Audio Technica ATH-M50 Review
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First, let’s get this out of the way: the ATH-M50’s are the best headphones you can buy for under $200. In fact, if you’re budget is $300, I would still recommend the M50’s, along with the classical music oriented Sennheiser HD598’s. This review will explore the sound and build quality, as well as situations where the M50’s excel, and situations where they do not.
Sturdy and Flexible
When holding the M50’s for the first time you get a sense that they will be able to take a beating. The earcups are flexible, moving in all directions. The earcups also fold inwards to fit inside the included soft case (if you’re especially rough with your headphones then getting a hard case may be a safe option). The cord comes in two styles: a coiled cord version (M50) or a straight-cord version (M50S). I went for the straight cord version, which stretches out a full 3.5 meters. The cord length is great for using on your computer or home audio system, but I found it to be too long when using the M50’s with my iPhone or iPad.
As for comfort factor, the thick and padded earcups are my favorite feature of the M50’s. They form a soft, comfortable seal that blocks out almost all external noise. The padded headband is also very comfy.
The 3.5mm cord is also thick and reinforced. It also comes with a screw-on 1/4″ adapter for using with your home audio system.
ATH-M50 Sound Quality:
Here’s where these headphones shine
There isn’t one particular quality which sets the M50’s apart from every other set of headphones. It’s that they do everything well: they pack a bassy punch, they’re incredibly detailed in the mid range, and can handle the high end without fatiguing the ears. If anything, they reveal the shortcomings of other headphones in this price range.
The M50’s are quite popular in audiophile circles and, as a result, are frequently used to demonstrate the weaknesses of Beats Headphones. The problem is that Beats mainly focus on bass, and as a result the mid-range is frequently muddied. This means that vocals and other details of the song are muted and difficult to pick up on.
Now, the M50’s are no slouch when it comes to bass: they pack a punch. Yet they manage to do so without drowning out the other elements of music. This means that you can listen to all ranges of music on your headphones. I found that the M50’s did particularly well with movies. The crystal clarity brought out lots of background details that I normally wouldn’t notice.
The headphones are closed, which means that live recordings and classical music tends to suffer. Open backed headphones have a more natural sound to them, but the tradeoff is that everyone around you can hear what you’re listening to. The M50s, on the other hand, are much more commuter friendly in that way.
M50 as iPhone Headphones?
I tried out the M50’s with my iPhone and iPad. Now, audiophile headphones don’t tend to sound great on portable devices (for reasons we won’t get into here), but not all headphones sound terrible. It’s more of a case by case basis. The headphones are light enough on the head that you can easily forget that you’re wearing them. The headphones look fashionable enough to rouse people’s curiosity, but the Audio Technica logo on the earcups isn’t well known enough for people to recognize it.
How did they sound? I thought they sounded pretty good. On the busy city streets you’ll need to turn up the volume to around 60-75% to get a good volume, but overall it didn’t sound muted.
I paired the M50’s with the Fiio E6 amp, and while it gave a bit of a volume boost, I didn’t find it was necessary.
The cord was definitely too long. If you’re just going out with your headphones and phone, you’ll need to wrap the cord up and pop it in your pocket. If you’re the type that carries your music player in your backpack, then you can put the extra cord length in there.
There’s also no mic for talkthrough functions.
Ultimately, if you don’t mind not having a mic, the M50’s souded great when paired with an iPhone. If sound quality is your paramount concern when it comes to headphones, the M50’s are a great bet.
M50’s on your Computer: Amp or no Amp?
Whether you need an amp to help drive your headphones depends on your music source. If you have a powerful sound card in your computer, then you can get away without an amp. If you don’t, or use a laptop for music listening, then an amp will help you bring out the M50’s true potential. DAC’s can be pricey. I would recommend the Audioengine D1 ($169) for home use, or the Fiio E11 ($53) for laptop use. These are both budget friendly amps that will give you amazing sounding headphones.
M50s as Mixing Headphones?
The M50’s are frequently touted as professional studio headphones and mixing headphones. I actually disagree with this for one main reason. The M50’s are ‘warm’ sounding headphones, which means that they make things sound better than they are. If you’re a music listener, this is a great feature. But if you’re a professional mixer, you want to hear the sound ‘as it is’. For that reason, I would recommend the ATH-M40FS headphones, which are similar to the M50’s but reproduce the music in a more neutral way.
Conclusion: Astounding Headphones
There’s a reason that audiophiles love the M50’s. In a world where headphones are becoming fashion accessories more than sound equipment, the M50’s show the world what headphones are capable of being.
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This is a great video review of the M50’s that demonstrates very clearly why they are superior to the $300 Beats Headphones. It’s definitely worth a watch.