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Hrodulf 26th May 2015 09:35 AM

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x


This review will mostly focus on M50x’s qualities from a studio professional point of view – what to expect when using these headphones as a monitoring device for mixing and do they really cut it for mastering work.

After all, you should make your decisions based on what’s in the material, otherwise you might end up with mixes that translate well on your gear and not much else. Know the limitations of your equipment and you will be able to work around them. This text will attempt to illuminate, what to keep in mind when using the M50x for critical studio work.

The original ATH M50 has been one of the most recommended closed headphones at the $150 price point. Most of its fame comes from the consumer segment. One of its largest communities – Head-fi – has generated dozens of reviews praising its qualities and excellent price/performance ratio. Currently there is a distinct lack of dedicated pro-audio headphone reviewers, therefore most of M50’s pro-fame has largely spilled over from the consumer audio segment. At the same time both M50 and M50x have an abundance of qualities useful for both music listeners as well as producers.

Uncalibrated sonic performance

Perceived Acoustic Power Frequency Response (PAPFR) graph. Measured at Sonarworks lab with a proprietary compensation curve. Not to be compared directly to AFR measurements from other sources.

These headphones perform just like they measure – a fun, clean sound. This is mostly due to M50x’s U-shaped FR and extremely low THD. Looks like ATH has really put in some serious R&D work in M50x’s driver, because THD this low at sub bass frequencies has usually been reserved only to planar headphones. Kudos to ATH for bringing clean bass to the masses!

Now onto the sonic issues to keep in mind if one wants to use these headphones successfully for music production. All of the M50x headphones we measured exhibited level differences between channels. At 200Hz-600Hz there is a wide dip which drops to around -5dB, whilst not too annoying to consumers, it can cause trouble to LCR mixing advocates. With the M50x, some string instruments like guitars for example will change tonality, depending on how they’re panned. The effect will be subtle, but must be taken into account to prevent chasing ghosts in the mix.

On the top end of the U curve we have a peak at 5.5kHz-10kHz which goes up to +7dB at 10kHz which can cause a number of issues. First of all, too much de-essing will be applied to the vocals, as the peak resides right at the sibilant range. Secondly, your sweeps won’t be as accurate because the FR peak will give you a false sense of rising. In general, this peaking can cause your mixes to be dull – one of the inherent cons of all “exciting” headphones, if used in studio.

The low-end response on these headphones is positively thunderous – there is no sub-bass roll-off until 20Hz and THD stays extremely low. The channel imbalance which starts at about 350Hz is still present, but on lower frequencies it shouldn’t be much of a nuisance. Most of the signal at these frequencies is mono anyway and humans don’t really excel at positioning low frequency sound.

Calibrated sonic performance

After we meticulously measured every dip and peak found in the M50x, our engineer generated a calibration profile. These profiles are available for every Sonarworks Reference 3 plug-in user. They turned these headphones into a serious instrument even fit for mastering. This paragraph will explain what can be gained by applying digital calibration to these already great headphones.

We can bet that when you turn on the Sonarworks Reference 3 plug-in, you’ll wonder who flicked the fun switch off! Resist the urge to take the headphones off and listen to some well- mastered tracks. Your ears will need some time to readjust to the reference sound signature and your first impression will surely be dull for lack of a better word. At the same time, it will allow your mixes to translate well to speakers and just about any headphone out there.

All in all, these headphones are a great candidate for calibration due to the low inherent THD and little change in tonality depending on how they’re placed on one’s ears. Obviously Sonarworks calibration gets rid of the U curve and makes these headphones a perfect candidate for mixing and mastering just about any kind of music. One thing to keep in mind is that the average calibration curve won’t be able to combat the channel imbalance properly, because only individual calibration profiles do stereo calibration.

As always there will be some loss of output when applying calibration. In this case it should be about 8dB, which isn’t too bad due to the fact that these headphones are very sensitive. Most audio interfaces will be able to drive these headphones at ear-splitting levels even with calibration enabled. For some higher gain devices, the loss of sensitivity might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as it will give more usable volume pot range.


Just like its predecessor, the M50x has a great fit that doesn’t get in the way of everyday use. Unlike most on-ear headphones, this one doesn’t rely on a strong clamp to achieve a good seal, therefore it is fairly comfy even in longer sessions. One thing to note, however, is that all pleather pads are prone to becoming sweaty in hotter environments.

Construction wise the M50x is decent, but isn’t the tank that is the venerable HD25-II is. Like almost every other headphone out there, most of the outer construction is plastic, however it feels like it’s the kind of plastic that breaks rather than bends on stress. Both earcups are on hinges which allow them to be folded up for a more compact package. At the same time, every moving part does present more points for wear, tear, and ultimately – failure.

This time Audio Technica has given the M50x a swappable cable and generously included three additional cords. The standard package includes a coiled 1.2 – 3m cable, 3m straight cable and 1.2m portable cable. All three of them feature 1/8’’ TRS jacks and the two longer ones have a thread for 1/4’’ jacks. On the headphone end, M50x have a 2.5mm TRS connector which seems to be proprietary due to a locking groove. All in all, kudos to Audio Technica for choosing to go this route because with most headphones, cables seem to be the first to prematurely fail.

Most studios tend to stick with their headphones until they disintegrate due to natural or unnatural causes and very few give attention to earpad wear. We recommend swapping out pads as soon as they start changing their initial geometry. Old pads seal worse and let the drivers sit closer to one’s ears, thus changing the initial FR. Fortunately the pads on the M50x are swappable as well, so the user is able to maintain their headphones at peak performance for a longer time.

In terms of noise sealing, the M50x works well, but again is overshadowed by Sennheiser’s HD25-II and many in-ear monitors. The seal should be good enough for mixing in moderately noisy environments and will guard musician’s ears from excessive SPL’s, but most of the time noise will obstruct the finer details. The seal will also keep the user from disturbing others working in close vicinity, good for mixing on the road.


Has ATH hit a homerun again? Could be so – at least for consumers! At the studio professional end, things are a tad more complicated. No doubt, it’s a great headphone with relatively little shortcomings, but the tuning might be too “fun” to be considered reference grade. At the same time M50x’s competition doesn’t fare any better, most of the other closed studio headphones at this price range are starting to show their age. Sennheiser HD25-II scores some hits in the ergonomics department, but its drivers are a bit long in the tooth. Same goes for Sony MDR-7506. Now, Beyerdynamic DT770 is a worthy competitor to M50x sound wise, but the Japanese headphone is able to land some hits with its three detachable cables and superior portability. Everyone at the lab agreed that these headphones calibrate very well and after calibration pose a serious threat to newer higher end closed studio phones like Focal Spirit Pro and maybe even ATH M70x.

In the end, this is a modern headphone meant for modern music. Engineers who work with a lot of bass heavy material will be in for a treat as the M50x offers excellent performance in this regard. They might not mind its other shortcomings, but should keep them in mind. Or they can use calibrated headphones and focus entirely on their work. Sonarworks calibration turns the M50x into one of the best closed headphones at any price.

aribcrisp 3rd August 2016 01:34 PM

Hi Everyone!

This is my first post and review on Gearslutz; and I am going to talk about my one year experience with the ATH-M50x.
I know that this is one of the most reviewed headphone in the audio community, but I thought I'd add mine, too.:)

Built Quality

The M50x is really well built, the plastic is of high quality and it feel "together'' when you move, or adjust the headphone size. The pads are also soft enough to provide a good level of comfort. It is however recommended that you clean the sweat out of them after each use to avoid the slow attack of the sweat and body oils on the faux-cuir material of the padding.

These headphones have a quite good isolation from outside noises for you to work without too much disturbance from external noises. About sound leakage I have not tried to record wearing them to check the bleed into a mic.
Because they are closed, they sometimes feel very claustrophobic after a long period wearing them. It also took me almost a week to get used to them as they started feeling a bit hot on the head part touching the padding, but now everything is fine.

Sound Quality and amplification

This is what everyone likes about these headphones. I would describe their sound as ''smooth, clear and balanced''. I say that because the first thing that surprises you when you put them on is how nothing in the frequency spectrum seems to lack or to be exaggerated, especially when you are used to consumer-grade head/ear phones that have boosts and holes here and there.

.Bass: The low end is generally described by many people as somehow lacking; I do not agree with this statement, I would rather describe it as neutral and deep. If the track is not bassy, then it will present it like that; if it has a good big low end, the m50x won't be shy to present that either.

I mainly listen to EDM, Trap, RnB and Pop/Rock, and I never found it to not represent well the low end on a well-mixed/mastered track.

.Mids and Highs: The mids are where these guys shine the most, very full and revealing with no odd resonances anywhere.
The highs are very smooth and open, with no edginess, making these headphones excellent on vocals, and not fatiguing after extended listening.
*Some Songs that impressed me on these headphones
Listening to T.I and Chris Brown's Private show is an amazing experience hearing that low rumbling 808 that my Fiio EX1 IEMs fail to represent, and the clarity of the vocals and other instruments despite that amount of bass is also remarkable.
Boys II Men Water runs Dry in FLAC also showcased the excellence of that recording where the purity of the sound make you have goose bumps. The vocals, guitars and percussion and the depth are presented in a way that I had never heard before.
Another of my favorites recordings is Daft Punk’s ‘Within’, that piano is presented almost in 3D, and when comes the ride cymbals and E-Piano and you can close your eyes and picture yourself being their!
For EDM, listening to Skrillex ft The Ragga Twins’ Ragga Bomb is also something else on these headphones; they display the subs in an excellent way, and send you a big full sound that is so enjoyable in the drops. Hardwell ft Tiesto - Colors or ‘United We Are’ will bring the emotion up with their excellence and fullness of the sound.
For those who listen to Stromae, his song Ave Maria surprised me when I heard voices behind me and claps that I would swear were with me in the room! The vocals are also amazingly presented in that recording.

.Amplification: Many people agree that these headphones do not need an amp to sound good. I say that the do not need an amp to sound loud, but they totally benefit from one especially if your source is very weak.
I first used them on my Samsung Galaxy S4 I9500 (4Mw output) and the sound was, well... okay; a bit laid back to my taste, like they could go loud enough, but something was lacking, and pushing the phone’s volume led to distortion showing that the phone's amp was failing.
When I connected them to my laptop, it was a different story, the overall sound and bass came up a bit forward. Since I wanted to use them as a monitor solution and a listening headphone, I went on and bought the Fiio E18 Kunlun.

The sound became more alive with the amp/dac connected to my phone and it started revealing a bigger sound stage, increased dynamics and the headphones could go deeper in the low end (I use the Kunlun in High Gain with bass boost always OFF). Using the Kunlun with them also helped in very busy mixes, where synth layers started to sound more defined and less clustered.


These headphones are really good; they're definitely not for everyone though. If you like the type of headphones that seem to always sound the same on everything, they are not for you.
They have a ''per-track'' sound signature and that's what a monitor should be. They made me stop listening to some tracks that started showing some distorting in the low end or a lack of definition the low mids that I did not hear on other headphones.
If you have a phone with a good output like an iPhone or HTC M8 and above, then you won't need an amp to drive them to good volumes, however if you are hesitating to buy one, visit a friend who has a good amp and try them with the amp and decide for yourself, as the improvement won't be day and night, but for me it was really worth it, especially considering the very disappointing low output of my Samsung.
For mixing, they took me sometime to figure out how to mix on them coming from other Samson headphones that I was using in the past. Now I do use them to mix my remixes and they are able to tell you when something is not working. I would however recommend them as a mix check tool than a mixing monitor.