Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7NC review: Cancel the noise, not the music
Around my desk, two fans whirr constantly, an air-conditioning unit thrums overhead, and yet I can hardly hear a thing. The chatter of a busy office is distant, and all that’s disturbing me is the empty screen in front of me where a review should be. On this occasion, Audio-Technica’s noise-cancelling ATH-MSR7NC headphones are entirely to blame – I’ve been too busy listening to my iTunes playlist to type a single word.
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Design & features
The ATH-MSR7NC might look familiar to headphone aficionados, and for good reason: Audio-Technica has simply taken its over-ear ATH-MSR7 headphones (£180) and added active noise cancellation to the feature list. Silence is golden, as they say – or at the very least worth paying an extra £50 for.
Otherwise, the design is identical to the ATH-MSR7, with an adjustable headband and earpieces covered in soft, fake leather and filled with memory foam. As a result, these are very comfortable headphones. Apart from giving me slightly sweaty ears while rushing around town, I rarely noticed I was wearing the ATH-MSR7NC. In fact, I often forget about them completely once the music had stopped.
You also get a USB charging cable, airline adapter, and two 1.2m-long cables in the box. Both have 3.5mm connectors at each end, which bodes well for longevity, and while one is a bog-standard audio cable, the other adds a smartphone-friendly universal in-line microphone and remote for answering calls, adjusting the volume, pausing the music and skipping tracks. There’s a soft carry bag included, too, and as the earpieces swivel around to lie flat, the ATH-MSR7NC don’t take up too much room in a bag.[gallery:2]
If you want, you can use these as standard headphones, but flick the switch on the left earpiece, and the twin microphones – one on the outside of each earcup – do their bit to cut out background noise. The ATH-MSR7NC’s internal lithium-ion battery provides a claimed 30 hours of battery life, and the micro-USB connector charges it to full capacity in around four hours. Unlike some rivals, though, you can keep on listening to music even once the battery has run dry.
The noise-cancelling isn’t quite as dramatic as on rival headphones, such as the Bose QuietComfort QC35, but it’s still more than good enough to dramatically reduce the volume of constant background noise, such as the rumble of a train or plane, or the constant hum of an air-conditioning unit. That means there’s no need to crank the volume to ear-damaging levels to drown out traffic noise or the raucous clatter of a Tube train.
Audio-Technica markets the ATH-MSR7NC as “high-resolution” headphones, and that’s a very accurate description. Their measured frequency response stretches way beyond human hearing, deep down into the infrasound and right up to a dog-bothering 40kHz, but the overall result is simply great-sounding music.
Well, most of the time. Feed the ATH-MSR7NC poor-quality recordings or low-bit-rate MP3s, and your ears won’t thank you for it. They coax every minute detail out of a recording, and while that works wonders for pristine-quality files, that also means that the crackle and fizz of vinyl or overly compressed music files comes through loud and clear.
They’re never anything less than thrilling to listen to, however. Violins, strings and horn sections seemingly float free of the headphones, spreading deep and wide, and electronica sends sounds orbiting around in hypnotic fashion; compared to the £400 Audeze Sine, the Audio-Technica is far more open and spacious-sounding.
They’re not perfect, of course. A slight lift in the mid-range frequencies can give percussion and vocals a slightly harsh, rough edge on some tracks, and especially so at higher volumes, but it never becomes unlistenable. The firm, taut bass and crystal-clear treble tease every ounce of detail and excitement out of the music at hand.
At this price, these headphones find themselves in very capable company – take a look at our list of the best headphones, and you’ll see that there are no shortage of fantastic options available, not least the Bose QuietComfort 35, which has both wireless AND active noise cancelling, and at £290 don’t cost a huge amount more. Whichever way you cut it, though, these are great-quality headphones that provide effective noise-cancelling in a comfy, well-thought-out package. If they fit your budget, the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7NC should most definitely make your shortlist.