The King of Wireless Bluetooth Headphones
The Most Extensive Review to Date
My impressions of the "Pure Digital Drive" Tech with Pictures, Critiques, and More
Hello. I'm Mysteek. My goal is to provide the most comprehensive review on the internet of the Audio Technica DSR9BT headphones. I hope to offer value to the audiophile community through analyzing these headphones in far greater detail than other generic review sites.
Have you ever felt it?
That precise emotion when you've lost yourself in a well crafted song.
It's a truly fleeting emotion--a tranquil euphoria.
I've spent my life chasing it...
And if I could help help you experience even a fraction of that wonder, then I will have accomplished my goals.
I'm here to share with you what I believe to be one of the greatest sounds through wireless headphones I have heard to date: the sound of the Audio Technica ATH-DSR9BT.
Not interested in a review? :
Here's a Quick Summary of where the ATH-DSR9BT
stands compared to its closest competitors
Audio Technica DSR9BT
Audio Technica DSR7BT
A little plasticy
Creaky, noticeable when running
Part 01: Intro - The Audio Technica ATH-DSR9BT - The Premier
The DSR9BT was released in November 25, 2016 in Japan.
It soon hit CES 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada for a worldwide premier and claimed the CES 2017 Innovation Honoree award.
The expected release date in North America is April 2017. You excited? You should be.
Edit: Looks like it has been released. Let me know your impressions below!
Part 02: For Review Purposes - Are Our Tastes Calibrated?
Use the following to calibrate your tastes with mine for optimal value of information.
- I love a balanced sound, with slight emphasis on bass
- I need a vast and wide soundstage to feel immersed
- I have a large head, I don’t know my cap size but relative to the average head, mine’s larger than normal
- My favourite genres of music are bad orchestrated game-esque music / progressive house / jpop
- My favorite pair of headphones is the Sennheiser HD700. My second favorite is now the Beyerdynamic DT880 (250ohm). They have this “airy” feeling that I can’t describe, and that I can’t seem to find in any other pair of headphones!
So if you’re at all like me, you may find this super helpful. If your tastes don’t match mine, I hope I am still able to contribute to your research for your next purchase!
*Crazy Big Aside
(Skip sub-headings with * if you want to head straight to the meat of the review)
Part 03: Tech - Why Did the ATH-DSR9BT Catch my Attention?
Audio Technica managed to implement a DAC-less design in the ATH-DSR9BT and ATH-DSR7BT (the poor younger sibling that didn't win any awards and has received little press).
Called "Pure Digital Drive", this technology allows the listener to hear sound without any signal degradation as a result of the traditional conversion process of going through a digital to analog converter (DAC).
*The Trigence Semiconductor Dnote Chipset
The company Trigence designed and patented the Trigence Semiconductor Dnote chipset used in the DSR9BT. Quoting their site:
With Dnote® , the high resolution digital signals generated within the processing chain of today’s consumer audio products, are carried faithfully direct to the loudspeaker electro-mechanics. By employing multiple voice-coils, Dnote® is able to drive the loudspeaker digitally. The result is a clear and precise audio output signal that typically consumes less than one third of the power of legacy outputs.
- Trigence, 2017
The idea is that converting a digital signal to an analog signal is inherently lossy. A manufacturer must deal with converting a digital signal to an analog one, then they must boost supply voltages, and then finally filter the amplifier output. The result is a loss in resolution and clarity even with a lossless source.
*Full Digital - Nothing makes sense!
With this semiconductor implementation, a digital signal is allowed to retain its full digitalness right up to the driver. At the driver is this chip that then turns the data into its corresponding vibrations by activating four separate voice coils. This is how Audio Technica claims that the experience is "fully digital" and "DAC-less".
As an aside, this tech was first implemented into car stereo speakers by Clarion in 2016. The concept is the exact same, but this video explains it in detail--digital data feeds to turn voice coils of different sizes on and off to produce the intended sound.
Lastly, bluetooth wireless headphones typically use a built-in DAC. They consume more energy than Audio Technica's setup and are another point of possible electronic failure.
By eliminating the flavoring of various DACs and amps from the equation, a manufacturer no longer needs to worry about catering to all the different types of source outputs, and only needs to worry about how to handle the digital data themselves. In theory, this leads to more standardized, universal sound compared to people with the same traditional headphones with different amplification.
Part 04: The Specifications - "diamond-like carbon"?
And we're back into the meat of the review.
The DSR9BT headphones have 45mm dynamic drivers, which Audio Technica says are made of diamond-like carbon. I wonder what that means...? I mean, if we abstract away enough, anything with carbon is diamond-like, right?
The earcups house the following:
- a driver
- the above-mentioned semiconductor
- four OFC-7N voice coils per earcup
- tidbits of other electronics and switches to make bluetooth communication possible (left earcup)
- on/off switch (right earcup)
They carry a frequency response of 5Hz to 45,000Hz.
Despite this technology supposedly being very power efficient, the headphones themselves measure 97 dB/mW and have 38 ohms of impedance--not particularly sensitive in my opinion.
Part 05: Battery Life
Claimed Life: 15 hours
Actual Life: I will play them continuously and check them at 30 minute intervals as a battery test to see if it lives up to its claimed battery life... sometime.
The ATH-DSR9BT uses a 3.7V lithium polymer battery which gives the headphones about 15 hours of continuous playback time or 1000 hours on standby. I'm not sure if I want to try and go 1000 hours without music, so I'll take Audio Technica's word for it.
Charging them from 0-100% took under 4 hours, but I don't know exactly when they hit 100% charge.
Part 06: Weight - I bought a food scale for this
Claimed: They weigh about 11 ounces (312g) according to the package.
Measured: They weigh exactly 11.2171 ounces, or 318 grams according to my trusty'ol food scale. (I zero'd out the cloth)
Compare this to the weight of several other familiar headphones you may own:
Philips Fidelio X2
Audio Technica MSR7
Audio Technica DSR7BT
Audio Technica DSR9BT
260g (heavier than I thought, but still feels like nothing because of how comfortable the headband is)
196g (feels like a feather on my head, probably the ideal weight for me)
Part 07: Mic - Using the DSR9BT for Skype / Calling / Recording / Discord / Gaming
The headphones themselves have a built in omnidirectional mic on the left earcup. I tried to test the mic under various conditions--using the iPhone voice recorder, using Skype and Discord, and making calls.
Using the Audio Technica ATH-DSR9BT for calling was fine. Using it for Skype was really buggy for some reason. Using it for the iPhone voice recorder was awful--it picked up basically nothing and my voice was a muffled mess during playback. I also tried using it for the iPhone app, LINE. It just plain didn't work. If I can't use it for anything other than actually calling, that's a bit of a turn-off.
I sent it in to have it looked at and Audio Technica has replied that it is working as intended. Upon further reading, it appears that this is very common and has to do with the profile supported on the device.
Part 08: Accessories - Cables, Manual, Carrying case
- a 2 meter USB 2.0 Type-A/Micro USB Type-B cable (for charging and for wired playback)
- a manual
- a carrying case
*Keep in mind, there is no 3.5mm cable as these headphones do NOT accept an analog signal.
About the USB cable
I feel like this may have been intentional, but only the supplied USB cable works with these headphones. The input on the headphones has a proprietary shape, even if the connector is universal. This is a pretty big slap in the face for me as I would have liked to be able to have multiple cables.
Lastly, there's a few fancy things that separate these headphones from your average wireless bluetooth headphones.
On the left earcup, there is a little squiggly N sign as shown just below this.
If your phone has NFC, you can tap it to that area and it will auto pair with your headphones (shown on the right of this). Pretty neat.
Part 09: Earcup LEDs - Features
There are three little LEDs on the bottom of the left earcup (shown below). They flicker and dance as a way to give the listener information. According to the manual, the LEDs can give information about the charge, the codec being used, pairing, and more.
1 dot - 30%, 2 dots - 60%, 3 dots - 100% charge
1 dot flashing every 5 seconds - battery low
Leftmost dot - SBC
Middle dot - AAC
Rightmost dot - aptX
Rightmost dot purple LED - aptX HD
Part 10: The Wireless Range
Written specification - 10 meters
My test - about 9 meters
With cable - about 2 meters harhar
There's a good chance that this is dependent on the source as well. I tested this with an iPhone 7. The signal started getting shoddy at approximately 9 meters from the source. This is pretty neat--it means I can travel about 70% of my whole apartment without a disturbance in sound.
Part 11: Unboxing - The Presentation (with Pictures)
When you receive your headphones, they will be triple boxed.
The first box is an elegant display of the headphones (the outer box - normally the only thing you will see if you were to buy them at a retail store).
Next, we have the inner box. Lots of high-end headphones present themselves through multiple layers like these. Again, it carries a sophisticated and elegant look. Black and gold - sexy.
Then the third "box". This is actually a carrying case. It comes wrapped in some fairly smooth black paper. It's the kind of paper that you used to get when you bought CD sleeves (do people still buy CD sleeves?). Anyway, I was really impressed by the presentation of everything.
But while the packaging is quite extravagant, the number of things included is minimalistic. There's the headphones, a case, a cable, and a manual.
Part 12: Look and Feel - The Luxury Headphones
I could tell you that they look absolutely gorgeous, but words and even pictures cannot describe how incredible they look in person.
Photos taken with iPhone 7.
From left to right:
USB connection cover (pull-off type)
Volume Switch - While wearing, you can:
- push forward for volume down (while wearing)
- push backward for volume up (while wearing)
- hold forward to repeat song
- hold forward again immediately at the start of the song to go back a song
- hold back to skip song
Touch sensor - Accept phone calls / play / pause / hold to activate Siri on an iPhone
As shown in the picture of me weighing the headphones, L and R are written on the inside of the earcups but not on the outside.
I came to intuitively know L and R just by looking for where all the controls are. Controls = the left earcup. The right earcup only has a bluetooth on/off switch.
Material and Texture
The headphones have the same grey color material on the headband as well as the earcups.
It is a soft pleather (or is it leather?)--the best way I can describe it is it feels very similar, if not the same as the earcups of the Denon D2000 headphones. I wouldn't classify it as premium level material, but it feels rather durable.
The back of the earcups are brushed aluminum, while the majority of the frame, band, etc are plastic. As these are really light materials, this suggests that the voice coils inside the earcups are quite heavy.
Despite all the plastic, it managed to weigh over 300g.
Part 13: Comfort
The headphones are fairly comfortable.
There was a fair bit of clamping for the first 20-30 hours of use, but now it's not so bad. Could there be a headband burn-in period (sorry, had to)?!
I am able to listen to them for about 2 hours before my ears get warm. Maybe I'm picky, but the warmth of the earcups can be pretty uncomfortable. This is something that can be fixed by simply taking them off, taking a 10-30 second breather, then putting them back on.
Part 14: Portability
Portable headphones should be able to withstand a reasonable amount of shaking and moving about, but as these are quite expensive, I haven't had the chance or desire to bring them outside.
Thus, these tests were conducted by me acting like a chicken inside my home.
The headphones easily withstand vigorous head-shaking (in the all-so-likely event that you want to shake your head while listening to music). The fit is secure enough for modest amounts of head-banging too, given you aren't purposely trying to sling them at your coworkers.
I noticed, however, that when I shake my head side to side, I can hear the looseness of the volume switch through the left earcup. I consider this reasonable, as it's a slider switch and not a button.
Given the tested range and the fairly light profile of these, I give them a 4/5 on a portability scale.
Part 15: The Sound
Despite these headphones supporting aptx HD codecs, my source is a potato the Apple iPhone 7, so this means I'm playing music through the lossy, suboptimal AAC codec. Darn you Apple.
I will update this review when I have a chance to hear these headphones at their fullest potential. For now, I can only tell you my experiences with these headphones at their worst possible potential.
Part 15.1: Burn-in
I did not do any burn-in because I wanted to give my impressions at various time intervals to add greater value to this review.
I enjoy listening to the subtle changes in the flavoring of sound as they burn in. Whether it's a placebo effect or not is another story.
EDIT: Added impressions at various hours of listening.
Part 15.2: First impressions
BoA - Only One, BoA - Message
On a technical level, it's simply perfect.
The intros to BoA - Only One and Message are absolutely captivating. I chose these songs for two reasons: there is a heavy emphasis on vocals, and the mastering on the guitars is top notch (and because I have bad taste in music).
There is a vivid texture in the plucking of the guitar strings. I the texture stands out so much that I feel as though I can see the precise playing of the guitar. It is spine-chilling. Then BoA's solo vocals come in (at precisely 33 seconds in Only One, and 10 seconds on Message) and I am blown away.
What is this clarity?!
From the the addictive, hard-hitting bass to her skillful breaths before each line that she sings, everything is harmonized into a wonderful elegance.
Bass presence: it's less than on the Audio Technica M50X or the Denon D2000, but more than on most open-back headphones. I'm used to the bass on the Sennheiser HD555, so that should give you an idea of where the bass quantity lies.
If I had to choose one thing that stood out about the DSR9BT, it would be the crisp, tight bass. It's punchy the same way the Audio Technica ATH-M50X is.
As a whole, nothing is particularly emphasized. Whether that's good or not depends on personal taste, but in terms of reproduction, these are likely the cleanest sounding wireless headphones I have heard.
Part 15.3: At 15 hours of listening
Time to get serious. I picked a small handful of songs that I knew well.
Here's where you call me out on being a weeaboo.
The list is:
Aldnoah Zero OST
Claris [Livetune (kz)]
White Album 2
空とキミのメッセージ (Sora to Kimi no Message)
Those Who Fight
White Album (Setsuna Live Campus ver.)
Part 15.4: Highs
Everything is played back without a hint of coloring. The highs don't roll off and there is no sparkle. I'm personally not used to it. It's strange not being fatigued by the highs for once. Instruments that once sounded sharp now sound great to me, but now they aren't really highlighted for better or worse.
The neutral highs are particularly noticeable in orchestrated songs, such as To Zanarkand and Those Who Fight. None of the above songs had any piercing highs nor were any of them recessed.
Part 15.5: Mids
Vocals that were once slightly recessed (when listening to the Sennheiser HD555) are now slightly forward. However, in songs where the vocals are naturally forward (Sora to Kimi no Message), the vocals all the sudden become truly breathtaking.
I think these headphones made me even more addicted to BoA now. Her voice was always good, but now it is amazing.
Part 15.6: Lows
Wow. My first impressions were that these are punchy, but I take that back. They are INCREDIBLY punchy.
Ever listen to studio speakers? I can't really describe it except that I remember this distinct punchiness on studio monitors that is also apparent on these headphones. It's great for almost every genre, though for me personally, it can be a little overwhelming when listening to electronic dance music that pushes the bass even further.
Part 15.7: Soundstage and Instrument Separation
I played Distant Worlds to test this. Instrument separation was somewhere between good to fantastic, but at times the bass was a tad overbearing for this genre. It's likely that it is the mastering that caused this, however.
My biggest issue with the ATH-DSR9BT is the lack of soundstage. Sometimes, I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to the music. The orchestra was nice and immersive, but I was sitting above the orchestra in the very back row.
Now that I think about it, closed-back headphones almost universally have zero soundstage (I would rate them between a 0-2). With that in mind, these fare relatively well.
Part 16: Overall Impressions
These headphones are scary good, but I think that the fun can get lost in favor of being technically accurate when recordings or mastering aren't great.
In a badly recorded song, sometimes it feels like I am listening to a wall of sound and it's quite unpleasant. Thus, while I love EDM, a lot of songs just don't have any depth of sound so it can be difficult to listen to that genre on these headphones.
With a well recorded/mastered song, I'm overjoyed by the way the headphone sings. Vocals are incredibly engaging and the bass manages to be loud and hard-hitting while creating space for the mids to shine. I'm trying hard be professional(ish) and not flip out over how good they actually are, so what I wrote is a pretty big understatement to their sound.
These headphones will take the source and play it back faithfully. I didn't like that at first, but after 20 hours I can say that I am addicted to these headphones.They get hot, but not as fast as the M50X's did. The headband clamping also gets better with time. Lastly, Audio Technica NAILED it with the ATH-DSR9BT.
Part 17: Where to Buy
Unfortunately, you'll have to import them if you want them now, but they exist in the Amazon US store.
Edit: July 2017 - Looks like they're fully available now. Despite lots of competitors this year, the general consensus seems to be that these are still among the best wireless headphones you can get.
This ends my review, but I hope to continually update it to make it one of the most comprehensive reviews in existence for these headphones. Hope you enjoyed the read.
Edit: August 2017
I recently had the pleasure of going to a headphone meetup in Tokyo where I was able to audition various wireless headphones, so I am updating this post with a quick run-down of what I believe to be the best wireless headphones you can get.
Sony MDR-1000X: Solid build quality, 20 hours of battery life, incredible noise cancelling, great comfort, sound quality slightly better than both the Bose QC35 and the DSR7BT. Worse than the DSR9BT. Best for noise cancelling with uncompromised sound quality.
Bose QC35: OK build quality. A little plasticky. Owned these for 3 months. 20 Hours of battery life. By far the most comfortable headphones I have worn. Best for traveling where comfort is probably more important than getting the absolute best sound.
Audio Technica DSR9BT: Good build quality. A little creaky, unsuitable for running. 15 hours of battery life. Absolute best sound, but unforgiving of bad recordings. No noise cancelling. Suitable for those looking for the best listening experience in a wireless pair of headphones.
Audio Technica DSR7BT: An all around compromise. Maintains the Audio Technica sound signature (slightly cold and detailed), strong bass presence. 15 hours of battery life. No noise cancelling. Cheaper than its competitors - recommended for those on a budget while still looking for great sound.
Thanks so much for reading.
If you have any concerns or questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment or message me.