Reviews by jdtenny


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Great near-reference-quality sound, but with a bit more bass presence and softened treble.
Super sensitive for your portable player.
Terrific for classical music enthusiasts.
Cons: Build quality.
Note on the reviewer. I have a critical ear and enough musical performance experience to know what voices and instruments _should_ sound like. I am not an experienced audio reviewer though, so just assume I'm a noob. This review focus primarily on sound (how it performs and what I was looking for), and some unfortunate build issues. No unboxing pictures here.

Search Criteria / Story

This is my story of looking for an upgrade from my SONY MDR-7506 headphones that I have been using with my FiiO M11 DAP. I also have some AKG K501's, but the DAP can't drive them well so I don't use them.

I find the Sony's quite nice for $79. However to sound really good they need to be paired with the right recording, and on other recordings they sound canned, tinny in the treble, and lacking in the bass. Again, they are capable of sounding great, but it depends on what you feed them. This is often the expectation with reference headphones.

In looking for an upgrade I purchased a $160 pair of Drop X Sennheiser Jubilee X58's, but it was very disappointing. They cut off higher frequencies at the knees, vocals sounded _heavily_ muted, high percussion would nearly entirely disappear from the playback. Sure, the sound was ... smooth ... but it was not what I wanted. If you love the X58, you will not love the ATH-MSR7b. I sent the X58's back..

After discussions with a number of head-fi members, I decided that what I
really wanted was:
  • A close-to-reference headset with a reasonably flat frequency response.
  • A teensy bit less treble so that playback might seem less harsh or "canned" when they otherwise sound that way on the Sony's.
  • A teensy bit more bass, must not be muddy.
TL;DR: The ATH-MSR7b pretty much fit the bill. It isn't particularly more bass-y than the Sony MDR-7506 but it has increased ... presence ... that makes the bass feel fuller, and indeed most of the recorded materials. These headphones are a delight for classical performances based on my testing so far, and I have nothing to complain about with other genres. For some specific tracks and comments see below.

Super Sensitive!

The ATH-MSR7b ('b' for 'balanced' by the way), using the balanced inputs with my DAP, are incredibly sensitive. Where I might listen to my Sony MDR-7506 in at volume 60-70 on my DAP (out of 120), I find myself generally turning the volume down 15-20 ticks for the ATH-MSR7b. If you're looking to drive these from a portable device they should be very good for that. I cannot comment on the unbalanced input, I didn't test with it, though the headphones come with both the 4.4mm balanced jack and the 3.5mm unbalanced jack in the box.

Build And/Or Quality Issues

The headband and adjustment mechanisms seem well enough. The ear cups though, at least on my pair, are at the least lacking in quality assurance, and in the worst case may have poor build quality. The following image shows defects in the stitching. One part almost looks like it isn't attached right, though a minor tug on it doesn't seem to reveal problems. Still, I almost returned them for this flaw, and expect better on $229 headphones.

Tracks & Comparative Testing

Here are a few tracks I compared between the ATH-MSR7b and the SONY MDR-7506 on All were "HIFI" quality unless otherwise noted.

Test #1: Track #1. Album: Mahler Symphony No. 1 "Titan" by the Utah Symphony

This is actually quite an interesting track. On the ATH-MSR7b the track is delicate but *potent*, whereas with the Sony MDR-7506 it's as if the volume just isn't loud enough and you can't hear half of what is going on.

When I listened to this with my Sony's, I thought, as I often did listening with the Sony's, that the recording simply wasn't as good a recording as others, that it sounded somewhat ... lacking. So I was very happy to discover when playing it with the ATH that the recording came alive. I could hear so more and it was a far more immersive listen.

In the end, the quality of playback on this track with the ATH-MSR7b headphones was "goosebump" calibre relative to the Sony's, and that's a good thing.​

Test #2: Track #5: Album: R. Strauss: Vier letzte Leider, TrV 296 - 3. Beim Schlafengehen "Four Last Songs"

This was a "MASTER" quality recording. When I compared the Sony's to the X58 on this track in the past the soprano vocals sounded wrong on the X58, and right (to me) on the Sony. It sounds nice on the ATH too, no complaints whatsoever. Female vocals definitely sound different on the ATH-MSR7b, but it's subtle, and well within what I consider good vocal sound.
Test #3: Track #1 & 2: Album: Jean Luc Ponty's "A Taste For Passion"

I don't view this album as a particularly good headphone test. There just isn't enough nuance to the the music, in composition and recording, to reflect upon on comparing headphones.

The first track is spends most time in toward higher frequencies, and the second track spends more in the lower frequencies, so there is some listening contrast between the two tracks. When I previously ran this with the X58's, I discovered that they pretty much filtered the percussion track (starts half way through) out of existence, whereas it was crisp and clear on the Sony's. The ATH still had the crisp percussion, so that was good.

The ATH came out somewhat harsher than the Sony's to the point where it was unpleasant. I turned it down about 25 volume points and it was much more reasonable. (45 on the Mifi - these are seriously sensitive headphones!).

Comparing the Sony's and the ATH here was something of a wash for me. That said, the Sony's made some of the strings in track 2 sound ... er, stringy. Twanged. Abnormal. The ATH definitely sounded a bit harsh until I drastically lowered the volume, at which point they sounded better than the Sony's, as they should for the price.
Test #4: Track #1: Paco De Lucia, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, May 1 1996 "La Estiba"

Night and day evident in the first 16 bars of play. The ATH-MSR7b illuminates that music in a very nice way compared to the Sony. No contest.
Test #5: Tracks 1&2: John Garbarek "Rites"

Listen to the Sony's, very nice.
Listen to the ATH, nicer. Worth the extra $150? For me, yes.

While I wouldn't have complained about the Sony's, the ATH-MSR7b are much more immersive. The music is more of an experience. Is it possible the Sony's put out a better soprano sax sound? Maybe, I'm not sure. The overall experience is better from the ATH though. I also hear things on the ATH I do not hear on the Sony, like softer lower frequency cymbal interactions.
Test #6: Track #1: Pink FLoyd, "Dark Side of the Moon"

The Sony MDR-7506 takes about 2 seconds longer than the ATH-MSR7b to hear the opening heartbeat, even with the Sony's at much higher volume. I would not describe the ATH as bass heavy at all, but it definitely gets that smidgeon more bass that I was hoping for. It's like listening to the world through a more sensitive mic.
Test #7: Track #1: Barbra Streisand, The Essential Barbra Streisand "Evergreen"

You just never know what will pop up on your DAP :) I thought I would just listen to a well known vocalist for a reference point.

I turned the volume to what is subjectively loud for me, to give the best chance for the vocal to wash over me with each headphone (though this older recording is not anything technically strong).

Sony Volume 65

Guitar track is pleasant, but stands out in a negative way and is a bit too clinical. Piano sounded ... wrong. Perhaps it's not a real piano. Voice is very nice, the Sony's do a respectable job on female vocals.

ATH Volume 50

Guitar track sounded perfect, also didn't stand out as much. Piano sounded better (fine actually, at the beginning of the track), but still wrong toward the end of the track. I'm guessing the piano problem is the recording, not the headphones. Voice is much fuller. The effect of the ATH is to soften some of these female vocals compared to the Sony, but in a good way, I miss some of the Sony's frequency signature on vocals, but the ATH more than makes up for it with its huge presence.

These are billed as over-ear headphones. I have a large head, and for me they felt more like on-ear headphones. They won't win any awards for comfort, but they weren't bad either. If comfort is your #1 concern and you have big ears/head, these may not be for you.


1. The lettering for the 'L' and 'R' designators is grey on black and small. It's hard for old eyes to read, and nearly impossible in low light.

2. The headphones do feel cheaply made, both in general and compared to the much cheaper Sonys. For my headset ordered from Amazon there is a cosmetic flaw (and possible more serious manufacturing defect) in ear pads. This is not acceptable for $229 headphones. Heck, I'm not sure I think it's acceptable for headphones at any price. If these headphones were a clothing, it would be marked as an irregular.


I was looking for a step up from my Sony MDR-7506 and I found it, after failing with the Drop X Sennheiser X58.
(Most people love the X58, I am apparently in the minority on this point). To be fair, the ATH-MSR7b is $69 more than the X58, but worth it. I won't be sending these back.

On some of the nuanced recordings I care about, the ATH-MSR7b is a huge step up from the Sony MDR-7506 and worthy of a critical listen. Though as noted above, it did sound harsh on one track, but lowering the volume alleviated most of that.

The sensitivity of the headphones and the balanced input plays very nicely with the FiiO M11 DAP. I'm amazed at how much I have to turn the volume _down_.
do you know how tall and wide the inner dimensions of the ear pads are? im considering these but what you mentioned about them being "on-ear" headphones is also one of my concerns
I love my Shure SRH1540 headphones with Lqi Cables balanced cables from my Sony NW-WM1Z, but I am looking for a second set. I am thinking these would play nicely with my Sony from what I have heard.
Pairing is everything. The treble is hot and the bass lacking on my Sony NW-WM1Z, but my PMEQd Lotoo Paw Gold Touch makes these headphones sound as good and often better than some very high end headphones that I have demoed.