The last few years the headphone market has seen a Pinocchio-like shift. Wires have been replaced by Bluetooth and, more importantly, sound and performance have been greatly improved - thanks to aptX technology and improvements to connectivity and battery life.
This is not to say that wired headphones are a dying breed, but it’s always reassuring when we hear that an audio manufacturer is still supplying them to the masses. And especially when the ones being announced are successors to a critically applauded pair of cans.
Enter the ATH-MSR7b, Audio-Technica’s next-gen replacement to the ATH-MSR7 - a pair of headphones that were one of the lowest-priced High-Res Audio compatible cans around when they were first released. We went to IFA 2018, where they were launched, and we had a listen.
Design and features
The ATH-MSR7bs have a lot in common with their predecessors. They look achingly similar but there have been a few significant tweaks. They have had a reduction in weight, some 53 grams lighter, and the driver inside has been redone - a 45mm True Motion Driver has been given a carbon-coated diaphragm that’s said to help in making sure audio reproduction is as good as it can be.
They share the same Dual-Layer Air-Control tech that’s in the ATH-MSR7s which helps to improve performance and the all-important cabling has been rethought. Now, in the box there’s a 4.4mm balanced cable - use this to stop interference and reduce cross talk - and an optional 2.5mm version is available. This is alongside the usual 3.5mm cable.
For comfort, the ATH-MSR7b range have been given a memory foam headband and earpads and they tuck up nicely into a pouch ready for you to go traveling with them.
The ATH-MSR7bs we tried were finished in gun metal coloring, which had a really smart red trim and cabling. There is also a black version available, with a blue trim.
We listened to a number of tracks on the Audio-Technica stand and could have listened to a number more. This is because the ATH-MSR7bs are really comfy.
They are like a warm bath for the ears, the memory foam slotting the earcups around the ear nicely, and the cushioned headband offered up no pinch or tightening whatsoever but had enough of a seal to block out much of the bustle of the show floor.
These do feel like they may not be the best in stifling hot weather, though, given the material used.
Selecting through a variety of High-Res Audio tracks, we listened to some Springsteen. Dancing In The Dark soared, it was so clear that it was a surprise that we didn’t see Bruce pop up and gyrate to the song.
Dark Side of the Moon offered up a whole different mood, with the cans picking out exquisite detail in the opening of Breathe and held well when the song chugs through the gears.
These headphones have links to Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50x range, professional studio monitoring headphones that have been hugely popular. The quality you get through the ATH-MSR7b, given the relatively modest price for them - $249 (£219, around AU$340).
The ATH-MSR7b have big boots to fill but from our early tests, it seems that Audio-Technica has tweaked and configured to deliver a pair of headphones that breathe new life into wired headphones at modest prices.
As much as we, as with many others, are veering to wireless with our headphone tastes, the ATH-MSR7b put in a decent case for keeping the wire.
In fact, they hit three key areas effortlessly: comfort, design and - most importantly - performance.
- IFA 2018 is Europe's biggest tech show. The TechRadar team is in Berlin to bring you all the breaking news and hands-on first impressions of new phones, watches and other tech as they're announced.