Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 Headphone Review

Find over- ear designs uncomfortable? Audio Technica has you covered

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

1

Highly Recommended
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 Headphone Review
SRP: £200.00

What is the ATH-MSR7?

As an industry, the AV sector is rather tolerant of design practices that can produce excellent performance but result in a product that is hard to use, complicated or fragile- or if the design team has really gone to town, a heady combination of all three. Confronted by the desire to improve channel separation for example, fitting an amp with two volume controls- one for each channel- is certainly a high performance option but one that ergonomically leaves a little to be desired. This being the industry we know and love of course, such products exist nonetheless.

When you need to wear the product as well as is the case with headphones, the problems increase because performance has to be coupled with at least some nods to practicality and the ability to wear the design for long periods of time.This is achieved with varying degrees of success. I am a huge fan of Grado headphones- very few brands achieve the levels of bang for buck they do with their designs. As I remark every time I review a pair though, they are not truly comfortable headphones to wear for long periods of time. When you add the complexity of wanting to use a pair of headphones on the move; a requirement that places limits on the size of the design as a whole and adds the requirement for it to stay in place while you move around, matters get even more complex.

Great sounding and comfortable portable headphones are not impossible. Focal’s Spirit One S and Classic are good examples as is the Sennheiser Momentum. When I read a little about the pair of headphones you see here, my hopes were raised that this list might grow a little further. Audio Technica makes some good headphones, some great headphones and yes; some rather ordinary ones too. What they are consistently good at however is making comfortable designs. The ATH-MSR7 has apparently been designed with comfort in mind- do they deliver on the promise?

How is the ATH-MSR7 designed?

Audio Technica ATH-MSR7
Audio Technica has designed the ATH-MSR7 with a view to working across home and portable use which as a category of headphone has exploded in size in recent years. To this end, the ATH-MSR7 is closed back to avoid annoying your fellow travellers and is smaller than most conventional home headphones. It must be said though that as Audio Technica make some truly whopping home designs, the ATH-MSR7 is still pretty big judged by the standards of this category. The earpads are genuinely full size designs that completely cover and partially encase the ear (more of which later) and the headband and mounts are pretty hefty too.

One of the reasons for this is that the ATH-MSR7 encases a pair of 45mm drivers rather than the more expected 40mm. Sure half a centimetre isn’t huge but it is extra size that the Audio Technica needs to accomodate. The driver itself is a type that Audio Technica refers to as ‘True Motion’ and to this end they are designed around a precision diaphragm and a lightweight voicecoil that should ensure that even if it is a little bigger than the competition, the driver should move with reasonable speed and enthusiasm.

The other reason for this is that Audio Technica has weighed up the balance between home and travel and- I think at least- come over on the side of home. This means that the ATH-MSR7 is a non folding design that has a full size padded headband and beside the ability to fold flat has no real concessions to portability. This is not really an issue from my perspective- at no stage would I ever describe the ATH-MSR7 as being hard to use out and about- and it does allow them to play a trump card.
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7
The ATH-MSR7 has been designed with a view to being as comfortable as possible. This sounds like a statement of the blindingly obvious- surely all manufacturers would do this?- but the lengths they’ve gone to are a little unusual and rather impressive. The padding on each earpad is deep, has a rather lovely ‘give’ to it and is profiled to fit a human ear (or at least the type standard human ear). Coupled to a headband that provides good traction on the head without actively squashing your ears and you have a headphone that is extremely comfortable- with one caveat I’ll get back to in the drawbacks.

Audio Technica has also built a very solid pair of headphones. Good use of materials and impressive build quality combine to produce a headphone that feels it's worth the asking price and unlikely to come apart on you anytime soon. There are headphones in this category that have cleverer and lighter solutions to hinging and joints but the Audio Technica shuns this in favour of feeling solid and well thought out. A particularly welcome feature is the absence of any visible cabling save for the main cable leaving the left hand housing.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I also think that the ATH-MSR7 is a good looking product in a slightly sober sort of way. Red and chocolate finishes are also available for people looking for something a bit more dynamic but the black models with their blue accents look smart and the design is subtle and makes good use of clean lines.

A final welcome touch is that Audio Technica supplies the ATH-MSR7 with three detachable cables. Two 1.2 metre cables- one with an inline remote and one without- are supplied with it. then you also get a three metre example which makes the business of listening at home to equipment you aren’t sitting next to a viable option. As the connection is a standard 3.5mm socket on the housing, you could also substitute a different cable if you needed.

Any drawbacks?

What Audio Technica gives with one hand they slightly take with the other and while the ATH-MSR7 comes with a perfectly nice carry bag there is nothing able to offer more protection if you are stuffing them into a bag. This to me is further evidence that the design concept is more in keeping with Focal’s ‘nomad’ philosophy than a true portable headphone but which might be an issue if you intend to use them out and about a great deal.

The other issue is slightly more subjective. The ATH-MSR7 is a fantastically comfortable headphone- provided I take my glasses off. The padding and springing really does seem to take into account the contour of the ear but if I then add the support of my glasses into the mix, the pressure that builds up on this after an hour or so reduces comfort a little. This is not the end of the world- my glasses have fairly hefty ends to the arms and I can function without them but it might be worth trying them on before dropping your hard earned if you are a glasses wearer.
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7
the ATH-MSR7 is a good looking product in a slightly sober sort of way

How was the ATH-MSR7 tested?

The Audio Technica was used with my Lenovo T530 ThinkPad, with and without a Furutech ADL Cruise and Chord Hugo headphone amplifier. It was also tested with an iPad3, Motorola Moto X and the Sony NWZ-ZX1 Walkman. Some testing was also carried out with the long cord into a Yamaha RX-A3040 and Naim Supernait 2 connected to a variety of sources. This allowed material such as lossless and high res FLAC, Tidal, Spotify, Internet radio, broadcast and on demand TV to be tested.

What does the ATH-MSR7 sound like with music?

Audio Technica ATH-MSR7
The review sample was brand new so was left running with the Sony for a few days before any serious listening. was undertaken. Having run them in, the Audio Technica doesn’t take very long to show some definite brand traits. Most (but intriguingly, not all) Audio Technica headphones I’ve used over the years have a sound that is neutral (not entirely surprising considering the pro audio and studio background of the company) but that manages to be inherently forgiving at the same time. The ATH-MSR7 has this overall presentation down to a fine art.

Compared to the identically priced Grado SR225e, the tonal balance and presentation is very similar with only the fundamental difference between the completely open and essentially closed (the ATH-MSR7 has a vent at the bottom of each housing but this doesn’t leak much in the way of noise) designs setting them apart. Where the Grado wants to tell you absolutely everything including the problems it might have, the ATH-MSR7 manages to avoid delivering the bad news quite so bluntly. There is still a great deal of information on offer but it manages to be more relaxed and refined. This is a very impressive balancing act indeed.
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7
This means that making use of the Audio Technica to listen to a collated Tidal playlist which can include great, indifferent and outright terrible recordings in the space of a few tracks shows the ATH-MSR7 to great effect. Everything is listenable and more than that, everything is enjoyable. Compared to the more energetic Grado, the Audio Technica isn’t as lively but it still handles basslines and complex rhythms with energy and enthusiasm. Part of this is down to the Audio Technica sounding fast and clean. There is little overhang or sluggishness and although the ATH-MSR7 is fractionally on the warm side of neutral it never feels soft or bloomy.

The last useful attribute is that the bass response allows the ATH-MSR7 to sound big and powerful. There is plenty of low end extension and it manages to be felt as much as heard, not least because that excellent seal on the ear means that no energy is wasted and it gives the Audio Technica a real sense of scale. This is further aided by the sensitivity. For a headphone that is at least mostly closed back, the ATH-MSR7 doesn’t need a lot of power to go impressively loud and it is an ideal partner for phones or tablets as it is unlikely to require all the power they have available.

How does the ATH-MSR7 sound with film and TV?

With the ATH-MSR7 connected to the Yamaha and the thought free masterclass that is Hawaii Five-0, playing, the Audio Technica does a fine job of keeping everything under control and events on the screen sounding very clear and easy to follow. Like most headphones, the Audio Technica never really sounds cinematic but it manages to give reasonable movement of effects from one place to another and keep dialogue easy to follow even when there is plenty of other action on screen to handle.

Once again the sensitivity of the ATH-MSR7 is a great help when you use it for the same purpose on phones and tablets. There is a sense of scale and impact that can be lacking when watching Netflix on the iPad3 and the Audio Technica has the potential to be a great way of achieving a little escapism while commuting to work- and almost as importantly keeping that escapism to yourself.
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7
the Audio Technica has the potential to be a great way of achieving a little escapism while commuting to work

Verdict

Pros

  • Refined yet entertaining sound
  • Extremely good build
  • Very comfortable....

Cons

  • ...if you aren't wearing glasses
  • Slightly dull looks
  • No hard carry case.

Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 Headphone Review

The Audio Technica is a headphone that manages to do a hell of a lot of things right. For £200 you have a headphone that trades off a little portability for a huge amount of capability. If you are a design guru, the Sennheiser Momentum is still the best looking headphone out there and you should not ignore that the Focal Spirit One S is a useful £50 cheaper and these are but two of the half a hundred options out there. There is little hiding the fact that the Audio Technica is a little conventional looking and there is no shortage of competition but this is a headphone that delivers performance, build quality and comfort in a very competitive package. Your shortlist at £200 just got one model longer.
Highly Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sensitivity

.
.
8

Design and usability

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
9

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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