The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is widely regarded as one of the best deals when it comes to studio headphones, offering pro-quality monitoring on a reasonable budget. Even so, some people find the price to be a little steep, and to accommodate its customers, Audio-Technica offers more affordable options like the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x. While the price is lower, the quality remains the same, and many people say the ATH-M40x sounds almost or just as good as its more expensive relative.
Let’s see if there’s some truth to that popular opinion.
Editor’s note: this Audio-Technica ATH-M40x review was updated on September 24, 2021, to add new frequency response and isolation charts, to expand upon technical information throughout the article, and to add the Isolation and Alternatives sections.
Who should get the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x?
- Producers on a budget should look into the ATH-M40x because of its more subdued bass response and studio-friendly features.
- Anyone who prioritizes audio over gimmicks will rest easy knowing the bulk of the bill goes toward sound quality with this headset.
What is the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x like?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x is a large headset with ovalesque headphones, each of which houses a 40mm dynamic driver. Even those with larger ears will find the ATH-M40x accommodating, though the synthetic ear pads retain heat and aren’t the best for bespectacled listeners. While the ear pads could feel more premium, the manageable clamping force is a nice touch that makes it easy to wear the headset for hours on end. Be aware, though: anyone too close may get a hint of what you’re listening to.
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You can rotate and swivel the ear cups freely, which almost makes the ATH-M40x feel like an oversized fidget spinner. While this degree of play can compromise common failure points, the ATH-M40x proves to be a sturdy headset that can bear a fair share of drops. Still, some may find the included pouch isn’t protective enough. If you’re anxious about keeping the headset pristine, there are plenty of durable headphone cases to choose from.
Given the budget price of the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, you don’t get too many accessories. The company provides two three-meter-long 3.5mm audio cables (one straight and one coiled), a 1/4-inch adapter, and a drawstring pouch. Audio-Technica uses a proprietary locking mechanism to secure the cable to the headset. This handy design prevents the cable from ripping out, but it also makes replacements a bit costly.
How do you connect the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x?
As the ATH-M40x is built with monitoring in mind, the only way to connect it to a source is with the provided cables. When you want to hook it up to an audio interface, you can reach for the 1/4-inch adapter. That’s it. This is a no-frills affair built with the sole purpose of reproducing and editing audio.
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How well does the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x block out background noise?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x is not an active noise cancelling (ANC) headset and instead requires you to properly fit the ear pads around your ears to block out background noise. Passive isolation performance is about what you’d expect from a headset with synthetic ear pads. High-pitched incidental sounds (6-8kHz) like the clang of dishware or the cry of a baby are one-sixteenth as loud as they’d sound without the headphones. This headset hardly quiets low-frequency sounds like a plane engine or the droning din of a train car. If your goal is to seriously hush your commute, you should instead look at a pair of noise cancelling headphones.
How does the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x sound?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x’s frequency response closely follows our consumer curve, save for the attenuated sub-bass response. These low-frequency volume deviations don’t exactly make for the most accurate audio output—hence why this is a prosumer’s headset. While the output isn’t exactly what some audiophiles refer to as “flat,” those whose music preferences span a wide variety of genres will appreciate how the ATH-M40x sounds. It pleasantly emphasizes treble notes so you can pick out detail from your favorite tunes.
Lows, mids, and highs
When I listen to Grant Green’s song Iron City, the bass is audible but doesn’t rattle my skull. Although many people prefer a bass-heavy sound, this more subdued response is good for songs with a range of instruments because nothing is at risk of serious auditory masking. Upper midrange notes are clear and accurate, and lower voices come through well thanks to the 100-200Hz emphasis. Mixes that make good use of left-to-right pans will sound very good on these headphones.
Audio-Technica ATH-M40x vs Audio-Technica ATH-M30x vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x: What’s the difference?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, ATH-M30x, and ATH-M50x all share a similar silhouette, with the logo size and accent as the most notable aesthetic difference. Each Audio-Technica ATH-M series headset’s frequency response has slight deviations that affect sound quality. As you step up in number, the price increases; though, all of these headsets frequently go on promotion so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a deal.
The Audio Technica ATH-M50x houses two 45mm dynamic drivers, which are slightly larger than the ATH-M40x’s 40mm dynamic drivers. The larger drivers yield a more exagerrated bass response with slightly less treble emphasis and a similarly under-emphasized midrange. Unlike the more affordable headset, the ATH-50x comes in a variety of colors (white, black, red, and specialty colors too). The Audio Technica ATH-M50x retails for $149 USD, $50 more than the ATH-M40x.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M30x, on the other hand, costs just $69 USD and this price cut means thinner ear pads, a less sleek design with visible headphone wires that descend from the headband, and just one straight cable. Both headsets house 40mm dynamic drivers, but the ATH-M30x is both lighter and smaller than its big brother.
While the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x and ATH-M30x share more frequency response similarities than differences, the ATH-M40x sounds a bit better than the ATH-M30x, though both sound good. The ATH-M30x bass and midrange under-emphasis (150-800Hz) is more dramatic than the ATH-M40x similar under-emphasis. In music, this makes it a bit more difficult to hear higher vocal registers, especially over a loud drum section. Generally, though, you’re unlikely to notice much of the treble discrepancies between the two headsets, save for the 3-5dB(Rel.) difference from 1.5-3kHz.
Each of these headsets is very good, and it really boils down to your budget.
Should you buy the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x today?
If you were to pick one headset to fill all of your needs, the ATH-M40x is a great buy with its sub-$100 price tag, pleasant sound quality, and accessories. Whether you need to use it for live monitoring, a midnight editing session, or to underscore a campus walk, the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x is a great companion.
Not all is perfect with this headset: the ear cups heat up a bit and the bulky footprint isn’t for everyone, but for $99 USD, it’s a great deal. If you want a similar headset with a boom microphone, give the Audio-Technica ATH-G1 a chance; this is a gaming headset but you can use it to listen to music and get you through conference calls too.
What should you get instead of the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x?
Aside from the other Audio-Technica headsets mentioned above, the AKG K371 is a fine, more stylish alternative to the ATH-M40x. AKG’s headset has a more studio-friendly frequency response with sub-bass and bass notes with similar outputs, unlike Audio-Technica’s under-emphasized sub-bass (see the comparison chart). While neither headset is truly neutral, the AKG K371 is better for professional applications. The ear cups articulate upwards, so you can hear what’s going on around you as you wear it.
The Sony MDR-7506 is a studio staple that’s been around for decades. This stalwart headset has a vintage design and accurate sound quality. It sports a slimmer profile than the ATH-M40x but some find the thin headband too uncomfortable.
The Sennheiser HD280 PRO is another great studio headset that costs less than $100 USD. It weighs just a few grams more than Audio-Technica’s headset and does a slightly better job of blocking out background noise. Sennheiser’s headset amplifies bass a bit more, hewing closer to how the ATH-M50x sounds.