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January 23, 2014
1.2-3m (coiled cable)
1.2m (short cable)
3m (long cable)
6.5 x 6cm (internal ear pad)
Sometimes you don’t need the newest headphones with the most hype. In fact, sometimes you really just want reliably good, wired cans. Let’s revisit some former hype headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. It has been about eight years since the ATH-M50x made a splash, so how does it perform after a week of testing?
Editor’s note: this Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review was rewritten on May 27, 2022.
What’s it like to use the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x?
Looking quite a bit like every other member of the ATH-M family, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is the second most premium pick from the strictly wired ATH-M heap. Big brother Audio-Technica ATH-M70x is nearly twice the price and less popular. The ATH-M50x has a mainly plastic body with metal notched headband adjustments, replete with hinges for folding and fit. You can flip the closed-back ear cups 90 degrees in either direction from neutral, and the arms articulate to fold it down. This makes it easy to stuff the ATH-M50x into its included vinyl-cinched bag. The bag mainly guards against surface scrapes, but not much else. There exist cheaper headphones with better cases out there these days.
The 45mm dynamic drivers sit behind the ear pads, which have approximately 6.5cm x 6cm of space to fit around your ears. The pads initially feel stiff but okay, and they break in with regular use. Even though the vinyl material wrapping the ear pads retains heat, the ATH-M50x fits pretty comfortably for a couple hours. Clamping force is secure, not overly tight, but it’s probably not great for the bespectacled among us after a short period. Frankly, I feel more confident in the ATH-M50x build quality than the more wallet-friendly ATH-M20x.
These headphones have a moderately steep price for wired over-ears, but the idea is that you can use the ATH-M50x for everyday use and for audio production. While it might not be a master of either, the ATH-M50x certainly works for both casual listening and mixing. The headset does not need additional amplification, so you can plug it into virtually any device and the volume will be sufficient.
No, there is no IP rating or water-resistant coating on this headset. If you want a water-resistant pair of over-ears, we recommend the following:
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (IPX4 rating)
- Under Armour Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL (IPX4 rating)
- Jabra Elite 85h (internal water-resistant coating)
Do note however that none of the above are considered studio headphones.
How do you connect the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x?
You may find it annoying that the removable cables the ATH-M50x ships with are for its proprietary connection. However, I’d be remiss to not address that Audio-Technica includes three cables with the ATH-M50x. If you burn through three cables before the headphones break for some other reason, you likely need to take more care generally.
It’s also worth noting that the newer Bluetooth-capable version (ATH-M50xBT2) has a revised, conventional headphone connector cable. While the bugaboo of having proprietary cables is irritating, the cables lock in on the ATH-M50x so they won’t get caught and rip out. The lock is really just a piece of plastic that you have to twist and press (like those child-proof medication bottles), so it’s not revolutionary. This cable design is okay and easy to find online, but it’s still $20 USD to replace.
Does the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x block out noise?
Like any set of headphones without active noise cancellation (ANC), the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x uses just passive isolation. The performance is pretty middling. Due to the nature of isolation working best on high-pitched sounds, the ATH-M50x attenuates about 10dB at 700Hz and about 33dB at 4kHz. High frequencies that are barely perceptible receive approximately 38dB of reduction in volume.
In the lows you receive no isolation, meaning bassy droning sounds from your environment will still reach your ears. Basically, you probably want something with ANC if you want headphones for flights, or are working somewhere loud.
How does the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x sound?
The central reason anyone buys the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is for its sound, which marries a studio-style profile with a more consumer-friendly profile. As such, the ATH-M50x follows our house curve closely and yields a very pleasant experience for both casual and analytical listening.
Notable areas of deviation include a slight under-emphasis between 300-400Hz. Less noticeable is the 3dB under-emphasis at 3kHz and the notch at 6kHz. Then there’s the lower volume below 100Hz that produces a conservative, “flatter” curve more akin to typical studio headphones. Even so, it rolls off more than we’d like below 40Hz, which may mean the seal created by the pads could be improved. Any volume bumps less than 3dB in deviation from our ideal are basically imperceptible.
Highs, mids, lows
Besides missing some of that super low-end oomph, the ATH-M50x sounds good when I listen to San Diego Zoo by The 6ths. The hard-panned instruments come through pleasantly and distinctly. Center-panned vocals are at the right volume, blending in with the other instruments like acoustic guitar. The strings at the chorus could do with more volume, landing in an area of under-emphasis in combination with effects, low volume, and panning to keep them subdued already. Meanwhile, the kick drum has the right amount of volume to cut through, while the bass guitar is present but not exactly full of oomph. Droning guitar plays at a good volume throughout, and the keys are audible but slightly quiet.
Like any good mixer might, I grab a second pair of buds to compare. I have the KZ ZSN Pro X on hand (which also sounds very good), and notice certain things: while the low-end is present on the ATH-M50x, perceiving bass notes can be more difficult, and the highs are fairly quiet as well, which is most obvious with strings and percussion.
This means the ATH-M50x actually does the job of avoiding ear fatigue from excess treble, which is desirable for anyone tracking or monitoring for long sessions. With that said, you can assess how well instruments have been mixed with the ATH-M50x. Pale Spectre by The Wake has a bass line that is perfectly easy to hear, as is virtually every other instrument, with the exception of the synth pad playing too quietly. This suggests that while the bass under-emphasis is noticeable on the ATH-M50x, you can do rough mixes on it, but perhaps make sure you have a different set nearby to A/B. For casual listening, it’s a good set of headphones.
Should you buy the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x?
Good sound is timeless. It doesn’t matter that a number of years have passed since the ATH-M50x came out because it still works well. Since this wired headset doesn’t rely on batteries or Bluetooth technology, it’s bound to outlast its wireless counterparts. The no-nonsense performance, fit, and comfort of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x make it worth picking up.
While it’s not the most luxurious model out there, it feels alright and sounds good for most applications. It won’t lend you the most neutral or even bassy sound, but on the whole, it translates your audio quite reliably. In our initial review of the ATH-M50x, we said it’s like the Swiss Army Knife of headphones, and that still holds true today.
Offering virtually the same design and frequency response as the ATH-M50x is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2. You get wired and wireless connectivity options so you can choose depending on the context. And yes, a hard-wired connection provides the best audio quality but sometimes, you just want quite good quality with the convenience of Bluetooth.
The nice thing about the ATH-M50xBT2 is its nearly 65-hour battery life and USB-C charging input. You can even fast-charge the headset with 10 minutes of charge granting 180 minutes of playtime. Also, the ATH-M50xBT2 ditches the proprietary cable connection in favor of a conventional 3.5mm TRS connector. You get some playback controls on the ATH-M50xBT2, which isn’t found on the ATH-M50x or any of its cables. Anyone needing a microphone for Zoom calls can take advantage of the included mic system on the ATH-M50xBT2.
It costs more money, yes, but you get the functionality of two headsets in one. Maybe you don’t need wireless over-ear headphones, however, in that case, the ATH-M50x might be the better pick.
How about the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x compared to the ATH-M50x?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x might be near the top of the wired headphone world, but the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x is no slouch either. As you can see, the frequency responses of both are pretty similar. The ATH-M40x has both a little more treble and a boost around 100Hz as well. Frankly, both headsets sound good.
The ATH-M40x uses 40mm dynamic drivers, versus the 45mm ones onboard the ATH-M50x. While the ATH-M50x ships with three cables, the ATH-M40x comes with two, and those are removable like the ATH-M50x. Isolation measurements aren’t different enough to justify picking either one over the other.
Perhaps the build quality of the ATH-M50x has the edge over the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x, which seems to be the prime difference between each iteration in the ATH-M line. Both headphones can fold up and come with a carry bag. If you’re tight on cash, it makes sense to grab the cheaper ATH-M40x.
What should you get instead of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x?
A bit of an unsung hero, the AKG K371 follows our consumer target curve more closely. Its style looks a bit more low-key and less “loud” than the ATH-M line-up. The K371 sells for around the same price, and it isolates slightly better than the ATH-M50x. For folks with glasses, it feels more comfortable. AKG products aren’t renowned for their durability, so if you plan on some light abuse, the ATH-M50x can probably handle it better.
Maybe you’ve been asking where’s the bass. Check out the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, which follows our target curve decently well, but adds some more low-end too. It works well for tracking your audio, like the ATH-M50x. The clamping force feels tighter and the cans are larger than the fairly slim build of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. Granted, the headset is decidedly more budget-oriented, so you don’t get any removable cables.
Frequently asked questions about the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
Yes, the ATH-M50x still has decent sound quality that is up to today’s standards, and it’s lightweight and comfortable too. If you’re looking for a more affordable pair of studio headphones, the Sony MDR-7506 is a great alternative.
Currently, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is available in black, but it changes almost annually. The Bluetooth version also currently has a black version and an orange version. Just remember, some of these color options are more expensive, if you shop on Amazon. Audio-Technica even has a history timeline of the limited edition colorways.
No, but the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 does have a microphone. You can hear it below: