It's another year at CES and another year of new headphones. While most of the buzz is around true wireless earbuds, which, love 'em or hate 'em, are a thing now, there's more to the show than just that. Audio-Technica debuted a number of new headphones, but there's only one, the ATH-DSR9BT, that made me want to listen to Queen and only Queen for the rest of this show.
How do they sound?
I'm not going to beat around the bush, they sounded incredible. Seriously. I only had my own first-hand impressions—and those of my coworkers I dragged to the booth—but we all agree, they sound great. You'll have to take this with a tiny grain of salt, though. At least until I can get a pair into our audio lab for testing, but on a crowded show floor, I was impressed.
I don't know if you've ever been to a show like CES, where there are so many people that you're forced to alter your definition of a personal bubble, but it gets loud. Not concert-level loud, rather, it's more of a persistent noise that's hard to shake. That's one benefit of trying out all of the latest headphones, I can (hopefully) disappear into whatever playlist the PR team cooked up and just listen to Daft Punk or Adele for the umpteenth time.
Audio-Technica made that a joyful experience by not only allowing me to lose myself to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," but also hear subtle notes and variations that I didn't even know existed. I know there's always talk about a new pair of headphones letting you hear things in songs you didn't know about, but I cannot stress enough how great this was. How clear and distinct I was able to hear the fading notes of a guitar or how it felt like Freddie Mercury was there, in the flesh, serenading me and me alone...
Oh, did I forget to mention this was all happening over Bluetooth? At a place where the Bluetooth signals are overwhelmed with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of products, I was able to enjoy almost the entirety of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and walk away with a new appreciation of a song I've loved for most of my life.
Audio-Technica had a solid foundation to build upon, but there are a few key pieces of innovation that have let them create something truly impressive here. First up, is the new Pure Digital Drive system that eliminates the need to process and transform the audio signal as it goes from the source up and into the drivers of the headphone. This, according to Audio-Technica, should drastically reduce the risk of distortion when you're listening via Bluetooth.
All of this only works because the DSR9BTs use a four-wire voice coil paired with a driver that has a 45mm diaphragm coated with diamond-like carbon for improved audio fidelity. In layman's terms, Audio-Technica has reimagined how the mechanics of a pair of headphones function in order to make them sound as impressive as possible.
Other than the internals, the DSR9BTs feature the typical accouterments of a high-end pair of headphones. Plush, comfortable padding and a claimed 15-hours of battery that make a daylong session of Queen's greatest hits a real possibility. There's also a built-in mic and controls for answering calls and handling volume or playback options.
Should you buy it?
Well, that's the catch. The DSR9BTs will sell for a whopping $549 when they go on sale this spring. Luckily, there's also the ATH-DSR7BTs, a little brother to the DSR9BTs that feature the same Pure Digital Drive technology and is built on the foundation of our Best Headphones of 2015, the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7. The DR7BTs will retail at $299 this spring, which still isn't a budget-friendly pick, but might be a bit easier to manage.
Regardless of whether you go for the DSR9BTs or the DSR7BTs, Audio-Technica has shown us that it's not about whatever the latest trend or gimmick happens to be. Instead, it's building a quality product that makes you unashamed to sing a verse or two on a crowded show floor.
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