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Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT review
Audio-Technica Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT
What we like
What we don't like
The Audio-Technica AHT-M50x headphones have been one of the most popular pair of headphones for years, finding its way into forums and YouTube videos alike. While there are many factors that contributed to its rise in the headphone community, the most likely reason for the success is that they offer a lot of bang for your buck. Now that Bluetooth headphones are more popular, the company has decided to go wireless with the ATH-M50xBT, but was ditching the wires a good move in this case?
Read the full review at SoundGuys.
Who are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT for?
- ATH-M50x fans. If you were a fan of the original wired version, you’ll like these since it’s basically the same set of cans but wireless. Duh.
- Bass lovers. While the ATH-M50x doesn’t quite push the low-end to the extraordinary lengths that a company like Beats will, these do lean towards emphasizing the lows. This means that you’ll still get a fairly strong bass response here, but everything else will sound good as well.
- Musicians. The ATH-M50x made a good pair of all-around headphones. So whether you’re listening to music or creating it, the ATH-M50xBT is just as good.
What is it like to use the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT?
Like the ATH-M50x before them, these come with a few useful accessories in a simple box. Inside you’ll get the headphones, a microUSB charging cable, detachable 3.5mm cable, and a leather carrying pouch. The headphones also have a familiar minimal aesthetic. It’s made of a tough yet lightweight all-black plastic with silver accents throughout and the playback buttons are conveniently located around the outside of the earcup. These also have a 3.5mm input and charging input of course, but one important thing that isn’t visible from the outside is the new Bluetooth chip inside. These are rocking Bluetooth 5 which puts it in the same league as some of the more premium-priced headphones on the market like the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
As far as comfort goes, these aren’t bad but they’re also not great. The padding is just as thin as it was on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and if you happen to have larger than average ears (like I do) then you might be in for a tight squeeze due to the size of the earcups. The padding is plush, but easily moldable so while it will shape nicely to your head, you might want to look to replace them with something else if you’re going to be listening for more than a few hours. Looking towards the headband, however, you’ll find plenty of padding which helps to ease the pressure on your head. While your ears might need a little break after long listening sessions, the crown of your head won’t experience any discomfort. It also helps make the headband more durable, so you can fold them up at the hinges and toss them in your bag for a smaller profile without worrying about snapping them.
The playback controls are located on the back of the left earcup, and while they’re made of the same plastic as the rest of the headphones they still have a good click to them so you won’t be confused as to whether or not you pressed the button when using them. You’ll get a pause/play button, volume up and down, and touch controls to toggle the voice assistant from your phone. You’ll have to download the CONNECT app from the App Store or Play Store in order to get the most out of them, but thankfully it is free. The problem is that it forces location sharing, but at least it lets you locate your headphones should you lose them.
How’s the connection strength?
Thanks to the implementation of Bluetooth 5, connection strength with the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT is top-notch. Not to mention that it’s compatible with both the aptX and AAC Bluetooth codecs. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry it’s simpler than it sounds. We have a complete explainer if you want to go more in-depth, but the important thing you need to know for the purposes of this review is that a Bluetooth codec is how audio data is packaged and shared between devices.
A good analogy that we love using at our sibling site SoundGuys.com is that a codec is like a language. If two people speak the same language then information can pass between them quickly and efficiently. If they speak different languages, they may have to resort to hand gestures or other forms of communication that are not as efficient. The same is true with Bluetooth. If your source device and headphones speak the same language (or share the same codec), then they can transfer audio data more efficiently resulting in better sound quality. While our testing shows that aptX and AAC aren’t perfect, they’re better than defaulting down to the basic SBC codec which you can just think of as the equivalent of hand gestures between two people who don’t speak the same language.
Of course, Bluetooth is inherently inferior to having a wired connection but thankfully, the ATH-M50xBT can also be hardwired to your device using a 3.5mm audio cable. So if you want the convenience of wireless while commuting and then want to switch to wired once you reach your destination, these headphones have you covered.
What is the battery life of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT like?
It’s good. It’s really freaking good. To test battery life on headphones we make sure that the headphones are at a constant output of 75dB which is the level that most people listen to music with (or should), and then play a constant stream of music until it dies. For the ATH-M50xBT, we were able to get a total of 31 hours and 12 minutes of constant playback which is pretty great. Keep in mind, that’s the time it will last if it’s not turned off and allowed to drain. Assuming you have a fairly average commute of around 1 hour, that means these headphones will last you a solid 30 trips and then some before you need to charge them. On the downside, these do charge via microUSB which is a weird missed opportunity by Audio-Technica seeing as most devices now come with USB-C.
Let’s talk sound quality
As I mentioned earlier, these sound just like the regular ATH-M50X before them. Meaning they have a consumer-friendly sound that emphasizes some of the lower notes (pink) while making some thoughtful tweaks to the mids (green) and the highs (cyan). While we’re here, it’s worth mentioning what you’re looking at. The above chart is the frequency response of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT. Just like before our own Robert Triggs wrote a great explainer on what this is and how it affects your music, but it’s not as complicated as it might seem.
A frequency response graph just shows how loud a given frequency is. The slight bump in the lows (pink) means that any notes in that frequency range will sound louder than, say the sharp blue dip at around 4kHz. Speaking of which, that’s a very intentional adjustment made by Audio-Technica in an attempt to minimize harshness due to your ear’s natural resonances, so no need to worry about it too much.
If you look at the graph, the bass notes typically correspond to the pink area. As you can see, these have a fairly wide hump here meaning that the headphones will give a light volume boost to notes in the lows. You’ll notice that songs with low background synths and kick drum samples with “thump” a little more with this kind of sound. For example, this is very apparent when you listen to Queen’s Radio Ga Ga.
Notes above middle-C will sound just like they would on just about any other set of headphones, as this range is very consumer-friendly. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT bumps up the loudness on notes from 800-3kHz, which will make instruments with higher pitches like cymbals and snare drums a lot more “clarity” over the rest of your music, as that’s where some of their fundamentals lie.
Possibly the least-important range for music, a decent response in the highs is where things can get a little weird. For example, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT clearly tries to avoid resonances in the ear by downplaying 4kHz notes, but then returns to a more normal response.
This is pretty apparent in songs with a slight vocal echo like David Bowie’s Lazarus. With the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT, as it’s tough to pick out if the vocal effect is really there or not.
As far as portable headphones go, isolation is probably one of the most underrated things you can look for. Thankfully, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT does a pretty great job of keeping outside noise, well, outside. When it comes to Bluetooth headphones that you’re going to be using on the go, the less you hear of what’s going on around you the better you’ll be able to hear the intricacies of your favorite tunes.
Looking at the graph you can see that sounds in the lows (pink) aren’t isolated very well, whereas the mids and highs (green and blue, respectively) are between 20 and 30 times less loud. That’s pretty great for ambient noise if you’re walking on the street or sitting in a cafe, but not so great if you’re going to be sitting on a long flight since the rumble of a jet engine is below 100Hz. For those occasions, you’re going to want a pair of noise cancelling headphones.
How’s the microphone?
While some people won’t care, microphone quality is a make-or-break situation for others. While the Audio-Technica microphone definitely has a unique vocal response, it isn’t a bad one. It could potentially be using some kind of vocal processor to get the most out of the microphone, but in practical cases, it sounded fine. The person on the other end shouldn’t have any problems hearing you because of the microphone.
So should you get the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT?
Absolutely. There really isn’t any one thing that’s holding these back from being a solid pair of everyday cans for most people. If you enjoyed the sound signature of the ATH-M50 series, then you won’t have any issues with the ATH-M50xBT either. Plus, it has Bluetooth 5, aptX and AAC compatibility, and an insane 30+ hours of constant playback. Not to mention they can fold nicely to take up less space in your bag. While the earcup padding and isolation isn’t great and you will need to carry around a microUSB cable to charge these, the pros definitely outweigh the cons for most people. These are a worthy successor of one of the most popular pair of headphones from Audio-Technica.