It was 18-months ago that we reviewed the excellent Audio-Technica MSR7 over-ear headphones - and might impressed we were. Now it's the turn of the MSR7NC which, as those additional two letters in the name denote, are the noise-cancelling version.
These wired headphones - there's no Bluetooth wireless here, unlike some of the competition - stick to hard-wiring to deliver hi-resolution audio levels of listening, while sticking to a familiar design.
Priced at £250 are they worth the extra cash compared to the standard MSR7 model? We've been using a pair for a month to get the lowdown.
Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7NC review: Design
The NC take the refined look of the MSR7 and simplify things further. The blue/red accent highlights of the originals are gone, instead its very much a mono black-and-silver finish. If you're not a fan of overstated headphones, then they'll be the perfect look.
The earcups do each brandish large Audio-Technica logos, which are matte in finish to avoid looking garish. There are "L" and "R" markings on the outer sections that we think should be hidden away on the inside edge rather than for all to see - but at least they aren't the literally spelled-out "left" and "right" markings as per the original MSR7.
The overall build is of good quality: the aluminium and magnesium housing feels solid, avoiding the plastics the company is often guilty of using en masse in its lower-spec models, while the ear cup padding is ample for a comfortable fit.
Fit is an important factor. With the ATH-MSR7NC you'll want to make sure they're accurately positioned for the optimum listen, given their scale, but we've not found them to slip around to excess during long periods of listen. And given how many times we've worn them for hours at a time, we've always felt comfortable and fresh after - the fit doesn't pinch to excess, while the audio isn't fatiguing.
In the box there's also a soft carry case, plus two 1.2m cables (one adds mic control for phones) and even an airplane adaptor, should you need it. There's not the 3m cable of the original MSR7, though, which is a shame for home listeners wanting to wire-up to a system from a distance.
Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7NC review: Hi-res audio
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-MSR7NC over-ears will cater for all - just like the originals did; the sound between the two models is indistinguishable in passive playback (we've got both pairs side-by-side).
With 45mm drivers behind each earcup, said to deliver a frequency response from 5-40,000Hz, there's the scope for brain-wobbling bass through to the high-end titters that extend beyond the range of human hearing - but within the necessary range to deliver hi-resolution audio, should you have such file formats available (or the likes of Tidal streaming).
As we said of the originals, despite this wide frequency range the MSR7NC over-ears don't overdo things: they're all about a neutral, balanced listen. You won't get insane bass-in-yer-face excess, but rather a taut, balanced experience.
We can't think of much we've not put to task through the MSR7NC. From the hammering heavy metal of Gojira, to the latest Hospital records albums, plus a little rewind back to Jamie XX's original album - the MSR7 deliver enough grunt in all the right areas, including ample spatial sense from those large earcups.
Going on the more mellow, sedate front (well, ish), we've also pushed high-res Bjork through the cans to pick up the nuance of vocal harmonies and string-led pieces. Post-classic, if you will.
So whether you like classic, rock, pop, underground or anything else in-between (or even all genres), then these Audio-Technica headphones are prime candidates for all. It's not often you'll find headphones that can cope successfully across such a range.
Just as before, however, there's a slight mid-high-end "push" that seemingly enhances sibilance; s-es and t-s can catch, while those over-compressed pianos might crackle a touch (in part that's down to the mastering process). But that's about as much as we can try to moan about - and it's not really a heightened issue here beyond the competition.
Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7NC review: Noise-cancelling
Now it goes without saying that the reason to buy the NC version of the MSR7 is for their noise-cancelling. Which, frankly, isn't the most dramatic that we've ever heard - when we first received the headphones we weren't sure that it made much difference, which is why extensive real-world testing has been so important, such as on plane journeys.
Overall it'll depend on what you want from noise-cancellation. On the one hand there are headphones like the Sony MDR-100ABN which make your ears feel like they've been sucked into a air-tight vacuum, with impressive removal of external sound, but which decimate the balance and, frankly, are awful in their passive format. Other go-to travelling cans like the Bose QuietComfort QC35 are also great to drown out the outside world almost entirely.
By comparison the Audio-Technica MSR7NC sound captivating in their passive form, as we've highlighted above. With noise-cancelling activated surrounding "hisses" will be cut-out or partially subdued - the typical hum from trains, hiss from planes or (that lesser known nuisance) rush of air from cooker extraction fans. So it's less dramatic than some, but makes for a more comfortable listen.
There's another point to give the MSR7NC's noise-cancelling some extra love: the microphone arrangement seemingly avoids that "tearing" sound you'll get from blustering wind, which is typical of most, if not all, competitors we've come to test. That, for on-the-street use, is an added bonus.
Oh, and the on-board battery life lasts for up to 30-hours per charge via the microUSB connector. It's as straightforward to operate as you could want too: a switch on the left earcup indicates charging (purple light) and active (blue light).
Having used the Audio-Technica MSR7NC headphones for dozens of hours, if not hundreds, we continue to be drawn back to them as our go-to over-ear headphones. The reason is simple: they're comfortable and they sound great - whatever we've thrown at them.
Now the NC part of the equation is what some will love, while others will see as a slip-up. On the one hand the subtle ability of the noise-cancelling is great for travelling, its no-nonsense operation and long-lasting on-board battery all being positives. On the other hand, if you prefer more dramatic noise-cancelling that extensively drowns out external sound then these probably aren't he over-ears for you.
So they're certainly excellent, but without a Bluetooth wireless feature or colour accent options for that extra level of visual interest, they (along with their higher price point) might make you think about purchasing the original MSR7 instead.
For us, though, the NC's balance of noise-cancelling subtlety paired with big audio ability makes them ideal for the discerning listener. There's a definite level of subjective opinion as to how these over-ear cans score, but for us they're full-marks just as the originals were. One not to be overlooked.