The ATH-MSR7's represent a premium headphone offering from Audio-Techncia, designed to compete with headphones such as the Sony MDR-1R's. Upon first glance, the MSR7's have a much sleeker and more aesthetically pleasing look than Audio-Technica's popular studio monitor headphones, such as the ATH-M50X's. The partially metal construction, and overall sleeker look is designed to appeal to consumers looking for form and function. With a full retail price tag of $250 dollars, can the MSR7's compete?
My review unit happened to be the black accented with blue variety, designated as the ATH-MSR7BK. Two other color options are available, a black and gunmetal grey model. The headphones shipped with three detachable cables, plain 1.2 and 3.0 meter cables and another 1.2 meter cable with a smartphone compatible in-line remote and microphone. The microphone quality is more than adequate, which is to be expected coming from a company that also produces professional microphones. Both of the shorter length cables have one L-shaped termination point, whereas the longer 3.0 meter cable has a standard straight termination point. The headphones also shipped with a fairly standard cloth carrying case, similar to the one included with the ATH-M50X's, but larger and constructed from a softer cloth & leather material. Unfortunately, the cable quality left some to be desired. The cables were adequate, but relatively thin and particularly rubbery. I wish that Audio-Techncia had used the thicker shielded cables found on their studio monitor headphones here.
The ATH-MSR7's are constructed from a combination of plastic, aluminum and magnesium. This provides a substantial increase in build quality over the already solid ATH-M50X's, which are constructed entirely from plastic. In short, the ATH-MSR7's feel and look like a $250 dollar headphone should, solid, durable, and sleek. The ear cups feature glossy and chrome chamfered edges, similar to the iPhone 5S and iPad Air Apple devices. The issue with the level of build quality however, is that the MSR7's are particularly heavy. Weighing in at 290 grams, that's a fairly substantial weight to be placing atop your head for long periods of time.
The weight issue partially contributes to the lack of overall comfort. First and foremost, they clamp just a bit too tightly onto your head. There is a little bit too much pressure on the ears, and far too much pressure on the top of the head. After about an hour, it feels like you put your head in a vice clamp. Despite the quite nice and generously padded ear pads, the comfort of the headphones overall was lacking. Audio-Technica definitely needs to tone down the excessive clamping force with these headphones. My ATH-M50X's were comparatively much more comfortable. If you wear glasses, you definitely want to look at some of Audio-Technica's different offerings or possibly even the Sony MDR-1R's, as these become even more uncomfortable with glasses by jamming the frames into the side of your head.
The MSR7's are closed back headphones, with 45mm neodymium drivers (same size as the M50X drivers). Audio-Technica brands them as "True Motion Drivers," that deliver "Hi-Res Audio reproduction." The MSR7's are classified under Audio Technica's "Sonic Pro" line of headphones. Audio Technica also claims that their headphone are engineered with a complex "Multi-layer Air Damping" technology that improves the sound quality and audio clarity.
At first listen, I noticed how nicely controlled the bass response was on the MSR7's. When compared to the ATH-M50X's, the MSR7's have far less boomy and less overbearing bass. In addition, the soundstage is impressive for a closed back headphone, likely courtesy of the ports or "stainless steel mesh resistors" used in the construction of the headphones. Depth and musical layers are more easily distinguished with the MSR7's when compared to similar closed backed headphones. The midrange is nicely represented and mostly avoids the recessed nature of other Audio-Technica headphones, namely the ATH-M50X's. The upper ranges are crisp and detailed, but do have a tendency to occasionally slip into that all too familiar harshness and sibilance in certain tracks, with hi-hats often sounding just a bit too sharp and piercing. Overall, I would say that the sound quality is the high point of the headphones. I would describe the sound signature as relatively uninspired & unexciting, however. The bass, while detailed and controlled, is almost feeble compared to the rest of the frequency range. I think that just a tad bit more bass here would really round out the sound of the headphones, assuming that it's present controlled and detailed nature could be preserved. I suppose that the MSR7's are striving for a more accurate representation of the audio, as opposed to being "exiting," and boosting certain frequencies such as the bass. This is a commendable attribute, however they still don't achieve the level of accuracy that trusted and proven studio monitors like the Sony MDR-7506's and Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's do. In this regard, the MSR7's are sort of in the middle ground: not as exciting as less accurate headphones, but not as accurate as a true studio monitor headphone.
The Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7's are nicely constructed headphones built from high grade materials, and while they produce sound that commits no major sins, they fail to deliver in the comfort area. My opinion of them is a bit mixed, as they are fantastically well built but simply disappoint or do not impress in other areas.
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