REVIEW: AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-DSR7BT WIRELESS OVER-EAR HEADPHONES
Click below to open the StereoNET Digital Magazine review, otherwise read on.
Whilst I’ve always been interested in audio, my love for headphones kicked off when I started mixing bands in pubs and I needed a new pair of headphones suited to the task.
What I thought would be a simple process, visiting retail stores to audition headphones, and then eventually purchasing turned into a deep dive down the rabbit hole.
Like many other headphone fanatics, my Head-Fi journey really began when I eventually resurfaced with the trusty Audio-Technica ATH M50 in hand. The M50, at least for me, acts like a gateway drug - opening the door to a lifelong pursuit of better audio.
Audio-Technica started off in 1962 as a phonograph cartridge manufacturer. The founder, Hideo Matsushita, sadly passed away in March of 2013.
During the company’s 40th anniversary in 2002, Hideo looked back on the very beginning of the company. He was quoted saying:
I came to Tokyo at age 32, and, thanks to an introduction by my uncle, went to work for the Bridgestone Museum of Art. At the urging of the museum’s director, I began organizing LP concerts. These were much more successful than anyone imagined. After a decade at the Bridgestone Museum, I struck out on my own and established Audio-Technica in 1962.
His son, Kazuo Matsushita, is still the president today.
More recently, Audio-Technica have earned widespread recognition spanning across several industries. Their microphones are practically commonplace in the pro audio scene used in both studio and live scenarios. They were even one of the first companies to ever produce a headset microphone.
Their headphones are also highly renowned, and have even achieved “cult-like” status in some circles. They have a headphone range for every conceivable category, including DJ, pro audio, Hi-Fi, noise cancelling, sports, gaming, and even communications headsets.
At the beginning of 2017, Audio-Technica unveiled their latest wireless headphones at the CES Show in Las Vegas. The range consisted of two models: ATH-DSR9BT, and ATH-DSR7BT. Both releases are over-ear wireless models, featuring Audio-Technica’s latest proprietary Bluetooth system, 45mm drivers, and are packed with acoustic wizardry.
Taking a closer look at the ATH-DSR7BT, it comes in at $599 locally. Staring down the barrel of releases such as the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 ($799 AUD), Bang & Olufsen H7 wireless ($699 AUD), and the Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless ($600 AUD), one can’t help but think the price point has been strategically set.
Even so, $599 is nothing to sneeze at in the Bluetooth over-ear game.
They say first impressions are everything and after removing the ATH-DSR7BT from their delicate silk-lined box, things take a somewhat disappointing turn. The build quality is perhaps not to the high level that I have come to expect from Audio-Technica.
The entire headphone assembly is very squeaky, with even minor adjustments producing some awkward audible creaking. The noise is frequent and loud, and I can only hope it will subside over time. The culprit isn’t just one single part; all moving parts (and even the headband) will groan when adjusted.
The headphones don’t fold, either. This is a tricky sell for a Bluetooth headphone, as they will inevitably eat up an uncomfortable amount of room when being stored.
There are buttons for volume up/down, and an odd touch panel button for play/pause. The track skipping is done via the volume slider, which is frustratingly wobbly. It’s the same story for the power on/off switch as well.
I’m glad to say that it’s not all bad, however. The outside of the cups are made from aluminium, and feature a subtle etching of the Audio-Technica logo on the outside. The pads are soft, and replaceable. The headband slider is sturdy, and will rarely slip or skip out of position.
I would have loved to have seen some more metal in the place of the plastics, especially on the yolk and the headband. Who knows - doing so may have even eliminated a lot of the squeaking and cheap feeling?
The DSR7BT shares a lot of acoustic DNA with the ATH-MSR7 - including the proprietary 45mm “True Motion” drivers, and the enclosures that they sit in.
Unlike the MSR7 however, the DSR7BT is packed with digital technology - Bluetooth 4.2, NFC pairing, a 15-hour battery life, and some very curious digital audio design.
The 45mm drivers feature multiple bobbin-wound voice coils and are kept completely isolated from the electric circuitry contained in the cups. They are also angled inwards, which is said to enhance the listener’s perception of soundstage and imaging.
The DRS7BT does not transmit audio via Bluetooth in the same way a typical Bluetooth headphone does. Instead of utilising a typical DAC inbuilt into the headphone, the Dnote chipset (developed by Trigence Semiconductor) keeps the digital stream intact from the source, all the way until it hits the voice coils pushing the driver itself.
This unique implementation gives some truly stellar sonic performance, albeit at the cost of not being able to use any traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, listeners have the option of using either Bluetooth, or the USB connection straight into their source device. Using the latter option provides options for Hi-Res playback.
Upon powering them on, the LED indicators on the outside of the cup light up, and will assist with the pairing process. Sound effects played through the cup indicate the headphones current pairing status.
I noticed a somewhat strong clamping force when putting them on for the first time. It did weaken slightly over the following days, but remained an issue for the duration of my use.
When moving about, and as mentioned, the headphones will lightly creak and squeak. It’s just enough to invade the quiet moments in your music and movies.
Pairing via NFC was incredibly simple, and the fact that I could potentially pair these with up to 8 devices is mind-numbing. I’m yet to come across another Bluetooth headphone that can do that.
Connected via Bluetooth there is some noticeable background hiss. This may vary depending on what device and Bluetooth version your source is equipped with.
When Bluetooth isn’t an option I was easily able to connect the device via USB without any need to install additional software or drivers. I also noticed that this connection method has a much lower noise floor so after running through all the tests it became my preferred connection method.
When in Bluetooth mode, the lights on the outside of the headphone not only show battery life, but will indicate which profile/codec is being used.
A full battery charge will take around 5 hours.
Fans of the brand will be delighted to know that the Audio-Technica house sound and signature has found its way to the wireless domain with this release.
The bass is light, lean and controlled. It’s still present when called upon, but sits far back in the mix. When comparing it to the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless, this is the most obvious point of difference - the Momentum bass sounds bloated by comparison.
There are no crazy humps in the lower frequencies, so don’t expect to find any crazy thumping basslines with these headphones. Instead, the bass takes a more delicate approach, remaining accurate and subtly present in the signature.
Mids are the real talking point here. There is an uncanny realism driven from the angled 45mm True Motion drivers, without a hint of congestion or muddiness. Individual instruments can be easily identified and picked out of a mix, and detail retrieval is incredible for a Bluetooth headphone.
This positive story continues to the upper mids, and well into the highs. The sound signature gives off a sense of air and transparency, while remaining analytical. Thankfully, there isn’t too much punch in the highs, and despite having a bright signature, there’s not a hint of sibilance.
For a closed-back headphone, the soundstage is incredibly vast and the imaging is superior. There is so much air in between each note, that they almost give off the feeling of being an open-backed headphone.
Isolation isn’t terribly strong or overbearing on these headphones. As an example, I am wearing them right now as I type these words, listening to music at an acceptable level, and I can easily hear the keys tapping away on my keyboard. Thankfully, even at realistic volume levels though, your neighbours won’t be complaining.
The ATH-DSR7BT headphones offer a more accurate sound signature as opposed to the typical ‘street sound’ we often see in the wireless Bluetooth headphone category. I’d suggest they’ve been designed with home or desk use in mind, rather than for public transport or travel.
Smartly priced to come in cheaper than their competitors, the beautiful, airy and accurate sound signature and fantastic acoustics of Audio-Technica’s ATH-DSR7BT presents great value.
Build quality and lack of real isolation holds them back from being a fantastic travel buddy. Perhaps the bigger brother, the DSR9BT, might make up for these shortcomings.
For more information visit the Audio-Technica brand page.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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