Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 review

Did you hear that? Audio-Technica's MSR7 bring every detail to the front

The MSR7’s potent mix of style, functionality, and performance makes these headphones solid contenders in one of the industry’s most competitive genres.
The MSR7’s potent mix of style, functionality, and performance makes these headphones solid contenders in one of the industry’s most competitive genres.
The MSR7’s potent mix of style, functionality, and performance makes these headphones solid contenders in one of the industry’s most competitive genres.

Highs

  • Clear and balanced sound across the board
  • Excellent detail
  • Tight, musical bass
  • Quality construction
  • Attractive design
  • Competitive price point

Lows

  • Tight clamping force may not work for everyone
  • Upper midrange can sound slightly synthetic
  • Could use a bit more padding on the headband

Beats by Dre and SMS grab most of the headlines (and sales) these days, thanks in no small part to their fashion-forward design. Indeed, stylish looks are clearly an important factor when people are looking for a new set of cans. But does high style necessarily have to come with booming bass? If Audio-Technica’s new MSR7 are any indication, the answer is no.

A pleasant blend of premium performance and slick style, the $250 MSR7 produce clear and detailed audio from a package that hails from the studio, garnished with a welcome touch of bling.

Hands on video

Out of the box

The MSR7 come in a classy black box donning their portrait on the front that strikes a vibe somewhere between high end audio gear and fine chocolate. You can’t miss the gold Hi-Res Audio logo on the front, a branding system created by a consortium to indicate gear designed for audio recorded at 24bit/96kHz or higher. Audio-Technica uses the symbol to denote the MSR7’s specially-crafted “TrueMotion Hi-Res” drivers. And while gear bearing the logo doesn’t necessarily have defined specs, you can safely read into it as meaning “These headphones sound clear and detailed as hell.”

A simple inspection makes it clear that a lot of care went into the design of the MSR7.

Under the lid, the cans rest in a plastic mold atop a smooth black shroud. Sleek cuts of laser-etched metal sparkle along the oval earcups, and a touch of red on the inside of our gun-metal grey model adds just enough style to liven up the classic design. The robust chassis feels solid in your hands, immediately evoking quality and care in the build.

Included in the package are a silky carrying pouch in all black, and three detachable cables, including a 9-foot monster, and two 4-foot jobs — one standard, and one with a single-button in-line microphone.

Features and design

A simple inspection makes it clear that a lot of care went into the design of the MSR7. From the clean lines along the earcups and the died metal brackets that hold them in place, to the multiple cables and thick ear pads, it’s obvious Audio-Technica has taken measured steps to provide equal parts style, performance, and functionality.

The earcups rotate along their metallic brackets to lay completely flat, however, unlike a lot of over-ear headphones, they stop short of folding in on hinges for enhanced portability. The earcups sport ample memory foam padding cloaked in soft leatherette, and the headband offers the same, though we could’ve used a bit more cushion up top. The earcups rotate fluidly along the horizontal axis, and easily adjust for size along the metal band.

Digging deeper, the headphones offer several unique design traits, not the least of which are those aforementioned 45mm True Motion drivers, which offer lightweight voice coils at the core, a specially created diaphragm, and a “custom-mounted printed circuit board” designed both to improve clarity, and minimize distortion.

To that end, the elongated aluminum/magnesium earcups are molded to better fit the human ear, and slotted with a triple ventilation system to control the flow of air and improve dynamics. However, as a side effect of their semi open-back design, the MSR7 don’t offer much in the way of noise dampening. The claimed frequency response for the cans is a massive 5Hz-40kHz, with an impedance of 35 ohms.

Comfort

This category is one of the few spots in which we take issue with the MSR7, though the fit wasn’t prohibitive for us. The headband wears on the top of the head a bit after prolonged listening, and there’s a serious amount of clamping pressure at play here, though we think that may relax over time. Angling the earcups forward made the fit work for us, though we still felt a little strapped in, as if wearing one of those leather WWII flight helmets.

Audio performance

With a sound signature crafted around balance, clarity, and pinpoint precision, the MSR7 shake hands and say hi with some of the best over-ear headphones in their class. Every brand has their own special flavor to drop in the massive mixing bowl that is the current headphone market, and these cans make their mark right away, offering an extremely present sound that brings every vocal track, instrument, and effect to the forefront.

The MSR7 match up well with some of the best over-ear headphones in their class.

Bass is unabashedly understated in many genres here, a trait that seems to be something of a mortal sin in today’s heavy-handed market, but one that’s always a welcome and pleasant surprise to our ears. And while the low end never overpowered, those 45mm drivers — a shade larger than most in the genre — have plenty of potency when called upon, digging up firm and musical pulses out of some of our favorite classic hip-hop tracks from NWA, Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan.

Deeper analysis of the upper midrange exposes a bit of extra polish that lends an almost synthetic quality to some tracks. The tinge of color leans in nicely to electronic tunes from bands like Depeche Mode and Radiohead, but leaves out some of that rich and woody warmth we expect from acoustic guitars, mandolins, and cello present in acoustic tracks.

Audio Technica MSR7 kit

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The ultra-clarity can add just a bit too much sparkle, and tends to expose every crooked twist and digital aberration in low-quality compressed audio files. However, that’s a pretty easy trade-off for the kind of brilliance and definition the MSR7 offer at their $250 price point, outshining several models we’ve heard at this price, and above.

Conclusion

Audio-Technica’s new MSR7 offer brilliant clarity, top-notch detail, and excellent style, all for a price that falls well below the $300 price competitors beg. We wish the cans were a bit more comfortable, but at this price, the MSR7’s potent mix of style, functionality, and performance makes them instant contenders in one of the industry’s most competitive genres.

Highs

  • Clear and balanced sound across the board
  • Excellent detail
  • Tight, musical bass
  • Quality construction
  • Attractive design
  • Competitive price point

Lows

  • Tight clamping force may not work for everyone
  • Upper midrange can sound slightly synthetic
  • Could use a bit more padding on the headband
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