Audio-Technica Solid Bass WS1100iS Headphone Review: Exceptional Bass without any Detail Loss!
I didn’t plan to buy the $229 Audio-Technica Solid Bass WS1100iS when I went to the store.
I was going for the SR5/SR5BT, AKA the cute lil’ baby version of Audio-Technica’s masterpiece MSR7 headphone.
However, thanks to the complete insanity of my local Fry’s Electronics…every SR5 box was open. Some of them weren’t even discounted with open box prices.
So I mulled over my personal headphone wishlist, and discovered they had a WS1100 in stock which wasn’t opened. Yay!
The Audio-Technica Solid Bass WS1100iS has a clumsy name, and at first glance it appears to be an MSR7 with different tuning. In reality, it’s much more. Although the two headphones share the same basic design language, the WS1100 has different pads, different drivers, a slightly different cable, a different bag, and a different sound signature.
However, it’s still an exceptional headphone for a wide variety of uses, and like all AT products, it’s priced well.
You’d think with giant letters that say SOLID BASS on the box, this would be a thumpy, boomy, thunderous headphone.
It isn’t really. It’s quite precise, detailed, and satisfying, kind of like the MSR7. It might even let people down that expect big giant bass.
Let’s talk about decay.
Decay is essentially how long frequencies persist in the sound after they hit the headphone driver. If the decay is too long, ringing and booming can occur. If it’s too short, audio information might be clipped or poorly rendered. Too much decay in the highs results in a harsh ringing sound. Too much in the lows results in a flabby, boomy sound.
Most bass-heavy headphones on the market rely on extra bass decay combined with a little distortion, to create the illusion of big bass. Some headphones do this through acoustic means, others do it with electronics. The Sony XB950BT is pretty easy to hear this phenomenon in, and it’s available to demo at most Best Buy locations. You’ll hear flabby, almost echo-y bass on that headphone. It’s fun sometimes, and definitely thunderous…but it’s not very accurate to the original sound.
The WS1100 does none of this. Its bass is just as accurate and precise as many other celebrated Audio-Technica headphones. It’s free from distortion and flabbiness, and true to the source. AT uses a number of acoustic and design tricks to create a sound that has a more-present bass, without sacrificing accuracy.
It might bum out hardcore bass-heads on first listen, but if you’re a detail-hound that still likes some bass, you’ll smile immediately. The mid and treble ranges don’t suffer from this tweaking. Compared to the MSR7, the mids and highs aren’t as present or potentially-fatiguing, but they retain the same satisfying quality and character. The highs are about as prominent as those on the M50X, but a little less sparkly.
The overall sound is slightly warm, while still being very accurate to the source material, with plenty of perfectly-managed treble. In some ways it sounds more neutral than the MSR7. That headphone has the spotlight turned on the upper mids, and this one has the spotlight turned towards the bass. I was skeptical of AT putting the hi-res audio badge on the same box as the words “SOLID BASS,” but this headphone absolutely deserves a place in AT’s hi-res detail-focused line-up.
Also, thanks to some design stuff I’ll talk about below. The soundstage is quite wide and open! It’s comparable to the MSR7, and wider than the M50X.
The WS1100 has a very similar basic look and build to the MSR7, with some changes and enhancements. That’s a good thing! The headband is almost identical, with the same solid adjustment mechanisms and cushy padding. It has subtle AT branding embedded into the top of it.
The ear cups are where the big changes come in, and they’re the main reason you might want to consider this headphone over the MSR7, depending on your tastes and needs.
The ear pad on this headphone was custom-designed to work with the 53mm driver inside the cup. It’s made from a dual-layered foam. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen something like that before, and I believe it’s patent-pending according to the box. One layer is soft and plush, and the other is a little more solid. The hole for your ears is massive. The result is a very comfy headphone. AT headphones have always done well on comfort, but the WS1100 competes with even Bose’s extremely comfy headphones.
The back of the ear cup, as you can see at the top of this article, is made from plastic and a solid piece of aluminum. The color and design are very classy and cool. The cup is covered with vents, both on the back, and around the sides. The venting and the giant pads enhance the wide sense of soundstage I mentioned in the sound section above.
Unfortunately, they also mean that isolation isn’t the best. It’s still decent enough for use in public spaces, like a coffee shop. The bass-leaning sound helps with that too. But sound leak is a small factor. If you’re in a place that needs to stay quiet, like a library or something, this is not the ideal headphone. People will be able to hear your sound a little bit. It’s the only real negative to these, so keep it in mind.
The build is just as solid as every other AT headphone, and the joints are quite well-damped to avoid any creaking sounds. It’s less creaky than my MSR7, a headphone known for its creaking. I’m not as sensitive to creaking as some people, but if you equate creak-free builds to quality, you’ll enjoy the WS1100.
The WS1100iS comes with one 1.2m cable, complete with one-button in-line remote. That “iS” in the name means it’s the version with an inline remote. The cable is tipped on both ends with a 3.5mm plug, and the headphone-end is not so recessed as to make it hard to find an aftermarket replacement, should you desire to do that. I tried an MSR7 cable in there and it fit just fine. The mic is decent and the button is clicky and easy to use.
Also included is a large leatherette bag. The headphone folds flat, but it doesn’t collapse beyond that. The bag is larger than the one included with most other AT headphones, due to the headphone’s slightly larger footprint.
The Audio-Technica WS1100iS is a great headphone, with a bass-leaning sound signature that proves you can have bass without sacrificing detail or soundstage. It’s reasonably portable but might bother your neighbors in very quiet environments. It’s super comfy on the head, and classy-looking too. It’s priced very well at $229 and worth every penny.
Here is me wearing them in a coffee shop. A few minutes before I took this picture, a man came up to look at the shelf right behind me, and leaned right into my business to do so. He didn’t say excuse me or anything. It was strange and awkward!