Audio-Technica is on a roll. Over the last year, we’ve reviewed a number of their products and have walked away more impressed with each passing test run. It’s not surprising: the company has been making premiere audio products for more than 50 years. Today, we’re looking at their flagship set of wireless headphones, the over-ear bluetooth DSR9BTs. Is it finally possible to achieve audiophile grade while cutting the sound? Read on as we see just what these headphones are capable of and join us as we turn them into one of the best wireless gaming headsets money can buy.
- MSRP: $549
- Driver: Dynamic, 45 mm diameter
- Voice Coil: OFC-7N
- Frequency Response: 5 – 45,000 Hz
- Sensitivity: 97 dB/mW
- Impedance: 38 ohms
- Battery: 3.7V rechargeable lithium polymer battery; approx. 15 hours continuous use (1000 hours standby, 5 hour charge time)
- Input Jack: Micro USB Type B
- Type (Microphone): Condenser
- Sensitivity (Microphone): -44 dB (1V/Pa a 1 kHz)
- Frequency Response (Microphone): 50 – 4,000 Hz
- Polar Pattern (Microphone): omnidirectional
- Communication System: Bluetooth Version 4.2
- Maximum Communication Range: Line of sight - approx. 10 m (33')
- Compatible Bluetooth Profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP
- Support Codec: aptX HD, aptX, AAC, SBC
- Weight: 310 g (10.9 oz), without cable
- Accessories Included: 2.0 m (6.6') USB charging cable, hard carrying case
Audio-Technica’s DSR9BTs immediately caught my eye. They have a distinctive look that does away with the retro aesthetic we’ve seen so much of in the last few years. Instead, what we have is something elegant and stylish you can be proud to wear out on the street. The DSR9BTs are also part of Audio-Technica’s Sound Reality line, which carries with it the promise of excellent clarity and high fidelity sound to reveal all of the little details that so often get lost through lower-end headphones. The SR9s we looked at last month were the premiere wired headphones in this line and were incredible. I had to know if Audio-Technica had cracked the code to truly high fidelity wireless audio.
The problem with Bluetooth, historically, was that it didn’t have enough bandwidth to deliver truly hi-fi sound. At its inception, Bluetooth was designed to connect speaker phones and other devices in a utilitarian way. As a result, the bandwidth capacity was limited, forcing audio files to be compressed in transmission. Today, we have headsets like the DSR9BT that take advantage of Bluetooth 4.2 which offers 10-times the transmission bandwidth. The DSR9s make dramatic improvements even on top of that by including a suite of processing technology and smart design decisions that finally open the doors to lossless wireless audio.
Under the hood, the DSR9s marry two technologies to ensure the highest possible quality from a modern wireless headphone. The first is Audio-Technica’s Pure Digital Drive system, which allows digital audio to transfer directly from the wireless transmitter right to the driver without the needing a converter. To make this happen, the headphones make use of Trigence Semiconductor’s Dnote chipset to pass the digital signal through to the drivers. All digital, all the way. The headphones also support the aptX HD codec, allowing for the first time a bluetooth headphone capable of competing with the best wired Hi-Fi headsets around.
The sound signature here is definitely warmer than the SR9s, with a fuller bass response. This isn’t to say that the low-end is overwhelming like you might hear on a more lower quality headphone. Instead, the sound is much richer while losing none of the clarity and crispness in the higher frequencies. The presentation on these headphones makes them distinctly more “fun” when listening to genres like rock or hip-hop.
One of my favorite ways to test new headphones like this is to listen to guitar-centric instrumental metal. Angel Vivaldi’s latest release, Synapse, provide excellent demonstrations of low, mid, and high frequency performance. On a lesser headphone the intricate layers of instrumentation can degrade into a cacophony of sound. With the DSR9BTs, every layer is clearly articulated. The highs aren’t overstated and never become cutting, which makes listening at high volumes a pleasant experience. As a musician myself, it feels almost revelatory to be able to discern every inflected note from every instrument, no matter the genre.
I was also very pleased with how wide the soundstage is on the the DSR9BTs. Closed-back headphones are known for having smaller soundstages compared to their open-ear counterparts. If you don’t want to share your listening with everyone around you, however, closed-back is really the only way to go. Thanks to the excellent tuning of the drivers and the layered construction of their housings, sounds feel much more spaced out than I initially expected leading to a much more natural sound. In games, this lends a lot to the immersive qualities of great sound effects and soundtracks.
Opinions on what sounds “good” completely subjective, of course, but it’s clear that Audio-Technica went the extra mile to set these headphones up for success. The frequency response is an expansive 5 - 45000Hz and a sensitivity of 97 dB/mW. Compared to the average 20 - 20000 Hz found on most mainstream headphones, the DSR9s are in a whole other class and will accurately reproduce any sound within the range of human hearing, as well as ensure clarity for the increasingly complex soundscape of years to come. Impulses feed into a pair of Audio-Technica’s 45mm True Motion Drivers. These larger-than-normal drivers use specialized voice coils and Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coating to boost their clarity. They also feature a layered construction inside each driver housing to remove any unwanted resonances. The headphones also have a low impedance at 32 ohms, ensuring they can be easily driven.
In an interesting shift from other premium wireless headphones, Audio-Technica has completely removed the auxiliary audio interface, so you won’t be using these wired on anything other than your PC (and maybe not even then, as we’ll talk about in soon). While this is a surprising move, it makes sense for the target audience. One might suspect that anyone spending over $500 on a wireless headphone would intend to use it wirelessly. The device does feature USB connectivity (as well as NFC for another wireless option), so you can direct-connect to your audio device or even a smartphone with an OTG cable. Thanks to the technological achievements of the DSR9, however, and the compatibility with aptX HD, there really is no reason to tie yourself down with a wire.
Needless to say, at this price point, you should expect a quality build. Thankfully, Audio-Technica has developed a stellar reputation for their well-considered construction. Compared to the prior DSR7s, there is much more aluminum in their frame but are still surprisingly lightweight for also containing a 15-hour battery (with 1000 hours of standby). Both the headband and both housings are metal, so an accidental drop shouldn’t pose much of a threat. There’s also a good amount of padding on the leather headband and ear cups that keep them comfortable even after long listening sessions.
These headphones aren’t fatiguing like others. There’s a pleasant amount of grip but not enough to grow painful over time. The earpads are also composed of a heat reactive memory foam and do a great job of blocking out outside noise. I also found them fairly breathable, so though my ears were warm, they never started to sweat. They’re made for long hours of enjoyment and are a complete success.
The Best Wireless Gaming Headset?
These headphones are excellent in games. The full resonance they offer makes exploring in a game like Kingdom Come feel downright epic when the soundtrack starts to swell. In shooters, there’s little like hiding in the bushes as a tank rolls by, hearing the clear shouts of your teammates over the hill. Their sensitivity and frequency response also makes hearing enemies before they hear you a much easier task.
Seeing how good they appeared to be, the capability that’s just not offered in other wireless headphones right now, I knew I had to try to convert these into a new wireless gaming headset that I could also take out of the house. See, the thing is, most big budget games use uncompressed audio - that’s one of the reasons for our massive file sizes this generation - but most gaming headsets just can’t do those files justice. A headset like this? You bet. As a techie, how could I not find a way to make that work? Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s easy to do and completely worth it.
The trick was finding a bluetooth transmitter capable of delivering aptX HD instead of standard aptX or aptX Low Latency. I settled on one from a company called Elekele which is currently unavailable, but this one from TROND appears identical. It’s as simple as plugging the transmitter into your motherboard’s audio-out, connecting the DSR9BT and you’re in business.
Now, a caveat. Your motherboard has to support high resolution audio. Most modern gaming motherboards should be capable of this, but you may need to go into your Control Panel and dial up the sampling rate to pull it off.
There’s also the matter of the microphone. Even though the headphones have a built in mic for taking calls, it’s not going to work with this setup, so you’ll need a standalone mic. If you’re considering a setup like this, picking up a nice condenser mic is probably a reasonable option and we’d definitely recommend investing in it. When you’re done, the pair make one incredible desktop audio setup.
Since last summer, I’ve reviewed a lot of headphones. Everything from budget $80 gaming headsets to audiophile headphones that cost hundreds of dollars. The DSR9BTs deliver a level of fidelity I didn’t think was possible on wireless headphones. With these, Audio-Technica is bringing us into an age where we can have wireless free from sacrifice. They’re a premium headphone for a premium price, but they’re also an achievement. In short, Audio-Technica has done it again.
- aptXHD support for wireless Hi-Fi
- Pure Digital Drive and True Motion Drivers delivers excellent clarity
- Rich low end and wide soundstage are perfect for games
- Quite expensive
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.