Upon release in 2007, Audio-Technica didn’t expect its original ATH-M50 headphones to be used outside of the studio; but over the next decade they took on an almost cult-like following and became one of the firm’s best-selling headphones, despite the company making it relatively hard for normal people to buy them. These were pro-level cans, and you had to visit dedicated stores at first just to pick up a pair. The unique sound signature was the main draw, followed by music fans seeing the distinctly designed headphones being worn by their favorite artists.
Audio-Technica embraced the M50’s popularity and later released the M50x, a slightly more consumer-friendly headphone with the same recognizable design, and neutral sound. Now, there is a third pair of M50 headphones, and this time they come with a Bluetooth audio connection. These are the Audio-Technica M50xBT, and they’re so utterly glorious, you’d have to pry them from our head to get a listen.
Keeping the sound signature
The challenge for Audio-Technica here was retaining the unique sound signature of the original M50 — the reason so many people purchased them — without using a cable. The team explained to Digital Trends how doing so was down to its expertise in analog transducers, but there’s something else. The sound engineers that worked on the M50 and M50x headphones are still at Audio-Technica, and have now made the M50xBT too. It’s that longevity, experience, and understanding of what made the originals special that’s equally, if not more so, as important in creating the M50xBT than prowess in components, in our opinion.
What do they sound like? Listening borders on being a religious experience. Conceived for use in the studio, the M50 headphones were designed to provide an unfettered reproduction of what’s produced in a recording session, and that’s the same remit for the M50xBT. Free from enhancements that may, or may not, be added later, the neutral — but not flat — sound is packed full of sparkling, crystal-clear detail. The bass, which can be lacking in some neutral-sounding headphones, is surprisingly pronounced, but it’s the vocal-forward sound stage we adore.
The deep bass is demonstrated in Tokyo Tower Vs. The KLF’s s Down with Mu, and made possible by the large 45mm drivers in each closed-back ear cup. Never over-powering, it drives the track, rather than dominating it. However, it was Strangest Thing by The War on Drugs that gave us shivers. A complex, haunting track, every piece of emotion can be felt listening on the M50xBT. Husky vocals are eventually overtaken by a guitar-driven crescendo that never lets up until the end. All perfectly realized here, with a tight, intimate soundstage and uncomplicated separation of instruments, backing, and vocals. Fabulous.
Characterful, comfortable design
We listened primarily using Sony’s NW-A45 music player, with a combination of FLAC, WAV, and AAC files, but also tested the M50xBT out on an iPhone XS Max and a Huawei Mate 20 Pro. The result was always excellent. The battery inside the M50xBT will last for an impressive 40 hours, more than enough for a week’s worth of general commuting. It needs an overnight charge to go from flat to full, though. A 3.5mm headphone cable is included and can be plugged directly into the headphones if you forget to charge them up.
Audio-Technica has not altered the design much. These aren’t ultra-fashionable, or especially stylish, but they have a particular character. Plus, those “in-the-know” will instantly recognize them as M50 headphones. The same, almost iconic silver circular design on each cup remains, along with the thickly padded hanger emblazoned with the company’s logo on the top. The cups are surprisingly slim, given the battery and driver size, and so look quite compact on the head.
The over-ear design ensures great sound isolation without noise cancelation, although after a couple of hours use we did get slightly sweaty ears. The headphones are very flexible, weigh just 310 grams, and do not grip as much as some — Beats Solo3 Wireless, for example — making them comfortable to wear for extended periods. Provided you have a compatible device, the M50xBT connect with Bluetooth 5.0 for increased reliability and more range and support AptX, AAC, and SBC codecs. There are physical controls on the left cup, and access to Siri using a double tap on the cup when connected to an iPhone. The M50xBT will also operate with Audio-Technica’s new Connect app, which wasn’t available for testing at the time of writing.
We shouldn’t be surprised by Audio-Technica’s ability to make cracking Bluetooth headphones, having already been recently impressed by the ATH-DSR9BT, along with its incredible wired ADX5000 headphones.
Not as expensive as you fear
How much will you pay for the M50xBT? Bluetooth-equipped headphones with a studio heritage suggests a lot; but the great news is they’re competitively priced at $200, or 180 British pounds. Factor in the excellent audio, the 40-hour battery life, and Audio-Technica’s expertise and dedication to producing high-quality headphones, and they represent excellent value.
Audio-Technica didn’t make it easy to buy the M50 headphones. Not on purpose, but because they weren’t designed for you and me. The M50xBT are absolutely designed for us and do an astonishing job of keeping everything that made the originals so beloved intact while adding Bluetooth convenience without sacrificing that unique sound signature. We highly recommend them.