Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 Headphones Review
Sleek design and great sounding audio, they have it all
The Insides That Count
The Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 Headphones (MSRP: $249.95) have the looks—and price tag—of a high-end pair of headphones. In order to break down exactly how well the MSR7s perform we took them to our lab and put them through a series of tests to find cold, hard facts to go with what we were hearing.
Generally speaking, headphones fall into two categories when it comes to the type of sound they produce, studio-grade and what we consider "consumer friendly." Not content to choose a side, the frequency response graph produced by the MSR7s shows something that falls somewhere in between the two.
Most consumer-grade headphones attempt to follow an equal-loudness contour (represented by the blue line below), which means the harder to hear frequencies are boosted so the entire spectrum can be heard equally as well. Meanwhile, studio-grade headphones are designed to produce a flat frequency response in order to aid professionals and amateurs while they mix their own music.
For the MSR7s, we started with a parent signal of 82dB and then measured what the headphones produced across the audible frequency range. The sub-bass and bass range (0–300Hz) doesn’t receive any kind of boost and is actually fairly low—. The midrange frequencies start an upward curve that mimics the equal-loudness contour—especially between 1 and 2kHz—which are boosted in order to be heard more easily. The upper mids dip fairly low in volume—even lower than sub-bass—before shooting back up to 80dB around 8kHz.
It seems like Audio-Technica was attempting to appeal to the broadest range of people possible. The MSR7s don’t produce chest-rumbling bass while keeping the rest of the spectrum pretty well balanced so one type of sound doesn’t dominate the rest. The aim seems to be that no matter what genre music you listen to, it’ll sound great on the ATH-MSR7s.
No matter how good your headphones are if the sound is being polluted by ambient noise they’re not going to sound as good as they should. That’s why isolation is so important to consider when purchasing a new pair of headphones. This test examines the raw isolation capabilities of a pair of headphones so you can expect to drown out even more unwanted sounds if you play music.
The MSR7s perform on par with the over-ear headphones—good but not great. Sub-bass and bass sounds—like the subway or bus engines on your commute—won’t be diminished at all. You won’t even notice a drop at all until you encounter midrange sounds. While the sounds at 1kHz will be dropped down to half of what they normally are, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter sounds that high during your normal day.
The relative volume of the higher frequencies keep that momentum and continue to drop dramatically. At about 5kHz, the relative volume will be as low as 1/8th as loud as it was originally. While it’s extremely unlikely there are sounds in this range that you’ll hear, if you did, you wouldn't even be able to hear them.
If you’ve ever purchased a pair of cheap headphones—or neglected your own pair—it’s likely you’ve experienced distortion, which manifests as audible crackling or fuzzy sounds. If ambient sound can lower the quality of your music by infecting your music, distortion has the potential to ruin it.
We consider anything above 3% to be audible to the average human listener, while audiophiles and those with sensitive hearing could probably pick it up at even smaller percentages. The sub-bass frequencies (0–60Hz) feature the highest percentage of distortion in the MSR7s, which fluctuate in a lot of peaks and valleys around 3%. The percentage is still relatively high in the low-end of the bass frequencies (60–300Hz), but stay closer to 1% before dropping to half that for the rest of the audible spectrum.
However, sub-bass and bass frequencies are the hardest range for human ears to pick up distortion in. Unless you have particularly sensitive hearing, it’s entirely possible to listen to a wide range of music without ever picking up any kind of noise that wasn’t meant to be there.
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