Wireless headphones normally mean you're compromising on sound quality versus wired headphones. Normally. Audio-Technica's new ATH-DSR7BT are so committed to the highest possible Bluetooth sound quality, though, that they don't even have a 3.5mm wired headphone cable, nor anywhere to plug one in. These Hi-Res Audio over-the-ear cans are all about hi-fi wireless, with a unique speaker driver and amplifier setup that promises the best. Can they deliver?
What Is It?
Bear with me, because this is heady stuff. The 45mm True Motion drivers inside the $599 Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT are entirely digital, with a specially designed and unique diaphragm that interprets signals pulsed from Trigence's Dnote chipset — a signal that's kept entirely digital and entirely unchanged from source to the actual speakers on top of your ears. There's no lossy amplifier or digital-analog converter distortion along the way, and that means better audio fidelity than any other wireless earphone you could compare the DSR7BT to.
At least on the outside, the ATH-DSR7BT shares a lot of its DNA with Audio-Technica's other ATH-MSR7 series. Clean, simple, and even arguably elegant design on the flat earcups with a matte grey finish and an engraved Audio-Technica logo and just three status/battery lights on the left, these headphones are uncluttered; the bezel of the left earcup contains playback and volume controls including a touch-sensitive multifunction panel, while the right is for power and Bluetooth.
If you have a library of Hi-Res Audio files on your PC, you can connect the ATH-DSR7BT to your computer using the supplied (and lengthy, at 2 metres) USB-A to MicroUSB cable, which will also charge the headphones as they're playing; you can of course hook them up to any 5V power source to recharge the battery for another 15 hours of listening time. The addition of USB audio output makes these headphones a little more convenient if you're on a PC without Bluetooth, but I'm sure most users will keep them exclusively for mobile listening.
But, unlike 99 per cent of wireless headphones out there, the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT cans don't have any kind of analog backup wired connection. There's no 3.5mm headphone jack hidden away behind a port cover anywhere. You charge over microUSB or connect to a PC, and that's it — everything else happens entirely wirelessly or using the controls on the headphones themselves. It'll take you four hours to get a full charge from empty. As well as that charging cable, you get a soft silk-lined leatherette carry case in the DSR7BT's box.
What's It Good At?
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT are, hands down, the best-sounding wireless headphones I have ever listened to. I've listened to some extremely expensive wired headphones, and some extremely expensive wireless headphones, and I can absolutely say that these rank amongst the best in terms of their outright sound quality — which is doubly, triply impressive when you consider the fact that they're wireless. Treble is singingly clear without being too bright and sharp, mid-range has a huge amount of detail in it; you'll be hearing things you've never heard before on another set of wireless headphones. No bullshit.
In fact, there's only really one way to listen to the DSR7BT. Unless you're on a PC or a Mac, you're going to be listening on wireless, and that means you're not going to be getting a different sound from these headphones depending on how and where you're listening. In my opinion, that's laudable; some people will decry the death of the headphone jack, but when you have a perfectly high quality wireless signal, and you know what you're getting out of it, why not ditch the cable? Cables suck. Good riddance, cables.
And the wireless quality of the DSR7BT reigns supreme. These Class 2 Bluetooth 'phones have an effective range of around 10 metres from their source, and in my testing within that distance the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT maintained a rock solid audio connection in that line-of-sight distance; more than enough range for me to walk from my desk to our office kitchen and back without breaking up. It comes at a cost to battery life, and more on that later, but my experience of the Bluetooth on the DSR7BT has been supremely good from start to finish.
These are expensive headphones, but they're not the most expensive headphones — even in their class. In fact, the ATH-DSR7BT is cheaper than Sennheiser's top Momentum Wireless 2.0 ($799), the B&W P7 ($599) and the Bang & Olufsen H9 ($699), and by my reckoning they sound better when wireless than each of these — although I only had the B&O H9 on hand to test with as a direct comparison. $599 is a hell of a lot of money for headphones, but you could be spending more for no discernible benefit.
What's It Not Good At?
Audio-Technica has gone all-in on the Bluetooth on the ATH-DSR7BT. All in in terms of sound quality, at least, with that aptX HD and SBC support. But that comes at the cost of battery life, which at 15 hours claimed and around a dozen to 14 hours tested is around half of what we've seen from competing high-end Bluetooth headphones, including those with extra noise cancelling chops and those like Audio-Technica's own ATH-MSR7NC. Think of the DSR7BT like a big hulking V8 — you've got loads of power, they just use a little more fuel to get there.
And that also means that if you want the best possible Bluetooth quality from the DSR7BT, you'll need an appropriately high quality source. And in Australia, at the moment at least, aptX HD support is restricted to just three mobile phones. I actually started re-using a LG G6 for the purposes of this review, because I wanted to use these Audio-Technica cans to their fullest wirelessly, but that phone is not my daily driver; my Samsung Galaxy S8+ is only compatible with the lossier, though still good, aptX.
If you want to listen on a PC, you should be aware that the microUSB port on the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT is not as secure as a good ol'-fashioned 3.5mm connector. If you're the kind of person — like I am — that constantly shifts around in their seat, tucking one leg under the other and then getting up and moving about, you'll almost certainly find that USB connection dropped and restarted every now and then. It's not a big deal, but if you plan to use these at your PC every day, you'll want a Bluetooth dongle and wireless.
One minor comment — not necessarily a complaint — on the audio that the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT produces. These aren't bass-heavy earphones — in fact, they're quite restrained in their low-end sound. That's not to say they can't hit low notes; they do that and do an extremely good job of it. But if you're expecting deeply booming bass with huge decay, an oomph that's going to shake your skull, look elsewhere. These headphones are all about that clean and lively high-end and mid-range with bass that's definitely there, just not in your face.
Should You Buy It?
Do you want a good pair of wireless headphones? The best pair of wireless headphones? If you like quality, and if you can subscribe to the notion of getting the absolute best out of the tech that you're buying, then you should give the $599 Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT some very careful consideration.
These headphones come with caveats. Battery life isn't amazing. You'll probably need a new phone, or next year's new phone, to get the best audio quality. You can't just plug in a 3.5mm cable if you want to. But all these things, once you listen to the DSR7BT, seem utterly minor by comparison to the sound you're hearing.