I'm going to start off this review by asking the manufacturer for one thing… better naming conventions. Audio-Technica, I need you to give your products names which are as cool as the products themselves because I'm infatuated with the ATH-MSR7's. The look, the sound quality, the cable options, I think we've got a winner on our hands.
Fit, Finish & Design
These headphones are a premium pair from Audio-Technica, sporting the “Hi-Res Audio” badging on the box. What exactly does that mean? Well, with the resurgence of general interest around hi-resolution audio formats like .flac and .wav, companies are making sure that the public knows their products are high quality enough to allow you to get the full benefit of the output of those audio files. The MSR7's deliver, but we'll get to that in detail in a bit. What's inside the box is premium as well. Set on a black cloth, in what is a pretty presentation, are the MSR7's in Gunmetal Grey with Iron Man red trim (Mark VII, my words) and brown leather padding, a sight to behold, to be sure! Digging in deeper, you'll find a choice of three different cables to meet your listening and portability needs. The connectors for all three cables are 3.5 mm gold-plated mini plugs and come in 1.2 m, 3.0m and 1.2m with mic for smartphones. I get so tired of testing great headphones that have cables that are way too short so I appreciated the inclusion of the 3.0m cable. That's almost 10 feet, for the metrically challenged.
Though portable, these headphones don't look light or feel flimsy at all. The design is over-ear and was very comfortable on my head for long periods of listening. The memory foam on the earcups kept me cool and free of fatigue, even with my glasses on, while the padding on the headband produced similar results. Everything about these MSR7's just feels high quality and looks the part. For travel, the headphones don't fold up into the band like some others, these feature the fold-flat design with hinges that feel like they'll be long lasting. The 10 foot cable is ideal for listening while connected to a laptop or desktop computer, while the shorter cables are great for your pocketable mobile devices.
Speaking of design, it's probably just that which makes the sound quality so great! The headphones feature a triple-vented airflow design which, more than likely, act as bass ports and the drivers have very little material between them and your ears, which contributes to the sound quality you're presented with. During listening to my “go-to” for airy, ethereal tracks, I was presented with a large soundstage filled with bright highs and satisfying depth. The mids on that track were also clear with solid layering between them and the treble. These headphones aren't flat by any means, though they are so well balanced that I think some people may walk away with that impression. There is definitely some coloring but not to the point where the bass output has that noticeable urban thump that stands out from the rest of the frequencies. This was also very apparent when listening to one of the best sonically mixed tracks available, in my modest opinion. Off his Graceland album, Paul Simon's Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes is an experience when played through these ‘phones. The acoustic instruments, mixed with the beautiful African choral sounds of Ladysmith Black Mombaza are an escape worth taking. There are so many layers to this recording that you really get the chance to hear how well headphones like these handle separation between the bass, mids and treble. As I stated before, the headphones' sound is colored, not flat, but each frequency is clear without sounding muddy on the low end or tinny at the top and listening with a DAP (HRT's dSp, reviewed here) added into the mix only made the experience that much sweeter. I tend to listen to a lot of Hip Hop, Trip Hop, Dubstep and EDM as well so it was a joy to hear how the MSR7's handled music that thumps. The bass is colored enough that it satisfied my hunger for a good “banger” without muddying things up so much that the emotional impact of a solid lyricist like NAS or KRS-ONE becomes veiled by mids or lows that bleed into or overpower their vocal space.
One more note on the balance and “flat” response these headphones deliver. Though they are not flat by any means, they are definitely flatter than many of the conventional headphones in this class/price point, which are often targeting the urban/drum & bass audiences with moderate to heavy bass tuning.
In their class, I would place these headphones somewhere in the top. They look amazing, sound great and come with cable options that should meet the needs of most modern music enthusiasts. Add in the Audio-Technica pedigree for headphones that tend to hold up well over time and you have yourself a purchase that shouldn't leave you with a heavy sense of buyer's remorse after you've ponied up the $250 retail price.
Disclaimer: Audio-Technica provided me with a review unit of the product for the purpose of this review.