Under the Radar

ATH-M50X: A Perfect Studio/Home Listening Hybrid

 

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50X is a long-awaited update to one of the most respected professional audio headphones. If you're looking for a reasonably-price pair that can work in a home recording setup and also do double duty for casual listening, then go order a pair right away. Even though the retail price is $239, you'll be able to find them for around $170 online. Even if you're not an aspiring audio engineer or musician, the M50X just might be the best under-$200 over-ear headphone choice. 

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Pro audio first:  I was a firm devotee of the Sony MDR-7506 for many years. They were relatively inexpensive ($120 or so), pretty flat/neutral sounding (good if you're trying to get a sense of what you're recording in the studio) and sturdy. Somehow, over the last decade or so, "sturdy" seemed to fall out of the equation. The foam earpads on the last pair I bought slipped off repeatedly and were such a challenge to reattach that I finally gave up and threw them in a drawer.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 was the replacement choice. They have a bit more emphasis on the low end than the Sonys (but nothing like the HEAVY DISTORTED BASS that dominates a lot of speakers on the market) but, overall, they were a substantial audio upgrade for the extra $40 or so they cost. And they're incredibly sturdy, able to handle all the drops and tripped-over cords that are inevitable in a studio environment.

The new ATH-M50X headphones sound pretty much the same and don't mess much with the all-business design.

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The #1 improvement here are the removable cables. You can use the traditional coiled cable or swap it out for a 3.9' or 9.8' straight cable. The cables detach and reattached easily. If you trash one, your phones don't have to go out of service while you get them repaired.

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You also get a travel pouch and a 1/4" adapter. The earpads flip out if you have DJ aspirations and turn 90° so you can leave them flat on a table. Another big plus is that left and right channels are clearly marked: the big and unstylish L & R are a welcome change from the hidden letters on most anything else you can buy these days.

These things are definitely my #1 choice for in-studio sessions and I've been using them to check mixes. I've also been picking them up a lot for casual listening and there's really a lot to like here. If you want a style option, you can now get them in white or, for around $20 more, an aggressive blue-and-tan model. They're not heavy and stay comfortable for extended listening periods. The over-ear design means they're going to take up more room in your bag than an on-ear model, but they're sturdy enough that they'll survive quite a bit of jostling while you're traveling. The cables don't have a built-in microphone or volume control, so you can't control a phone in your pocket with them if that's a deal breaker.

To recap: if you've got a home studio, these are the best choice. If you're looking for headphones that can pull double duty for home recording and personal listening, these are what you want. Even if you never plan to plug in a guitar or set foot in a vocal booth, these offer incredible value in the under-$200 range and are definitely worth a look.

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