For many years, the Audio Technica ATH-M50 and its variants have been popular among cost-conscious audiophiles. By offering a much better sound for the price over competitors like Beats, the ATH-M50 has long been a go-to recommendation for anyone looking for an inexpensive step-up. However, one of the best Audio-Technica headphones never quite made the jump to wireless. That is, until the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on August 5, 2020, to address an FAQ about active noise cancelling alternatives.
Who are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT for?
- Anyone who liked the original ATH-M50 or the ATH-M50x will love the new ATH-M50xBT. The main thing that’s different is that it’s wireless—that’s it.
- Younger listeners will enjoy the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT because of its somewhat bass-heavy sound, and overall high sound quality. These are a dramatic step-up from most popular models.
- Musicians will appreciate these as a set of studio monitors much like the wired version of ATH-M50.
- If you’re looking for a step-up in audio quality, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT are the logical step up for many.
What is it like to use the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT?
When you first take the headphones out of the box, you’ll see that there’s a detachable 3.5mm cable, microUSB cable, and a leather carrying pouch.
Like most Bluetooth headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT offer a listening experience free from wires, and are primarily focused on audio quality instead of the latest features and doodads. It’s not surprising, given that every preceding iteration of the famed Audio-Technica ATH-M50 has basically followed the same product philosophy of “sound quality over all other concerns.” However, the addition of Bluetooth 5 means it can hang with the best of them where the spec-sheet is concerned.
The padding on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT is a little thin, but then again: it was a little thin on every other iteration of the ATH-M50 as well. Though it’s not uncomfortable, listeners who use their headphones over four hours a day may want to look for something a little different—and just about any padding that works for the Sony MDR-7506 will fit on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT. Additionally, those with ears like taxicab doors should also look for a headset with more room.
However, the band of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT is well-padded, and it’s unlikely to break under force because it has a metal skeleton. When you want to stow your headphones in a bag, all you have to do is fold the earcups in, and the cans will have a much smaller profile.
On the back of the left earcup are the rather spartan controls of the ATH-M50xBT, including volume up/down, a slider to turn the headphones on and off, and touch controls to toggle your voice assistant of choice. To get the most out of your headphones, you’ll need to install the CONNECT app from either the App Store or Play Store, but it’s a free application. We’re not too happy about the forced location access sharing, but it does allow you to find your headphones if they get lost, so at least you get something in return for that data.
How’s the connection on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT is one of the few Bluetooth headphones on the market with a Bluetooth 5 radio, so data transmission to and from your smartphone is not only fast, but low on energy consumption. The headphones also make the most of the aptX codec. If I just lost you don’t worry: all it means is that among Bluetooth headphones these have some of the best support around. Among Bluetooth codecs, aptX is in the top tier, and you shouldn’t notice any compression errors or added noise in your music.
However, Bluetooth has some issues that might frustrate you. For example, audio quality takes a minor hit, and sometimes you can run into connection errors with certain phones if certain codecs aren’t supported. But as far as headphones go, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT is a special exception to the rule, as it offers the exact level of support you’d hope a premium product would.
I will point out that you may notice some latency depending on the codec you use for Bluetooth, and you might find that some video content has lagging audio. This is pretty standard for any set of wireless headphones, so the option for wired listening is a really nice plus if that sort of thing bothers you.
Is the battery life of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT any good?
Yes. Good lord yes. With a listening level of 75dB (SPL), the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT are able to push tunes for 31.2 hours in total. That’s a fair bit more than the other top-flight Bluetooth headphones offer, and should last you most of the week for commutes and work if you turn the volume down a little bit.
How does the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT sound?
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT has a very consumer-friendly sound. By that I mean, it has slightly boosted bass notes (pink), and some tasteful adjustments to note emphasis in the mids (green) and highs (cyan). If you’re worried about that little dip at 4KHz, don’t be: it’s a very common feature of headphones that actively try to get ahead of your ear’s natural resonances. You can equalize this out if it really bothers you.
In general, you’ll probably notice that your music will be a little clearer than it is on your earbuds or drugstore headphones—even over Bluetooth. That’s because in general, the frequency response is a little closer to a single target level than most inexpensive options. Additionally, a larger speaker element like the one on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT allows for a slightly more planar wavefront, making your tunes sound much more realistic.
A chart’s all well and good, so what’s it actually sound like, though?
That pink area of the line is bass, and for the most part you can see that there’s a fair amount of emphasis here all the way up to middle-C. All this means is that your music will have a somewhat notable bass boost, but because that line is pretty even: no one note will overwhelm or startle you.
You’ll notice that songs with low background synths and kick drum samples with “thump” a little more with this kind of sound. For example, this is very apparent when you listen to Queen’s Radio Ga Ga.
Notes above middle-C will sound just like they would on just about any other set of headphones, as this range is very consumer-friendly. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT bumps up the loudness on notes from 800-3kHz, which will make instruments with higher pitches like cymbals and snare drums a lot more “clarity” over the rest of your music, as that’s where some of their fundamentals lie.
Possibly the least-important range for music, a decent response in the highs is where things can get a little weird. For example, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT clearly tries to avoid resonances in the ear by downplaying 4kHz notes, but then returns to a more normal response in the following frequencies. All this means is that the atmospheric effects and harmonics might sound a little off, but probably won’t. Boring, right?
This is pretty apparent in songs with slight vocal echo like David Bowie’s Lazarus. With the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT, it’s tough to hear if the echo effect is really there or not.
How well does the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT block out noise?
Possibly one of the best things about the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT is the fact that as far as headphones go, they isolate pretty well. If you’re out on the street, you’re not going to have trouble listening to your music, even if an airplane might annoy you.
It’s not surprising that the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT don’t isolate below 100Hz, but if you’re in an airplane you may find that these headphones don’t do enough to combat the whine of the engines. If you are a jetsetter, you’ll want a pair of active noise canceling headphones instead.
How good is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT’s mic?
While this is a very strange-looking response, our practical testing found little to complain about. In general, we’d like to see a microphone stay close to 0 on this chart, but this seems to be running a vocal enhancer kind of processing on top of the microphone. Or maybe the microphone just is odd, who knows? In any case, these deviations aren’t enough to impact your call quality in an obviously negative way.
Should you buy the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a classic set of headphones updated with the latest wireless tech, and it’s still an excellent set of cans. Not only do they offer stellar battery life, great audio quality, and a price to match—but they’re a continuation of one of the best headphone series to ever be sold.
You may not like how they fit on you, and that’s okay. Some people find the earpads to be too thin, but just like every other Audio-Technica ATH-M50 model, these are compatible with any replacement pads on Amazon that you can find that fit the Sony MDR-V6. If you’re willing to spend a couple extra bucks, you can have velour pads, deeper pads, you name it.
However, some people will just not like these for a constellation of reasons related to personal preference. Be sure to check out our Best Bluetooth headphone list to see if there’s anything else there that might work better.
Frequently Asked Questions
PS4 uses a different kind of wireless connection than Bluetooth headphones for audio (2.4GHz Wireless RF USB dongles). The ATH-M50xBT are not directly compatible with PS4. However, you can use a Bluetooth USB dongle to hook up any Bluetooth headphones to your PS4, but there will likely be audio lag issues due to the Bluetooth connection. Rather, for a PS4, we'd recommend going with a designated gaming headset, or a pair of wired headphones.
Isolation shuts out noise by physically obstructing it from entering your ear. Active noise cancellation, on the other hand, shuts out noise by blocking it electronically (balancing wavelengths until they cancel out). Active noice cancellation is ultimately more powerful in blocking out unwanted sounds.
Nope! Bluetooth headphones follow a design similar to active speakers, meaning they have their own power supply already inside the cans themselves! Because the audio signal is sent from your phone to the headphones and decoded/amped internally, you will never benefit from buying an after-market amp, DAC, or similar device for ideal results over Bluetooth.