Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT wireless headphones review

Audio-Technica's M50xBT headphones bring signature studio sound to the streets

Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50xBT offer studio-grade sound you can take anywhere.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50xBT offer studio-grade sound you can take anywhere.
Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50xBT offer studio-grade sound you can take anywhere.

Highs

  • Clear, detailed sound
  • Warm and full bass
  • Excellent battery life
  • Robust build quality
  • Solid noise isolation

Lows

  • No hard case
  • Controls can be wonky
  • Limited cable selection

If there were one class of headphones with the potential to be left behind by the wireless audio revolution, it would be studio cans, right? Designed for simplicity and utility above flash and convenience, these audio workhorses are meant to be hardwired directly into a soundboard or headphone amp and serve up a clear and detailed picture of your project.

Yet, after incredible demand for a wireless version of its popular ATH-M50x studio headphones (according to the company’s PR firm, anyway), Audio-Technica finally relented and cut the cord.

While wireless studio cans might seem counterintuitive at first, the ATH-M50xBT actually make good sense in practice — especially for music lovers who value substance over style. They offer a nice grab bag for listeners on the go, including a robust design, impressive sound and battery life, and ,of course, wireless convenience. Who says you can’t take it with you?

Out of the box

The M50xBT arrive in Audio-Technica’s signature plain-clothes box, complete with monochromatic color scheme and a basic zoom-in shot of the cans. Inside, the headphones are collapsed in a bed of plastic that is classed up with a satiny black shammy. The headphones feel solid in your hands, with robust hinges that click satisfyingly as you unlock the earpieces from their travel position, adjusting both vertically and horizontally on rotating hinges to fit.

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Riley Young/Digital Trends

Under the plastic bed, you’ll find a collection of accessories, including a leatherette travel bag (we’d have loved to see a hard case, but we’ll take it), a micro USB-to-USB charging cable, a thin 3.5mm cable with single-button mic piece, and instructions.

Setup

The M50xBT connect with ease, automatically setting to pair when you click the power switch at the base of the left earcup. Simply select the headphones from your source device’s Bluetooth menu, and you’re up and running as a friendly robot voice tells you your headphones are on and connected. You may also want to download the Audio-Technica Connect app, but its functionality is fairly limited.

Business casual

While there’s not much to the M50xBT’s design when it comes to affectations, that’s not to say they don’t look good. Available in black and black, they certainly put off a professional air, but flashes of silver on the exterior caps of both the earpieces and the foldable hinges add just enough razzle-dazzle to draw the eye. The  full-bodied earpieces and heavy cushioning along the earcups and headband lean into the DJ style, giving the cans some sonic street cred.

Inside are the M50x’s signature 45mm drivers with copper-aluminum voice coils, which boast a claimed 15Hz-28kHz frequency response. Audio-Technica boasts about the M50xBT’s deep bass (no argument there) and the same critically acclaimed sound as the wired version, backed up by Bluetooth codecs including AAC and aptX; we’d like to see aptX HD for a pair of studio-grade cans, but at $200, we’ll give them a pass there.

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Riley Young/Digital Trends

The bottom rim of the left earcup hosts most of the M50xBT’s onboard controls, including the power/pairing switch and a triple-button control piece. There’s a multifunction key at the center for play/pause and calling and volume keys above and below that also allow for song skip with a two-second hold. That last control feature isn’t our favorite — it’s a bit confusing, and most wireless headphones let you skip with a double- or triple-click which is faster. Then again, the triple-click method can be inaccurate, so it’s a bit of a pick-your-poison scenario.

With 40 hours of battery life, we still haven’t needed to charge the M50xBT.

Though it’s not really mentioned in the instructions, you can tap the Audio-Technica logo on the left earcup’s exterior to call up a voice assistant. Also on the left earcup are dual ports for plugging in and charging. We’d like to complain about Audio-Technica’s decision to use micro USB rather than USB-C here, which makes charging slower, but with 40 freaking hours of battery life, we still haven’t needed to charge the M50xBT after a week of use.

One miss here is the cable, which does lock in place, but eschews the accordion/coiled design normally packaged with studio headphones, and frankly won’t work as well in a semi-pro environment like a home studio or podcast booth. With just a single thin cable complete with mic piece, Audio-Technica is essentially saying these headphones are meant for listeners, not audio pros. Considering their pedigree, it would have been nice to get a mix of both cables.

A firm fit

Like other headphones we’ve auditioned from Audio-Technica, including the ATH-MSR7, the M50xBT are a bit snug for larger heads, especially when you first put them on. After wearing them for a week, though, a classic line from Wayne’s World came to mind: “At first they’re constrictive, but after a while they become a part of you.”

That Garth was talking about new underwear shouldn’t undercut the quote, and the M50xBT follow suit, easing their clamping force over time. It’s a trend we expect to continue as the cans wear in, and while the headphones’ hefty weight of just under 11 ounces is a bit onerous, the healthy padding does well to keep them from wearing on your ears or head.

Audio performance

The M50xBT serve up a full and relatively balanced sound signature that’s more lively than what you’d expect from studio headphones, especially when it comes to their revved-up bass response. The result is a clear and engaging sonic experience that pours out plenty of detail without ever falling into the kind of clinical sound that’s often associated with studio gear. Frankly, we’re not sure we’d want to mix with them, but listening at home or on the road is a joy.

Audio-Technica’s signature upper register is on full display, offering bright and clean detail with a sort of nickel-metal color to cymbals and other high-percussion sounds that can occasionally remind you of jingling change — in a good way. It’s obviously not as refined as the soaring high frequencies found in Audio-Technica’s high-end gear, like the $2,000 ADX-5000, but it’s reminiscent of that flavor. The M50xBT do a nice job carving out nuance and subtleties for their price point, without adding biting sibilance to instruments like wailing big-band trumpets.

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Riley Young/Digital Trends

The M50xBT’s clarity results in some gorgeous musical moments, especially for more organic instruments like acoustic guitar. Nickel Creek’s Out of the Woods provides a lovely showcase for the M50xBT’s talents, with a lively flavor to each guitar-string pluck and a buttery finish to Chris Thile’s mandolin. Similarly, Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide is carousel of tactile, brassy guitar, with Stevie Nicks’ voice wrapped in sweet and smoky detail at the center of it all.

A clear and engaging sonic experience that pours out plenty of detail.

As mentioned, the M50xBT’s bass response is impressive as well, and while it got a little too big for its britches on a few tracks, it’s mostly well balanced with a firm attack and musical resonance. Even when the lower register does get a little beefy on tracks like Ween’s Bananas and Blow, it rarely masks the upper frequencies, and that extra touch of potency plays well on songs that call for a heavy beat like The Weeknd’s Starboy.

Critical listeners will also be impressed with the M50xBT’s Bluetooth 5.0 connection, which is impressively pure, with no audible connection noise or video lag, and pairs well with aptX-ready phones to enhance audio quality. The headphones’ tight fit also offers solid noise isolation, though we still missed having some basic noise cancellation on public transit.

Our Take

While the M50xBT are designed much more for the street than the studio, their mix of great sound, a firm and solid fit, and a full work week of battery life makes them an excellent addition to the wireless headphone pantheon, and well worth considering at their $200 price point.

Is there a better alternative?

Not that we’re aware of in the wireless studio realm. The only real competition in that niche market that we’ve auditioned would be Pioneer’s HDJ-X5BT-K wireless DJ cans, which are cheaper, but simply don’t sound as clear and have lower battery life.

There are, of course, tons of options in the wireless over-ear headphone market, including some crazy-affordable noise cancelers like Taotronics’ TT-BH060, which cost just under $70. But if you want quality noise-cancelling options with a similarly high-quality build and performance, you’ll likely have to jump in price to at least $250 to $300 for models from Sony, Bose, and others. The M50xBT occupy a somewhat distinctive price point right now, with an impressive collection of features for the money.

How long will it last?

While there’s perhaps more plastic onboard than we’d like for a pair of forever cans, it’s very solid plastic, and given that they’re evolved from studio headphones, the M50xBT are expected to last through a lot of heavy use.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’ve got $200 to spend on a quality pair of wireless cans, and sound quality is of high import, the M50xBT are an excellent option.

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