ATH-AD700 vs MS1: Headphone Showdown

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Not many people know about the extent of the headphone market. For someone who has never looked into it, the thought of paying hundreds, or sometimes thousands of dollars to listen to music through headphones seems somewhat stupid. There are, however, cheaper entries into the realm of  ‘audiophile’ headphones. In this review, we will focus on two headphones that are in one of the sweet spots of price to performance; the Audio Technica AD700, and the Alessandro MS1. Both of these can be had for around $100 USD, and both are open-backed. We will also be looking into what kind of improvement you can get out of headphones such as these compared to those cheap buds that came with your MP3 player.

First off, let’s take a look at the ATH-AD700.

Fancy, no?

Fancy, no?

The AD700 are the updated version of the old ATH-AD7. They feature Audio Technica’s ‘3D Wing’ system, or those little things you see that can be mistaken for eyebrows. Despite what can be first interpreted as marketing, the combination of these and the velour ear pads has resulted in what are widely considered the most comfortable headphones that you can buy. The downside of that, however, is that they don’t stay put well enough for headbanging, if you are into that kind of thing. Also, since I am the owner of a horrible camera, I had to use stock photos. Unfortunately they are off color; the purple on the sides is a bit brighter, and the gold bits are more gold, less silver.

Now, the Alessandro MS1.

Note, they still say 'grado labs'.

Alessandro is a company that makes various guitar related products, which strangely enough seems to encompass headphones. The MS1 is a tweaked version of the grado 125, which supposedly is better suited for use with guitar amps. In common practice though, they seem to have become one of the best headphones in the $100 price range for listening to music. The only visual difference between them and the 125 from which they originated is the lack of a button saying ‘125’ and the difference in text around the side of the cup. The grado design philosophy is rather simple, no fancy mechanisms here. As a result they suffer from some comfort issues, although nothing serious for short listening sessions. They do stay put slightly better than the AD700 though.

Now let’s get on to directly comparing these two.

Durability

Now before I say anything, I will note that I am very rough on headphones. Anything that I can hide under my hair is usually used at school, meaning there is a 30lb backpack pulling the cord all day. Even if I don’t use it at school, my rolling chair seems to have a thing for eating any cord within a 5 foot radius of it and that isn’t helped by the fact that I tend to fix this by yanking until the darn thing comes out. All of this has resulted in all but one of my headphones having broken cables. Although the MS1 is simply built, the connection between the headband and the plastic part holding the adjustable ‘antenna’ can come out if pulled. Luckily this is easily fixed with a few drops of superglue. The more troublesome design flaw is the part of the cable extending from the Y split to the cups. Even though the other part of the cable is rather thick and beefy, the part here is thin and will twist near the ends. Mine broke near the cup on the left side. After a rather annoying fix, I was left with a bit of a J-cord effect, the left cord being shorter than the right. The fix being done by me, it eventually broke again, and now the left side is roughly half as long as the right. All of this said, I can personally attest to the MS1 being fine after getting wet, as long as they aren’t plugged in when said water gets to them. Don’t ask how I found this out, but if you let them dry out then they will be fine.

Remember that one set of headphones I haven’t broken at all? That would the the AD700. Even after being used by me for almost a half year now (the same length as the MS1) they haven’t had a single problem, except for those eyebrows coming off once, and even then they just snap back in. The flexible headband and proper stress reliefs on the cable make this easily the most durable headphone I’ve used.

Comfort

Although we have already touched on this, I want to come back to it for just a moment. To put it simply, the AD700s can be worn all day. Your ears might get a little warm after a while, but it’s not much of a problem at all. The MS1 can be worn for a few hours, but after that they become uncomfortable due to them sitting on top of your ear, rather than around like the AD700. Taking them off for 15 minutes or so can help this, but they still aren’t as comfortable as the AD700.

Sound

Here is where it gets a bit tricky. Sound is very, very subjective. What one person finds to sound great can sound horrible to another person. Moreover, I have found that you adjust to whatever you are listening to, and the only time these differences are really heard is right after you change headphones. After a few minutes, this difference is very hard to hear. If you are coming from cheap buds, then you should take this entire section with a very large grain of salt (or perhaps an entire shaker), as you will thoroughly enjoy both. Even if you do have problems with the sound, and don’t talk to a bunch of audiophiles every day, you can always just change your equalizer settings. Be warned though, you WILL get yelled at by most audiophile for doing this.

Speaking of audiophiles, they also like to yell at people who don’t say the equipment and music they used to test headphones they review. To avoid getting hunted down and killed, I have to put all of that stuff here. The only two sources used were either out of my computer through a Nuforce Icon Mobile amp/DAC, or directly out of my Sanza Fuze (with rockbox). The music used was almost all v0 and 320kbps .mp3, with a very small amount of flac thrown in. They were also used while I was producing in FL Studio 8.

All of this said, let’s begin.

Bass

Bass, simply, is the deep part of music. It is usually the part that you can feel and the only part you hear when someone has a few subs in their car and is going down the street. If anyone is about to send me a message yelling about the differences in bass and sub-bass, then please go away now; most people don’t want to be bored with the differences between the two.

Lots of people will say the AD700 has no bass or very little. They certainly don’t have the most bass in a headphone, but from my experience they still have plenty. It is a very ‘neutral’ bass, and it doesn’t make the bass louder than it should be. When listening to dance, the kicks are easily felt, and when the song overstates the bass (Bonkers volume 3 disk 1, cough cough) the AD700 will overstate it as well. All of this said the MS1 still has more bass. It’s still not as bass heavy as most closed headphones are, but in my opinion, it has plenty of bass. Neither of these headphones have any problems with too much bass, or the bass being louder than the rest of the sound though.

Mids

The mids, or the midrange, is where most of the sound is in music. Guitars, synths, trumpets, or basically any other main instrument you can think of (including vocals) is based in the midrange. The main difference between these two headphones sound wise is what they do with the mids. The MS1 focuses the sound on the low mids, like where a rock guitar would be. The AD700 focuses the sound almost in the highs, which is partially why they have an ‘airy’ sound. In fact, you can almost say that the AD700 has a sucked out, or slightly quieter midrange than the MS1.

Highs

The highs are the really high frequency stuff, like snares, symbols, claps, and notably the little hiss that is heard when saying something with the letter ‘t’ or ‘s’. The highs in the MS1 seem to be a bit rolled off, or slightly quieter than the rest of the sound range. In the AD700 however, the highs are basically the focused part of the sound. This can lead to some problems with fatigue, especially when you first listen to them. This fatigue disappears after you listen to them for a while though.

Soundstage

Soundstage is a little hard to describe, but it’s kind of where you think the sound is originating from. Luckily, the sound stage is easy to compare between these two. The AD700 has a very large soundstage; the sounds seem like they are coming from different places and music seems to have more ‘depth’ to it. The MS1 has a very small soundstage, or all of the music seems like it’s coming from the same place, and in this case that is something very close to where your ear is. If someone is singing, it seems like they are singing close to your ear, rather than at a bit of a distance like the AD700.

Sound Simplified

Now if you are wondering what to make of all of that above, it’s basically that if you are looking for a reason to buy one headphone over the other and have come down to nitpicking about the sound, get the MS1 if you listen to a lot of rock, electronic, or something of that sort. Get the AD700 if you like stuff more like classical, jazz, or other stuff like that. The added soundstage also makes the AD700 better at gaming, since it is easier to tell what direction a sound is coming from.

So what about compared to regular earbuds? For this I nicked a buddy’s $10 supermarket special phillips earbuds. Now I could split this into sections, but frankly they don’t deserve it. There is no sub bass to speak of, the mids are all focused around 1khz (about where a distorted guitar is) and the highs are extremely harsh, or just flat out painful. On top of all of that, they are quite inaccurate. With the MS1 and AD700, you can quite accurately hear the detail in sound waves in things like synthesizers or guitars, but with these it’s all just a mushy sound being called music.  Simply, these buds are a waste of money. Much, much better things can be had for $15, but that’s another review.

Modifications

Both of these headphones can be modified in a few different ways, depending on what you want to do with them. The headband on the AD700 can be bent to give a bit more clamp or to make it press against your head a bit harder so that it stays on better. I have also heard about people taking out the lining on the back of the grille to change the sound, but I haven’t tried this personally. It is also easy to add a microphone onto the side. I use a hair stretchy (That is a technical term, by the way) to hold a boom mic on mine. Other people have also used Velcro pads to hold theirs on.

The mic mod makes the AD700 a fantastic gaming headset

The mic mod makes the AD700 a fantastic gaming headset

The MS1s can be modded a few different ways. Many people change the pads to different grado pads, to pads from old sennheisers, even to duck shaped sponges. Unfortunately I haven’t tried any of these. The only modification I have done is a homemade clip on mod, done by taking some old wire cloths hangers and bending the metal into a clip on shape, even with a bit of fleece added to attempt to make them more comfortable. That said I can’t really recommend doing this, since they are very, very uncomfortable. In fact, I’ve not included a picture just to make sure no one does it and gets an ear cut off and sues me. It definitely wasn’t because I couldn’t find the clips.

Looks

Now both of these headphones are not exactly the prettiest. However, I have devised a test to show what they look like while they are on your head. I have borrowed a crash test dummy to help out. They will be rated on the goofball scale, one being that it looks good and could qualify as a fashion accessory, five being not to wear it in public.

The antennas are less visable than expected...

The antennas are less visible than expected...

...but the exposed internals make up for it.

...but the exposed internals make up for it.

Although the MS1 by itself looks a bit geeky, it has a tendency to become less obvious when worn. The cord does become a bit obvious though, the Y cable not being the prettiest in the world. The MS1 earns a rather neutral 3.5 goofballs out of five.

Huge sticky up headbands are a fashion no-no,

Huge sticky up headbands are a fashion no-no,

CD-sized cups aren't very stylish either.

CD-sized cups aren't very stylish either.

On the other hand, the AD700 sticks out like a sore thumb. Between the huge, colorful cups and the funky headband, wearing the AD700 anywhere that you can be seen by other people is definitely not advised. These earn the full, 5 goofballs out of 5.

Price and conclusion

As for price, The AD700 can be had from anywhere between $70 and $90 USD from merchants at Amazon, depending on if they are on sale or not. The MS1 can only be bought new from the Alessandro website for $100. It should also be noted that they have outdated security and it brings up tons of warnings on Firefox. If you don’t like putting your credit card over an unsecured connection, then you can always send the money through the mail using an order form, like I ended up doing. As with the comparisons between most headphones there is no clear winner, the only thing you can do is research both and decide which one suits your needs best. However, if you want to have all of the positive traits of both headphones, your only option is to buy both.

KonaKona

AUTHOR UPDATE: Alessandro also has a model based off of the newer ‘125i’, listed as the ‘2009 improved version’ for 10$ more. I have yet to hear it so I can’t tell you if it’s any better than the regular MS1 or not.

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Discussion
  1. darkknight187
    KonaKona, thanks for this review/comparision. I finally made the plunge into some real headphones for my pc after learning that some items marketed towards gaming coughtrittonax720cough both sound terrible, are uncomfortable and even with their versatility for platforms still way overpriced.

    So now i sit hear listening to some Iron Maiden with a clarity i don't know as i've heard ever before it's like i got a new pair of ears for music. no more thinking that Bruce Dickenson is suggesting i bring him a donut while playing the track "bring your daughter...to the slaughter". The interesting part is that this is without having my Auzentech Forte here and installed yet. I don't know as I expect the auzentech to provide the same quality difference that just the HP's brought however it seems like a solid long term piece of hardware.

    I still think i might want the ms-1's or possibly the grado sr80i's for metal as most say they have a slightly better emphasis on bass however i very much love how crisp and clean the bass sounds on the ad700's and would probably be turned off by anything that gives the bass more punch at the exception of clarity.

    however while still being well over my intended budget,although still within my means. originally wanted to go cheaply to be able to start working on other upgrades but multiple opinions and experiences of users both here and over at headfi left me realizing that amazing audio is nearly a must for gaming movies and music.

    I would also like to thank aynjell, jhanby, and extreme barton as you all had some very helpful input across posts others have made. if i didnt name any other audiophiles around here also know your input was also helpful these people just have posts in this thread making them easier to remember. :grouphug:


    Well, thanks for the appreciation. The ATH-AD700 comes highly reccomended. I just finally submitted my review of them and will start working on the next one soon!
    KonaKona, thanks for this review/comparision. I finally made the plunge into some real headphones for my pc after learning that some items marketed towards gaming coughtrittonax720cough both sound terrible, are uncomfortable and even with their versatility for platforms still way overpriced.

    So now i sit hear listening to some Iron Maiden with a clarity i don't know as i've heard ever before it's like i got a new pair of ears for music. no more thinking that Bruce Dickenson is suggesting i bring him a donut while playing the track "bring your daughter...to the slaughter". The interesting part is that this is without having my Auzentech Forte here and installed yet. I don't know as I expect the auzentech to provide the same quality difference that just the HP's brought however it seems like a solid long term piece of hardware.

    I still think i might want the ms-1's or possibly the grado sr80i's for metal as most say they have a slightly better emphasis on bass however i very much love how crisp and clean the bass sounds on the ad700's and would probably be turned off by anything that gives the bass more punch at the exception of clarity.

    however while still being well over my intended budget,although still within my means. originally wanted to go cheaply to be able to start working on other upgrades but multiple opinions and experiences of users both here and over at headfi left me realizing that amazing audio is nearly a must for gaming movies and music.

    I would also like to thank aynjell, jhanby, and extreme barton as you all had some very helpful input across posts others have made. if i didnt name any other audiophiles around here also know your input was also helpful these people just have posts in this thread making them easier to remember. :grouphug:
    Whoops, yeah. You can get MS1 and MS1i nowadays, I have the MS1. The MS1i are listed on the alessandro site as the 'new 2009 improved edition', and are 10$ more than the regular ones. I don't have both of them so I can't compare them, but I'd be willing to bet that the differences are minimal.

    Looks like I can't edit it, so imog will have to go in there and do it. :shrug:
    Hey konakona, if the MS1 is a tweaked 125, I don't think it's a tweaked 125i. The 125i has a longer deeper resonance chamber. So it differs there as well. I almost bought MS2's when I went to get my SR325i's, but I got the 325i's at a really good deal (15% discount on the whole order including the 45$ pads I wanted). It was too good to pass up.
    Little update since everyone seems to be interested, my friend did shave off his beard recently. His reason for having those facial pubes in the first place was 'he was too lazy to cut it off during winter break'.

    Also, I'm about ready to public the thread that I posted pictures of me in, just to stop people from saying that the pictures in here are of me.
    I.M.O.G.
    Well the beard may be a failure, but it did succeed at bringing you out of hiding! Registered member since Dec 2000, and only a handful of posts - You might be the greatest lurker ever to grace this forum!


    bahahahhaah ... I.M.O.G. you is one funny dude
    Asmodeus
    Nice review. Failed attempt at beard however. Stop trying. Shave it off an look normal. Thank you.


    Well the beard may be a failure, but it did succeed at bringing you out of hiding! Registered member since Dec 2000, and only a handful of posts - You might be the greatest lurker ever to grace this forum!
    Hey! Give the dummy/headphone model a break! lol

    Nice writeup, I enjoyed the read, and regret the Sony MDR-XD400 I purchased spontaneously. They get the job done, but they aren't the best headphones in the $100 range. I would have bought one of these in your review if I was in the market.
    KonaKona
    Let me just point out that those pictures are NOT of me. Ask anyone in the benching section, I don't look that bad.

    Oh, and I also like the look of the older models. One of these days I might go to japan and hunt a few of them down. :)


    I hope it's not your son then... I'd feel really bad about my pop saying I looked "that bad". :P
    Let me just point out that those pictures are NOT of me. Ask anyone in the benching section, I don't look that bad.

    Oh, and I also like the look of the older models. One of these days I might go to japan and hunt a few of them down. :)
    KonaKona, you are ugly. :)

    That being said, I had no idea that the AD7 was a parent to the ATH-AD700, or that it even existed. I guess they didn't leak over to america so much as the ATH-AD700 did. I personally preferred the way they used to look, but oh well!

    Good review. Stay tuned for mine, it's being worked on right now very laboriously. :salute: