It had been a while since I’d visited the world of miniature Bluetooth speakers, but this one called to me from the shelf: “I look like a hand grenade. Doesn’t that make you curious?” Well, yes, it did -- and so did the fact that, like most hand grenades, this one is water resistant. But the Philips Shoqbox BT2200 Mini proved to be more than a toy.
Audio-Technica, one of the last big-name manufacturers to enter the market of wireless Bluetooth headphones, has put out two new over-ear models: the ATH-S700BT SonicFuel, which I reviewed very favorably two months ago, and the subject of this review, the ATH-WS99BT Solid Bass ($249.95 USD), which has problems.
Most Bluetooth speakers are all-in-one models. Though some of these have “stereo capability,” they deliver little perceptible channel separation. In the BT Bluetooth speakers, Grace Digital has instead created separate speakers that can be used as computer or desktop speakers, or to listen at home to portable music devices and smartphones. The Grace Digital BT accepts audio signals via wires or wireless Bluetooth transmission; it lists for $249.99 USD per pair but can be found for much less.
I’ve heard a rumor that this year’s new iPhones won’t have 3.5mm headphone jacks. Can this be why everyone and her brother seem suddenly to be making Bluetooth headphones? Less than a year ago, an Audio-Technica rep told me that A-T would probably never release a Bluetooth model. But they have released some in Japan, and this year, five models are available in the US: three in-ear and two over-ear versions of models already popular in wired versions. And right now I’m wearing Audio-Technica’s ATH-S700BT SonicFuel over-ear Bluetooth headphones ($129.95 USD).
In August of 2014, when I reviewed Astell&Kern’s AK240 portable player, it was the flagship of the company’s line. But it seems that every time I turn around, A&K comes out with something new. First was the AK Jr, a more affordable, stripped-down player; and now, superseding the AK240 (which remains available), is the AK380, A&K’s new flagship model. At $3499 USD, it better be.
When Astell&Kern’s AK240 was launched, it was immediately apparent to all that it was the best portable media player around. But it sold for $2499 USD, and seemed destined for use by only the 2%. Mindful of the thousands of audiophiles who might appreciate but can’t afford the AK240’s marvels, Astell&Kern created the AK Jr, which maintains a high standard of quality at a much lower cost: $499.
A little over a year ago, I seemed to run into Bluetooth minispeakers everywhere. Somehow, I missed the Koss BTS1. Koss is known for making affordable, high-quality headphones -- they have dozens of models -- but the BTS1 ($59.99 USD) is their only Bluetooth speaker of any size. Since the various Koss headphones I’ve tried over the past six months have all proved splendid, I jumped at the chance to review this tiny speaker.
I’ve been a great admirer of Outdoor Tech.’s imagination and innovation in producing products unlike everyone else’s. They’ve done it again with the Tuis headphones ($129.95 USD), but this time their efforts have not been as successful.
Koss, one of the oldest manufacturers of hi-fi gear in the US, was founded in 1958 by John Koss. He believed that headphones could be used for something more than voice messages and monitoring on aircraft and ships, and premiered full-range stereo headphones to great success. Old-timers need no prodding to remember the company, and newcomers who’ve watched Mad Men might relate -- Koss is one of the real companies that Don Draper’s fictitious advertising agency works for. Many of the Koss models created decades ago are still being made.
With an eye to the future, Koss has now brought out the BT540i wireless Bluetooth headphones ($199.99 USD).
Even as new models of commuter headphones continue to be released by the dozen, there seems to be a trend toward designing headphones that can serve many purposes. Audio-Technica’s ATH-MSR7 ($249.95 USD) is one of these models.
Out of the box
On the ATH-MSR7s’ cardboard box is a dramatic, larger-than-life photo of the left earcup. In the upper-right corner is the official gold-and-brown Hi-Res Audio emblem. On one side panel is printed information about the three detachable cables, on another the specifications are listed in tiny type, and on the back is an informative exploded diagram that shows all of the components of the ATH-MSR7s’ 45mm drivers and the technology used in making them. Inside are the headphones, wrapped in black fabric and nestled in a plastic mold. The cables and instructions come in a separate black box. A cheapish vinyl carrying bag is included.