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January 23, 2014
1.2-3m (coiled cable)
3m (straight cable)
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.
We spent two weeks testing the ATH-M40x from Audio-Technica to see if there’s some truth to that popular opinion.
Editor’s note: this Audio-Technica ATH-M40x review was updated on August 31, 2023, to update the charts, formatting, and answer FAQ.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, in fact, the company has quite a few options when it comes to Bluetooth headphones (and earbuds). If you’re looking for something akin to the ATH-M40x in Bluetooth form, check out the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2. This is nearly identical to the wired version but with Bluetooth capabilities. The ATH-M50xBT2 supports USB-C fast charging and has a battery life of nearly 65 hours.
You can connect to the headset via a trusty 3.5mm wired connection or use Bluetooth 5.0 and choose between AAC, SBC, and LDAC. Unlike the wired ATH-M series headphones, the ATH-M50xBT2 has a built-in microphone for taking calls on the go. It’s worth a look for $198 at Amazon.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
There’s also the cheaper, Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT, which is decidedly more utilitarian in fit and finish than the ATH-M50xBT2 (and the ATH-M40x), however it’s nicely priced and worth a look.
How well does the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x block out background noise?
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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. To get isolation similar to the chart above, you need to properly fit the ear pads around your ears to block out background noise.
If your goal is to seriously hush your commute, you should instead look at a pair of noise canceling headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM5 or Bose QuietComfort 45.
How does the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x sound?
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The Audio-Technica ATH-M40x frequency response closely follows our studio headphone preference curve, with a bit of deviation in the sub-bass and midrange (200-600Hz). The sub-bass deviation is pretty minor all things considered, if anything you may want to EQ the headset to level out that midrange dip. 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.
While not all EQ apps let you adjust so precisely to the chart above, if you follow this a bit, you should be able to get within the ballpark of our studio curve. This requires you to raise the sub-bass about 8dB at its lowest frequency and then increase the loudness at 350Hz by about 6dB. You can then make the subsequent adjustments accordingly, too.
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 modest boost from 100-200Hz. Mixes that make good use of left-to-right pans will sound very good on these headphones.
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, it’s a great deal. If you want a similar headset with a boom microphone, give the (slightly older) 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.
Audio-Technica ATH-M40x vs Audio-Technica ATH-M30x vs Audio-Technica ATH-M50x: What’s the difference between these headphones?
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 headphone frequency response has only 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 exaggerated 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 $169 at Amazon, $50 more than the ATH-M40x.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M30x, on the other hand, costs just$79 at Amazon 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 ATH-M40X and ATH-M30x headsets.
Each set of these headphones is very good, and it really boils down to your budget.
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. While neither set of headphones is truly neutral, the AKG K371 is better for most applications. The ear cups articulate upwards so you can hear what’s going on around you as you wear them.
The Sony MDR-7506 ($79 at Sweetwater) is a studio staple that’s been around for decades. This stalwart pair has a vintage design and reasonably accurate sound quality. They sport a slimmer profile than the ATH-M40x, but some find the thin headband too uncomfortable. Still, it’s nice to know you can repair them if needed.
The Sennheiser HD 280 PRO are another great studio option for similar money ($87 at Amazon). It weighs just a few grams more than Audio-Technica’s headset and does a slightly better job of blocking out background noise. The Sennheiser headphones amplify bass a bit more, hewing closer to how the ATH-M50x sounds.
Frequently asked questions about the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x
It does not have a microphone.
Build quality across this line is good. The ATH-M50x comes with more plush padding, but the ATH-M40x is still of solid quality. Mainly, the difference is whether you prefer the added treble emphasis on the ATH-M40x or the slightly more subdued treble volume on the ATH-M50x.