Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b

Hot on the heels of the ATH-M50xBT wireless headphone (HFC 450) comes Audio-Technica’s ATH-MSR7b wired design. Rather than being a completely new model, it is a refresh of the original MSR7 that we saw back in HFC 398.

External dimensions and general aesthetics of the updated model remain the same, but there are some interesting changes to the headphone internally. The MSR7b’s cabling arrangement dispenses with the single-wire design of its predecessor where the signal cable enters at one side of the headphone and instead opts for an A2DC connection at each earpiece, allowing for cable changes. As well as the supplied 1.2m long dual-sided cable fitted with a 3.5mm jack plug, there’s a second 1.2m cable fitted with a 4.4mm connector for devices offering a balanced output.

The MSR7b is a closed-back design that uses 45mm dynamic units – made from the company’s own True Motion Drivers that utilise a carbon-coated material to increase the stiffness of the diaphragms –fitted in each enclosure. It claims a frequency response of 5Hz to 50kHz and is Hi-Res Audio certified. Noise leakage is commendably low, even at higher listening levels, and sensitivity is impressive.

Thanks to good judgement on the level of earpiece and headband padding along with the range of movement offered by the hinges, it’s an exceptionally comfortable design to wear for longer listening sessions. It’s available in black or gunmetal grey finishes, and only the lack of any ability to fold and the slightly fragile carry bag count against it for use on the move. 

Sound quality
Performance via the conventional cable fitted with a 3.5mm jack and plugged into a Chord Electronics Mojo portable headphone amplifier/DAC (HFC 408) partnered with the matching Poly music streamer (HFC 431) shows the headphone’s considerable virtues. With the 16/44.1 FLAC of Marina’s Handmade Heaven, it is almost entirely free of the ‘cupped’ presentation that can afflict closed-back designs, and there’s a space and three dimensionality to the music that gives the superb vocal turn the space the track needs.

Tonality is also extremely good. The sparse and beautiful Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy is delivered with tremendous emotional content and a genuine feeling of realism. Much of this is down to its ability to resolve fine details and work them into the presentation without seeming forced or unnatural. The piano has the weight and decay that helps it sound believable. It’s also extremely hard to wrongfoot it into sounding bright or harsh. Even with material that isn’t audiophile grade, there’s an impressive sense of composure.

The ATH-MSR7b is fun too. The pounding urgency of We’ve Got To Try by The Chemical Brothers is delivered with enough agility and swagger to get the head nodding along and to ensure you’re more than a spectator to the performance. The only minor detractor that really makes itself felt is that the bass, while commendably deep, lacks definition and detail. With less talented music sources than the Chord Electronics duo, this becomes more apparent. The ATH-MSR7b has to concede a little ground to rivals if your music taste majors on continuously pounding beats, but across a more varied music programme it is perfectly balanced.

This headphone’s all-round ability makes it a strong contender as a nomad-style model at this price. So long as you have the means to stow it, it offers excellent performance for use on the move and is more than up to the job of more serious home listening too (although you’re likely to want to add an extension cord). This isn’t a radical step forward over its predecessor, but it makes some appreciable gains and so remains a strong candidate. ES

Product: Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b
Price: £219
Type: Closed-back headphone
Read the full review in July issue 451

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