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April 12, 2022
265 x 225 x 120mm
Long making its name on utilitarian but well-regarded headsets, Audio-Technica is back with another entry-level wireless product. This time elevating the affordable ATH-M20, the Japanese audio stalwart is hoping to flex a little muscle in the more affordable brackets of the market. But is the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT worth your money? It’s complicated.
Editor’s note: this is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT is for anyone who needs a barebones, no-frills Bluetooth headset that performs well enough to justify its price. It’s extremely basic, but does its job well.
What’s it like to use Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT?
Audio-Technica made its bread in the studio headphone market on the backs of its extremely purpose driven M-series headphones, of which the ATH-M20 was the entry-level wired option. The Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT is for all intents and purposes an exact copy of the older cans—just with a Bluetooth radio, battery, and microphone shoved into it, so there’s not a lot of bells and whistles to talk about here.
Clad almost completely in matte black, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT isn’t winning any beauty pageants. However, the M-series headphones have been around for decades without too many changes because they have a very reliable and decent design. A metal friction band encased in plastic and foam may not scream “high quality,” but it’s durable and will withstand the casual abuse of a commuter with a crowded bag. The yokes at the base of the band hold the ear cups at whatever angle your skull needs, as they can rotate and tilt to do so. Unfortunately the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT don’t fold up, so it’s a little more cumbersome than its higher end brother the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2.
The headphones themselves are made largely of plastic and other inexpensive materials, but that means they’re also insanely light—a mercy for portable audio products. The Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT weighs in at 216 grams, far lighter than most over-ear Bluetooth headphones. Consequently, it’s not hard to wear this pair of cans for very long periods of time. Some users report heat buildup with the faux leather ear pads, but that is a common occurrence with most over-ear headphones with this type of padding.
If you have larger ears, it’s possible that they’ll get pushed up against the pads of the ATH-M20XBT, even with an ideal fit. We always advise trying headphones before buying, but at this price point that’s an unlikely proposition. Just be aware that this isn’t an unfixable situation: since anything that fits the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 or Sony MDR-V7506 will also fit the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT, you have an extremely wide range of replacement options should you need new ear pads. Many of these pads are thicker than the stock ones, so you could easily resolve this issue with little fuss should you find fit is an issue.
Remember how I said these were very basic headphones? That also means that there’s no ingress protection rating or water resistance. The Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT is simply a pair of headphones and nothing more, so keep it out of the rain.
How do you control Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT?
Unlike some of the higher end options on the market, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT does not have capacitive touch controls or gesture controls. Instead, it relies on a small number of buttons on the back of the left ear cup to accomplish the basics.
|Button||Single tap||Double tap||Long press||Triple tap|
|Single tapDouble tap|
|Single tapDouble tap|
Pause / Answer call / End call
Voice assistant / Reject call
Low Latency mode
It takes a short amount of time to get used to using physical buttons on the back of your headphones, but it’s equally possible that you’ll just end up using your music player’s controls on your phone. Unless you’re going to be talking on the phone a lot, these controls shouldn’t be a deterrent to you.
Should you use the Audio-Technica Connect app for the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT?
Don’t bother. The Audio-Technica Connect app is available on Android and iOS, but the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT is not currently supported, so you won’t gain anything by installing it. Even if it were to come to fruition someday, the maximum you’re really going to be able to squeeze out of the app is potentially an EQ and firmware updates. It’s possible you could change codecs with your phone’s Bluetooth menu, but that’s very rarely necessary.
How does the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT connect?
Like most headphones, you can connect the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT to your phone or computer via the SBC or AAC Bluetooth codecs. Additionally, you could use a standard headphone cable like the one included with the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT to connect to devices with a headphone jack. As Bluetooth headphones have an interest in not being all that power-hungry (i.e., how can they maximize battery life on a small cell), it’s not surprising that the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT has relatively low power requirements to drive properly.
Neither connection method really has huge performance tradeoffs, though with Bluetooth there’s always the possibility of noticeable latency. However, if you’re using a streaming app the only latency you should notice is in the controls, as most apps can handle the syncing issues fairly well nowadays. However, there’s also a low latency mode baked into the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT which reportedly reduces latency, but we’re talking about small fractions of a second here.
You can pair the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT to your computer or phone with fairly typical steps, though the process is anything but convenient.
- Open your device’s Bluetooth pairing menu
- With the headphones off, hold down the power button until the light starts flashing blue slowly
- Search for the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT in the list of available devices on your phone or computer
- Tap the name to pair the device
Yes, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT supports Fast Pair.
How long does the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT battery last?
Hold up! Something’s missing:
We’re still running the battery test for the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT, so we don’t have a battery score or expected playback time. Given that the listed estimate is 60 hours of playback time over wireless—it’s gonna take a while. Check back in a week or so and we’ll have better figures for you.
For a set of over-ear headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT has a rather large battery. This is a good thing, as it not only means that you won’t have to charge it as often, but the reduced charging cycles also mean that the battery will have a much longer operating lifespan. If you were looking for a set of headphones you likely wouldn’t have to replace for many years, this is a great candidate.
Audio-Technica lists the rapid charge ability of the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT as being capable of netting you 3 hours of use on 10 minutes’ charge time. Of course, your mileage will vary based on a number of factors, but this is a decent baseline.
How well does the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT block out noise?
As with any set of headphones, the fit is going to determine the performance. When it comes to blocking outside noise from reaching your ears, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT will work better than your average headset—but shallow ear cups might mean that your ears could interrupt the seal and give you worse performance than what you see in the chart below. As the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT is not a set of active noise cancelers, there’s no reliable way to increase noise reduction if that’s important to you.
In a typical situation, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT will be able to physically prevent a fair bit of noise from reaching your eardrums, with the caveat that the lower the frequency, the less likely it’ll be blocked. For example, you should be easily able to hear truck engines, bus engines, and other large vehicles around you, but higher pitched cafe noise or tire noise won’t really impact your music listening all that much.
How does the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT sound?
Inexpensive wireless headphones and studio headphones tend not to sound incredible to average listener, and the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT is hardly an exception. Though its sound is decent enough for the price bracket, it isn’t without its shortcomings. For example, the rolloff in the sub-bass means that ultra-low frequency sounds like the rumble from movie explosions and 808s bass drums will be quieted a bit. You may not find this to be a bad thing all the time, but it is something to be aware of.
Similarly, there’s a bit of wonkiness in the highs that can make certain higher-pitched elements like cymbals sound slightly off or duller than they normally sound. As far as audible anomalies go that’s pretty much it, as the biggest deviations from our target aren’t all that offensive to most. For example, few are going to complain about mids having a slightly higher emphasis than the rest of your music because, well, that’s where a lot of the sounds that end up in music actually live.
Even though this kind of performance is anything but “audiophile,” it will definitely be more than good enough for the vast majority of listeners. You’re not going to have to worry about excessive compression or distortion. Apart from the sub-bass, most of the lower notes that would actually be a part of most music are very close to our target, save for a weird dip near middle C. This dip may look little but it’s probably the most audible deviation from our target, as it can make higher vocals and some notes played sound “off” from where they should (especially considering the relative over-emphasis of the mids in contrast).
If the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT was twice the price I might keep looking, but this really isn’t the sort of thing that should deter you at about $100 USD. There’s only so much you can expect from less expensive headphones, and sound quality is usually one of the first tradeoffs to make. Thankfully, the sound is a bit better than you’d expect.
Can you use the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT for phone calls?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT does a decent job with recording speech, but the mic quality won’t knock your socks off. However, for a $100 headset this is actually better than most. For example, the wind rejection is quite good, even if the mics don’t seem to be able to separate you well from whatever’s going on around you. Still, your voice will sound very much like it would on a dialup phone call, so don’t have any illusions about doing any professional recording with these.
You can hear for yourself below. Each recording was made in our controlled environment with calibrated playback, so you can easily compare these samples with our other reviews.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT microphone demo (Office conditions):
Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT?
If you’re looking at this review, chances are very good you’re looking for a set of cheap Bluetooth headphones that work in all the ways you’re used to. In the context of the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT, “cheap” is anything but “bad.”
At the end of the day, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT is a sure bet if you just want something that works. It’s not very exciting, but most things in this price bracket are actually pretty boring. It’s just gravy that this product has part replacement options on the cheap, and is very utilitarian from the perspective of the 2020s. The performance is perfectly adequate, and there aren’t any nasty surprises or workarounds needed to get decent wireless—or wired—audio.
What should you get instead of the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT?
There are plenty of headphones under $100 out there that offer similar performance and features as the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT, but getting the right one for you could take a little doing. Just keep in mind that at this price point you’re going to be making some serious trades if you want certain features. For example you could have ANC, but a lot of the models out there with ANC at this price point have issues with build quality.
The Sennheiser HD 350BT is older, but tried and true
One of the best things about the audio world is that products aren’t like smartphones: they last a long time. In that light, the long-since superseded Sennheiser HD 350BT is now under the $100 threshold online ($69.95 at Amazon), and it offers a great many things offered by the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT to boot. The main drawbacks here are pretty much limited to a slight hit to battery life, and a slightly tighter band. However, the Sennheiser model does offer thicker padding and the ability to use your headphones with higher-quality codecs like aptX and aptX Low Latency.
The Anker Soundcore Life Q35 offers ANC
Alternatively, you could also go with a lesser-known brand, Anker for your fix. The Anker Soundcore Life Q35 may satisfy your wants, but as its smart features come at the cost of repairability: it’s a gamble. Additionally, the Anker cans are far, far bassier than the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT. You can get it for$109.99 at Amazon.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20XBT supports multipoint pairing by default.