Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT Review: Wires for the Studio, Wireless for the Streets

Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT Review: Wires for the Studio, Wireless for the Streets
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By Lachlan T
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Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT Review: Wires for the Studio, Wireless for the Streets

Introduction

Behold! The Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT! A wireless version of the ever-popular ATH-M50x! Here at the store, we sell the ATH-M50x to all kinds of customers, from aspiring music producers to people who just want a durable street headphone that folds up, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The M50xBT isn’t the perfect headphone for everyone, but for a lot of people it’s their first headphone. So naturally we are excited about a wireless version of these classics.

Right off the bat, we can say this: the Audio Technica could have taken the stock M50x, added some half baked wireless implementation and called it a day. And that’s NOT what the M50xBT is. The M50xBT features a slightly tweaked sound, and it’s versatile enough to be used as a portable wireless headphone while still serving as a perfectly good wired studio monitor.

Design & Features

But these differences are more than skin deep. Let’s start with the obvious: the M50xBT is almost physically the same as the M50x. You would be forgiven for mistaking one of these for the original. The M50xBT appears to use a slightly more matte black plastic that is lighter in colour, it has some more buttons, it has a different cable connector - but it’s all very subtle changes visually.

The new buttons are for power, volume and music controls, along with a Micro-USB port for charging. We would have liked to see a USB-C port in keeping with the general modernisation of this headphone - the microUSB port sticks out like a sore thumb on the spec sheet alongside the shiny new Bluetooth 5.0 AptX / AAC bluetooth stack. The optional wired connection has been simplified from the 2.5mm locking connecter on the original M50x to a standard 3.5mm connector. Out of the box you now only get one 1.2m cable instead of the three professional cable choices with the M50x, but nicely enough this cable also comes with a microphone and 1 button smartphone controls, which means that you can still continue to take calls and control playback even when the unit is turned off and in wired passive mode.

Here’s something you can’t see: the Audio Technica logo on the left earcup is now touch sensitive, and brings up Siri or Google Assistant on the phone. Now, in our testing we found that this touch control requires you to touch and hold right in the middle of the logo for several seconds to bring up Siri. It’s somewhat limited in functionality, but honestly I much prefer this limited functionality to other touch implementations on headphones where you can accidentally increase volume or skip tracks with a stray gesture. If you want to change volume or control playback, you can do that with the physical, buttons, and I am all for physical buttons for basic actions.

Apart from those physical changes, the M50xBT for better or worse is physically the same as the M50x. This does mean you get the same rugged construction and very strong passive noise isolation. You get the same compact folding design. But it also means that you get the same hard clamping force and shallow earpads that the M50x has. My ears touch the inside of the M50x and get sore after a couple of hours, and they STILL do that on the M50xBT. The M50x is not the most comfortable headphone on the market, and besides removing the weight of the cable, the M50xBT really does nothing to improve on this aspect.

So let’s talk about removing that cable. It’s nice to see that the wireless on the M50xBT is a stable, modern implementation with a Bluetooth 5.0 receiver that supports AptX and AAC, which means high quality for Android and iOS devices. Wireless playback time is rated for 35-40 hours, with a 7 hour charging time. Quick charging is sadly not a feature of this headphone.

Of course, when the battery runs out, you can of course use the wired connection.

Sound

And here we get to what I think is the most interesting thing about the M50x: the M50x does not sound different, regardless of whether you use the wired or wireless connection. All the wireless connection does is introduce a small amount of background hiss, but you could use this headphone in passive mode with the cable for music playback or studio monitoring, and you would get the same sound.

And maybe this is just because I am a headphone geek, but this makes me all excited. Because it means that the M50xBT does not use any DSP or electronic equalisation. And that blows my mind, because, here’s the thing: the M50xBT actually sounds better to me than the M50x.

When I first listened to the M50xBT, the first thing I was listening for was changes in the treble. The M50x is a popular headphone, but my biggest complaint about the sound is that the treble on the M50x is very brittle and metallic - it tends to pick up hisses and sibilant S sounds. One of the reasons I love the new Audio Technica ATH-M60x is that it pulls that back, so that high frequencies sound more natural. The M50xBT actually sits between these two in that regard - it still has a kind of sharp note to the high frequencies like the M50x, but it’s a little more subdued so it now sounds more shimmery than splashy. The M50xBT is still going to pick up sibilance in an aggressive recording, which is good if you want to use the M50xBT for picking out problems in your studio mix, but it’s not always going to be forgiving to your ears. It’s still a very welcome change to the M50x’s original signature.

Apart from the treble, the bass is also different. Whereas the M50x has very strong, deep, in your face bass, the M50xBT pulls it back a bit so that stays impactful without being overbearing. To me, the M50xBT sounds cleaner and less muddy, particularly in busy songs where the M50x and M60x starts to sound congested. This is the right amount of bass for me - still elevated enough to be exciting, while remaining punchy and clean.

The M50xBT is still V-shaped, meaning that it overall emphasises bass and treble. But it’s more subtle now, and there’s now more room for mids and vocals to shine.

Now, just as the M50xBT inherits some of the M50x’s drawbacks in physical construction, it also inherits some of the other flaws in the sound. The M50x still has a very compressed, in your face soundstage - there isn’t very much of a sense of space in this headphone, and you really feel like the music is being squeezed up against your ears compared to other more expensive headphones.

But the M50xBT now presents a vivid, punchy sound that compares quite favourably with other wireless headphones. I think that with the changes in sound, the M50x now actually sounds more like a slightly V-shaped version of the very pleasant sounding ATH-DSR7, or even a bit like a bassier ATH-MSR7 without as much vocal honk.

Conclusion

I think the M50xBT sounds just as good, if not better, than other wireless headphones around the $379 AUD price point. The one major thing that the M50xBT does NOT have compared to most other wireless headphones at this price point is active noise cancellation. While the passive noise isolation on the M50x is very good, I think a lot of people will expect ANC at this price. This is likely going to be the biggest sticking point alongside the M50xBT’s somewhat uncomfortable design. For a fun sounding wireless headphone at a similar price point that DOES feature ANC, have a look at the Sony WH-H900N.

We are really interested to see how the ATH-M50xBT performs in-store. We think Audio Technica has made the right moves with the sound and the wireless implementation, but the competition in this segment is really, really stiff. We’d love to know what you think, so hop into the store for a demo and let us know, or order online.

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