When it comes to audio equipment, Audio-Technica is the brand to watch. This autumn, we reviewed both incredibly popular (and extremely good) M50X reference headphones, as well as the audiophile’s gaming headset, the ADG1X. Today, we’re sampling another impressive entry from their Sound Reality line, the ATH-SR9s. They’re the most premium set of headphones we’ve had in the office, but do these headphones justify their also-premium price tag?
- MSRP: $449
- Type: Dynamic
- Driver Diameter: 45 mm
- Voice Coil: OFC-7N
- Frequency Response: 5 – 45,000 Hz
- Maximum Input Power: 1,500 mW
- Sensitivity: 97 dB/mW
- Impedance: 47 ohms
- Weight: 270g (without cable)
- Cable: Detachable 1.2m (3.9') standard cable with A2DC connectors, detachable 1.2m (3.9') cable with A2DC connectors and in-line control and microphone
- Connector: 3.5 mm gold-plated stereo mini-plug, L-shaped
- Accessories: Included Hard carrying case
- Type (Microphone): Condenser
- Sensitivity (Microphone): -40 dB (1V/Pa at 1 kHz)
- Frequency Response (Microphone): 50 – 4,000 Hz
- Polar Pattern (Microphone): Omnidirectional
I won’t bury the lede. The SR9s are the best sounding pair of cans I’ve ever used. They look great and sound amazing. At the time the above picture was taken, I was also sampling a new gaming headset from a company known for great sound. Listening to the SR9s first, this was the first time I’ve ever thought a headphone sounded bad in comparison. Since then, I’ve listened to that pair of expensive gaming headphones by itself and really enjoy them. But when compared to the SR9s? They are completely and utterly trounced. This is an unfair comparison - sure. But I’ve set headphones side by side for months now and this is the first time one pair has actually made another sound bad in comparison.
Like any pair of headphones, the makings of great sound are multifarious. The most prominent is Audio-Technica’s 45mm True Motion Drivers. The driver units use specialized voice coils and a Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coating on the diaphragm, boosting the clarity they’re able to deliver. They’re also midpoint mounted, allowing for equal spacing on each side of the diaphragm, and utilize resistors to control the airflow on each side. All of this adds up to a very well controlled driver.
But what does that actually mean? For starters, the SR9s will chew through any type of music you’d care to throw at it with the kind of clear reproduction lesser headphones only dream of. When it comes to games (because these make amazing gaming headphones), I always test their mettle against the uncompressed extremes of the Battlefield franchise. Control in big, boomy games means that everything sounds more real. I’ve heard some great audiophile headphones, but often even very good headphones suffer from resonance that makes big explosions and the ominous treads of tank tracks extend farther than they should. It’s the kind of thing you don’t know you’re missing until you experience it for yourself and the SR9s make crystal clear.
The same can be said for the quiet, subtle cues in games and music. Because these headphones are so well controlled, you can pick up individual instruments in the tune-up of an orchestra. You can hear the shuffling of blown leaves and the whistles of starlings under the mellow soundtrack of your walking simulator. Even running around in World of Warcraft, hearing the swell of the Stormwind theme feels evocative like never before. They elevate content in a way I’ve not yet experienced with a pair of headphones.
We can also lay this quality at the feet of the expansive 5-45000Hz frequency range. This is well outside the bounds of human hearing, so the natural question is why such a frequency range even exists. The answer is twofold. First, the extended range means that the headphones should breezily reproduce anything and everything you can hear. But also, as recordings get increasingly complex, having such responsive drivers allows them to maintain a level of accuracy above and beyond anything recording artists and sound designers can currently produce, maintaining fidelity in even the most complex soundscapes.
The sound signature is more balanced than many headphones, which is common in cans that strive for accuracy, but are definitely more fun than straight monitors. I was surprised by the tweaked up bass coming from the M50X and ADG1Xs. The SR9s aren’t bassy like a pair of Beats or a gaming headset, but they have an excellent low-end presence. The mids and highs have presence and are clear as a bell. This is especially true for the high frequencies. I listened to everything from classical, to electronica, to prog, and metal. Bass heads might find them a touch lacking but they quickly became my preferred headphones for both music and PC gaming.
Despite being closed-back, the SR9s have an impressively large soundstage. If you’re not familiar with the term, soundstage refers to the perceived separation of sounds and instruments coming through the headphones. The SR9s aren’t as wide as the ADG1Xs, whose open-back design allows sound to escape out the back, but they’re substantially wider than Audio-Technica’s M50X. Where many closed-back headphones sound as if they’re placing speakers right up to your ears, the SR9s sound like you’re listening in a sound dampened room.
The headphones isolate sound very nicely thanks to the leatherette material covering the foam cushioning. The headband is also covered in this material, which makes for a very comfortable fit that grips but doesn’t fall off when you shake your head. The ear pads are changeable, so if you find something else, it’s as easy as twisting them off.
One of the other neat features of the SR9s is its cabling. These ear phones ship with dual cables, one with an in-line mic for smart phones and PCs, and another for studio use. They attach to each of the ear cups individually with Audio-Technica’s “Audio Designed Detachable Coaxial” connectors (A2DC), ensuring the best possible sound while also synchronizing each of the drivers. This means that the SR9s will never muddy up directional audio in any game designed for it. For music, the synchronization is one more feature that shows Audio-Technica going the extra mile to deliver on the promise of these cans.
The build quality is very good, though at this price I wish it would have been full aluminum. As it stands, both the driver housings and the headband are sturdy metal; however, the arms attaching the drivers to the headband and their outer shell are reinforced plastic. I don’t have any concerns about it breaking on a drop, and likewise, utilizing plastic also cuts down on annoying pings sometimes plague metal headsets. It’s an understandable design choice, but at this price I love to see metal across my headsets.
That said, this headset looks good. The silver finish and lack of overt branding really make for a fashionable headset. The driver housings are also fairly low profile while still encompassing the whole ear with sufficient depth to make a good seal. I usually avoid wearing over-ears out and about but these are headphones I would wear anywhere.
I’ve been a musician for nearly twenty years. Audio-Technica is a brand for pros. Headphones like the SR9s crystallize how they’ve earned such a reputation. With these headphones, you can listen to anything and elevate your experience. The extra low-end thrust make them perfect for gaming but the control they demonstrate even while pushing out rawkus bursts of sound is exceptional. That they look fantastic is icing on the cake, but important when many “audiophile” headphones leave you hiding in the house. If you have the funds and want something that is earns the “Sound Reality” name, look no further.
- Amazing sound
- Well built
- They look great
- Extreme attention to detail
- Some plastic in the build
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.