Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review

Let’s find some balance in our lives, shall we? The famous MSR7 has been given a major facelift with the release of the new MSR7b. Audio-Technica fans can now experience the cleaner quality and broadened soundstage that the MSR7b’s balanced connection delivers. And no longer do you have to be a fancy pants to get it. Audio-Technica has decided to sell these upgraded cans for no more than the original retail value of the old MSR7b’s. So, let’s find out whether these babies are for you in this Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review.

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review

IN the BOX

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review

FIT

The MSR7b feels just slightly lighter than the original MSR7. Unobtrusive, yet snug, these cans lend themselves well to long periods use. They also do a good job at sealing out ambient sound.

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review

DESIGN

What sets these headphones apart from the rest in this price range is the balanced cable with the 4.4mm connector, which is included in addition to the regular 3.5mm unbalanced cable. Even some of the priciest audiophile headphones (Hifiman comes to mind) don’t include a balanced cable, and it can often be a $200 expense. That being said, you’ll need a DAC/AMP with a balanced input to benefit from this connection. The cables use A2DC connections to the headphone, so treat these with care.

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review  Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7b Headphones Review

For those who listen on the go, be mindful of the fact that unlike the old MSR7, the new version is missing a mic and remote on the regular cable.

At 36 Ohms, these cans are easy to drive, and if all you have is an iPhone to work with, you’ll still get enough juice.

SOUND

To compare the unbalanced versus balanced connection, I decided to use my trusty FiiO Q5 DAC. Bare in mind that the Q5 slightly brings out the high frequencies. So, you may want to account for that when considering this review.

Lows Unbalanced

The MSR7b presents pretty light lows compared to some other Audio-Technica models, though the bass will be forward leaning enough for conservative audiophiles. And perhaps it’s only because the high frequencies are so present, that the lows feel shy. (I also tested it straight through my iPhone, and had the same impression). Listening to pop, I felt a reasonable amount of impact, but it still felt slightly vegan. That being said, the bass is extremely tight, clean and detailed. It had plenty of grip and texture. But listening to rock, there was little warmth, and it’s certainly not a fleshy sound. So, for those who think there’s too much bass in the world, this might be a great sound profile.

Lows Balanced

Using the 4.4mm connection, the balance feels less skewed towards the highs. The bass is still not substantial enough to quench my thirst, but I’m a hedonist, unworthy of being called a civilized audiophile. Still, the lows conveyed slightly more presence and oomph with the balanced connection.

Mids Unbalanced

Slightly recessed here, especially in the lower midrange. But unlike other headphones that resemble this signature, the vocals don’t sit too far forward, and there was no harshness to speak of. Still, don’t expect a full-bodied sound. But the MSR7b really shines in terms of clarity and separation. Acoustic guitar strums felt super clean, even in the low mids, where headphones can sometimes feel a little muddy. And cellos were beautifully textured, and enjoyed that light, buoyant feel that Audio-Technica so skillfully delivers.

Mids Balanced

There’s even less fullness when listening through the balanced connection, and vocals feel more present. You certainly don’t feel like you’re getting the full spectrum of sound in this frequency range. But that’s not Audio-Technica’s style, and many fans of the brand gravitate towards their headphones because of the light, playful feel that it delivers. The balanced connection does offer some little treats though. Snare drums had tons of tight impact, and playing the same cello again, it felt a lot cleaner and more controlled.

Highs Unbalanced

Hearing string solos, the transparency is superb. Rest assured that you won’t be missing any detail. In fact, classical music seems like a perfect genre for these headphones. But is Audio-Technica giving us too much of a good thing?  These cans are too bright for my ears. And I can’t blame my Q5. Even without the DAC, these cans felt a very treble heavy. Listening to Bruno Mars’ That’s What I Like, the percussion was a little too crispy, making this kind of music difficult to listen to for prolonged periods.

Highs Balanced

It could be my imagination, but the strings felt even more transparent with a balanced connection. Maybe I was just sobering up. But it certainly it felt cleaner. And going back to good ol’ Bruno, the sizzly percussion felt slightly dampened and more compact. Other than that, I couldn’t discern a big difference between the two connections in this frequency range.

Soundstage Unbalanced

Perhaps because the separation is so primo on these cans, the instrument placement felt super accurate, especially in terms of width. There was also a nice sense of height and depth for a headphone in this price range.

Soundstage Balanced

The balanced connection will give you a more spacious soundstage. And I didn’t have to continually AB them to perceive this difference. You’ll certainly get a feeling of more vertical space, with the degrees of height being more audible. The depth also come out to play more, bringing bass instruments more forward in the mix.

SUMMARY

For 250 bucks, it’s unusual to score a balanced cable with your headphones. And the balanced connection does significantly upgrade the sound. The only other headphone that offers the same package for around this price is the Sony MDR-1AM2. At least, that’s the only one that comes to mind. For people who need an easy listening headphone, the MSR7b might be a little too bright. But Audio-Technica fans can rest assured that they’ll be getting the brand’s famous sound signature. Just keep in mind that you’ll get slightly less present lows than other famous models, such as the M50x, for example. Still, expect an even cleaner profile than what you’re used to at this price. It’s a good deal, for sure.

Goodbang for your buck, but could be more evenly balanced.

You can find these cans for the best price at:

Audio 46: Audio-Technica MSR7b Headphones

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