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A great starter headphone, with querks

A Review On: Audio-Technica ATH-M50S

Audio-Technica ATH-M50S

Rated # 5 in Over-Ear
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Price paid: $151.00
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Pros: Inexpendable value, dynamic, great feel and look, decent sound

Cons: Shrill highs at high volume, can distort, mids recessed, muddy and slow, weak sound stage

Before i get on to the sound, I will give you a summerized box reaction. Looking at these through the plastic box, they have an almost ikea asthetic about them, sort of a minimal hipster look. They have a funky way of sitting in the box and i couldnt help but hope they didnt sound as minimal as the looked through the box. However, as soon as i pulled them out and felt them in my hand and got a better look, i almost soiled myself. The headband and pleather pads are just about some of the comfiest things ive ever put my hands on. They just looked like they were MEANT to be worn and loved.


After seeing them in a 360 degree view, they just looked beautiful. Pictures do not do justice to the beauty of these headphones, but with a poor quality camera and some poor camera work, i tried :)


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I couldnt help but sneak them on my head after fondling the pads with my hands. They felt DECADENT! 


So, naturally, i have far too much curiosity at this point to not give them a listen before burn in, so i plugged them straight into my ipods headphone jack and hit shuffle. 


3 words: Muddy, distant, recessed mids :( I thought i might have been sent a dud or that they needed a lot more power than they might have assumed with their low impedence. So without further adue, i will move in to a thorough description of my first impressions. 


First Impressions:

Low Volume: Bass seemed a little muddy, voices noticeably more recessed than the rest of the sound signature, and i NEVER though i would be a stickler about voices. It is so blatantly apparent that even my relatively untrained and non-analytical ear became frustrated by it. Sound seems very "in front of you", but not in terms of distance; i mean in terms of direction. Yep, that means very little sound stage, almost none. I have 50$ IEM's that have better sound staging than these, however that might be preferred for some people to have a more center focused and distant sound. The distance feels as though your at least 15 seats back from the front stage. You feel as though your in the same room as the music, just very far away from the speakers. Very little sound stage. You definately know your wearing headphones. Snare doesn't have correct timbre.


High volume: Snare and voices more natural sounding but definately "behind" the lead guitars and bass guitars when listening to rock. I would never consider myself a guy that would notice recessed vocals but it was just so obvious that it made it uncomfortable and certainly not balanced listening. I know for a fact that the vocals were not that recessed in the recording. It wasn't horribly bad, it just sounded like the vocals were playing at a different volume level than the bass guitars and lead guitars and percussion. Guitars in high notes sound shrill and extremely bright with some distortion. 


Fit: comfortable, sturdy, very nice fit for my head at the stock settings. However, after about 10 minutes of listening i already could feel my ears sweating to the point where the pleather was actually sticking to my ears! Clamping force was noticeable but i liked it, sort of like they were giving you a nice big bear hug. I could see how it might bother some people, but i like it. Rest assured it could be easily fixed by stretching them out over a box while burning them in.


Overall verdict of first impressions: i just wasted $150 bucks, hugely overhyped 



After 100 hours of burn in: Much better sounding! All the previous querks still noticeable but are far more tolerable, bass is very nice and strong hitting on any low frequency range thrown at it, but definately not overpowered. Maybe slightly emphasiszed, but not overpowering. Bass in these will only sound overpowering if you bought them after listening to a bass-less headphone like the akg 701's. Highs are still shrill and bright and painful to listen to, however the distortion issue is gone. Mids are still indeed very, very recessed. 


These headphones, even in their best genre which i would argue to be electronic, feel way to far from the source of music for my liking. I stated earlier that they feel about 15 rows back from the stage; thats being generous. I feel like i'm sitting in an auditorium designed to house very loud volumes and heavy rock bands, but hearing a highschool band play on a fer marshal amps sitting right next to them up front on the stage, very far away. However, the sound that is coming from very far away and very centered, is a very balanced and high quality sound. 


In order to get the engagement I want from these headphones, I am constantly motivated to turn them up to extremely high volumes, because that brings me much closer to the stage and the instruments start to tune up and come alive at high volumes. However, even at the highest volumes, the mids are still noticeable recessed even to an undiscerning ear. Also, the trade off is that in order to get the volume and engagement and louder vocals, the highs become unbearable (atleast to me) at high volumes on some types of music, especially rock with high pitched guitars. A guitar solo is too painful to hear and its sad because guitar solos are some of my favorite parts of music to hear.


Verdict: They have a great balanced sound with emphasis on the low end, very little sound stage, seems "far away", slow and hard to keep up on complex music with lots going on (sort of like if you had a balanced steak dinner with a side of green beans and mash potatoes, and someone took them and mushed them in a blender and poured the result into a soup bowl and handed it to you), with bright and sometimes painful highs. Certainly a capable headphone with its own personaility that may fit some types of listeners, and is a high quality headphone worth its price. If you like to feel close and engaged with your music, dont buy. It just isnt worth the ear damage you will inevitably get trying to compensate by turning up the volume extremely loud. 


It is worth the plunge for anyone to try who hasnt really decided what type of music listener they are. This is for a relaxed listener who wants to keep its distance from the music, with warm bass and harsh and engaging highs, with recessed mids. At this price, these are a steal and if you decide you dont like them, they are a great reference phone to compare other headphones in the future should you choose to upgrade. They are balanced but distanced.




Peace, love, happiness, and a good pair of headphones to all !










Let me give you my end-month impressions for those who would like to see long use impressions.
These headphones still have all the flaws aforementioned, especially in the exaggerated treble. I hate how they attempted to produce more engaging highs by making them blaringly bright. Mids are still recessed as ever once were, which I am not okay with in any headphone.
Also, anybody who thinks these sound even somewhat okay out of the box is out of their mind. They need tons of burn in and I am still noticing improvements with over 400+ hours on them. However, that does not make them an outstanding headphones because they keep improving, because they were so horrible before burn in that i thought I had been sent a dud. Now they are merely an acceptable headphone that excells in no field.
They do still have a very nice sense of clarity, but it seems sort of digital and fake, sort of if they were tuned from worse sounding drivers to give the impression of a better sounding headphone. They sort of achieve it, but absolutely nothing sounds analog and natural about it.
They are extremely revealing and really do tune up with good quality headphone amps.
I will be finished with my last words for this long term review in saying that they are bright, but not in a high clarity way, just in a digital enhancement of high frequencies to similuate high quality high frequencies. Mids are very much behind the music an entire elvel, percussion (since most of its in the midrange listening range except for thumbing bass) is very non-present, and as a percussionist, this bothers me. Lows are nice but a bit bloaty and muddy and slow. The power in which they behold is a nice specticle but they sure arent the most finely tuned bass ive heard.
A decent headphone, but for $150, there are loads of headphones of a much higher tier of quality in a sight price range above. Use your money resided for these as a down payment for headphones truly have the quality they try to portray, rather than digitally tuning it and simulating it poorly.
Thanks for such your detailed review.    It was such a relief to read, because your experience with these headphones is exactly identical to mine, and I am puzzled at the huge number of 5 star reviews.     I'm not an audiophile, but I moved to these when my Grado SR125s died, so I'm used to good headphones.    My first reaction to these was, "Why am I not feeling anything?"    
Gradually I figured it out:    it was the clearly recessed mids you complain about -- along with excessive treble, and boomy bass that seemed lacking in detail.     The whole effect was to keep me from feeling much emotion -- which for me makes them unworthy even of four stars.   I returned them, though I definitely did it reluctantly.    I kept thinking, "Surely I'm missing something.   Everyone seems to like these.   Maybe another 20 hours of burn in?"   But the essential problems remained the same after all kinds of burn-in, exactly as with you.
On "Help" by The Beatles, Ringo and John Lennon sounded about equally loud.     On every other piece of audio equipment I've used, Lennon is way out in front, and Ringo is keeping a very simple beat in the background.      It's like Lennon is standing a few feet back from the microphone on these headphones.     This experience (along with truly annoying experiences of sibilance) was repeated over a broad range of music I listened to over a nine day period while I tried these out.
"Recessed mids" is such a dry-sounding term, but it really translates as, "The heart of the music is missing."     Usually the mids are where the melody is, and the melody is where the heart of the piece is.    So it is a very big deal.
Still, our experience is so unlike that of other people, it makes me wonder if it's a quality standards problem.    Are we all hearing the same headphone?    Or are some built better than others?    In any case, it was a relief to find someone who hears what I heard in listening to these.
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