Audio Technica ATH-SR9 Headphones Review
Looking for the quintessential all-rounder? Keep reading.
What is the Audio Technica ATH-SR9?The Audio Technica ATH-SR9 is a member of the company’s ‘Sound Reality’ series of headphones. The range exists in part because Audio Technica takes the concept of home headphones very seriously indeed. Models we have looked at like the ATH- A2000Z are built with developments like the ‘floating headband’ that are extremely comfortable but render them almost completely useless for use out and about. The ‘Sound Reality’ series is roughly analogous with the ‘Nomad’ headphone that many other brands have made very solid business from in recent years.
The SR9 is noteworthy for a few other reasons. The other member of the range that we have looked at is the MSR-7 which proved to be a very capable all-rounder indeed and one that delivers performance that was pretty impressive when tested at £200 (and it has since come down in price) so seeing what the company can do with double the budget is going to be interesting. The other is that if you take a look at the rest of the Sound Reality range, you can see that the industrial design of the SR9 is extremely close to the DSR9 which is an active Bluetooth based design. Does the SR9 deliver on its potential to be the ultimate Nomad?
SpecificationsThe effect of half a centimetre on many aspects of industrial design is not always that significant but an extra 5mm on a pair of headphone drivers is a big deal. The SR9 like the MSR-7 is fitted with a pair of 45mm drivers instead of the more commonly encountered 40mm ones found in much of the competition. This gives the SR9 greater radiating area than many rivals and ensures it has a claimed frequency response of no less of 5Hz to 45kHz.
The drivers themselves are not exactly the same as the ones used in the more affordable MSR-7. They are coated in a material that Audio Technica calls DLC – Diamond Like Carbon. Sadly, there aren’t many clues to exactly how this substance manifests itself and, as is with the case with most headphones, you can’t see the driver itself in the enclosure. The arguments for the use of carbon in one of its more sophisticated forms is compelling though as it is light and extremely strong which should increase the rigidity of the driver without significantly affecting its mass.
Other aspects of the drivers are distinctive to Audio Technica. The voicecoil is made from bobbin wound copper – a slightly fiddly process but one that allows the coil itself to be wound in a very consistent way – and the wire itself is of unusually high purity, even judged by the standards of the industry. The drivers are mounted in such a way as to ensure that the space in front and behind the driver is equal. This is intended to ensure a spaciousness to the performance that would not be possible with a more conventional mounting. Whether some of this space is down to its DSR9 cousin which has Bluetooth and amplification on board isn’t clear but Audio Technica seems to have made use of it.
The enclosures that these drivers are placed in are closed back designs. This ensures that while the SR9 isn’t completely silent when in use, noise leakage is reasonably low and should allow them to be used on the move without you being lynched. The enclosures are fitted with a resonator control system that is designed to ensure that the airflow around the drivers is consistent and controlled. This is combined with the enclosures themselves being made from aluminium and working to control stray resonances that can manifest themselves audibly in the signal. One key difference to the MSR-7 – and indeed many other Audio Technica headphones – is that the SR9 uses a different cable system. This consists of a plug that Audio Technica calls the A2DC (Audio Designed Detachable Coaxial) which connects to both enclosures rather than to one and routing through the headband. The connections are reasonably robust and once locked in place seem to stay put but the effect isn’t as convenient as having a generic cable that attaches to one side.
DesignWhen I reviewed the MSR-7 I felt it was noteworthy as a design because, by the standards of Audio Technica at least, it was extremely normal. I am a big fan of the company’s full size headphones but will freely admit that the floating headband and other curiosities make for a rather odd experience that you tend either love or hate. The MSR-7 by contrast was completely in keeping with what you might expect a headphone at the price to be. The SR9 is very much in the same spirit and does without much of the idiosyncrasies of the home models.
This means that you get the same relatively shallow enclosures as the MSR-7, that also have deep and relatively generous padding on them. The headband is a conventional horseshoe shaped design which has extending sections on either side, just above the enclosures themselves. It isn’t likely to have the British Design Council dancing in the aisles… but it is extremely comfortable. The weight distribution and tractive force it exerts on the head is pretty much perfect and this is a very easy headphone to wear for long periods. I find having a cable on either side to be more annoying than just one but the clearance between the cable drop from the enclosure and my face is generally high enough to ensure it doesn’t come into contact.
As the cable is effectively bespoke, the good news is that Audio Technica has supplied two of them. The first is a 1.2m unit for use on the move which includes a remote and mic. The second is a 3m unit for use at home for which a quarter inch jack adaptor is supplied. The supplied equipment is finished off with a carry case that is a little large but should serve to keep your SR9s looking minty fresh. One nice touch is the inclusion of a small zip lock cable holder that fits in the carry case and keeps the cable safe. For the most part, you probably won’t detach the cables but if you are storing them for any length of time, it’s a nice touch.
The final welcome aspect of the SR9 is the build. I have noted before that I’ve not encountered a badly made piece of equipment from Audio Technica and the arrival of the SR9 doesn’t change that. The materials used feel solid in the hand and everything has been assembled in a careful and considered way. There are more spectacular looking £400 headphones but the SR9 has a general feeling of quality that is entirely competitive with the asking price.
The weight distribution and tractive force it exerts on the head is pretty much perfect and this is a very easy headphone to wear for long periods
How was the ATH-SR9 tested?The Audio Technica has been tested for film and TV use connected directly to a Yamaha RX-A3040, via the long 3m cable. Audio testing has then been carried out via a Chord Electronics Hugo2 connected to a Lenovo T560 ThinkPad and also via an Acoustic Research AR-M20 Digital Audio player. Material used has included Blu-ray, Sky HD and on-demand services, lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF along with some DSD. Streaming services such as Tidal and Spotify have also been used.
Sound Quality – MusicThe SR9 was left to run in for 48 hours before and critical listening took place and having completed this, the performance of the Audio Technica immediately impresses. Key to all Audio Technica products is the balancing of an accurate sound that gives you an unvarnished view of what you are listening to and introducing just enough sweetness to make that material consistently enjoyable. Describing this slight tonal sweetness is tricky because its effect is extremely subtle but it means that if you listen to something wilfully aggressive like the 24/96 download of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, then the SR9 keeps the basic fury of the track but manages to alleviate the worst points of compression. This can be defined as the SR9 doing this because the Hugo2 – while superbly capable – has no compulsion in presenting the same track through different headphones in an entirely unflattering way.
Another area of definable but positive character from the SR9 is that it sounds consistently engaging when rhythms and faster time signatures are involved. Despite the drivers being fractionally larger than some similar rivals, there is no sign of any sluggishness or overhang. This means that the loping time signature of Talk Talk’s Happiness is Easy is well captured and pulls you into the music, engaging you on an emotional level rather you sitting there wondering whether Mark Hollis sounds right (he does). At the same time, if you ask the SR9 to play something that doesn’t need this sense of timing like Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood’s Black Pudding and the SR9 is considered, detailed and utterly beguiling.
Compared to something like the Beyerdynamic T70i, the Audio Technica doesn’t sound as big or forceful but the rhythmic engagement of the SR9 combined with the slightly greater portability gives it a slightly different but no less valid appeal. What is noteworthy is that the Audio Technica is the first closed back design I have tested in a very long time which is able to compete with the Beyerdynamic for general spaciousness even if some of the sheer heft of the T70i is missing. One area where the SR9 is superior though is that it is extremely forgiving when compressed material is used. As an all rounder, the Audio Technica has considerable appeal.
Sound Quality – Film & TVAs noted, the SR9 is not the biggest sounding closed back headphone I have tested but it hits back with superb effect placement. Watching the field assault in Fury allows the Audio Technica to show a fine handling of both the information on screen and that from the surround channels. Listening to action sequences on headphones can be confusing and fatiguing but the SR9 does a wonderful job of delivering frenetic action without losing sense and cohesion. If you watch something less ballistic like Whiplash the results are no less impressive. The SR9 has good tonality with the instruments and keeps dialogue sounding clear and easy to follow. The bass isn’t quite as seismic as some rival designs but it is controlled and well integrated with the rest of the frequency response.
Catch up TV is also well handled and on Celebrity Masterchef – with its distinctive music overlayed by dialogue – everything stays clear and easy to follow. Where the SR9 is particularly adept is that if you stop watching the program via iPlayer on Sky through the Yamaha and move to watching via an iPad with the SR9 connected directly, the results are still very impressive. The SR9 is usefully sensitive and this allows for easy use on the move. As with music, the SR9 does a solid job of working with material that is bright and unforgiving while still delivering high quality material just as well.
As an all-rounder, the Audio Technica has considerable appeal
- Dynamic and engaging performance
- Extremely comfortable
- Very well built
- Some rivals can sound a little bigger
- Bespoke cable connections makes using any replacement difficult
- Possibly a little large to be truly portable
Audio Technica ATH-SR9 Headphones ReviewThe Audio Technica ATH-SR9 is a product that is going to make a great deal of sense to many people. While I love the company’s home headphones, there is little doubt to me that the SR9 is a headphone that offers considerable performance across a wide variety of platforms. It is easy to run and has the lovely balance of immediacy, realism and drive coupled with an ultimately forgiving nature. When you combine this with the comfortable fit and lovely build quality, you have a headphone that can deliver excellent performance across the many possible ways of it being used. The ATH-SR9 is a headphone that faces no shortage of competition but it delivers such a deeply competent performance, pretty much however you choose to use it, that it has to be considered a product that comes highly recommended.
Ease of Use9
Design and usability8
Value For Money8
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