Pros: Bass, Treble, Impact, Looks
Cons: Bass bleeds into the mids, is uncomfortable for the first 1-6 months
For the money, these are a great pair of headphones. I love them, and I've had them for years now, but I have since started to search for new cans because I want better detail and transparency while maintaining the basic sound sig of the ATH M50. I've read some extremely flattering, and unflattering reviews of these 'phones, and I intend merely to give my unbiased opinion.
These puppies have had enough power to grab my attention and enough low end impact to keep me listening for a long time. The sound, to my ears, is indeed very neutral, but the high bass freq tends to blend into the low mid freq giving these 'phones a "wall of sound" effect that is endearing (to me).
Now, I'm a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, and these headphones do extremely well with their music. That being said, the high's can become extremely fatiguing when listening to Billy's very high and winy voice on some of his less polished tracks. I will say that I don't find these cans fatiguing unless listened to at very loud levels, at which point the treble can indeed start to become harsh, or when listening to music that is already very bright. The sound on these headphones fall somewhere between bright and natural, leaning a little more towards bright, which can be harsh when paired with the wrong type of music, eg: high screaming guitars or lyrics, Now, I don't really mean AC/DC style electric rock, I'm again referring to furious alt rock.
I've read reviews where people claim that the ATH-M50's are very comfortable. This is a bit misleading. After owning these headphones for years, I have now gotten used to the pressure they put on your head, and the fact that the pleather pads are shallow enough to allow the driver to sit uncomfortably against your ear. The latter can apparently be fixed by swapping out the stock Audio Technica pads with thicker, higher grade options, which I have not done. When first purchasing these headphones, they were extremely uncomfortable, and would have to be removed not long after putting them on. I have since gotten used to them and can wear them for much longer periods of time(about 2-3 hours), after which they still do make my ears sore.
The real reason I want to replace these headphones is because they are not particularly transparent. The sound stage is small and not particularly open. I haven't owned any real headphones besides these, but I have made trips to local stores where I have listened to Sennheisers, Dennons, Sony's, etc... I find that the ATH-M50's deliver similar results as far as overall bass response, clarity, soundstage and speed are concerned with pricier competition in the closed back variety. But compared to the more open Sennheiser HD 598, the ATH M50's really fall short on clarity and sound stage. Now, when listening to music, clarity IS nice, but I wouldn't sacrifice overall sound quality for clarity. Directly comparing the two headphones, the Sennheisers were a bit more forgiving and transparent, but their bass reproduction is horrible. Listening to acoustic bass guitars produced a sound very similar to the farting routine of South Park's Terrance and Phillip. The Sennheiser 598 retails at 175$ and the ATH-M50 can be found ranging from 85$-150$. In my humble opinion, the ATH-M50 completely out perform the Sennheisers when it comes down to bass. At this price range, from what I've heard, I believe that either soundstage/detail will need to be sacrificed, or good, punchy, extended bass response will. These differing strengths will probably define what people will prefer to choose at this price range.
My conclusion? If you can find these 'phones for 85$-125$ I say pull the trigger and grab 'em (just make sure they are the real deal). If not, take the time to make a decision about what kind of sound signature you like and how much money you are willing to spend to get it. But either way, these are a great pair of headphones for the 200$ crowd, and I highly recommend them for a pair of great sounding headphones, if you can put up with their un-comfortableness.