If you’ve been following our headphone reviews, you know that we’ve had good experiences with Audio-Technica’s “SonicPro” line of headphones. We gave broad recommendations for both the ATH-MSR7 and ATH-MSR7NC, even if we did find them a bit bright sounding and had some concerns about creaks coming from their plastic joints. In this review, we take a look at the latest incarnation of Audio-Technica’s 45mm True Motion driver, the on-ear Bluetooth-enabled ATH-SR5BT ($199). The headphone comes in white, as seen here, or black.
At first glance, the SR5BT appear to be a miniature version of the MSR7. The leather headband and earpads, chamfered metal driver cups, metal sizing mechanism, and plastic joints are all the same — just smaller in this on-ear design. Fortunately, the only part of the SR5BT that isn’t miniaturized is the driver — as far as we can tell, the SR5BT packs the same pair of 45mm drivers that we liked so much in the MSR7. Included in the box is a basic set of accessories: a carrying pouch, a 3’ cable, and a micro-USB charging cable.
The switch to on-ear brings a predictable set of pros and cons. The SR5BT are about 35 percent lighter than the MSR7, about that much more portable, and about that much less comfortable and less isolating. Even with the extremely comfortable leather pads, we never forgot that we were wearing the SR5BT. During long listening sessions, the direct pressure on our ears became tiresome, and we found ourselves reaching for the over-ear versions that we had brought along for comparison.
In wired mode, the SR5BT delivers much of the high-quality detail that we enjoyed with its over-ear siblings. There was an undeniable lack of sub-bass in the songs we tested; this was most noticeable in rap and EDM tracks that had lost their punch. We can only guess at the cause — possibilities include a difference in their design, a lack of “burn-in”, or simply, the same sound being pushed through a smaller opening. All we can say for sure is that the SR5BT takes a headphone that was already bass-light and made it even lighter. If you’re looking for pounding bass, the SR5BT is not for you.
The SR5BT’s Bluetooth functionality works well. Pairing is easy and instant, battery life is plentiful, and we like the inclusion of hardware buttons and switches. In a particularly nice touch, the SR5BT automatically disables Bluetooth and switches to wired mode when you plug in the cable. Volume controls are unfortunately not linked to those of the iPhone, so you’ll have two volume levels to manage in Bluetooth mode. The SR5BT’s controls are all handled by a single button/slider which is easy to use, but loose enough that we found it easy to outpace the headphone and miss some inputs. When we tested Bluetooth phone calls, our caller complained that we were difficult to hear.
Audio-Technica’s “SonicPro” line of headphones bear the “Hi-Res Audio” badge. Though we understand that this is more of a marketing term than any objective measure of quality, there is something worth discussing here. Unlike the MSR7, the SR5BT’s “Hi-Res Audio” sticker comes with a caveat –— “With Wired Use.” We take this as a subtle acknowledgement by the company that Bluetooth audio has its limits, even when paired with a very good driver. This is not to say that the SR5BT’s Bluetooth audio sounds bad — very much the opposite. We just found it to be a bit thinner and duller than wired mode.
There are clear pros and cons to the SR5BT. As with the larger members of its family, the SR5BT presents very clear and detailed sound in a classy package. Its shortcomings are, for the most part, the kinds of tradeoffs inherent in the move to an on-ear form factor and Bluetooth audio. The SR5BT is certainly not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a transparent set of headphones for your commute, and space is at a premium, it makes a lot of sense — Audio-Technica’s newest Bluetooth offering earns our general recommendation.
Company and Price
Compatible: Bluetooth iPads, iPhones + iPods, Apple Watch, 4th-gen Apple TV