Computer Shopper - - HEADPHONES -

£499 • From­ VER­DICT

They’re expensive, but the ATH-DSR9BT put even the best wired headphones into a tan­gle

IN THE AUDIOPHILE world, cables are not an af­ter­thought: true devo­tees of­ten spend many thou­sands of pounds in pur­suit of per­fec­tion. Au­dio Technica’s lat­est headphones, the ATH-DSR9BT, are keen to turn that up­side down. Thanks to the wire­less trick­ery of aptX HD and Au­dio Technica’s all-new Pure Dig­i­tal Drive sys­tem, this is a pair of headphones that doesn’t need cables to sound stu­pen­dous.

There’s no ANC, but these are the first headphones we’ve seen that trans­form the dig­i­tal stream of 1s and 0s into sound. While most sets use a DAC to con­vert the bit­stream into an ana­logue wave­form, feed­ing that to an amp that pow­ers the driv­ers in each ear­piece, the ATH-DSR9BT uses Tri­gence Semi­con­duc­tor’s Dnote chipset to di­rectly con­trol its pair of large 45mm driv­ers. This avoids de­grad­ing the dig­i­tal au­dio sig­nal, re­sult­ing in less dis­tor­tion and more audi­ble de­tail.

Sure enough, the ATH-DSR9BT un­earthed de­tails we’d been missing on some of our favourite songs. Quiet in­stru­ments and at­mo­spheric washes that were bor­der­line in­audi­ble on other headphones sud­denly be­came dis­tinct, and even on com­plex com­po­si­tions, there’s enough clar­ity and sep­a­ra­tion that you can ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery in­di­vid­ual part.

These headphones sound ex­cel­lent; the bass isn’t over­bear­ing but reaches down so low and so con­fi­dently it’s as if there’s a huge sub­woofer un­der­pin­ning it, and the up­per reg­is­ters are sim­i­larly re­fined. Ev­ery strand of the mu­sic is per­fectly un­tan­gled: vo­cals hang in the air, while in­stru­ments, sam­ples and syn­the­sis­ers spread left to right and front to back, each float­ing in space. For closed-back headphones the sense of space and the sheer width of the sound­stage is star­tling.

They’re com­fort­able, too, though not to the point you can for­get you’re wear­ing them. The head­band makes its pres­ence felt af­ter a few hours and the earcups can be­come a lit­tle sweaty in warmer con­di­tions, but most of the time, the com­bi­na­tion of mem­ory foam ear­pieces and just the right amount of clamp­ing force mean they stay firmly in place with­out press­ing too hard on your head. We will say that build qual­ity isn’t as solid and re­fined as we’d ex­pect for £499; our re­view unit had squeaky earcup hinges and, while it wasn’t a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence, we some­times needed to ad­just the earcups man­u­ally while walk­ing around.

The lack of ANC is also a shame, be­cause as good as the ATH-DSR9BT sound, they can get drowned out by loud am­bi­ent noise. The ex­cep­tion is when the vol­ume is cranked right up, but this ob­vi­ously isn’t ideal for your ears.

Still, for lis­ten­ing at home, at work or away from the loud­est hus­tle and bus­tle, these are truly bril­liant headphones for any­one with a gen­er­ous bud­get. If you’ve al­ways as­sumed wire­less con­ve­nience and un­com­pro­mis­ing sound qual­ity are mu­tu­ally exclusive, al­low the ATH-DSR9BT to prove other­wise.

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