REVIEW: AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-M50X LIMITED EDITION HEADPHONES
In September this year, Audio-Technica announced a new Limited Edition Red version of the ever-popular ATH-M50x. Reviewer, Matthew Jens, didn’t have to think twice and purchased a pair immediately.
ATH-M50X Limited Edition
I have a problem. I can’t stop collecting headphones. My Fiancé thinks it’s “hoarding,” but I still hold on to the idea that I am a merely a “collector.”
Admittedly, I’ve started to lose count of the number of headphones I own, but it’s somewhere north of twenty-five pairs.
This madness all began when I was starting out mixing bands in the live audio industry. I required a pair of headphones that I could trust, so I did what many would do in that situation: I did some research online.
This led me down a deep rabbit hole for many hours. After digging through reviews, opinions, and recommendations, I emerged from the hole with a victor: Audio-Technica’s ATH M50.
It is undeniable that the ATH-M50 has set the benchmark for value in the headphone domain. It is one of the most recommended headphones to newcomers in the audiophile world, and it’s also a staple in the diet of both recording and live audio engineers worldwide.
I eventually sold my ATH-M50 headphones a few years ago.
In September this year, however, Audio-Technica announced a new Limited Edition Red ATH-M50x. I didn’t even think twice and purchased a pair immediately.
The ATH-M50x is made almost entirely of solid plastic, with swivelling hinges and a completely collapsible folding design. It’s a simple, no-nonsense aesthetic, which is reliable and bombproof.
A good example of this reliability is that I keep a pair of these inside my tool bag (a Pelican case) that is constantly thrown in and out of trucks, tossed around backstage, and is often handled by many people with less careful hands than mine – yet, the ATH-M50x still looks brand new.
It’s a closed-back headphone, with isolating earcups that are almost entirely sealed. A solid metal ring flanks the Audio-Technica logo on the cup. This ring is a silver colour on the usual black or white models, but with the Limited Edition Red model, the ring is a bright gold.
This gold trim isn’t only localised to the earcups. However, you’ll also find it on the headphone jack section, the L/R indicators, the cable itself, and blazoned across the headband, boldly advertising the Audio-Technica brand.
The red, black and gold colour scheme gives a unique, fresh vibe – a nice differentiation from the usual professional, no-nonsense aesthetic of the M50x. I love it.
Inside the headphone
There are no sonic differences between the Limited Edition Red M50x and the usual M50x.
The ATH-M50x also shares the same 45mm large-aperture drivers as its predecessor (the ATH M50), with the same sized enclosure. As a result, these headphones all share the same sound signature.
These drivers contain copper-clad aluminium wire (CCAW) voice coils, a similar technology found in the ATH-DSR series. The drivers are 38 ohms, with a sensitivity of 99 dB giving them a nice compromise between being very easy to drive and being compatible with a wide range of professional audio consoles, which tend to have varying levels of output impedance.
The earcups are contoured, which Audio-Technica claim help with sound isolation, and minimising the amount of noise-bleed from the headphone. I can attest to this. When I’m out and about, I often see people wearing these headphones and almost never hear any annoying noise blaring from them.
Using the headphone
The ATH-M50x weighs only a mere 285 grams (without cable). For reference, the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro is 317 grams, and the Sennheiser HD600 is 260 grams.
When it comes to monitoring headphones, I love to take them out on gigs to put them through their paces. Using a pair of headphones on a gig is a great way to test out a good subset of features that may or may not get too much attention merely wearing them around the house.
When mixing bands, it’s commonplace to take headphones on and off repeatedly. The M50x is very easy to whip on at a moment’s notice. The large and clear L/R indicators are also easy to see, even in a dimly lit venue.
And even when wearing them for a few hours, comfort is reasonable for a release a headphone at this price point. More extended listening sessions may require a short break to let your ears breathe a little.
The clamp is very firm, and even radical head movement will keep these cans firmly hugged to your ears.
Being a soft ‘pleather’, the pads will last a decent amount of time. However, it’s worth noting that they are replaceable and Audio-Technica sells on their website for $20 (which is similar in price to the Sennheiser HD-25 pads, which are $21).
The combination of having a completely foldable design and a removable cable make this a very portable and bag-friendly pair of headphones. Despite being an over-ear headphone, they do leave only a very small footprint when being transported.
The M50 is a famous headphone for its (mostly) flat sound signature, with slightly elevated mid-bass.
Across studios and venues worldwide, the M50 sound signature is being trusted as a quick reference to compare against, and many audio engineers swear by its trusty signature.
This elevated mid-bass is apparent when listening to Tea Leaf Dancers by Flying Lotus. The second the track starts, the rhythmic kick starts thumping, and the pressure felt on the ears is satisfying. The bass indeed isn’t overpowering, despite the track heavily pushing everything from 100hz downwards. The bass is reflected accurately, with an exact precision that some may find a little “clinical” or “dry”, but I would personally call it “accurate.”
In my opinion, having slightly elevated bass levels is crucial in a mixing headphone – as headphone bass can be difficult to listen to when working in a loud environment (such as a noisy venue).
The mids are the real talking point of these cans though, especially in the vocal range. This is neatly demonstrated when listening to Girl from the North Country by Bob Dylan. The mastering choices in this track are apparent when using the ATH-M50x. The guitar is clearly panned aggressively to the right channel, and the vocals are dead centre. The graininess and detail of Bob Dylan’s voice shine straight through, and there is just the slightest hint of reverb being used across the vocal.
The ATH-M50x makes it easy to listen carefully to music, picking apart details and instruments throughout the mix. When doing so, it becomes a little clearer as to why this headphone is used so widely in recording studios.
A great way to test for sibilant or painful highs is with Everybody Knows by SBTRKT. The track contains plenty of energy and thump but is also peppered with short stabs and samples that ring between the 6-8 kHz mark, and plenty of detail above the 10 kHz point. When headphones are tuned towards acoustic/vocal tracks and aren’t too keen in the bass department, this song can be a little painful to listen to at volume.
However, with the full-range capability of the ATH-M50x, the details and samples are presented in a clean and clear manner, and aren’t stabbing mercilessly into my ears. The song can be listened to at reasonable volume, without any pain or sharpness.
Isolation on these headphones is above average for a closed-back headphone. The solid clamping force as well as the tight-hugging pads, and other features combine to ensure that sound is kept well within the headphone, without much leakage into the outside world.
In turn, this also means that many noises from the outside won’t leak back in. Be aware though, that these are not active noise-cancelling headphones.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50x is well known for having a relatively flat sound signature, but with an ever-so-slightly elevated low end.
For many years, these have been the budget king of entry-level headphones for audiophiles, and the obvious choice for audio engineers worldwide.
The changes that the ATH-M50x Limited Edition Red bring to the table may only be aesthetic, but these simple changes have changed a clinical-looking headphone into a trendy, street-smart portable fashion accessory.
It doesn’t cost any extra either, so really, the choice is yours.
For more information visit Audio-Technica.
Originally published as Review: Audio-technica ATH-M50X Limited Edition Headphones.
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