audio technica

Audio Technica ATH-MSR7

Audio Technica ATH-MSR7I have got to stop being seduced by gorgeous headphones with great sound and a relatively cheap price.

The Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 went on sale at Stereo for the month, and a hard case was offered along with it. I had already drooled over the beautiful gunmetal version, but the supposedly bright sound turned me off. But since I had time after my exams (and I needed to get my MacBook Pro fixed), I decided to pop by to have a listen.

Needless to say, I was sold.

My terrible photo-taking skills and phone camera don’t do the headphone any justice. It has a great build and aesthetics that seem very similar to the Sony MDR-1R, but is more metal than plastic which lends confidence. The extending arms feel very secure with each click, unlike my NAD VISO HP50s. But the clamping force is quite high however, and some stretching is required for comfort. The earpads are also a little stiffer than most, and less breathable. So comfort isn’t great, but it’s quite good nevertheless.

The accessories aren’t spectacular, but sufficient. Three(!) cables are provided, with two portable cables (one with a mic/remote) and a 3m home use cable. The source side plug is a little chunky, but that’s not entirely bad. The 3.5mm jack in the earcup is a little recessed, which can be problematic. A protein leather pouch is also included for storage, but that’s not going to provide much protection. The free hard case I got is far better.

The important thing is of course the sound, and boy have Audio Technica nailed this one. The bass is very punchy, with zero bloat into the midrange. There’s only the slightest bass lift to give it greater impact, but otherwise the bass is awfully clean. It definitely took me by surprise, given I had been expecting far less bass due to its supposed bright nature.

The treble is quite extended too, but crucially, I didn’t encounter any of the sibilance that others have heard. But while others have praised its slightly elevated treble levels for being pretty neutral and detailed, I found myself bowled over by the midrange and lower treble instead.

As with all Audio Technicas I’ve heard thus far, female vocals are just insanely seductive. With the MSR7, even male vocals are given a chance to shine with a neutral midrange that renders voices beautifully. The neutrality of the midrange also allows the music to breathe, and details hidden behind the warmth of other headphones pop out with the MSR7. Coupled with the punchy bass and well rendered treble that gives the MSR7 quite a bit of air, it made me rediscover my music in a big way. So much for liking warm, relaxed signatures.

It’s headphones like the MSR7 that make me question why high end audio is so costly. Law of diminishing returns, indeed.


Audio Technica ATH-AD900X

ATH-AD900XI’ve been eyeing one of these for a very long time, so with the Japanese Yen falling to a 7-year low recently, and my birthday having just passed, I decided to give in to my impulses and bought it off Amazon Japan as a belated gift to myself. Amazing Japanese efficiency meant that my headphones hit Tenso’s warehouse within 2 days, and with a single day of processing, Tenso sent them out. Japan EMS took only 2 more days to deliver the package. With such speed and efficiency, coupled with the favourable exchange rate, I fear I might end up spending a lot more money than I planned for…

(Tenso is a forwarding service that comes well-recommended. A lot of Japanese companies sell their goods much cheaper in Japan, or have exclusives there. The only way for me to get my grubby hands on them is via such services.)

Even though shipping was just a smidgen expensive, the total cost didn’t even add up to half of what I would have paid in Singapore. Retail prices for Japanese electronics can get quite scary here, and while I won’t have warranty support, saving more than S$100(!!!) is worth it.

I’ve tried the ATH-A900X before, when auditioning for a pair of closed-back headphones. It was too bass-heavy for my tastes, and it was too heavy and the 3D-wing system couldn’t keep it on my head. Well, when I put its open-back brother on, it was a very different proposition. Being lighter than the A900X, the AD900X stayed on my head easily, the 3D-wing system very comfortable indeed. The earpads had big openings, albeit shallow, and it’s FAR more comfortable than either of my other headphones, the NAD VISO HP50 and the Grado SR80e.

I bought the AD900X having heard all sorts of reviews about how they had a big soundstage, sounding very airy and making female vocals shine. Taking off my SR80e and playing some female vocals, I couldn’t see the big fuss. A momentary flash of disappointment cut through me; I usually don’t like to buy things blind, preferring to audition first. The iDSD Micro was an exception because I was more enthralled by its functions than its quality, which I can barely discern without extensive A/B testing and focus.

I really should do some comparisons with my other headphones/IEMs to get a clearer picture of the AD900X’s strengths and weaknesses, but I couldn’t care less when my ears slowly adjusted to its sound signature. It is indeed quite airy and open, and string instruments like violins sound ridiculously gorgeous. Female highs sing with startling ease, shimmery and breath-taking. The treble sounds even more extended than my SR80e, but without any sibilance that I can detect. The bass is nothing to write home about though; it’s a little one-note, and thumps quite softly. The lower mids don’t stand out either, feeling a little sucked out and recessed. The focus on upper mids and lower treble is what Head-Fi agrees on as the Audio Technica house sound, and I couldn’t be happier to get a taste of it.

Buying these on a whim has certainly made me feel stupid for a short while. But now, as the music sings and my ears cry out in joy at the comfort, I can’t help but think that I’ve made the right choice in the end.

My wallet disagrees though…