Audio-Technica has done a better job than others with Hi-Res headphones, starting with their ATH-MSR7 which were splendid for the money. Typically, you’d have to pony a couple hundred dollars more, but they managed to bring definitive hi-fi to a down-to-earth level.
Now I have the ATH-SR5BT here in my office, and I’m a bit torn. They’re closed-back hi-res headphones, but are wireless and meant to handle life outside of your home or apartment. For only for $199 they’re nearly ideal for everything you get, but with immense flexibility comes equal concession.
The SR5BT is pieced together like any respectable Audio-Technica product, positioned within their “SonicPro” lineup, and still made with plastic materials and bits of what appears to be machined aluminum. Everything from the padded protein leather headband to the adjustment slider echoes quality, except the build is lighter or narrower in scale.
The ear pads exactly fit the circumference of an adult ear, with an amount padding that’s similar to the visual and tactile styling of the headband. The controls are easy to overlook as they covertly occupy each earcup, with the main stuff (volume, headphone jack, and USB) on the left and a Bluetooth switch on the right with a LED status light.
The padding is firm so you’ll feel pressure almost immediately, it’s somewhat comfortable but definitely takes time to get acquainted with the SR5BT. Fortunately, the ear pads incorporate memory foam and make the break-in process less of a burden, practically non-existent in feel to accommodate its portability.
You’ll also get a nice goodie pouch to carry your headphones in, while a 3.5mm cable with volume controller and a short USB-micro cable are supplied for good measure.
Now, it must be pointed out that the SR5BT is capable of thumping out high resolution audio, but it comes with distinct caveats in order to operate wirelessly. The biggest one is that you’ll have keep these headphones tethered in order to unlock the full potential of fidelity, it’s a limitation but a fairly reasonable if you do more of your listening indoors.
That said, the Bluetooth performance is exceptionally good when you find yourself away from your desk or reclining chair. Distortion is controlled at lower volumes while separation is only slightly pronounced, enough to notice but not so much to completely distract you from the song itself. At its absolute worst though, it’s a few notches above the many Bluetooth headphones already available with low-latency AAC and Apt-X enabled. Expect roughly 34-36 of continuous playback as another perk.
The microphone is just adequate if you need it in a pinch, but we found many of our conversations lost in translation more often than not. iPhone users will also have to deal with a non-integrated experience too, because the volume controls can’t be linked. Fortunately for Android owners, NFC (Near Field Communication) functionality comes standard.
But you know — and I know — that the SR5BT is at its absolute best and detailed (or at great as it can be) when wired for its intended Hi-Res credentials. There’s a similarity to the Sony MDR-1A, just as long as we imagine it to a lesser degree. Low-ends and bass are aggressively substituted for utter clarity and won’t pair well with hip-hop and modern subgenres of EDM (Dubstep, Drum & Bass), with a lot of the energy lacking discernable punch. Luckily, the headphones do a favorable job in preserving those necessary midranges, and effortlessly capture a neutral presentation.
Having a musical palette of traditional and live recorded tracks clearly suit the SR5BT better. For reasons that include but not limited to: driver break-in and the narrower output from the small earcups themselves. Compared to the larger ATH-MSR7 we can literally hear the essence of the instrumentals being downsized, and brighter in a diligent effort to compensate for its cheaper build.
The immediate takeaway from the ATH-SR5BT Wireless On-Ear Headphones is Audio-Technica answering the call of bringing “Hi-Res Audio”. Up from deluxe edifices and down to a practicable level, although not flawless in its trickle-down coup. They generally sound excellent in a transparent type of way, but comes with the tradeoff of a miniature profile and Bluetooth audio for daily commutes. These everyday shortcomings are expected without diminishing the whole appeal, and that’s a fair win to us.