High Resolution Audio headphones from Monster and Audio Technica at CES 2016

09 Jan 2016


When it comes to audio, the buzzwords at CES 2016 were High Resolution Audio. With this better-than-CD digital format becoming available in more and more places, and the rumour that Apple will be making high resolution content available via Apple Music this year, there’s never been a better time to give your ears a treat and upgrade to some high resolution headphones.

We were lucky enough to go ears-on with Monster’s new Elements range and Audio-Technica’s new noise cancelling MSR7NC over ear headphones at CES 2016.

What is High Resolution Audio?

When music is saved in a digital format, it’s often compressed to make the file size smaller. While this means you can carry more tracks with you, the downside is some of the audio quality gets lost in the compression. A good example of this would be to listen to a track on CD and then listen to a streamed or downloaded version. You’ll often hear the CD version sounds much better, with greater clarity and tones you may not hear from the digital version.

As we said earlier, one of the main reasons for compressing the file size was so you could fit more tunes onto your computer or music player, but these days we have much more storage space available. There’s not the need to compress the files so much, so some music services are starting to make music available in file types that don’t use as much compression, so your tunes sound better than ever.

This type of music has become known as High Resolution Audio and can provide crystal clear sounds that give more detail than CD.

Monster’s high resolution Elements headphones

Upon reaching Monster’s impressive booth, we spotted our first celebrities of the day. Notoriously naughty children’s TV hosts Dick and Dom were making full use of the sound system in the “Monster by Mulliner” Bentley Continental GT. Even at maximum volume this beautiful car’s sound system sounds amazing, and we certainly wished we could afford one after spending a few minutes in its luxurious cabin listening to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition.

We then were taken to see the Elements over ear headphones. These come in a range of metallic finishes, and look gorgeous. “Nature inspired the elements – we powered them,” said our Monster guide.

The headphones are wireless, using Bluetooth 4.0 APT X, meaning they can stream high resolution audio, but they also include a micro USB port for charging and a direct connection to your audio device for the highest quality sound.

Battery life is strong enough to last all day, and the headphones are designed to remain comfortable for just as long. The ear cushions are made from memory foam, meaning they adjust to the shape of your head and don’t get painful over time, even if you’re wearing glasses. Despite the relative bulk of these over ear phones, we found them extremely comfortable. They were light enough to wear for a while, but had enough weight to feel substantial and strong.

And strong they are. The headband is robust enough to be twisted about in any which way, and the hinges are designed for prolonged use. You’ve also got the ability to swivel one cup up, DJ style.

Here’s where things start getting interesting. The side of the headphone also operates as a touch sensitive control panel. Tap it once to start your track or pause. Double tap to skip tracks. Swipe up and down to adjust the volume. This works very nicely indeed once you get used to the type of pressure needed for the headphones to register your selection.

One last nice touch is the built-in microphone. This means, if you get a call, you can hear your own voice – great for avoiding those moments where you suddenly realise you’re shouting.

We really liked these headphones. The sound quality was great over a range of genres, really punchy and well defined, with very good stereo separation. The headphones themselves felt robust enough to be able to take out and about with you. They’re well worth seeking out when they hit the shops later this year.

Audio-Technica’s MSR7NC high resolution noise cancelling headphones

We arrived at the Audio-Technica booth to discover our second celebrity of the day. None other than Stevie Wonder himself was testing out the company’s famously high-quality headphones.

We got to demo the forthcoming MSR7NC noise cancelling headphones - an update on the award-winning MSR7 headphones. These are a more subtle design than the Monster Elements cans we tried on earlier, and feel designed for a more mature user. While the Elements headphones are bold and shiny, these are a masterpiece of simplicity.

These headphones also have memory foam ear cushions, and feel amazing when you wear them. You’d hardly know they were there at all, if it wasn’t for the very beautiful sounds being played into your ears.

The audio quality is simply fantastic. The sound is full, warm and rich. There’s great stereo separation and every instrument is clearly defined. What’s really nice is that the sound quality doesn’t drop at all when you activate noise cancelling mode. Everything sounds just as beautiful – you just don’t hear all the background chatter.

The level of noise cancellation has been carefully calibrated for the highest sound quality. Some high-level noise cancellation can start to eat away at the music, so these provide a mid-level cancellation with no discernible impact on your music.

(The MSR7 headphones without noise cancelling)

Bear in mind we tested these at the biggest electronics show in the world. The conference hall is not a quiet place, and once noise cancelling was turned on we could hardly hear the chatter and hubbub any more.

These headphones won the CES Editor’s Choice award this year, and it’s not hard to see why. Your ears will thank you if you test them out.

Check out all our coverage of CES 2016 by clicking here