Audio Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphone Review
This week’s new Audio Technica headphones in full.
What is the ATH-MSR7b?The Audio Technica ATH MSR7b is a closed back, over ear headphone that is firmly in the ‘nomad’ category of headphones - models designed to be as happy out on the move with you as they are being used with your equipment at home. And why not? In these turbulent times, the idea of having different devices for home and portable use is a frivolity that most people won’t indulge in.
“Hang on” I hear (at least one of) you cry. “You’ve just reviewed an Audio Technica headphone that cost not much less than this - and it did more too.” This is true and the M50xBT is a very fine headphone indeed. Why then has Audio Technica seemingly stacked these models on top of one another in the time honoured tradition of competing with oneself?
As ever, there are good arguments as to why this has been done and why it makes more sense in reality than it might on paper. It also gives us a chance to see what Audio Technica has done to the MSR7b to improve it from the original which we also liked very much. So, without further ado, let’s get cracking.
Specification and DesignThe MSR7b is, as noted, a closed back, dynamic driver headphone. These are not really surprising design choices. The moment that you open the back of a headphone, it’s suitability for use outside the home plummets. This is because they will let in more noise while at the same time leaking more noise out as you raise the volume to compensate. This, in turn, means that if you’re on a crowded train or tube everyone will hate you. Keeping the headphone closed ensures that you are better insulated from the outside world and people can’t hear you listening to Chris de Burgh, so it’s a win-win.
Likewise, the choice of dynamic drivers is a fairly logical one too. Now that Oppo has departed the audio arena to crack on with making mobile phones, dynamic drivers are pretty much the only game in town below £500. The drivers in the MSR7b are a little different from the norm though. For starters, they are larger than is usually the case at 45mm rather than 40mm. This doesn’t sound like much but is it all extra radiating area.
The drivers themselves are revised from the original MSR7 and borrow some of Audio Technica’s clever new parts. They are sprayed with a material called Diamond Like Carbon which acts to stiffen the driver as it moves. Doing so ensures that no energy is wasted and that every last fragment of exertion goes into making sound. The drivers make use of Permendur magnetic alloy for the magnets which, apparently, ensures a very even magnetic flux and works especially well in situations like speaker drivers. This is also another example of Audio Technica’s copper coated aluminium wire being used.
The result of these efforts is that this driver has a frequency response of no less than 5Hz-50kHz (although no roll off is quoted). This means that it gains certification from the High Res society and also - in a more real world sense - can reproduce the audible part of the frequency spectrum without breaking sweat. In an effort to squeeze a bit more performance out of it, Audio Technica has also altered the cabling. The original MSR7 uses a single cable to one of the enclosures. The new one makes use of a pair of the company’s own MMCX connectors, one going to each housing.
At first, this seems like a retrograde step. There is now a cable on each side of the MSR7b which makes it fractionally less convenient than before. The payoff is two-fold though. Both housings now receive a separated signal straight to the driver which should improve quality slightly. You can also now choose between a standard 3.5mm connector or go balanced with a four pole one that should (in theory at least) drop the noise floor still further. The balanced connector supplied is a 4.4mm one but if you need a cable with a 2.5mm type plug, aftermarket options will help with that and an MMCX cable. This is not a common fitment on products at this price point and it helps to give the MSR7b an identity and purpose that differentiates it from the M50xBT.
This also extends to the design of the MSR7b. It belongs to the domestic audio range of components rather than the pro audio line and this results in a more gently styled device (although one that doesn’t feel anything like as rugged as a result). At the same time, because this is a semi portable design, you don’t get the full Audio Technica domestic treatment like the ‘wing supports’ and other mad looking but rather effective systems that the company is very fond of. The result is therefore, something that works in both home and mobile use.
One thing that has been unchanged from the original is that the MSR7b is sublimely comfortable. Audio Technica is good at this but even so, the MSR7b is a bit of a star. The knack to making comfortable headphones is simple enough in theory. It needs to distribute its weight evenly on the head while offering enough traction to stay put buuuut not offering so much traction you wind up with hot, squashed ears. It’s a multiway dynamic that some brands do better than others but here it’s outstanding - a genuinely comfortable thing to wear for extended periods.
It is also well made. The choice of materials isn’t radical but they result in a product that looks and feels comfortable and good to wear, although as noted, this might not be the hardest wearing Audio Technica design we’ve encountered. This is partly hindered by the slightly odd padded cosy used for the storage case which never feels it covers the headphones themselves terribly well. It’s also worth noting that the MSR7B doesn’t fold so it’s not as truly portable as some rivals. The flipside to this is that the full size unfolding headband is more comfortable than a hinged one. It’s also worth noting that if the black finish is a bit drab, there’s a gunmetal version too which looks quite smart.
One thing that has been unchanged from the original is that the MSR7b is sublimely comfortable
How was the MSR7b tested?The Audio Technica has been used with a variety of equipment including the Chord Mojo with and without the Poly attachment. Some additional testing has taken place with the Audiolab M-DAC Nano and an Onkyo DP-A1 digital audio player. Some testing has been undertaken with an Innuos Zenith Mk3 acting as a Roon Server for the Poly working as a Roon endpoint. Finally, a little bit of testing has been undertaken using the M-DAC Nano with an iPad Pro to test on demand video content - my inspired decision to buy a tablet with no headphone socket is really doing me proud here. Material used has been Roon playing FLAC, AIFF and DSD with Tidal and Qobuz. Some additional testing has taken place with Netflix Amazon and Now TV.
Sound QualityHaving run the MSR7b in, I checked my notes for the original (I do keep them all). I think it is fair to start by saying that Audio Technica has not thrown out the good bits of the first version. This is still a headphone that offers a seriously impressive feeling of space and a stereo image to match. All of the standard virtues of Audio Technica are present and correct too. This is an outstandingly civilised sounding pair of headphones that will respond to something like Five by the White Lies - a fine piece of music but one, on digital at least, bedevilled by a lack of separation and a slightly hard edge to the top end. Here it is smooth, cultured but still a potent listen.
Quite a bit more potent it has to be said. This is a big, fun sounding headphone that delivers a strong and lively sonic performance with anything that has a bit of get up and go to it. The rousing single Tokyo (at least rousing if you don’t pay too much attention to the broadly nonsensical lyrics) absolute pounds along and the Audio Technica does a great job of capturing the excitement of the piece as a whole. The clever bit of this is that the nuts and bolts of the music are delivered accurately and with that aforementioned refinement. With the magnificent Humility by Kamasi Washington, everything sounds as it should, with the piano and brass balancing perfectly and the hiss of the cymbals being clear and crisp.
The limitation of the Audio Technica is comparatively minor. There’s no shortage of bass but whereas the upper registers are clear and spacious, there’s a slight thickness to the lower frequencies that means that details that are clear and easy to discern on the (rather more expensive) Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z are lost here. For me, this is a balancing act and slight function of the closed back design. As the bass itself never sounds slow or lacking in control, I’ve found that I tend to just go with it after a few minutes of listening. To put it another way, I don’t know of another closed back headphone at a similar price that does this better.
For people who intend to use the MSR7b for TV and film viewing, the news is extremely good. That space on offer combined with that realistic tonality and refinement is a happy balance for this sort of work. The Audio Technica was as happy with the chippy hyper realism of Tadfield in Good Omens as it is with the shattered reactor building in Chernobyl. Headphones are rarely truly cinematic and if this is how you want to consume all your film and TV content, you’ll probably need to spend more than this but the Audio Technica will allow the suspension of disbelief while you watch something on your way to work.
This is a big, fun sounding headphone that delivers a strong and lively sonic performance with anything that has a bit of get up and go to it.
- Balanced and engaging musical performance
- Extremely comfortable
- Well made
- Slight lack of bass detail
- Indifferent carry case
- No 2.5mm balanced connector
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphone ReviewAs the copy so far has (hopefully) demonstrated, there is undoubtedly a valid reason for the MSR7b to exist at the same time as the M50xBT. So long as you accept being wired to an amp of some description, this is a headphone that delivers a bigger, more considered and fundamentally more refined sound than its little brother. If you have the means of driving the MSR7b via a headphone socket and you have the extra money, it’s worth the extra outlay. Of course, if you are looking for a device more for use on the move than when stationary, the M50xBT is undoubtedly the way to go.
In both cases, the engineering integrity of what Audio Technica has achieved is deeply impressive. The MSR7b is so compelling because it gets so many of the basics right. It is well made, supremely comfortable, very easy to drive and delivers a fine performance with both music and video. As result, there are several good reasons as to it earning our Recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £219.00
Ease of Use8
Design and usability8
Value For Money8
Our Review Ethos
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