Audio-Technica’s ATH M50X headphones have been quite popular among audio enthusiasts of all levels. They hit a real sweet spot in terms of price and performance, delivering a very impressive studio-quality sound at a price that’s below many popular consumer-oriented headphones.
I’ve owned a pair of ATH M50X headphones for three years now, and I’ve definitely put them through their paces. In this Audio Technica ATH M50X review, I’ll tell you what you should know if you’re considering picking up a pair.
The short version is this: you’re about to make a very, very good decision. Just be aware of a few trade-offs, and make sure you know what you want in a pair of headphones before you buy.
Audio Technica ATH M50X: Overview
The Audio Technica ATH M50X is a quality pair of closed-back over-ear headphones designed for studio and DJ use. As a result, they’re light on the features that most normal consumers might expect, but heavy on the stuff that matters to audio pros. They provide excellent audio quality, a fairly even audio response, a durable, removable cord, strong build quality, and good natural isolation.
When Audio Technica introduced the original ATH M50 model in the mid-2000s, the company was still pretty much unknown in consumer circles. But the headphones performed so well and landed at an approachable enough price point that they went mainstream.
Well, mainstream-ish. These may be the headphones people should buy instead of Beats, but at last count, Beats is selling just fine.
The Audio Technica ATH M50x headphones retail for $149, with colors other than black running around $20 higher. For studio headphones, that’s really cheap. And what Audio Technica has managed to achieve at this price point is certainly impressive.
These closed-back dynamic headphones feature 45 mm drivers in each earcup, with an impressive frequency response ranging from 15 to 28,000 Hz.
There’s also a Bluetooth model available, the Audio Technica M50X BT. Consumers have clamored for a true wireless option for years, and the company finally gave in. Audio pros won’t want to put up with the loss in quality inherent to Bluetooth, of course. But it’s nice that Audio Technica gives buyers the option.
What They Aren’t
First, let’s be clear about what these headphones aren’t.
These aren’t consumer-oriented headphones like Beats. They also aren’t travel or business-oriented headphones like Bose or any number of headset styles you might use in the office. And one look tells you that they aren’t wireless, either.
A pair of ATH M50X headphones doesn’t offer any kind of active noise cancellation or enhanced bass, and there’s no microphone for phone calls at all.
If you’re looking for consumer-grade high-end headphones that offers enhanced bass, active noise cancellation, wireless connectivity, or a bunch of EQ and sound settings — these aren’t them, and they aren’t trying to be. This isn’t the review for you.
What They Are
Now, the Audio Technica ATH M50X headphones are high-end headphones in terms of audio quality, and a sub-$200 price tag means they could be considered consumer-grade. You’ll find plenty of audio purists using these for listening enjoyment, not for work. If your main intent is serious listening in a relatively quiet environment, these will perform quite well.
Still, at-home listening isn’t the primary use case for the ATH M50X. Instead, they’re designed primarily for the studio. These are very well-balanced headphones that give you an even response, showing you exactly what’s on your tracks—without any enhancements or modifications intended to make the listening experience better.
So, if you’re a home studio musician or producer looking for a reasonably priced pair of reference headphones, the Audio Technica ATH M50X is a serious contender.
Design and Build Quality
You probably wouldn’t call the Audio Technica ATH-M50X stylish, when you consider the thick headband, chunky hinges, and bland color scheme (not to mention the ostentatious branding atop the headband).
But they’re not exactly ugly either. Call them industrial, and then forget all about it. Because what they lack in style, they make up for in functionality.
Designed to appeal to students, commuters, and producers alike, the ATH M50X do quite a bit of gymnastics. For those who want to wear them out and about, the shallow ear cups and head-hugging band are far more visually pleasing than, say, wearing a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 770 cans around.
And, of course, the Bluetooth connectivity on the BT model is specifically designed for people who want to use these headphones on the go.
Commuters will also appreciate the literal gymnastics of the ATH-M50XBT, which can fold in on themselves for easier storage and portability. The fact that they are made of thick, hardy plastic also helps. Go ahead, throw them in your bag. They’ll be fine. (Just, maybe don’t drop a laptop on them.)
For those using these mainly behind a desk, the aesthetics may not matter as much as the physical design. And on this point, there’s one notable concern. The shallow ear cups may touch some parts of your ear, so comfort during long listening or mixing sessions is a question. Still, the cups each have a 90-degree swivel, allowing for a considerable range of adjustability.
Features, Connectivity, Impedance
The ATH M50X headphones are a bit feature-light, as we mentioned earlier. While you won’t get active noise cancellation, you do get a great seal around the ear, creating natural sound isolation. If you’re recording vocals or instrumentals where isolation matters, these headphones are a solid pick.
The headphones are also somewhat collapsible, with earcups that swivel and a rotating joint just above the earcup attachment point. They ship with a soft carrying bag that doesn’t add a ton of protection from anything other than scuffs, but that’s OK. These headphones are built like tanks and should hold up well.
As far as connectivity, you have one solitary option: wired. The phones ship with three wires, each with eighth inch jacks on both ends. There’s a 1.2m and a 3m straight wire, plus a coiled wire that maxes out at 3m. Along with these cables, Audio Technica includes an eighth inch to quarter inch adapter so you can plug these headphones into standard quarter-inch audio gear.
Of course, if you pick up the ATH M50X bt model, you gain Bluetooth 5.0 as a connectivity option. Even if you wouldn’t want to use it in the studio. (There is an option to plug in the Bluetooth model via eighth-inch cable, for what it’s worth.) You also gain some basic (though not great) touch controls, around 40 hours’ worth of battery, and an omnidirectional condenser mic for making calls.
The headphones also feature a maximum input power of 1.6 watts at 1 khz and have 99 dB of sensitivity.
Impedance is 38 ohm, meaning you can easily use a pair of ATH M50X headphones with typical consumer audio players and equipment, as well as your higher-end or prosumer studio gear.
Once again, sound quality is hard to articulate. Still, the ATH M50X headphones didn’t get a massive cult following for no reason. They sound good. Really, really good.
So good that CNET calls them, without reservation, “the best-sounding headphones under $200.”
Most reviewers agree that you’ll get an impressively even response from these headphones, which is exactly what you want from the headphones you use to mix audio. There are a few signs of a (very) mild bass boost, but it’s a little unfair to use that as a big criticism of these headphones. There’s just nothing else anywhere close in terms of studio quality at this price.
Can you get better, more luxurious sound in a higher-priced pair of studio headphones? Absolutely. If you have the cash, there are plenty of better options on the market (many of which I reviewed in a previous post).
But for somewhere around $149? You’ll have a hard time doing better than these.
Final Thoughts: Should You Buy a Pair of Audio Technica M50X Headphones?
So, are the Audio Technica ATH M50X headphones right for you?
If you’re a studio musician or producer looking for a deeply impressive entry-level pair of reference monitor headphones, then yes. The same goes if you’re a regular audio consumer who wants to prioritize audio quality over features and gimmicks.
There are a few downsides, though. These headphones are chunky, far from the most portable options out there. They also don’t have the most inspiring aesthetic. The first word that probably comes to mind as far as looks is “durable,” in fact. And while it’s great for headphones to be durable, it’s not exactly an aesthetic compliment.
If you’ve got more money to spend, something like the Sennheiser HD 820 or HD 800 S (closed-back and open-back models, respectively) will certainly outperform these Audio Technicas. But if you’re wanting to keep your spend down below $200 (maybe even $300), you likely won’t do better than these.
In summary, Audio Technica’s ATH M50X headphones are an incredibly solid choice for studio musicians, especially for indie artists setting up their own home studios. I’ve used them for three years now, and I’ve been thrilled with the entire experience.