of resolve. And huge rock choruses sound frequen’ fantastic. However, the ESS 422H seems to lack the transient response of planar magnetic headphones. And they certainly don’t have the attack of an electrostatic design, even though they share a similar technology. Still, for 199 bucks, I’m impressed!


The highs nicely balance clarity and silkiness. That is, the ESS 422H passed the Miles Davis test. I heard texture and breathiness in the trumpet, but absolutely no piercing brightness. Slightly round without sounding like the highest frequencies are cut off, the highs are cohesive and easy to listen to. Strings sound especially transparent, and yet, the notes roll smoothly and effortlessly. Classical music is my favorite genre to listen to on these cans. Very pretty.


An impressive soundstage for a closed-back headphone at this price. With a nice amount of width, height and depth, I definitely felt surrounded in a multidimensional experience.

SUMMARY – ESS 422H Headphones Review

The ESS 422H are well worth the price. And though I wish they were a bit snappier, I can find nothing else wrong with them. Balance, clarity, richness, smoothness. It’s all there. They work beautifully across all genres, especially rock and classical, and I think they’re the perfect first headphone for the budding audiophile. I highly recommend these.

You can find these headphones for the best price at:

Amazon: ESS Laboratories ESS 422H Hybrid Headphones with Heil Driver and Air Motion Technology Moving Coil Woofer

SPECIFICATIONS – ESS 422H Headphones Review

Hybrid Driver Unit: 40mm moving coil driver, 20*30mm multi-fold AMT Air Motion Technology

Impedance 32 Ω +/- 15% at 1KHz, 179Mv

Sensitivity: 110 +/- 3dB at 1KHZ w/Vrms input= 179Mv

Power Capacity: 50mW, Max~100mW

Frequency Response: 20~20kHz at 1mW

Comes with case and cable