Audio-Technica’s ATH-MSR7 SonicPro High-Resolution Over-Ear Headphones ($250) claim to produce “Hi-Res Audio, allowing users to hear music the way it was intended.” The headphones pack 45mm “True Motion Drivers,” lightweight voice coils, and a diaphragm which is designed to minimize sound distortion. ATH-MSR7 comes with three cables — 1.2m, 1.2m with smartphone mic and control, and 3.0m — and a carrying pouch. We see these headphones positioned as a possible “next step” beyond something like Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50 studio monitor (and its successor, the ATH-M50x), which has been one of the most often recommended entry-level headphones on the market.
The MSR7 improves on the M50 in almost every way. Vinyl is replaced by leather. Most plastic is replaced by metal. The MSR7’s earpads are soft almost to a fault; we found that the MSR7’s high clamping force can cause the ear pads to bottom out, leaving our ears touching the driver’s front plate. Though this caused some discomfort, the MSR7 maintains a good seal, and we’re confident that the band will loosen up for larger heads after regular use. These headphones do not fold, but swiveling the ear cups 90 degrees made them easy enough to stow in a bag. The MSR7’s detachable cable is a welcome feature, as are the three cable options. That being said, we would have preferred a cable with iOS-friendly volume controls.
The MSR7 is intended to be compatible with portable devices. Its high sensitivity (100 dB/mW) and low impedance (32 ohm) allowed our iPhone 6 Plus to drive it to high volumes, though we were forced dangerously near the end of the volume slider in noisy environments. We found that devices with a bit more power made the MSR7 come alive, with even more exciting detail and bass response.
Though the MSR7 sounds very good with portable devices, we found that its sound signature may not be ideal for the noisy world outside. To our ears, the MSR7 sounds “bright,” in that its bass response — while accurate and clear — is somewhat subdued. The double-kick bass drum on Mare Cognitum’s Phobos Monolith album, usually punishing and raw, comes across a bit tamer than we would prefer. In quiet spaces, it’s easy to enjoy the MSR7’s refined bass tones at a comfortable volume. Out in the world, however, you may have to crank the volume higher to get the same bass effect, and the slightly forward highs can detract from the experience — though overall, we understand many listeners will prefer MSR7’s sound profile.
We were initially skeptical at the sight of a golden “Hi-Res Audio” logo stamped on the MSR7’s box, which looks a little too much like the ubiquitous “1080P HD” logo. Would this be just another marketing gimmick? Thankfully, it was not — the MSR7 presents a superb level of detail, especially compared to the M50 and competitors like the Beats Studio. The MSR7’s detail is so good that it practically ruined Pearl Jam’s “All Those Yesterdays” by revealing some poor mixing of the guitar and vocal tracks during the intro. It was a joy to re-discover our favorite tracks on the MSR7 as it faithfully delivered every little detail, for better or for worse.
If you’re considering an upgrade in this price range, Audio-Technica’s ATH-MSR7 should be high on your list. Depending on your musical tastes, its sound signature may underwhelm a bit in the low end, but otherwise, everyone should be pleased with these headphones. ATH-MSR7’s excellent detail makes these headphones an excellent medium to experience — or rediscover — your music.
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Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, iPods