Premium monitoring headphones tend to be an immediate and obvious step up from mid range models (like our recently reviewed Audio Technica ATH-M35s), if nothing else because of their size and the breathing room that larger drivers provide. We took on the Audio Technica ATH-M50 review to see exactly how worth the triple digit price tag they are…
ATH-M50 Giveaway! (Complete, see details)
Look and Feel
The ATH-M50 is a compact and fairly elegant design, free from ‘Transformer’ like stylings and bulk. They’re available in both black and white (each with subtle silver highlights give the units a bit of pizazz, and a grey/silver special edition to boot), and we have a white pair in to test; I like the white a lot more than I thought I would when I got the M50s in the flesh, although the stippled plastic headband isn’t quite as brilliant a white as the gloss plastic of the ear cups and hinges and there’s a slight hint of yellowing around the top (perhaps a casualty of the printed silver Audio Technica branding?). It’s hardly noticeable though, and the probably sensible decision to make the ear pads grey will minimise any visible ageing around the area most likely to get dirty.
The range of movement in the ear cups and the flexible, telescopic headband means the M50s will be a comfortable fit for more or less everyone from Spongebob to Charlie Brown. They’re not overly heavy, and the pads around the ear cups are soft and large enough to completely encircle each ear. They don’t have the ‘lying in a bed of feathers’ comfort factor of velour, but in and of itself the thin faux leather creates more of a ‘seal’ between you and the outside world and increases the feel of isolation. There is the tendency for this kind of ear pad to promote ‘sweaty ear syndrome’, but due to the fact we’re giving these headphones away we were very careful not to stress test this particular aspect!
Sound is, predictably, the most important aspect of any headphone review, and the M50s really deliver. AT quote a huge 15-28,000Hz range from the M50s, and in testing the accuracy of sound reproduction was impressive all the way across the audible frequency range. There’s no real bump point anywhere, and there’s a spaciousness across the spectrum that allows small details to be picked out of the mix at will. The ear cup design does introduce a little ‘sea shell’ effect which reduces clarity a little at very low volumes, but it’s absolutely not a problem at normal levels and the high power output of the M50s is very clear and capable when driven hard.
There’s a noticable improvement over the M50‘s little brother the M35 in terms of clarity, especially in differentiating between narrow, punchy low frequencies and the wider sub basses below, and the overall feeling of space is amongst the best in class when it comes to the ability to pick sounds at different frequencies out of the mix. Stereo field is very naturally represented, and natural is a key word in general as there’s a lot of subtlety and smoothness and little if any of the ‘fizzle’ sound from the very top end that often occurs when full mixes are driven hard through headphones.
If anything the feeling of rungs of sound, with each distinguishable frequency range having its own place in the overall mix, leads to a slight concern that there’s clever boosting going on over certain frequency ranges to promote some psycho-acoustic feelings of clarity. The proof is in the pudding though, and everything I thought I was doing in the M50s was represented exactly as I thought it would be when listening back to a mix through monitors.
Sturdy, high quality construction didn’t give me any worries with wobbling around hinges, although there’s a creak and a click here and there when the cups are manipulated around their full range of motion. Whilst these are most emphatically studio headphones, they give off the impression that they’ll cope well with travel and indeed fold into a very small footprint – the included faux leather pouch providing a little extra safety.
The ear pads are removable, and some quick searching showed that replacements are in the £15/$20 per pair range – not bad at all.
The cable comes in coiled and straight versions, and we tested the coiled. It’s very long, and thus quite weighty, but I like that it comes from a single ear cup (which should bode well for longevity). One concern I do have is that the cable from the M50s isn’t detachable, which is a worry for such an expensive pair. That said, the cable is very well constructed and both ends of the cable – the ear and the jack – are robust. Audio Technica have their own screw in system for their 3.5mm to 1/4” adapter that compared to some other brands – Sennheiser are a culprit here – allows normal clip in adapters to be used as well as the supplied screwable adapter.
Overall: Audio Technica ATH-M50 Review
And so, we come to the end of our Audio Technica ATH-M50 review. The ATH-M50 is an excellent pair of headphones, and more or less the only qualm I have is the lack of detachable cable. They look good, sound great, and feel like they’ll last. Whichever market’s price point they’re in, the M50s are good value for users that want to take a step up in monitoring quality but can’t or don’t want to invest in expensive monitors, or those that already have a good monitoring solution and want extra options through similarly capable headphones.
UPDATE: This giveaway is now over and was drawn on the 20th of July. Make sure you Like our Facebook page to get the skinny on new giveaways!
This isn’t just an Audio Technica ATH-M50 review. Oh no. This is a competition too. Thanks to the kind folks at Audio Technica and Red Pepper Communications we have a pair of white M50s to give away to one lucky reader! To be in with a chance of winning, just follow these simple instructions:
- Like our Facebook page
- Post up your favourite article from our site or video from our YouTube page and make sure to tag us in to the post so that we can see it (it’ll need to be public!)!
That’s it! See the picture below for extra clarification of how your Facebook post should look, and get it done by Friday the 20th of July 2012 (entries after 0000GMT on the 21st won’t count)! Good luck!