- Excellent soundstage coherence
- Fresh, detailed sound
- Skewed mid-range
- No wired option
- Unremarkable battery life
- Annoying on-cup controls
- Review Price: £499
- aptX HD
- Bluetooth 4.2
- 15hr battery life
- micro-USB charging
- 45mm drivers
What are the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT?
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT are high-end Bluetooth headphones. A few years ago, ‘Bluetooth’ and ‘high end’ seemed to be mutually exclusive. Not so anymore, however.
These headphones offer great sound and aptX HD, which enables wireless headphone such as these to stream 24-bit sound. There are a few design annoyances, though.
As well as looking like a shinier version of Audio-Technica’s much cheaper headphones, sound isolation is poor and the on-cup controls rattle when you run. Or even if you walk with a pace on.
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Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT – Design and comfort
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT are full-size wireless headphones costing £500. Most manufacturers aiming for a high-end audience tend to opt for soft, smooth designs. Or even futuristic ones. However, the ATH-DSR9BT sport a the same kind of hard ear cup look as the ATH-MSR7 and ATH-M50X.
You can decide for yourself whether you’re a fan. Onlookers might not guess that the ATH-DSR9BT cost quite as much as they do, which means you will at least benefit from being able to walk around with them on day to day without drawing attention to yourself.
They are rather large, however – and the headband doesn’t sit close to your head.
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT are the standard mix of plastic and aluminium/steel. Their outer cup discs are aluminium; the inner parts plastic.
The headband and cup padding is topped with synthetic leather, and the foam is fairly thick. The feel isn’t as soft and comfortable as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, but few headphones are as comfy as that.
There’s a good amount of room for your ears inside the oval cups, and I’ve worn these for several hours at a time without any discomfort. The padding uses memory foam, which moulds to your head contours better than basic reflex foam.
Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT – Features
The controls are further proof that the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT aren’t entirely style-led. There’s a chunky power slider under the right cup, and a similar volume slider under the left. Both are simple to use, but are the cause of the main design issue with these headphones.
Each has about half a millimetre of wiggle room, and it causes some noise as you walk or run with hard-soled shoes. It sounds like an almost-empty pack of M&Ms shaking behind the cups. As a result, the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT aren’t a good fit for exercise – or for those who wear hard-soled shoes. That’s a distinction I’ve not made in a headphone review before.
Next to the volume slider sits a little touch panel. This is used to play/pause sound and to take calls. It’s an unusual choice when you consider that the other controls are so traditional. Nevertheless, it functions well enough.
The charge socket, a micro-USB, sits to the other side of the volume controls. A plastic seal covers the port to avoid water damage from rain.
A full charge lasts up to 15 hours, which is fairly poor for a set of headphones at this price. The Beats Studio 3 last 22 hours with noise cancelling; and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, 20 hours. However, don’t be put off unless you travel for long periods without access to a power plug.
The ATH-DSR9BT also lack fast-charging. Some recent headphones get you hours of use from just a 15-minute charge. Audio-Technica says the ATH-DSR9BT take five hours to charge. Using a phone charger, the reality doesn’t seem quite that bad, but it does take a few hours.
You’ll come unstuck if the battery runs out, however, since there is no wired input. You can plug them directly into a laptop via USB. The onboard DAC handles a hi-res 24-bit 96KHz signal.
For frequent flyers these headphones are a no-go, since they have no active noise cancelling. In addition, their passive isolation is only just okay for a closed-back model. They don’t deal with the noisy London Underground too well.
Audio Technica ATH-DSR9BT – Sound quality
However, it’s the sound that matters most, and in this regard the ATH-DSR9BT are among the best-sounding wireless headphones we’ve used to date. They’re also the most expensive, mind. The top-performing Sony WH-1000XM2 and Bowers & Wilkins PX are both around £200 cheaper.
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT excel in soundstage separation and expansiveness. They get closer to the performance of a planar magnetic or open headphone, in this respect. Stereo imaging of the 45mm True Motion drivers is excellent.
Where a lower-end headphone might muddle a busy arrangement, the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT let you mentally stroll through each song’s little world of sound.
These headphones also get rid of the fun but non-accurate bass response of Audio-Technica’s lower-end headphones for a cleaner presentation. The low-frequency bass is present, sounds assured and fast-reacting, and has greater restraint than most wireless headphones.
I don’t find the ATH-DSR9BT a particularly neutral listen, though, because of their approach to the mid-range. The mids are top-heavy. There’s greater presence in the upper-mids than the lower register.
This is great for promoting detail, which these headphones offer up in spades, and a sense of vitality. It’s part of the reason the ATH-M50X and ATH-MSR7 are so effective. However, this becomes problematic in the “big leagues”. Natural rendering of vocals is under the spotlight here.
Compared to the Oppo PM-3 and even the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT’s vocals are led a little too much by the upper-mids and treble. It takes away some of the richness of lower-register male vocals, in particular.
In cheaper headphones such a style is used to disguise that the lower-mids are an amorphous mush. This isn’t the case here, but the tonal balance is still tilted.
Why buy the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT?
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT are great wireless headphones, particularly if you’ve tried and liked the brand’s ATH-M50X or ATH-MSR7 pairs.
They’re not perfect, though, and some may be better off with the cheaper Sony WH-1000XM2. A lack of active noise cancellation, just-okay battery life and rattly controls may test the patience of travellers.
However, the coherence of the soundstage blows away almost all other wireless headphones. But like other Audio-Technica headphones of this style, the ATH-DSR9BT focus on delivering fresh-sounding detail rather than a flat, accurate response.
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The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT deliver great – if not neutral – sound, but suffer a few little design issues.