I remember listening to the Audio Technica MSR7 when it first came out – three years ago. But the headphone game has changed dramatically since 2015, and now the new Audio Technica ATH-MSR7B sits on my desk, waiting for a review. Updated with balanced audio and re-tuned drivers, this headphone offers a comprehensive refresh to the original MSR7’s sound. But just how good does it get?
Audio Technica ATH-MSR7B Review
The Audio Technica MSR7B comes with a neoprene carrying pouch, and two headphone cables – one with a balanced 4.4 mm connection and one with a standard 3.5 mm connection. Both cables measure 4 ft (1.2 m) and utilize Audio Technica’s A2DC connection type.
In terms of design, Audio Technica keeps the same 45 mm driver size, but has tuned up the sound for a refreshing take on that classic MSR7 vibe.
In addition to dual inputs for the cables, the headphones also look a tad bit more stylish, with less exposed hardware.
The headband on the MSR7B also shows some improvements, being wider and flatter (and more comfortable) than that of the original. However, the earcups appear almost identical, using the same thick and comfy padding found on the MSR7B’s predecessor.
And, aside from the dual audio inputs, the biggest difference you’ll notice here is how light the MSR7B appears in contrast to the older MSR7. This lack of weight, along with the revised headband, allow for dreamy listening sessions that can last for hours before you’ll want to remove the headphones.
Perhaps the only thing missing from the MSR7B is the mic and remote. However, sacrificing this feature has allowed Audio Technica the freedom to offer a richer balanced sound that catapults the ATH-MSR7B above its competitors.
Frequency Response: 5-50,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 36 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 101 dB
The specs for the MSR7B reveal a wide frequency range that may yield some extension in the lows and highs. A low nominal impedance allows this headphone to work just fine with phones, personal audio players, and tablets. Lastly, sound pressure comes in at a decent 101 db – giving you more than enough volume for most listening scenarios.
Each of the following sections regarding frequency range features two sub-sections – one for listening impressions gained while using the single-ended cable, and one for listening impressions gained while using the 4.4 mm balanced cable.
Meaty and full, the low end delivers a natural sound that still remains engaging. Animated but lifelike, this sound works wonders for rock, pop, jazz, and electronica. But the sound is further complimented by a thick, articulate bass that drops emphatically, punctuating the lows. There’s good control here, though, and that bass, for all it’s strength and vivacity, never becomes too sloppy or uncontrolled, standing in stark contrast to every note around it.
Listening with the balanced cable, the bass appears snappier and quicker, but also deeper. Lows sound just as detailed, but even more distinct. As a result, the sound seems more engaging and fun, but still somewhat analytical in terms of what it reveals. On lower-grade MP3 or AAC tracks, this balanced connection reveals more hiss and compression in a given file, while my higher-resolution ALAC and FLAC files remain fairly immaculate.
When it comes to the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7B’s midrange, the sound comes across as detailed and accurate, with no noticeable compression or distortion to speak of. Only slightly forward, the mids strike an intricate balance between an-overly-detailed presence and a reserved neutrality. The result appears as a full-to-bursting midrange rife with detail, but never so intense that it steals focus from the MSR7B’s exquisite lows and highs.
Balanced, the mids sound more spacious and separated, with that extra sense of space allowing vocals to appear isolated against accompanying notes. As such, the mids deliver an impression of three dimensional sound, slightly more forward-leaning, but still allowing the robust lows and highs to come crashing through.
Concerning the highs, the MSR7B seems bright. Not too bright, but just bright enough. The highest high notes sound brilliant and sparkling, but never grow piercing or uncomfortable. As such, violins and other strings sound phenomenal, but female vocals surface with a signature smoothness that belies the sheer wealth of detail lurking in this part of the frequency range.
Finer, frailer, and more exacting than with a single ended connection, the balanced highs offer only a modicum of improvement. Sure, there’s more space here, more depth in between each violin, and vocals come across as more distinct and luscious. But the improvement here seems less glaring than the improvements in the lows and mids.
Soundstage on the MSR7B features excellent depth and a good sense of placement. While not quite open-back territory, for a closed-back design the sound remains impressive. Instruments do seem to occupy finite space, and the airy effect of this can be heard on any track. Of course, using the included balanced cable only heightens the impression of space between individual notes, and I’d say that the soundstage you get with the balanced connection remains far and away better than that of any closed back headphone under $700. It even comes close to some open-back models in terms of that soundstage.
Balanced sound always sounds better – and the MSR7B proves this. Folks who purchase this headphone and use it with a standard 3.5 mm connection will probably love it for what it is – a mighty fine headphone with a rich, detailed sound. However, the real boon here comes in the form of that 4.4 mm balanced connection. With the 3.5 mm cable, the MSR7B is a good-looking, great-sounding over-ear headphone. With the 4.4 mm balanced cable, it’s a sonic epiphany and a force to be reckoned with. Some headphones that cost two- or three-times as much do not sound this rich and detailed.
With its ample extension in the lows and highs, the MSR7B offers a fun and lively sound that seems perfect for rock, pop, hip-hop, and electronica. Yet the flood of detail pent up inside this beast also recommends it for classical, jazz, and acoustic tunes that might require a greater level of fidelity and articulation. Even if you are listening with the 3.5 mm connection, this $249 headphone still sounds better than anything else at this price point. In fact, the only headphone I would say might sound better would be the Final Audio Sonorous III – but that’s also a step up in price at $399.
But what if you’re after a balanced sound at $249? How does this compare to other setups using a 4.4 mm connection? Compared to my preferred everyday setup – a pair of $200 Mackie MP240 IEMs and a $300 ALO Media Reference 8 Cable, the MSR7B delivers more detail and more soundstage (at 50% of the price, too). Compared to the likes of the Sony MDR-1AM2, the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7B sounds more precise, with better balance between the highs and lows. (The $299 Sony has the MSR7B beat on sheer bass, though, even if this leads to a darker, less balanced sound.)
Marrying articulate detail with a phenomenal sound and a bulletproof build, the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7B delivers a blissful listening experience you won’t soon forget. At $249, this headphone strikes me as nothing short of a steal, punching above the belt and offering a better sound than anything else at this price point. The biggest feature here – the balanced 4.4 mm connection – allows these headphones to sound better and more realistic than headphones that cost considerably more. MajorHiFi’s take on this headphone? A solid step up from the venerable MSR7, and a new standard for hi-res headphones in 2019.
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