Audio-Technica SR5BT Wireless Headphone Review: The Solo 3 Wireless Killer
Look, I get it.
Beats and Apple make a stylish product together.
The Solo 3 Wireless has long battery life, a fun thumpy sound signature, and easy pairing with Apple devices.
But it’s a $300 pair of headphones. That’s a lot of money. Especially for an on-ear model.
Most of that is going to subsidize their marketing, and so you can buy into the overall style.
The audio-loving side of the internet is well-aware of Audio-Technica, a Japanese headphone company that’s been a leader in the audio business for decades. Their M50X is one of the best-selling headphones on the market, and with good reason.
Audio-Technica recently launched the SR5BT, a portable on-ear headphone that is better in every way than the Solo 3 Wireless.
And it’s cheaper.
The SR5BT is part of Audio-Technica’s “Sound Reality” series. This means that it uses their proprietary 45mm hi-res standard compliant driver. The SR5BT is the wireless on-ear little baby brother of the lauded MSR7.
It features AptX, AAC, and SBC codec support, and comes with a cable that includes a one-button remote. It retails for $199, and often goes for cheaper than that. That’s a good general tip actually: You can almost always find AT’s products for less than MSRP, especially online and during their frequent sales.
Can this little on-ear headphone live up to the sound of Audio-Technica’s other hi-res models? Yes. Absolutely! Just like the MSR7, the focus here is on detail. These headphones simply ooze with detail, and have a balanced frequency response that I’d call just slightly bright of neutral. Mids are impressively well-rendered, highs are crisp and sharp and just this side of irritating, and lows are punchy and accurate.
On my first listen, the MSR7 had an overwhelming feeling of brightness, with upper-mids that seem like they’re attacking you in some songs.
In contrast, the SR5BT is just a hair more laid back, but still very obviously using the same driver. The sound here is so crisp and detailed that I could actually hear the difference between compressed bluetooth audio, and audio using the cable. The mids and highs between the two are similar. Bass is punchier on the SR5BT than on the MSR7, possibly due to the nature of the on-ear ear pads. The soundstage is impressively wide for an on-ear model, again thanks to the tilt towards the upper frequencies.
I don’t want to scare you with all this talk of high frequencies and detail. This isn’t a fatiguing or harsh headphone. But it will absolutely show you the flaws in badly recorded or compressed material. It’s also not a great headphone for hardcore bassheads.
This headphone is the first AptX headphone I’ve tested. AptX is a codec for wireless audio transmission over Bluetooth that promises exceptional audio quality. Does it deliver? Yes!
You’ll need to have a device that supports it in order to take advantage. I used my Mac, and I could definitely tell a small difference when AptX was engaged, particularly in more energetic songs. It’s not mind-blowing, but the difference is there. The headphones also support AAC, which can achieve comparable quality to AptX, and SBC, which is the standard Bluetooth audio compression system. SBC sounds really good these days, and only the most anal of listeners will really care about having the better codecs, but it was fun for me to finally test AptX for myself.
One thing you’ll almost certainly notice is the difference between bluetooth and wired use with this pair, which is cool. The wired mode is a little more dynamic, with slightly more bass and upper mids. The headphone only supports the full frequency range needed for hi-res tracks in wired mode. If you don’t care about wireless, Audio-Technica has a cheaper non-bluetooth version of this headphone called the SR5 and I’m sure it sounds exceptional.
This headphone may provide you with the most high-quality sound for the least money in the portable space right now. And that’s worth celebrating. It’s like the MDR-V6, but a little smoother in response and more detailed. Just like its brothers the MSR7NC and WS1100, this has probably my favorite sound in headphones.
Isolation/sound leak is great too. The ear pads seal well and I’ve used them in a loud coffee shop without issue.
What’s not to love?
The SR5BT is like a little baby tiny MSR7. It has a similar head band, and memory foam ear pads that are like cute tiny on-ear versions of the larger MSR7 pads. It folds flat, and its small design makes it quite neck-able.
It’s an exceptionally tiny headphone, which still fits well on my big head. It’s the most comfy on-ear headphone I’ve used that didn’t have the name Bose on the side of it. The ear pads are soft, and the memory foam means they comform to my head nicely even when I’m wearing glasses. You might experience some pressure for the first few minutes you’re wearing them as the foam adjusts, and they don’t totally disappear on the head…but they’re still light and comfy. No on-ear headphone can operate without pinching over time, but I’ve had much better luck in long sessions with these than with any Beats product, or even my Skullcandy Grind Wireless.
The build quality is the usual solid Audio-Technica fare. It’s a mix of plastic and metal, with a nice matte finish on the back of the ear cups. It doesn’t have any of the creaking issues of the MSR7, if that’s something you’re concerned about.
I like this headphone design a great deal. It’s not revolutionary, or as cool and stylish as some other models, but it has a subtle classy look that won’t make you look silly or draw lots of attention.
You can get the wireless version in white or black, both with silver accents. The wired version also comes in a brown and silver option.
The battery for Bluetooth connectivity lasts a rated 38 hours, and that seems true based on my testing. The battery charges from dead in 5 hours on a standard USB connection, and it’ll go faster with a wall charger. A standard micro USB cable is included for charging, but you’ll need to plug it into a USB port or charger.
The package also includes a 1.2m cable with remote and mic! Yes! I was so excited when the Skullcandy Crusher Wireless did this, and equally happy about it here. Many bluetooth headphones only include a standard cable (ahem BOSE) so when your battery runs out, you lose the ability to take phone calls or control your playback. The mic will work with the controller audio ports on both the Xbox One and PS4.
Controls are provided on the back of the ear cups for play/pause, volume, and power. They work just fine, though they feel a little tiny and weird at first. Probably unavoidable due to the tiny overall size of the headphones.
Audio-Technica has also included a nice soft leatherette bag in the box, the same bag included with the more expensive MSR7NC. It has ample room for the headphones and both included cables.
Bluetooth pairing is handled either manually, or with NFC for Android devices which support it. The headphones will remember 8 devices in pairing memory. You have to use your device’s bluetooth settings to connect and disconnect, which is a slight pain, but forgiveable considering all the other features here for the price.
So. Here we have a portable on-ear wireless headphone with AptX support, exceptional sound quality, hi-res support, premium materials, and 38 hours of battery life. Its default price is $100 less than the Solo 3, and it’s often even cheaper. It’s comfy, portable, and a great listen.
You have no reason to buy the Solo 3 now other than you like how they look. And hey, I respect that. But you should strongly consider at least trying the Audio-Technicas. For me, the company has consistently delivered amazing value and quality at competitive prices, and the SR5BT proudly carries on that tradition.
Audio-Technica did not send me these headphones, and did not in any way subsidize or endorse this review. I bought them myself, and reviewed them. And they’re great.