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Audio-Technica Takes the Next Step With Pure Digital Drive

I've been wrestling with the Audio-Technica's ATH-DSR7BT wireless over-ear headphones for the past few weeks. They sound great and deliver outstanding sound for $299. But, they're almost purely wireless and, for that reason, best suited for listening at home or at your desk. The strongest selling point is Audio-Technica's Pure Digital Drive feature, which eliminates the poor digital-to-analog conversion provided by virtually all phones and mp3 players.

Let's get the list of things these headphones won't do out of the way before we concentrate on the good stuff.

  • They don't come with an audio cable. If the battery runs down, they're dead. If your music device doesn't have Bluetooth, you're out of luck.
  • There's no noise-cancellation. A lot of the audio quality is canceled out by ambient noise on a bus, train or airplane.
  • You can listen to music via the USB charging cable if it's plugged into your computer, but that's more of an emergency backup if you're in the office than it is a viable alternative to an audio cable.
 

And yet, when used as designed, these headphones are dynamite. They deliver on the promised 15-hour battery life (4 hours to recharge) and have excellent range. They pair with up to 8 devices at once.

The Pure Digital Drive system does what it says: it delivers the pure digital signal from the source to your ears with no analog conversion. There's an argument that goes all the way back to the earliest days of the CD: a very vocal minority insists that analog is best, but that's only true with a considerable effort and an excellent DAC device between your phone and your headphones. That's too much trouble for almost everyone. Audio-Technica's solution is impressive.

There's a custom chipset in the headphones that delivers a digital signal direct to the headphone drivers and minimizes the distortion created by a substandard DAC.

Where these headphones should really shine is with Qualcomm aptX HD technology, which permits streaming at a resolution up to 24-bit/48kHz. For now, there are only a handful of LG Android phones that include the technology but I had a chance to use these headphones with one at the recent CanJam event in Los Angeles. That's the best-use scenario for these headphones and the difference is immediately noticeable.

Almost every other modern Android phone does offer regular aptX and these headphones are going to sound great with those devices as well. The ATH-DSR7BT headphones also offer NFC one-touch pairing for Android devices.

I've been testing these with iPhone, iPad and a laptop, so I've been getting the AAC signal. That's not as good as either version of aptX but these stand up to any other wireless headphones I've used with an Apple device.

Accessories include a travel bag and the previously mentioned USB charging cable.

 

Audio-Technica also makes an upgrade version. The ATH-DSR9BT model retails for $549 and its 45mm True Motion D/A drivers feature a four-core voice coil as opposed to the single-core coil on the ATH-DSR7BT. They come with a hard-side case and the overall construction looks and feels a bit more luxurious than the lower-priced model.

Based on the few minutes I spent listening to the ATH-DSR9BT at CanJam, the headphones offer a more spacious and detailed sound than the ATH-DSR7BT but, then again, they cost almost twice as much.

If you're an Android user, these Audio-Technica headphones are likely to be a great investment as more and more devices add the aptX HD streaming technology. If you're an Apple user, they're great-sounding wireless headphones for the price. The emphasis here is definitely on audio quality. Audio-Technica doesn't include travel-friendly features like noise reduction and backup audio cable. Still, wireless convenience has made the ATH-DSR7BT headphones my #1 home listening option. The sound keeps up with most of my best wired headphones and there are no tangled cables.

Both models are available on Amazon. If you want to hear the ATH-DSR7BT, check your local Best Buy store. Many of the larger stores have them in stock.

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