Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones
The Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 is not the Japanese company’s first headphone, it has been making iconic and professionally-revered headphones since 1972. The company’s remarkable track record is enough by itself to command an in-depth look at their latest closed-back, circumaural dynamic monitor, the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7, released in January of this year. The MSR7 are being marketed as “portable high-resolution audio headphones”. The 5Hz-40kHz frequency range certainly impresses on paper, as do the state-of-the-art components and methods used in the construction, all of which are paraded on the product’s packaging. AT are clearly very proud of the R&D expended on their latest creation and is keen to share this with consumers.
What you get
The impressing continues through the aesthetic design and build quality. Open the box and you are presented with a classy-looking pair of cans that has both retro and contemporary visual appeal. Chunky aluminium transducer casings are connected by adjustable metal headband arms that have visible grooves to accompany the usual resistive ‘clicks’, these enable you to easily see if the height is matched on both arms. The strong clamping force and leather-clad memory foam headband and earcups provide a secure and comfortable fit that is ideal for on-the-move listening. The transducer casing hinges conveniently rotate 90-degrees for flat storage, although the headphones remain quite bulky for daily portability. Weighing 290g, they are also not the lightest on the market, but do strike an acceptable balance between feeling reassuringly solid in-hand and sufficiently light on-head. Sound isolation is slightly compromised by the vents built into the earcups to improve airflow and dynamics, but is adequate unless you frequent particularly noisy environments.
Three sets of cables are included in the box: a standard 3m cable with straight tips for home use; a shorter 1.2m cable with right-angled tip at source end for listening on-the-move; and a 1.2m cable with inline remote/mic and right-angled tip at source end for smartphone use. While the stock cables are attractive in look and feel, the lack of robust strain relief at the ends is of concern for durability. Connection is made via a 3.5mm jack input at the base of the left transducer, so no proprietary fitment to worry about in the event of cable failure. No 3.5mm to 6.3mm adaptor is provided, a potential inconvenience for those wanting to listen on their home stereos.
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 performance
As the audible benefits of an extended frequency response and lower noise floor from hi-res audio are subtle at best, manufacturers have been known to tweak their products’ sonics in the audible parts of the spectrum to enhance the perceived effect of increased detail that has become synonymous with ‘hi-res’. This most often entails a treble boost, so I was intrigued to see if AT are guilty of delivering the kind of spotlight-grabbing sound that becomes fatiguing during extended use in this model.
Out of the box, the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 immediately impresses with a very clean and well resolved presentation. At low to moderate listening levels highs are crisp and extended, mids have convincing and intelligible presence without sounding unnaturally recessed or forward, and lows are reproduced cleanly with excellent speed and extension without sounding either anemic or boomy. The soundscape is impressively expansive for a closed-back design. It is open and spacious with good depth, separation and layering, and is not flattened or congested. The tonal profile and resolving capabilities of the MSR7 are such that very little smearing is evident across the spectrum. The lows do not muddy the mids, and the mids do not cloud the crispness and extension of the highs. This allows the MSR7 to be enjoyed satisfyingly at lower SPLs, at which I find the tonal balance to be spot-on, although their benign 35-ohm impedance makes them easy to drive to high levels with most portable devices.
Re-assessing the ATs after the minimum 48hr ‘burn-in’ period I subject all my evaluation products to, little or no change in the sound was noted, but during extended listening at higher SPLs the well-lit tonal character of the MSR7 became more apparent. These headphones do slightly accentuate the upper mids and highs, and the sound can harden somewhat and become a little strident at louder levels. On well-recorded pieces replayed on tonally-neutral or slightly warm ancillary equipment this is not enough to cause issue, but on tracks mastered with hot EQ listening can risk becoming an ‘edge of the seat’ experience at higher volumes, particularly if vocal sibilance is present. In short, these headphones are very revealing of what is upstream, so If you prefer a smoother and more laid-back sound or your system already exhibits brightness, the MSR7 may not be a desirable pairing. If however you seek a clean and well-lit presentation that offers near-reference levels of detail and good spatial rendering, these cans are sure to impress. I dare say the MSR7 are amongst the most resolving closed-back dynamic headphones I have auditioned.
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 verdict
Audio Technica has genuinely knocked it out of the park with their latest portable, circumaural, closed-back dynamic headphone. The ATH-MSR7 is a stylish and comfortable design with solid build quality and a refined sound approaching that of higher-end reference quality open-back monitors, and all for less than £200. If you don’t mind a slightly bright presentation, you will be rewarded with a very revealing, spacious and layered sonic experience that until now has been extremely difficult to obtain from a closed-back can. The ATH-MSR7 is a remarkably impressive package, and definitely worth auditioning.
Ancillaries used during testing
System 1: MacBook Air onboard headphone amp and DAC.
System 2: Schiit Valhalla OTL valve headphone amp and Schiit Bifrost Uber DAC.
System 3: Yamaha A-S2000 integrated amplifier onboard headphone amp and Schiit Bifrost Uber DAC.