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Audio-Technica ATH-M50
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Audio-Technica ATH-M50

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 (10 oz./284g, about $160). larger. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to them at Amazon or at B&H Photo-Video when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

 

March 2012  

Headphone reviews    Audio-Technica Reviews  Audio Reviews  All Reviews

 

Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations   More

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The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 are around-the-ear, folding, closed-back, isolating headphones. They come with a combination 3.5mm and ¼" plug and your choice of a straight cord or a coiled cord.

The ATH-M50 are fantastic-sounding, well-isolating and durable professional headphones which are a bargain for under $160. They sound about as good as the Ultrasone Edition 8 which sell for ten times the price!

The ATH-M50 are unique in being superb for many different kinds uses: music enjoyment at home and on iPods, on-location audio monitoring, they fold for travel, and are very popular for use in-studio to give to talent while tracking. Look at enough music videos and you'll see lots of talent wearing these singing in front of U-87s.

Other headphones often lack the ATH-M50's high sensitivity, foldabilty and durability for portable use, or might be good for monitoring a live recording but lack audio quality for music enjoyment. The ATH-M50 does all of these quite well for a bargain price.

The ATH-M50 sound great for music enjoyment, with emphasized deep bass similar to the Ultrasone Edition 8.

The ATH-M50 are great for on-location monitoring because they offer very good isolation and super-high sensitivity for use with portable recorders, camcorders and DSLRs. The ATH-M50 are a little bigger and heavier than the Sony MDR-7506, both are about as sensitive and isolating, but the ATH-M50 has much better, smoother sound. The ATH-M50 sounds better for enjoyment, while the Sony MDR-7506 emphasize noise better for monitoring while recording.

The ATH-M50 have a slight to moderate lower-treble boost, just right for making noise and defects apparent, but not so much to make the music less pleasant, as do the Sony MDR-7506.

On direct comparison, the ATH-M50 sound about 90% as clean as the $3,000 Stax Omega. For some kinds of popular music, these ATH-M50 sound better than the Stax because of the ATH-M50's deep-bass boost. The ATH-M50 are brighter than the Stax Omega, so depending on taste and the music involved, sometimes I prefer the ATH-M50 to the Stax. Not bad for $160, eh?

The ATH-M50 are extremely sensitive. They work great plugged into portable recorders and iPods. You won't need a separate amplifier. The ATH-M50 are sensitive enough to deafen me plugged into any portable.

The only audible shortcoming is that the lower treble boost, while perfect for monitoring for defects and pleasant for many kinds of popular music, doesn't sound great for natural classical music, making massed strings more brittle than on the Stax or the Beyer DT880 — but for $160, no one is complaining.

Having access to all these headphones in my loan pool, the ATH-M50 are what I grab most often for most uses. The fact that they fold flat and slide into a bag on top of my iPad or in my laptop case doesn't hurt either!

The ATH-M50 sound so good, isolate so well and play so loud even on iPods that if you wear these around in public, you're likely to start singing along loudly with your music and not even realize it! Maybe that's why they're so popular in studios; they bring out the song in people.

 

Specifications         top

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Technology

Around-the-ear, isolating closed headphones.

45mm drivers.

Neodymium magnets.

OFC litz wire.

 

Impedance

38 Ω, rated.

 

Measured Impedance

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Impedance

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 measured Impedance magnitude (Ω), and phase angle versus frequency. (R&S UPL; +90º is capacitive, -90º is inductive.)

I measure 37.5 Ω, but it's still the closest match between actual impedance and rated impedance I've ever seen.

Phase angle is very flat: -2º at 9 Hz, 0º at 82.9 Hz, 0.344º at 170 Hz, 0.2º at 4.75 kHz, and -11.1º at 20 kHz.

It's also the flattest impedance curve I've seen, along with the Velodyne vPulse.

 

Sensitivity

99 dB, unspecified conditions.

If we presume this means SPL at 1 milliwatt, then 1 milliwatt at 38 Ω is 195 mV, which means 113 dB SPL at 1 volt.

 

Power Handling

1.6 watts, rated — ouch!

This is 7.8 V RMS at 38 Ω.

These are professional headphones, but yikes, this means 131 dB SPL if the 99 dB SPL sensitivity is rated at 1 mW.

 

Frequency Range

15 ~ 28,000 Hz, no conditions specified.

 

Cord and Plug

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 box

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 plug with ¼" adapter attached.

The all-metal plug is beautiful: it's chromed metal with a spring strain relief, and center-punched in two spots so that the handle will never unscrew from the 3.5mm plug.

The ¼" adapter is also superb: when screwed-on as shown above, it looks as if it's a real ¼" plug.

You can get it in your choice of coiled or straight cord:

Straight cord version: 3.5 meters (11 feet) long.

Coiled cord version: 1.2-3 meters (4-10 feet) long.

 

Weight

284 grams (10 ounces), rated.

 

Quality

Made in Taiwan.

 

Included

ATH-M50 headphones.

Metal screw-in ¼" adapter.

Naugahyde sack.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 box

Audio-Technica ATH-M50, boxed.

 

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 box

Audio-Technica ATH-M50, box back. enlarge.

 

Performance         top

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Sound

I've spent hundreds of hours enjoying the ATH-M50 for careful music listening. They sound great.

As covered at the top, the deepest bass is emphasized and the lower treble also has a slight boost. These are extremely good for enjoying popular music and movies, sometimes better than the $3,000 Stax Omega if you want more bass and a more exciting sound.

Only with natural classical music do I want a smoother headphone. The ATH-M50 has peaks in its response at about 6,900, 7,200 and 9,000 Hz, which sound great for many kinds of music, but not good for massed symphonic strings. For this, the DT880 or $3,000 Stax Omega are better.

Playing DVD movies on an iPad sound great with the ATH-M50; there's plenty of natural and deep bass, and the level only needs to be set to 1/2 to 5/8.

If you enjoy listening for artifacts, the ATH-M50 make it easy to hear noise modulation and piano dampers moving up and down in music like Dire Straits' "Love over Gold."

I found the ATH-M50 harsher for the first 10 hours of use. I don't know if that's the headphones changing, or more likely, me getting used to them.

Soundstage is the same as every other headphone. The lower treble boost gets it a little out of your head, but not by much.

 

Isolation

The big fat pads of the ATH-M50 offer lots of isolation from outside noise, but the thinner cases share a little more leakage to the outside than other sealed phones. Play these too loud, and you can feel the cases vibrating.

The ATH-M50 seal well on my head without any funny business; they just fit. This is better than the fidgety Beyer T70p that don't seal anywhere near as well.

 

Bass

The bass is strong and deep, but due to its boost, sloppier than less-boosted headphones like the DT880 and T70p.

The boost sounds great most of the time, but if your mix already is loaded with plenty of deep bass, other headphones can be tighter.

Specifically, the ATH-M50's bass response starts to rise below 60 Hz, peaks at 33 Hz, and is still kicking at 10 Hz!

Bass will be a little cleaner from a zero output-source-impedance headphone amp like the Benchmark DAC1 HDR, or the very low source impedance (a few Ω) outputs of iPods. Most home Hi-Fi and audiophile gear has higher output source impedances around 30 Ω to 150 Ω, which can lead to slightly sloppier bass — but it all sounds good.

 

Treble

As covered before, the treble is slightly boosted for clarity.

It usually sounds swell, but might be a very little too much sometimes if your amp boosts treble, like the Apogee Duet 2. Use with the Duet 2 is a bit of a paradox, as each is a very popular piece of professional recording gear.

 

Sensitivity

The ATH-M50 are super-sensitive, able to play very loud very easily on any portable device, be it a DSLR, iPod, portable CD player (Sony D-E406CK) or camcorder.

On an iPod, I play my ATH-M50 at about only 1/2 to 3/4 volume for popular music or movies, and not much higher for classical. With my Beyer DT880, I usually need to have my iPod set to the maximum.

Forget moving the jumper on the Benchmark DAC1 HDR, it has more than enough gain as-shipped.

 

Materials and Mechanics

The soft stuff and the carry pouch feels like Naugahyde.

The rest is all hard black plastic, except for what looks like spun aluminum trim rings and stainless steel harp clickers.

There is no exposed wiring to each earpiece as with the Sony MDR-7506; the ATH-M50 hides the wires inside the yolks.

 

Ergonomics

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 case

Folded Audio-Technica ATH-M50 and included sack. enlarge.

The ATH-M50 feel great. They always seal themselves to my head instantly and stay on. They're fine for hours and hours, always supporting themselves around my ears on my head, never actually touching my ears.

Taking them on and off they can feel floppier than regular headphones because the ATH-M50 pivot in many more ways than normal headphones.

Because they really are professional studio headphones, the earpieces both flip over 180º so you can hear out of one ear by yourself or with another, and each yoke also pivots ±90º so each earpiece can be folded to lie flat in a bag.

I prefer the coiled cord. It's just the right length coiled-up (4 feet) for portable use, and stretches out a long way when I need it without breaking anything.

 

Compared         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations   More

I've made constant comparisons all through this review. Here are some summary points:

 

Compared to the Sony MDR-7506 ($129)

The ATH-M50:

1.) Are somewhat bigger and heavier and more expensive.

2.) Have much less midrange boost for more pleasant sound than the MDR-7506.

3.) Have nicer harps.

4.) Have a tighter head seal with bigger pads.

5.) Are less sensitive, but not by much. Most of the difference is the stronger upper midrange emphasis of the MDR-7506.

6.) ATH-M50 bass isn't as smooth and deep as MDR-7506. ATH-M50 has a little more bass boost and boom than the MDR-7506, hiding the very deepest bass more audible with MDR-7506.

 

Compared to the Beyer T70p ($510)

Both have similar treble boosts. The T70p has a stronger boost higher, while the ATH-M50 has a more mild boost lower. The T70p is probably a bit more sensitive than the ATH-M50, but either is more than sensitive enough for portable use and neither needs an amplifier.

The T70p is much better for natural classic music, while the more boosted bass and better head seal of the ATH-M50 make it better for popular music.

The ATH-M50:

1.) Have much better head-seal and isolation than the T70p.

2.) Are not as clean and open sounding as the T70p.

3.) Are not as sturdily constructed as the T70p.

4.) Have a nice metal plug compared to the plastic plug and 4-foot straight cord of the T70p.

 

Compared to the Ultrasone Edition 8 ($1,500)

They sound very, very similar. If money matters, the ATH-M50 are a no-brainer.

They have the same isolation, same bass response, same impedance and sensitivity as auditioned.

The biggest sonic difference is that the Edition 8 are smooth to slightly distant sounding, while the ATH-M50 are brighter, with a bit of lower treble boost. The ATH-M50 sound a little more ratty for classical and strings, while the ATH-M50 are more exciting for most other music.

The ATH-M50 has a much nicer plug, while the Edition 8 have a much nicer lined leather carry bag.

The ATH-M50 fold flat for travel, the Edition 8 don't fold at all.

 

Compared to the Stax Omega SR-007 Mk-II (at least $3,500 including amplifier)

For natural acoustically recorded music, nothing is as good as the Stax Omega, except possibly the newer $5,300 Stax SR-009.

On direct comparison, the ATH-M50 have rattier boosted treble, but more deep bass than the Omega.

With the ATH-M50, there is more peaky response and more between you and a live performance, but if it's a multi-miked studio mix, the ATH-M50 might sound more fun.

The ATH-50 have more bass, but it's less tight and less smooth.

The added brightness of the ATH-M50 makes guitar and banjos sound better. (Don't laugh, while city-folk love to poke fun at the banjo, banjos are used all the time in popular music, just not as leads.)

Massed strings and voice sound worse on the ATH-M50.

Once your ears adjust to the ATH-M50's treble boost, the ATH-M50 can sound even better than the Stax for popular music, especially for the added bass. That's a lot to be said for comparing two headphones whose price varies by twenty times!

The ATH-M50 plugs into anything, while the Stax Omega demand their own plug-in-the-wall amplifier.

 

Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations   More

As if I haven't been saying this all along, if you're thinking about getting a set of the ATH-M50, do it. Just look at Amazon's user reviews; everyone loves these.

The ATH-M50 sound great for music enjoyment, have plenty of sensitivity for use with anything without ever needing an extra amplifier, are tough enough to take a beating, great for monitoring live recordings or tracking, and fold flat for travel (turn each ear 90º).

I wouldn't use these for mixing; their deep-bass emphasis will lead to thin mixes.

If all you want is great sound quality at home and don't need these genuinely professional headphones to fold for travel or to flip over for one-handed use in a studio, Audio-Technica makes other headphones I'll be reviewing as well, but for $160, you'll never go wrong with these.

I prefer the $160 coiled-cord version, but if you're a real cheapskate, the straight-cord version sells for only $140.

If you've found the time, effort and expense I've put into sharing all this information helpful, this free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to them at Amazon or at B&H Photo-Video when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

 

More Information         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations   More

Audio-Technica's ATH-M50 page (coiled cable)

Audio-Technica's ATH-M50 page (straight cable)

Audio-Technica's Studio Headphone page

Audio-Technica's Home Headphone page

Audio-Technica's Headphone page

Audio-Technica's Website

 

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