The most recent addition to Audio-Technica's SonicPro line of headphones, the new ATH-MSR7 is an over-the-ear, closed-back design that carries an MSRP of $249.95. Audio-Technica bills these as "hi-res audio" headphones, which is the company's way of saying that they are designed to offer a very clean, neutral sound that can make the most of your hi-res audio tracks--and to my ears, that's just what they delivered.
The ATH-MSR7 uses a pair of Audio-Technica's 45mm True Motion dynamic drivers in a rigid metal housing made of aluminum and magnesium. The company says this metal combination helps to reduce resonance within the earphone. While technically this is a closed-back design, each earphone does include three vents designed to better control airflow and improve dynamics. Therefore, noise isolation may be a little compromised compared with fully closed-back designs; however, in my time with the ATH-MSR7, I found that these headphones did a fine job of keeping the music in and the environmental noises out.
The ATH-MSR7's thick, memory-foam earpads are wrapped in a soft leather-like material, as is the padded headband. Each earphone has a pivoting joint to allow more flexibility to form a complete seal over your ear. The earpads fit perfectly over my ears but could be a little small for someone with larger ears. I found the earpads themselves to be very comfortable, but the headband could use a little more padding, and the fit was quite tight at first, putting more pressure on my head than I'd like. Thankfully, it loosened up a bit as I continued to wear the headphones, which weigh 290 grams. Overall, the ATH-MSR7 looks and feels like a sturdy, well-constructed, more expensive headphone, with attractive brushed-metal parts used throughout.
Audio-Technica kindly made the cable detachable, and the package includes three cable options: one basic cable that measures 46.8 inches and has an L-type connector on one side; one smartphone-friendly cable that also measures 46.8 inches, has an L-type connector, and includes a microphone and pause/play button (but no track forward/reverse); and one cable that is 117.6 inches, designed for use with a computer or home component that may demand more slack. All three cables use eighth-inch jacks; there's no adapter for a quarter-inch headphone port. A protective pouch is included.
The ATH-MSR7's output SPL (sensitivity) is rated at 100 dB/mW, and its impedance is 35 ohms, which are average numbers in terms of how easy these headphones are to drive. Admittedly, I'm not one who listens to my music at painfully loud volume levels, but I found that the ATH-MSR7 produced ample volume when connected directly to my iPhone and laptops--they appeared to be easier to drive than my reference B&W P7 headphones, playing notably louder at the same volume settings. For my critical listening tests and comparisons, I added a Sony PHA-2 headphone amp to the chain to even the playing field.
Most of my evaluation tracks were full-resolution AIFF files stored on my Apple and PC laptops, along with some 24/96 FLAC files downloaded from HDTracks. I also auditioned some lower-res MP3s and streamed content from Spotify and Pandora to see how the ATH-MSR7s fared with lower-fidelity content.
I found the ATH-MSR7's sonic signature to be clean and neutral, with a great balance between highs, mids, and lows. There's a slight emphasis on the highs over the lows--not in a bright, sterile, unforgiving sort of way, but rather in providing a nice sense of airiness and crispness. The twangy guitar notes and wailing vocals in Steve Earle's "Goodbye" had a great sense of texture and never veered into harshness, while the harmonica sounded a bit more breathy and rich than it did through the B&W P7.
Whether it was the low and slow bass line of Tom Waits' "Long Way Home" or the quick, melodic bass lines of The Beatles' "All Together Now" and Ani DiFranco's "Little Plastic Castles," the ATH-MSR7 did a very good job of keeping control over the bass while still giving it the needed presence. Only when I switched to the electronic boom of a song like Moby's "Extreme Ways" did the bass grow a bit mushy and indistinct, at least compared with the B&W headphones.
In "Seasons" from the Singles soundtrack, the combination of Chris Cornell's higher-pitched vocals and the various acoustic guitar lines can veer uncomfortably bright in a highly revealing speaker or headphone, but here it remained smooth and easy to listen to, even at a louder volume. Perhaps there was a bit of an edge on all those "S" sounds, but it was nothing I found objectionable. Rather, I enjoyed the ATH-MSR7's enhanced sense of space that let me hear more of what's going on in the mix.
In the opening of Pink Floyd's "Time," the ATH-MSR7 again did a great job relaying the open, enveloping quality of the various instruments seeming to float in space, ably blending the delicate highs with the ominous lows.
• The ATH-MSR7 has excellent build quality and comes with several cable options.
• The overall fit is comfortable, although these headphones do require a little break-in to loosen the headband.
• The ATH-MSR7 offers a neutral, well-balanced, spacious sound that suits it to variety of music genres and quality levels.
• These headphones are fairly easy to drive.
• The over-the-ear design provides solid noise isolation.
• Over-the-ear designs are not the most compact headphones, and these models do not fold in to make them more portable for travel.
• Although I personally liked the amount of bass served up by these headphones, those who want a headphone that really brings the thunder may find the ATH-MSR7 to be a bit too delicate for their tastes.
Comparison and Competition
As you've probably surmised, I spent a lot of time comparing the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 with my reference headphones, the B&W P7, which carries a higher price tag of $399. The Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 deserves a lot of props for delivering very similar performance and build quality as the P7 for $250. The P7 is the most comfortable over-the ear headphone I've ever used, and the ATH-MSR7 couldn't quite compete there, although it did get better as the headband loosened up. There were a lot of similarities in performance; the differences, to my ear, were that the ATH-MSR7 had more air and texture in the highs, while the P7 had little more meat in the mid and bass regions.
Other over-the-ear headphones in a similar price range include the Blue Microphones Mo-Fi ($349), Sony MDR-1A ($300), Focal Spirit One ($250), Sennheiser Momentum ($300), JBL Syncros S500 ($280), PSB M4U 1 ($299), and NAD Viso HP50 ($300).
Overall, I am very impressed with what the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 offers for its price. While $250 is not cheap, you could pay more and not get the build quality and performance of the ATH-MSR7. For me, I'd rather listen to a speaker that's overly warm than one that's overly bright, and I came in to this review wondering if the ATH-MSR7--with its "hi-res audio" leanings--would be too revealing for my taste and my music collection, which still includes a lot of compressed music. That did not prove to be case. I really liked the crisp, clean, spacious quality of this headphone combined with its solid, controlled bass, and it proved to be equally kind with streamed/lower-res music as it was to pristine hi-res recordings. Over the-ear headphones aren't perfect for every listening scenario; but, for those times when you really want to get lost in your music, like on a plane or late at night when the family is asleep, Audio-Technica's ATH-MSR7 over-the-ear headphones are a great choice.
• Audio-Technica Introduces Sonic Pro ATH-MSR7 Headphones at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit the Audio-Technica website to see more of the company's headphone offerings.
• Check out our Headphones category page for similar product reviews.