Review: Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones
Audio-Technica has been producingaudio equipment, from microphones to magnetic cartridges for turntables, sincethe 1960s. These days it is probably best known for its headphones, suchas the ATH-M50 professional studio monitor headphones and the slightly more consumer-oriented ATH-M50x model. But not everyone wants towear something you’d find in a DJ’s backpack, which is where the more street-ready ATH-MSR7 headphones come in. We've spent some time with our ears wrapped in the units tosee how they perform.
Design and connectivity
The Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 headphonesfeature a mix of plastic, aluminum, and magnesium materials, elevating themabove the crush of all-plastic headphone construction. Although they won’t win any "most-gorgeous" headphonesawards, most will appreciate the MSR7’s classy, contemporary look, with pops ofcolor and gleaming bezels that really catch the eye.
When it comes to overall construction,the MSR7's are pretty solid. The slide and swivel of moving parts are smoothwith minimal wiggle, the headband holds firm, and ear cups adjust verticallywith deep clicks. There is indeed some plastic in the MSR7 headphone body, butone won’t really see or feel it as much as hear it. The occasional creak,localized around the swivel joint, can make its way through to the ears whenthe head turns.
Thankfully, the trio of detachableaudio cables are some of the least-noisy out there. Even a hard flick of thefinger against any of these thick, durable cables adds only a muffled thump tomusic. Rub it up against clothing as much as you like, and all you will get iswonderful silence. The other key design of these cables is the tapered L-shapedplug, which all but guarantees compatibility with just about any smartphonecase out there.
Also included with the headphones is acloth carrying bag. Sure, most would prefer a custom-fit hard case, but the bagis nice and certainly better than nothing. Besides, sound quality trumpsaccessories, right?
The Audio-Technica MSR7's have one ofthe best fits right out of the box. It’s bam – instant comfort. Soft, cushionedcups create a fantastic seal around the ears, and the headband’s clamping forcepresses the pads evenly against the head. There's also excellent vertical andhorizontal play with the ear cups, ensuring a firm hold without any pinching.And if you wear glasses, the headphones aren't likely to mess with or tweakyour vision. Unlike many other over-ear headphones out there, theAudio-Technica MSR7's feature ear cups that are slightly rotated back a fewdegrees. The cushioned pads aren’t your standard/generic design either.They’re more like an oval with a pinch of parallelogram to them. As such, earswon’t have to be crammed, tucked, or squashed when putting the MSR7's on. Theshape and angle of the cups are meant to closely match the average human ear,which doesn’t simply lie vertically on heads.
Despite the solid fit and seal, whichcontribute to an improved listening experience, there are two minor quibbleswith the overall comfort. Some may find that the MSR7’s ear cups aren’t deepenough for the softness of the pads. The tips of ears can end up touching theinside of the cups, most notably when turning the head. Secondly, the sectionof padded headband feels a bit too narrow with too small of a surface area for theweight distribution. Although cushioned with memory foam, the MSR7's bear downon this tiny contact spot on the head, inevitably leading to fatigue.
But even with all that, theseheadphones are comfortable to wear for around 2-3 hours before a break soundsappealing. And then only a few minutes are necessary to rest up before donningthem again.
While many a pair of headphones canrattle skulls and blow eardrums with high volume levels, the Audio-TechnicaMSR7's are a little more reserved. Even at max volume on a mobile device, mostears should be able to bear the brunt without too much discomfort. But asidefrom protecting one’s hearing, the other reason to maintain moderate listeninglevels is keeping undesired effects at bay. Until the volume has been pushed tothe point of discomfort, the MSR7's exhibit practically zero distortion. Thosewho like to listen loud – it would take using a DAC/AMP to do so – will hearhow the distortion creates hard consonants and excessively sharp highs. Andthat alone is enough to overpower and obscure the finer details of vocals andinstrumental tone.
With the way the cushions create afirm seal around the ears, the headphones provide some decent noise isolationfrom the outside world, although it’s not entirely closed off, due to the slim,open vents on each cup. The same applies to noise leaking. While most of themusic remains confined to the cups, a high enough volume can be noticed bysomeone within a meter (~3 ft) or so. But with moderate/lower volume levels,one can listen inside a quiet library without anyone being the wiser.
The Audio-Technica MSR7's have one ofthe best, most-proportioned soundstages for their class. The width of the stageexpands clearly to each side, slightly past the ears, and the dynamics aremaintained with impressive precision. Not only can you hear the soft stuffalong with the loudest, but the tone is not lost in the mix. When it comes toimage positioning, elements moving between the left and right sides maintainsmooth fluidity. The soundstage is deep enough to deliver that sense ofdistance and separation between layers. All of this comes together to create aspacious atmosphere for instruments and vocals to flex and breathe. There’s no elbowing, no stepping ontoes within this soundstage.
Vocals and instruments are forward onthe stage toward the listener, but not aggressive. All the elements within atrack sound properly distanced with respect to everything else. Adding to thissense of realism is the way the MSR7's handle tone and texture, with quickattacks and snappy decays. The flow of music sounds clean, maintainingdistinctive edges that transform instruments and vocals into something morepalpable.
You won't have too hard a timeidentifying low-quality audio files here. The headphones pick up and highlight everything, imperfections and all, likea magnifying glass. Those who know their music well can hear peaks and dips,and/or veiling, and/or fuzzy edges, and/or a general blandness that stems fromcompressed audio files. If music was ripped from scuffed or damaged CDs, it'slikely that you'll pick up on the associated track noise. In this respect, theMSR7’s level of clarity can be somewhat double-edged. But if you stick toquality recordings, everything sounds golden.
Hi-hats and cymbals are delivered withgreat tone and accuracy. Hits, taps, and brushes all sound distinct from oneanother, coming out clear with minimal (if that) tinniness. With the righttrack, you can hear how each metallic strike sounds a little different from thelast. Other instruments, such as tambourines and maracas, also exhibit thisvivid level of expression that is never lost upon the listener, even when musicincreases in complexity.
Chalk it up to the Audio-TechnicaMSR7’s precision, but you can hear when a fiddle transitions from sounding"normal" to "sweet" and back again, or how a violin mightshift in intensity, sounding "stern" one moment and then"delicate" the next. Such are the subtle, honest ways that you’llnotice more out of your music, especially with higher-quality or lossless audiofiles.
There is a minor drawback to theMSR7’s crisp clarity within the highs, however. On occasion, and especially atgreater volume levels, the tips brighten a bit more than desired. Such focusedprecision leads to excess sharpness and/or a harsher sound, especially towardthe edges of the upper registers. It doesn’t happen with all songs, but you’llknow it when you hear it.
Fond of saxophones and fun-filledmids? You can practically taste the tart brass as the Audio-Technica MSR7'sdrive tone and energy, with the soul of electric guitars is evoked through thesqueals and wails, and the hit and scratch of guitar strings popping out, evenwhen a song is rife with action all over. The reproduction of vocals is equallyimpressive.
There is a minimal amount of colorationthat affects the mids, not unlike a healthy pinch to bring out the best ofacoustic guitars, brass instruments, and some vocals. Combined with theabundance of energy within the music itself, you should catch yourselfunconsciously moving or bobbing to the beats while listening with this unit.
The MSR7’s lows are, for a lack of abetter description, somewhat well-mannered, almoston the verge of sounding timid. As if they might be afraid to tip the balanceand anger the highs and mids – almost. But once you get past the initiallisten, be ready to slip into some serious low-end detail. What theAudio-Technica MSR7's lack in theatrical lows is made up with tight control andmusical tone. Drums come off as taut, firm, and with that perfect bit of bouncefor mid-level character. It’s a far cry from hulked-out drums and bass fromless-sophisticated brands. These lows are more active, sculpted, sort of likeJoe Manganiello’s abs.
Sure, the sub-bass texture of the MSR7'smay not sound as prominent when compared to headphones heavier in the lows. Butthe upside is that the MSR7's sound far more plush with their technicalexecution. Method Man’s song, Bring The Pain, makes for a greatexample. But one doesn’t necessarily need to resort to hip-hop for this. Drumsin Ray LaMontagne’s song, Trouble, deliver a tight thump with thataccompanying "feel" in the middle of your head. The MSR7 headphones prove thatextra force isn’t necessary, opting to focus on big-picture sound and faithfulaudio reproduction.
The Audio-Technica MSR7's succeed mostwith how well they straddle and bind together various aspects. The audioquality and over-ear design make them a solid at home listening choice, yet theswiveling ear cups make the MSR7's easy to pack and take on the road. Whilethis headphones are more suited for sitting and listening, they're also finefor light-to-moderate physical activity (walking, bicycling, ellipticalmachine, maybe a light jog). Althoughthey're affordable and accessible to most everyone, they don’t come off ascheap-looking with sub-par construction.
If the MSR7's were a story instead ofa headphone, clarity would be the theme, nirvana the setting, tone and detailthe style, and vibrant imaging the protagonist. It’s hard to put a good pair ofheadphones down, and the MSR7's are very comfortable with their plush cushions.At times, and especially with the right track, the headphones come off as a little too analytical, driving somehighs to be a little too sharp. There’salso a bit of creaking in the cups, and the headband can be too narrow forsome, leading to fatigue sooner than desired, but these are "problems" that many a set of headphoneswould kill to have.
The Audio-Technica MSR7 headphonesdefinitely fire on all cylinders. They're well made, comfortable, portable,affordable, stylish yet not garish, and feature a sound signature that shouldgarner genuine approval and smiles from all audiophiles, enthusiasts, andcasual listeners alike. The overall performance – especially when you considerthe sculpted, musical lows – far exceeds the MSR7’s price point of US$299(although they can easily be found for less). So if clean looks and clear audioare high on your list of priorities, then we can't help but recommend the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones.
Product page: Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7