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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Solid sound quality
Nice accessories package
A little pricey
Somewhat right fit for some users
Missing a quarter-inch adapter
The ATH-M50x are industry-favorite studio headphones that work well for music producers, but also double as solid consumer, audiophile options.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are quite possibly the best all-around headphones you can buy for the greatest number of applications. That may seem like a bold statement, but when you break it down based on the end use, it becomes clear just how diverse these headphones are.
For starters, average listeners will like these headphones for their balanced, well-represented sound, comfortable fit and finish, and cool-looking design. However, AT has designed these headphones as DJ and studio monitor headphones first, which means that they also work great for mixing, mastering, and music creation. It’s the combination of these two things that makes these headphones an excellent all-around buy.
They might not be as great for consumers as the Sony WH line, nor are they quite as lauded as Sennheiser’s studio headphones. But if you’re an audiophile, a casual listener who wants to step up their setup, or if you’re a home studio musician who wants a good all-around set of cans, you’ll find tons of value in the ATH-M50x headphones.
The most common model of ATH-M50x that you’ll see out in the world is the black one. They are a favorite of DJs because of the no-nonsense black build, the bendable, modular construction, and the light touch of silver that the earcup ring provides. It shows that you mean business without being too flashy. However, you can pick up the M50xs in the classic black, an uber-bright all-white build, or a more unique gunmetal.
The all-white design is about as upscale as you can get, but with it will come an obvious tendency for dirt and grime buildup. I got my hands on a gunmetal unit, and I’m actually pleasantly surprised at just how good they look. I’m usually more partial to the all-black studio headphones, but the dark metallic gray on the gunmetal unit still looks professional but gives a bit of extra character for those who want more flair in their headphones.
There’s something about the way that AT builds the chassis on their headphones that make them look futuristic and almost robotic. The thin cylinder that acts as the hinge sitting right under the headband makes them look almost like something out of Star Wars. The classic straight oval earcups feature the rune-like Audio-Technica symbol that, to my eye, looks a lot better than trying to cram the whole brand name on the side of the headphones.
Even the hardshell black case that comes with the headphones only shows the brand name on a small tag on the back. In fact, the only thing truly bold about these headphones is the bright font showing Audio-Technica across the top of the headphones, which is hard for people to see when you’re wearing them anyway. These design choices make sense when you consider that these headphones are designed as professional tools first, but there are enough design touches to make them consumer-friendly as well.
As far as earcups go, the ones that come on the ATH-M50x headphones are a bit small. The drivers within them measure 45mm (5mm larger than the cheaper options the ATH-M line), which are actually pretty sizable. But the chassis of the earcups themselves are actually a little shallow. These headphones are closed-back, which means that they do their best to suction to your ear and isolate sound completely (unlike the vented, open-back construction often preferred in mixing headphones).
This all contributes to a pretty claustrophobic feel—especially for me because I have bigger earlobes than average. Oddly, the size of the ring that goes around your ears is actually reasonably roomy. Instead, it’s the depth of the earcups —less than an inch between the outside of the foam pads to the driver enclosure on the inside—that makes them feel like they’re pressing in on your ears. If you have small ears, those won’t be an issue at all, but larger ears might feel a little stuffy in these headphones.
The rest of the story here is actually positive. The quality of foam used in the ATH-M50xs is really great, sitting somewhere between the springy foam and memory foam. I find that headphones that put too soft of foam in the cups tend not to provide enough resistance to sit comfortably against your head, and of course, if the foam is too coarse and springy it won’t mold very well either. This foam is a nice middle ground.
The quality of foam used in the ATH-M50xs is really great, sitting somewhere between the springy foam and memory foam.
Compare that with the smooth, almost buttery faux-leather used on the outer shell, and you have a really nice-feeling pair of headphones. The foam that sits in the headband is actually a little denser—something that’s rare in headphones—providing more support for my head. I used these headphones for average listening as well as long studio recording sessions, and in both cases, they were perfectly comfortable, once I got used to the size.
One big aspect of these headphones that contributes to their moderately high price tag is just how high-quality they feel. As closed-back headphones, it’s important that everything from the earcups to the plush foam parts, all the way to the wires and connectors feel solid. That’s because, as studio-centric headphones, they’ll be taken on and off frequently, and perhaps subjected to some light sweat during long mixing sessions.
Comparing these to other headphones in the space, they’re on-par with the sturdiness of the Sennheiser HD closed-back equivalents and are leaps and bounds sturdier than the comparable Sony MDR pro headphones. There are two main things that contribute to this feeling of quality—the headphones’ hinges and the plush foam sections. The hinges are big, with wide smooth ranges of movement that means that even when you fold them or adjust them to your head shape, you never feel like you’re fighting the mechanism.
The foam attachments—the parts that will spend the most time touching directly against your skin—have a soft, plush feel, but because the faux leather material is very thick, I’m confident it won’t break down and flake as easily as lower-cost models.
One other nice feature here is that AT has chosen to use disconnectable wires, rather than hard soldered attachments. This means that if the 3.5mm cable or jack fails over time, you can simply replace that piece rather than the whole pair of headphones. Additionally, because of the clever twist-lock mechanism connecting the wire to the left earcup, I’m not concerned that I’ll break away that wire very easily.
One other nice feature here is that AT has chosen to use disconnectable wires, rather than hard soldered attachments. This means that if the 3.5mm cable or jack fails over time, you can simply replace that piece rather than the whole pair of headphones.
As studio headphones first, Audio-Technica has taken care to put in professional-grade specs. Numbers like 15–28000Hz and 38 ohms won’t mean a lot to the average listener, but they’re important when using these headphones as reference monitors for audio production. That frequency range means that these headphones can adequately produce all sound within the full human hearing spectrum (20–20,000Hz) without being pushed to their limits, and with 38 ohms of resistance, they can be used with a simple headphone jack, but also will come alive with a proper headphone amp or DAC.
The slightly higher ohm rating than consumer headphones means these are a bit quieter when plugged right into a phone or laptop, but that’s a small price to pay for higher headroom and accurate sound. That’s because, like most other studio monitors, these headphones aim to give you a “flat response”. In other words, the headphones don’t offer any EQ molding (no bass boosting, for example) on their end. They want to accurately represent the sound you’re listening to.
That frequency range means that these headphones can adequately produce all sound within the full human hearing spectrum (20–20,000Hz) without being pushed to their limits, and with 38 ohms of resistance, they can be used with a simple headphone jack, but also will come alive with a proper headphone amp or DAC.
If you aren’t using these headphones for audio production, you’re still actually getting a decent experience. The sound stage on these headphones is surprisingly open and rich for studio headphones. It’s for this reason that I think they’re the best for most users—they’ll do the job for casual listening much better than even more expensive studio headphones, but they can serve as accurate monitor headphones, too.
One minor gripe is that these headphones aren’t particularly good at producing a crisp speaking voice. There was plenty of detail for podcast listening, but if you’re someone who wants to do a lot of production of speaking voices, you might be better off elsewhere.
One strange factor when it comes to high-end studio headphones is that many models, even those at the top of the price range, don’t come with a full set of accessories. The Sennheiser HD600 line, for instance, features a nice box, but no carrying case and certainly no additional cables.
That’s why the ATH-M50x offering is so impressive. There are two separate headphone cables included—one four-foot straight cable for average use, and one coiled cable that’s effectively the same length, but can be pulled to a longer length. You also get a really sturdy, hardshell case with cable pouch and a felt lining.
One notable omission is a 3.5mm-to-¼-inch adapter. I personally have so many of those laying around my home studio that I’m never at a loss for an adapter to connect to a DAC or audio interface, but it would have been nice to see one included. Overall, it’s a nice package from Audio-Technica.
For my money, the ATH-M50x headphones are just a little too expensive. The equivalent models from Sennheiser and Sony hover closer to $99 retail, while the ATH-M50x—probably owed to their market popularity—are most often $150 on Amazon. That’s not to say you’ll be dissatisfied with what you get; from a feature standpoint, a sound quality standpoint, and even a build quality standpoint, these are top-notch. They just would have been an absolute home run if AT had gotten the price down below $100.
Most audiophiles turn to Sennheiser for the HD600 line, but for closed-back, multi-use studio headphones, the HD280 (see on Amazon) are most comparable in this conversation. On sound quality alone, the M50xs beat out the HD280s with better response across the middle of the spectrum, but the HD280s have a marginally better build quality. I prefer the look and feel of the M50x, but the HD280s aren’t far behind. The Sennheisers come with a much smaller price tag at around $89 most days of the week, though.
A great option for studio headphones if money is no object.
Everything about the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones will satisfy most listeners. They are very versatile, they feel premium, and even though the fit can be tight for some, the plush foam and attention to detail make the headphones feel amazing. The only true downside is how pricey they are, and even then, we’re only talking about around $40 more than the next most expensive competitor. If these headphones aren’t too pricey for your budget, they’re definitely worth a look.