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Excellent quality and value

A Review On: Audio-Technica ATH-M50S

Audio-Technica ATH-M50S

Rated # 2 in Over-Ear
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $125.00
Lunatique
Posted · Updated · 131803 Views · 12 Comments

Pros: Excellent value, substantial sub-bass , non-fatiguing, relatively neutral/accurate, folds for traveling

Cons: Pleather gets sweaty, rotating earcups annoying if you're not a DJ, soundstage a bit small, not for those after perfectly neutral frequency response

(Disclaimer: This review was written while considering the very low price-point of the M50, and what you can get for that amount of money. It does not mean the M50 can go up against the high-end headphones that cost several hundred to thousands of dollars. My main headphones are high-end headphones, and the M50 is only used while I'm doing tracking or traveling. I wouldn't use it as my everyday headphone since I have superior headphones for that, such as the Audez'e LCD-2.)

 

The ATH-M50 is one of those rare products where the quality/price ratio really hits the sweet spot, and in fact is like a small miracle in the world of pro audio. When you get Grammy Award-winning audio engineers and producers like George Massenburg, Frank Filipetti, Al Schmitt...etc singing its praises publicly, you know it's got to be something special. (Though let's be honest--those guys probably wouldn't mix on the M50, although they'd do tracking on them.)

The M50 pulls off the difficult balance of being neutral, accurate, and detailed while not causing listening fatigue, and that is one of the most important things to get right when it comes to any audio device. If the device hurts your ears with shrill or piercing treble, then no matter how "detailed and revealing" you think it is, you won't be able to withstand the sonic torture anyway. Designed as professional studio monitors, the M50 can be used all day long without any listening fatigue, and it's tonal balance is accurate enough that many respected audio engineers would not hesitate to do tracking with them (though mixing on them is probably asking a bit much). Being sealed headphones, they also are a favorite among musicians and singers when recording, as they do not bleed into the microphone like open headphones (which means you also won't bother the people sitting near you, unlike open headphones where others will hear a tinny version of what you're hearing).

One of the most outstanding characteristics of the M50 is its sub-bass extension (50Hz and below), which is both deep and substantial. The quantity of bass is slightly more than neutral, so it's a good headphone for those who likes a bit more bass than neutral. Its raised bass is a broad and gentle curve and sounds quite natural and pleasing, and is not annoyingly bloated or distorted. 


The mids and the treble are smooth, and the treble never gets gratings like many other headphones. If I must nitpick, I might say that the treble is slight hard and has a metallic timbre when compared to open-back headphones. But it doesn't get in the way of the music too much and it's only noticeable if you do A/B comparisons with headphones that have very smooth/neutral treble response and know intimately how specific instruments are supposed to sound (such as the cymbals on a drum kit). What I really love about the M50's upper mids and treble is that it follows the rule of "First, do no harm." With other headphones that "fake" detail by raising a few to several dB's in the lower treble/high-mids region, some songs can sound very shrill and fatiguing--especially on sharp snare hits or vocal sibilance--but on the M50, those tracks sound quite balanced and natural, never harsh and irritating.

The soundstage of the M50 is smaller than the average open-cans, because of its sealed design. This is perhaps the only thing sonically I wish it could be improved upon, but this does not mean the soundstage of the M50 is claustrophobic or in any way detrimental to the listening experience--it's simply not as open and lush as headphones like the Sennheiser HD6XX/5XX series (and other high quality open-cans).

Physically, the M50 is pretty comfortable to wear, but pleather tends to get a bit sweaty, and is a necessary evil for sealed-headphones. The rotating earcups are a bit annoying when taking the M50 on and off, since sometimes you have to rotate the earcups back into the correct orientation. For traveling, the M50 folds down to about half of its normal size, and that makes it very easy to travel with, not to mention more durable because it's harder to accidentally bend them or twist them out of shape. The overall look of the M50 has a pleasant, no-none-sense professional appeal--they really do look like they were designed to feel right at home in professional studios.

On a side note, the Sennheiser HD280 Pro is often recommended to musicians who need sealed-cans, and I highly suggest anyone considering a pair of nice sealed cans check out the M50, as they walk all over the HD280 in every single way possible, while still remaining very reasonably priced.

12 Comments:

I have had a set of HD280s for years and still love their sound, but they were also my first 'real' headphones. I am expecting a set of M50s this week or next, and am very excited to hear the differences. Your review has made me very confident that I will love my new cans for as many years as I have loved my 280s!
The 280 is better than the M50.
Het guys sorry for the nieve questions but im completely new with this stuff
I really like how the reveiw sounds and the price
My overall budget was $400 max but i was suprised to see the price tag on this and how highly it is favored
I just plain and simple want to get the max out of these
What would be a good amplifier to add on and how to they work
Preferably a amp like $50-$100 range
I havent ever looked into amps but heard they help with sound quality
So if my numbers are waay off sorry
And one more thing
Hows the leakage.
You don't need an amplifier. In fact, headphone amplifiers are largely unnecessary and a total waste of money and hyped up ridiculously in the headphone community. The only time you need to buy a dedicated headphone amp is if:
1) Your audio interface/receiver/stereo/computer cannot actually output enough volume
2) Your audio interface/computer has really horrible sound quality, with audible distortion, lots of noise, and messed up frequency response. This is highly unlikely these days as D/A converters used in recent years are already far better than even the professional ones from ten or fifteen years ago. The truth is, today's cheap consumer D/A converters are plenty good enough, unless you have highly trained professional level understanding of audio fidelity or incredibly picky and are accustomed to really high-end audio products. Otherwise, even if you can hear any audible differences, they will be so minute that you'd wonder why the hell you spent the extra money on a dedicated amp.
Don't buy into the hype and the exaggerations that the community at large likes to perpetuate and promote. Be pragmatic in your purchases, and only spend the extra money when you are 100% sure you can hear clearly audible and compelling differences when doing critical comparison testing (ideally double-blind tests), otherwise it's mostly just placebo effect and your vanity playing tricks on you.
I must disagree with this. My main use of a headphone amp is volume, for the ipod is actually never loud enough for me. I also decrease gain of the audio files to rid it of clipping. The issue is that iPod's and such are designed with the current music of today, which are rendered in high decibel levels. I don't listen to current music often, so as a result, my music is far to quiet, even before I use programs like MP3Gain to lower the decibel levels. The E07K does change the sound noticeably. Fullness is introduced that the ipod cannot deliver, making everything sound more complete, cleaner and more lifelike. I also hear a bit more soundstage with my amp. The E07K also gives the music a different sound than the E11 did, where it is not as enhanced in the warmth it delivers ( enhanced bass and recessed mids), but truer to the sound of neutral. Amps also allow the sound to be changed in the highs and lows, and mids. This is much better than the ipod or similar players, which "increase" bass by decreasing everything else, or "increase" treble in the same way. This actually lowers the volume of an already quiet sources. Amps provide gain to the desired areas of increase, or those areas can be removed of gain as well.
If you can hear clearly differences for the better, and the money spent was within your tolerance for diminishing returns, then sure, the purchase was worth it to you. But it isn't worth it for a lot of people who do spend money only to hear very minute changes--nothing close to what hype likes to refer to as "night and day" difference in sound quality.
This is by far the most accurate review of the M50's I have seen. People looking for a magical listening experience won't find it with these cans.
These are for pro studio use and really the only set of cans you want to use if you're forced to mix in headphones, because it has the most accurate bass reproduction of any headphones out, which if you've ever attempted to do headphone mixing, bass is the bottleneck every time.
@inthere - In the recent years, there has been much more expensive headphones that are even better at accurate bass reproduction than the M50, such as the Audez'e LCD series, or the Hifiman HE-5xx/6xx series, etc. But for the low price-point, the M50 is still one of the best.
You may be right about better bass reproduction but in my experience the Hifiman's are not very practical in a studio setup because of the cost and the fact that without research you could easily wind up with a dud for a headphone amp. For the cost of the headphones+the amp you could do much better just getting speakers. With the ATH M50's you can pretty much just plug them into any headphone jack and get to work.
Since these are closed back headphones it would be hard for them to have a wider soundstage than open back headphones but for what they are, they do have a wide soundstage for being closed back.
Lunatique has a key point when he says that current technology is far more accurate in every segment than 10 or 15 years ago and that this enables astonishing hifi experience compared to those days. But so are the recordings. It's the full music production chain that has drastically improved. Today's recordings hardly compare to those days either. Digital music from A to Z enables the simple human ear to get closer and closer to natural sound, at a lower and lower cost. What's missing is dynamics. A big band live will hardly sound the same at home, unless you can spend thousands of €.
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