Recent years have seen a number of new manufacturers get into the headphones game, but many traditionalists prefer sticking to brands that are tried and tested. Audio-Technica is a Japanese audio manufacturer well known for its consumer and professional audio equipment. We recently reviewed the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT - a wireless version of the classic M50x headphones - and came away impressed.
Although Audio-Technica's best products are expensive and out of reach for the average headphone buyer, the company does have a growing range of affordable products. What's interesting is that these offerings attempt to stay true to the philosophies that make the brand so popular among enthusiasts. One such product is the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT, which is priced at Rs. 3,990. This pair of on-ear headphones promises a lot for a reasonable amount of money, but just how good is it? Find out in our review.
Audio-Technica headphones usually follow a very specific aesthetic, and the ATH-S200BT sticks to it. The headphones have round earcups made of solid plastic with the Audio-Technica logo on the outside - instantly recognisable for anyone even somewhat familiar with the headphone industry. The size of this headset means that you get an on-ear fit, with the earcups sitting on top of your ears rather than covering them completely.
This fit style has its pros and cons, and in the case of these headphones, we found more cons. The clamping was a bit too strong for us and was uncomfortable on our ears. The round shape of the ear cups also meant that sound isolation was a bit iffy. There was a fair amount of sound leakage when the headphones were worn, and our music could be heard by other people around 3-4 feet away.
That apart, the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT is built well, and the padding is adequate considering the Rs. 3,990 price. All the controls are on the left side of the headset, including a slider switch for power and buttons for volume and playback control. There is also a small indicator light for power and Bluetooth status, and a Micro-USB port for charging the headphones. The microphone of the ATH-S200BT isn't visible, but is present.
A significant feature missing on the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT is the ability to use it as a wired headset; it isn't possible to use a stereo cable for connectivity when the battery runs down. The sales package is a bit bare, with just a Micro-USB cable to charge the headset included apart from the headset itself.
The Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT has 40mm dynamic drivers, with a frequency response range of 5-32,000Hz. For connectivity, the headset uses Bluetooth 4.1, and supports only the SBC Bluetooth codec. While battery life is claimed to be 40 hours per charge, we didn't quite achieve that number in our testing. We managed to get to a respectable 28 hours on a full charge, which is far more than what we've seen on other headphones in this price segment, but way less than the company's claim.
The Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT might not have a lot going for it when it comes to comfort and design, but it does make up for this with sound quality. It's worth mentioning here that the sonic signature is unlike what you can expect from most other headphones in this price segment - the sound is neutral-leaning, rather than following the typical V-shaped curve where the bass and treble get a boost but not the mid range.
We used an Android smartphone as our primary source device when testing the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT. We streamed music from Spotify and YouTube Music, and listened to our collection of high-quality test tracks. We also used the headset for voice calls.
While we did mention that the sonic signature doesn't lean any particular way, we were impressed with the low-end response of the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT. Listening to Shur-i-Kan's progressive house track Conundrum with the volume at around the 75 percent mark, we loved the aggressive buildup and tightness in the bass. While it might come across as too punchy for some, we quite enjoyed how the low end sounded on these headphones, particularly thanks to how loud it can get without even setting it to the maximum volume.
Moving on, Mermaid of Salinas by Basement Jaxx gave us a good sense of the neutral quality of the sound. While the bass continued to hold its own, it was interesting to hear the highs and mids ringing through with equal strength. We were able to hear every individual element of the track clearly, and this gives the impression of a much more open soundstage than we're used to on headphones in this price segment.
We then played the electro-jazz classic Strange Love by Koop, and found the mid range to be particularly well tuned on the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT. Vocals were sharp, distinct, incredibly detailed, and never overshadowed by the instruments. These headphones produced a similarly detailed sound with various other vocal-centric tracks, and we quite liked the difference this sonic signature brought.
Finally, using the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT as a hands-free headset for calls was a decent experience for us. The strong mid range and the loudness of the sound made for clear calls, and the microphone also did a decent job of picking up our voice.
We're usually impressed with Audio-Technica's headphones, but the ATH-S200BT is a bit of a mixed bag for us. Sound quality is impressive for the price, offering an experience that not too many other products with this feature set and in this price range can. However, the design and comfort are simply not up to the mark - these headphones aren't comfortable to wear, leak sound, and don't do much for noise isolation.
If you consider the interesting sound and exceptional battery life to be deal-clinchers, that would be good enough reason to buy the Audio-Technica ATH-S200BT. While this pair of headphones is far from perfect, we did enjoy our time with it, and so will you if you prefer a neutral sonic signature and like picking up on the small details in your music.
Price: Rs. 3,990
Ratings (out of 5)