We've been seeing over-ear headphones rain from the skies over the last couple of years, as one of the fastest expanding areas in tech. With new names entering the fold, the long-time established brands, such as Audio-Technica, are fighting back with kit from their every corner.
Leaving no sonic stone unturned, the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 over-ear headphones promise a neutral sound from newly designed drivers and high-resolution audio support, but given their high-end finish are positively priced at under the £200 mark.
We've been living with the MSR7 cans for a couple of weeks, during which time they've aided our holiday travels by plane, train and automobile around the UK and abroad. Are they our new favourite go-to pair of over-ears?
In 2014 we had a lot of love for the ATH-MX50X headphones, which sported a large Audio-Technica product name across the headband and embossed brand symbols on both earcups. The ATH-MSR7 take a more refined overall look; a smaller, lighter package with a plain headband and full product name and logo on the side of each earcup.
If anything the branding, while not overtly garish, is one of the few moans we have about the MSR7. We would prefer a more subtle approach, hiding away those spelled-out words, including the "left" and "right” markings on their respective sides.
Otherwise Audio-Technica has crafted a great looking set of over-ear cans. The aluminium and magnesium housing feels solid, avoiding the plastics the company is often guilty of using en masse.
The fit to the ears avoids being too tight, while ensuring a snug wear for long periods of time thanks to cushy earcup padding and memory foam. And we should know, having donned the MSR7 for much of an eight hour flight, soaking up episodes of Breaking Bad, cutting out the in-flight hiss, and soothing our brains with personal choice tunes.
However, the ear cups aren't particularly deep so ears don't freely float in the cavity, but the interior material padding maintains comfort.
There are two colour options available: the black with electric blue highlights, as featured for this particular review, and a gunmetal grey with brown padding and red highlights option. Both come with a carry case included and three cable lengths: two 1.2m options, one of which is smartphone specific, and a longer 3m option to trail around the house, but none of them feature a twist-to-lock action to keep them affixed into the 3.5mm input.
Whether you're listening to regular MP3s from your smartphone, vinyl via an amp, or hi-res audio from a dedicated player, the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 over-ears will cater for all.
Tucked behind those metal exteriors are 45mm drivers, said to deliver a frequency response from 5-40,000Hz, which is a range to cater for brain-wobbling bass and high-end titters outside of the range of human hearing (and many audio formats too). That's what you get with audiophile cans.
Despite such a giant frequency range at its disposal, the MSR7 over-ears are all about a neutral listen. You won't get insane bass-in-yer-face excess, but rather a taut, balanced listening experience that hums along nicely. The response is largely flat, and we mean that in a positive way, with a slight lift towards the mid-top-end of the (audible) spectrum, with the highs feeling a little more separated.
We've given the MSR7 a testing time. From the reverb-drenched vocals of Daughter producing a lingering, delightful soundscape; to Neil Young in high-resolution audio via the Tidal streaming service delivering a rich, crisp listen (complete with harmonica). Even the compressed beats from label Dutty Audio produced enough pomp from low-end frequencies and compressed snares for a loud, clean listen.
The only real downside we've caught is that mid-high push (based on what we've heard, presumably around the 7500Hz mark) which, depending on what you listen to, can cause some things to be a little shrill for some vocal licks, such as s-es, t-s catching accentuation, and not always to the delight of the listen. A track such as Deadmau5's I Remember, for example, can catch such frequencies from the female vocal and feel less balanced than a well-mic'd live session recording, for example. It's not a particular issue.
Having used these headphones for hours totalling into days and wouldn't want to change the way they sound. For a faithful listen these Audio-Technicas are the sheepdog of the headphones world.
Sound is well positioned to the ears and external sound is quashed, despite no noise-cancellation technology on board, while audio spillage to those around you is minimal due to a snug fit. We don't see the lack of active noise-cancellation as an issue as it can introduce additional issues, not to mention additional cost.
There may be no Bluetooth wireless and no active noise-cancellation, but the overall quality of the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 means that, ultimately, we don’t really care. These are classic yet contemporary cans - and for the £200 asking price you'd be hard pressed to find a better pair of headphones capable of reproducing such a natural sound.
Good looking, well built, largely devoid of the plastics that can be all too common in Audio-Technica products, and with a snug fit that's comfortable to wear for hours on end, we'd only shrink the branding presence a little.
Criticisms few and far between, in this price bracket the Audio-Technica MSR7 are next to perfect headphones for the discerning listener.