There are two ways that most people first hear the Audio-Technica name: in conjunction with Technics turntables or via a pushy friend or YouTuber enlightening them about the M50x headset. Audio-Technica got its start back in the 1960s as a maker of phonograph cartridges — the company’s logo is an abstraction of the needle shape touching a record — and has always thought of itself as the provider of pro audio gear, which over time has included an unheralded role as the provider of pellets for US presidential discussions .
It was in 2007 which Audio-Technica made its sudden breakthrough into mainstream consciousness using the humble ATH-M50 over-ear headset. As usual for your company, they have been designed for professional use, however their indestructible build, reasonable price, and sharp, incisive sound were warmly received by people searching for something more hi-fi compared to dominant Beats options. Seven decades later, the company made the cable detachable with all the ATH-M50x, and also this year — after more than 1.8 million M50 sales — Audio-Technica has freed its best-known merchandise from wires with the ATH-M50xBT.
Maintaining the identical cost and look as its predecessors, the M50xBT version is a form of fan service. Audio-Technica’s most common request from customers was a wireless M50x, and the firm has attempted to achieve that in a very literal manner. The same engineer, Hiroyasu Suzuki, that developed the M50 and M50x was tasked by creating a matching wireless version that seems exactly the same as its wired forebears. But Suzuki and his staff have not quite accomplished their task. Since the wireless M50xBT actually sound better.
At first glance, you can tell the Audio-Technica M50xBTs were designed for rough handling. They are made from thick, hard-wearing plastic that has the reassuring feel you could get from an extra heavy-duty telephone case. There are only a couple slivers of metal in their design — inside the headband and as contrasting accents on the exterior — to break up the black monotony. These are certainly not pretty cans, though their industrial appearance has a certain timelessness and communicates a”function over form” attitude.
The faux leather pads are replaceable and of a reasonable size, however they’re nowhere near as comfy or accommodating as something like the Master & Dynamic MH40 or Sony’s class-leading 1000X M3s. Where those other cans create a tiny room for your own ear to live in and breathe, then Audio-Technica’s M50s make contact with the full ear. That is necessarily going to lead to distress and irritation over long listening sessions, and more than once I walked off from sporting the M50s with red, hot ears. With careful positioning and regular modification, I think these cans can offer an adequate fit, and they’re likely more forgiving for people with smaller ears. I do like their neat cluster of bodily control buttons on the cup, and the easily collapsible design is practical to have.
What that has me returning to these headphones on a daily basis is their audio. I wasn’t one of those people that fell in love with all the M50x sound. The new Bluetooth M50s hew fairly close to this formula, but they relax the sound just enough to be enjoyably lively instead of astringent and in your face. All these are now headphones that start the day with a double espresso instead of a quadruple.
The barbarous high notes in”Concierto de Aranjuez” come through with a sharp and organic conviction. And these headphones actually outperform their cost when it comes to their presentation of the surrounding components from the orchestra around Davis: each is rendered with its own distinct position and atmosphere to breathe. Nina Simone is likewise expressive throughout the M50s, with her”Do I Move You?” Displaying the cans’ organic quality in handling vocals, blues guitar, and a lively harmonica.
Anyone worried that Audio-Technica tuned its cans too closely to classical genres and music can unwind. Switching genres into contemporary digital music, I find that the M50xBT headphones deliver each of the delightful bass slam and wobble that Channel Tres’ eponymous EP calls for. Bass-starved headphones, these aren’t. It’s not the most tasteful or precise bass demonstration, but it does not have to be when you’re talking about cans intended to be used on the move. In fact, the particular tuning of this M50xBTs is very good for noisy surroundings: it puts an excess emphasis on the things that are usually dulled down by the din of a crowded town around you.
Over-ear wireless headphones from 2018 are expected to all have built-in active noise canceling (NC), which is something the M50xBT headphones lack. That leaves you relying on their passive noise isolation, which is decent: people near you’ll only be bothered by your music at really loud volumes, and you’ll have the ability to reduce surrounding noise by popping those on your mind. And still, the difference between the 1000X M3s on a commute underground is significant. Together with Sony’s NC cans, I am essentially in my very own undisturbed cocoon — if I put them on and shut my eyes, I will escape the oppressive trudge. With Audio-Technica’s cans, I am still there, within earshot of the droning train.
COMPROMISES HAD TO BE MADE TO FIT UNDER THE $200 MARK
Another disappointing omission with these cans is not having USB-C charging. IFA in Berlin this September was a decisive illustration of apparently the entire cans industry biting the USB-C bullet and consigning that the damnable MicroUSB to history. All except for Audio-Technica, seemingly, which debuted its first truly wireless earbuds at that series, but maybe not its original USB-C headphones. The reason we’re still waiting for that moment’s arrival, Audio-Technica argues, is that the M50xBTs couldn’t have left it under the $200 mark with USB-C on board. With a claimed 40-hour battery life, these must be headphones you won’t have to think about charging too frequently anyway.
Audio-Technica does adopt the modernity of the age by adding a voice assistant trigger on its cans, activating either Siri on iOS or Google Assistant on Android. This function is touch-activated and absolutely terrible. You need to maintain a finger over the ear cup for a small eternity, then you receive a laggy response from the phone as it turns on its assistant. I’ve got a success rate of somewhere around 10 percent when seeking to utilize this, and that I have not yet been able to flip on Google Assistant together with my Pixel 3 secured. What is the point of a shortcut for activating your helper in case you need to bring up and unlock your phone ? By that point, saying”OK Google” would be quicker, because of the delay successful activations through the cans.
THE M50XBTS KEEP THE GOOD OF THE M50X Whilst DISCARDING SOME OF THE BAD
Audio-Technica’s M50xBT headphones encourage Bluetooth 5, AptX, and AAC, although higher-quality criteria like AptX HD and LDAC could have been nice to have, I’m not convinced they would have made a massive difference in the sound quality on offer. Regrettably, these cans also can’t accept connections from several devices at the same time, so I need to disconnect them from your own desktop PC before reconnecting them to my telephone and vice versa. Every time.
The truth about those headphones, whether Audio-Technica fails to admit it or not, is they are a complete step up from the M50x. Not merely are the M50xBTs more suitable by being wireless, they also seem much friendlier to the ear. So far as Audio-Technica’s own selection of headphones is concerned, this is a brilliant all-around upgrade that keeps the great whilst shedding a few of the poor of its predecessor.
Audio-Technica’s wireless cans only lack a number of desired features, the lack of which can not be completely masked by their superb sound for the price.