Fun to listen to, comfortable and robust, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is an audio design classic
- Excellent value for money
- Thumping mid-bass
- Recessed mid-range
- Sibilant highs
- Closed soundstage
If you’ve ever searched the web for headphones, you’ve probably come across the Audio-Technica ATH-M50; they’re famous, and rightly so, for delivering great sound quality at a very reasonable price. Alas, they’re no longer widely available anymore and have since been replaced in the range by the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review: What you need to know
The M50x are, in many ways, a fantastic set of headphones and offer an awful lot for your money. They’re not wireless; instead, you’re getting a high-quality pair of traditional cabled over-the-ear headphones that are built with versatility in mind.
They come with a set of three removable cables in the box so you can use them at home connected to your hi-fi or studio sources or on the road hooked up to your smartphone. They’re built to last and with ear cups that can both swivel and fold, they’re convenient to transport, too.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review: Price and competition
The ATH-M50x cost around £115. At this price, you’ll find a few headphones that give them a good run for their money. First, there’s its sibling, the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x at around £80. Now I know what you might be thinking: if they have a lower number they’re immediately inferior, but that’s not quite the case here; I’ll explain why in the sound quality section, below.
Elsewhere, there’s the impressive Sony MDR-1A at £118, the open-back Grado SR80e at £94, the stylish Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 at £150 and the studio-grade headphones, the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro that can be found for around £102.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review: Build quality and comfort
Build quality, design and wearability are probably the most impressive aspects of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. They’re also pretty versatile, thanks to their removable cable and come with three in the box: a 1.2-3m coiled cable, and 1.2m and a 3m straight cables, all terminated in 3.5mm plugs.
Having the option to switch cables not only potentially prolongs their longevity but also allows you to route the longer cable around the back of your desktop or studio setup. The cable plugs into the left side driver.
Everything about the design of these headphones screams attention to detail. The earcups swivel up to 90° so you can wear the headphones around your neck with the pads resting comfortably against your body, and they have a fully articulating hinge as well, so they can be folded up impressively small.
They feel super robust and Audio-Technica has done a fantastic job on comfort, too. From the soft padding at the top of the headband and the comfy earpads to the headphone’s perfectly judged clamp force, these are headphones you can wear for hours and hours without ever feeling uncomfortable.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review: Sound quality
The M50x are fun to listen to but don’t provide the most balanced listening experience. They’re great for mainstream music, particularly R’n’B, but are less comfortable with subtler, music heavy on the vocals.
Listen to Rudimental & Major Lazer’s Let Me Live and you’ll have a fine old time with the Sony MDR-1A and Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 sounding dull in comparison. The headphones’ fun sound signature doesn’t come by chance; it’s due to the M50x’s bass and treble response, which are boosted at the expense of the mid-range and particularly the upper mid-range frequencies. The treble energy, maracas and bass response are all at the forefront in Calvin Harris and Sam Smith’s Promises but the vocals are pushed back.
Headphones such as the Sony MDR-1A and Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 do a much better job in this department. And, despite having decent extension at the top end, the M50x’s high frequencies can get a touch sibilant, which is a problem if you’re sensitive to such things. It’s immediately apparent when you crank up the volume and quickly becomes highly annoying.
The headphone’s soundstage is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the M50x have excellent instrument separation and good depth but, at the same time, they lack width and sound closed.
The M40x make for an interesting comparison to the M50x. Labelled as a studio headphone, the M40x actually has a more forward-sounding mid-range and, for me, they’re all the better for it. The M40x might not sound as lively as the M50x but for the best sound quality across a breadth of musical genres, I’d argue the former is the better choice.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review: Verdict
Despite this, the M50x aren’t bad headphones. They’re comfortable and robust, fun to listen to and great value for money. In comparison to its rivals, it’s the only set of headphones that combines a versatile design and a fun sound signature.
If you prefer a slightly pepped up sound to the flatter, more accurate reproduction of the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x they might well suit you better. It’s also worth considering the Sony MDR-1A and Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 that are both better suited for vocal songs. And finally, if you don’t plan on taking them out the house, the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro and the rock-centric Grado SR80e are both excellent choices, too.