The Audio Technica ATH M50X is arguably the most popular studio monitoring headphone in the market. It has been used in countless professional recording studios and has been the go-to pair for creative professionals and personalities such as Marques Brownlee (MKBHD). However, the M50X design is now getting a bit old.
Sure, Audio Technica has refreshed this headphone in the past and has even made a wireless version (M50X BT).
But at its core, it is still the same pair of headphones. And with how rapid the industry has been changing, audiophiles are starting to move past the M50X.
This begs the question. Is the Audio Technica M50X still worth it in 2021? We’ll be answering that question in today’s review.
We will be taking a look at the M50X in full detail and we will also be sharing our experience with this model for the past seven years. We have used this unit extensively for video production, recording, live productions, and many other types of work so we are very familiar with this pair. We have also tried out high-end headphones such as the Sennheiser HD660S and Sennheiser HD800 so we have a good idea of how the M50 stacks up.
The unit featured in this review is the original M50 and not the revised M50X. However, we have personally confirmed that all thoughts we have with the original model still apply here. The only difference is the removable cable, which we will be discussing later in the review.
Keep on reading to find out our full thoughts on the Audio Technica ATH M50X.
The Audio Technica M50 featured in this review was purchased at its full retail price. We are not affiliated with the company. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Audio Technica M50X Review
Design and Build Quality
The Audio Technica M50X’s design is pretty basic, which is quite typical with most studio monitoring headphones. It has that professional vibe where nothing feels excessive or overdone.
There are a few nice-looking design elements here and there such as the metal ring on the earcups. But overall, these won’t try to steal anyone’s attention. These headphones will blend nicely with other pro equipment such as microphones and digital/analog mixers.
Also, with how minimalistic the design is, you can use these for casual music listening. These aren’t very large so these headphones can easily pass as a portable pair. They won’t be stealing anyone’s attention as long as you stick with the black or white color scheme.
But if you prefer other colors and more creative designs, then the M50X has a plethora of options for you to choose from. Some of the more interesting ones include limited edition runs such as the red or the purple color scheme. The pair that is featured in this review is the 50th-anniversary silver limited edition of the original M50.
In terms of its build quality, the M50X is pretty decent but certainly not the best in its class. It has an all-plastic build that has metal parts on crucial areas such as the headband and the side adjusters.
It isn’t quite on par with the sturdy feel of headphones made of metal. But with our real world experience, we found the build to hold up very well.
We weren’t very careful with these headphones and it has seen its fair share of accidents. Most of the time, we did not use a hard case and we simply shoved it in our backpack if we were in a hurry. But despite all that, it still looks flawless and has not shown any signs of deterioration.
Also, unlike other studio monitoring headphones such as the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro and Sony CD900ST, the M50X is a lot more flexible. It features rotating ear cups which allows you to quickly use one side of the headphones. This is quite handy in various tasks such as quickly checking if anything is wrong with your mix or source audio.
Additionally, the M50X can fold down and become more compact for transportation. I used to take this feature for granted, but I realized how crucial this is after using larger headphones such as the Sennheiser HD660S and the Harmonicdyne Zeus.
The only complaint that we have with the build quality is the swiveling parts. They present a point of failure and we have seen actual users that broke the hinges. Our unit is still fine but it is certainly something that you should take note of.
Overall, these headphones have held up very well in our demanding use case. If these were to stay inside a studio or any indoor environment, then these should be fine.
The original M50 features a nondetachable cable that is pretty long. Our unit features a non-braided straight cable that looks very basic. We have been wanting to upgrade the cable to a removable cable similar to the newer M50X.
However, the cable survived every form of punishment and never encountered issues. We have asked other users and pretty much all of them have told us the same thing. This should give you confidence in the quality of the M50’s stock cable.
If you purchase the newer version, then you are getting a detachable cable. You get even more choices in terms of the material and length of your cable, And if anything goes wrong, you can easily swap the cable for a new one.
Overall, we have no complaints with the cable since it has proven itself to be worthy of its professional moniker.
The biggest weakness of Audio Technica’s headphones is the material used for the headband and the earpads. After a few years of use, the pleather material starts to show cracks which affect the aesthetics and the comfort of the headphones.
We have experienced this in our unit after about two years of use. This is not a big deal with the earpads since they are easily replaceable. However, the headband is not.
Of course, this isn’t an issue that is specific to Audio Technica since pretty much any headphone that uses this material is bound to have the same fate.
Audio Technica has tried to address this with the M50X. But sadly, the issue still persists.
We highly recommend putting on a headband protector to prevent these kinds of issues. And even if you already have the pleather cracking issue, the protector will make the look more presentable.
The Audio Technica M50X is a fairly comfortable headphone. I can easily use this pair for a long period of time, even after the headband was fully worn out. Additionally, the use of plastic allows these headphones to be fairly lightweight and comfortable.
But with that said, these are certainly not the most comfortable closed-back headphones that I have tried. And if you just start using these out of the box, the clamping force may be a bit higher than usual. But just like any other pair, a few days of use will make them feel less tight.
The isolation on these headphones is quite decent. We have tried these in live venues and they keep most of the noise out. This is very important since we need to be able to hear our headphone mix without any influence on the ambient sound.
However, we have encountered some instances where the isolation wasn’t enough. If you are in a tight room with a very loud instrument such as an acoustic drum set, then the isolation will surely not be enough.
The Audio Technica M50X is very easy to drive and is designed to work with any source. Audio Technica knows that not all studio gear will have ample power to drive headphones. This is why they made the M50X to be as efficient as possible.
The low impedance also makes the M50X a great pickup for anyone newer audiophiles who do not own a headphone amplifier or DAC/Amp. The only downside to this is that pairing the M50X with a higher quality source, such as a DAC/Amp, will not significantly improve the quality.
This means that you cannot further expand and improve the experience that you get with the M50X. What you get right out of the box is how it is meant to sound.
Tested with: Fiio M11, iFi Nano iDSD Black Label, Audirect Beam 2SE
The one area where the Audio Technica M50X is criticized is the sound quality. This may seem odd given the countless recommendations of various trusted personalities. However, for audiophiles, the M50X isn’t the best pair.
Despite being primarily made for studio monitoring, the M50X is not entirely flat sounding. What this means is that the sound that you get out of these headphones is not entirely accurate.
The bass on these headphones is boosted. Not to the point that they overpower the other frequencies, but enough to make bass notes a bit exaggerated. Mids are also slightly recessed and the highs are a bit more forward.
The overall sound of the M50X is leaning towards a V-Shaped sound signature. This alone isn’t enough to cause a big issue for these headphones. The real issue lies with its technicalities and soundstage.
The M50X isn’t the most resolving headphones. Detail retrieval is alright but is noticeably not as good as newer models in this price range. These won’t make you hear elements that were previously hidden in your favorite tracks.
But the worst part about the M50X is its soundstage. These headphones practically have zero soundstage. Everything sounds as if they are located inside the earcups.
These are incapable of giving an immersive or realistic experience. Don’t get me wrong. The various elements in the mix do not sound cramped. However, even Audio Technica’s other headphones are capable of delivering a wide sound for the same price as the M50X.
My thoughts so far seem to be pointing out that the M50X is a bad headphone. However, this is not the case. If we were to evaluate the M50X for their intended purpose, these headphones are still great options.
For pinpointing any issues in your mix and for monitoring, these work great. We have used the M50X for countless productions and in all of those instances, it always gave us results that were very close to what we were actually hearing.
Additionally, the M50X’s inaccurate sound does have its merits. Given the more accentuated bass, you can use these headphones for DJ Monitoring. And if you wish to use these for casual music listening, then these are passable.
The Audio Technica M50X is not the best-sounding headphones. However, it is a pair that simply works in most scenarios. And if used in applications where it was originally designed to be used, these still work great.
Audio Technica A500X
As we have mentioned earlier, we have listened to other Audio Technica headphones that can outclass the M50X for almost the same price or even cheaper. One of those headphones is the Audio Technica A500 (now known as the A500Z).
These headphones are not very popular in the audiophile scene. This is likely due to the fact that it is marketed in Japan and the fact that Audio Technica has a very large catalog that is updated annually.
These headphones are very similar to the AD500X and AD700X. The aesthetics are almost the same and all three models feature Audio Technica’s signature “Wings” self-adjusting headband system.
The only difference is that the A500X is a closed-back pair. However, its sound signature is meant to replicate that of an open-back pair.
The A500X does everything the M50X can do but executes it better. Bass hits just as hard but is way more controlled than the M50X. The mids are also more detailed and the highs aren’t quite as sharp.
But the biggest improvement here is the soundstage. The difference in the soundstage of these two headphones is simply night and day.
The A500X delivers a more open and natural sound that makes tracks sound realistic and immersive. The M50X simply cannot do this and sounds more cramped in comparison.
If we’re talking about sound quality alone, the A500X easily takes the cake. But if we are talking about other factors such as the build and usability, the M50X is better.
These headphones are bulky, they cannot be folded, and the earcups do not rotate. Additionally, the cable is non-removable. These can still be used for professional applications but they won’t be as convenient to use as the M50X.
The Audio Technica M50X is not the best at everything. It doesn’t have the best sound quality nor does it have the best build quality. However, it is one of the few headphones that manages to merge all the essential qualities of a good professional pair into one cohesive product.
Of course, like any other headphones, the M50X has clear weaknesses and is certainly not for everyone. If you are a casual listener, a gamer, or simply someone looking for the best sounding option in this price range, then there are many better options. But if you are a creative professional who is looking for versatility and reliability, then the Audio Technica M50X is an instant recommendation.
- Type: Closed-back dynamic
- Driver Diameter: 45 mm
- Frequency Response: 15 – 28,000 Hz
- Maximum Input Power : 1,600 mW at 1 kHz
- Sensitivity: 99 dB
Albums Used For Testing
- Milet – Who I am
- Babymetal – Legend Metal Galaxy
- Mamamoo – Travel
- Periphery- Periphery 3 and 4
- Blackpink – The Album
- Final Fantasy VII Acoustic Arrangements
- Square Enix Jazz- Final Fantasy VII At Billboard Live Tokyo
- Sawano Hiroyuki – Best of Vocal Works
- Yorushika – Plagiarism
- Intervals – Circadian
Aubrey has been a longtime fan of music. She plays arcade music games such as Pump It Up and Dance Dance Revolution. She also loves different genres such as KPOP. Ever since she discovered IEMs and Headphones, her love and appreciation for music have been taken to the next level. And as a writer, she wishes to share her audiophile journey with you.
Favorite IEM: Moondrop SSP, KBear Believe, Noble Katana