Pros: Crystal clear sound
Cons: No hard case by Yamaha - Solution: 20x18x9cm general headphone hard case (perfect fit)
I spent several hours (more than 40 hours research) to find the best headphone for my budget (under AUD $200). I tried to read as many reviews (mainly the 1-2 stars) as I could to know well-known issues with particular headphones and after spending hours on this, I recognised that I cannot buy an over-ear headphone without trying it in a local shop. Reviewers complain all the time about comfort like "I can't wear it for more than an hour", etc., so this is the best advice that I can give to you: Go to the local shops, test the headphones, choose one, go online and buy it OR go back to the local store and buy it there.
Unfortunately headphones die usually after 1,5-2 years usage nowadays (probably by purpose) and manufacturer usually provides 1 year warranty for their products (Sennheiser offers 2 years).
I'm not an audiophile. I had cheap $10 headphones for my computer and portable devices previously. I decided to step up to a higher lever 2 years ago. I researched the best headphones under $50 and after consideration, I ordered the Koss PortaPro that satisfied my needs that time. It showed me some sounds that I have never recognised in my favourite songs before. This headphone is fold-able, the cable is so tiny and well, I tore it in an awkward moment recently. So it was time to replace it.
I liked the PortaPro but after this incident, I realised that I need something more durable with a better build quality. I started my research and thought that I can order my next headphone online as I did with the PortaPro. As I mentioned earlier, I found that it will not work. So I went to JB Hifi because this is one of the places where you can test some headphones. The problem with places like JB is that, although they have display panels, not all headphones are displayed and the songs that you can listen are given (sometimes the test songs manufactured to the particular headphone so be aware of it). Thus, you can't listen to and test with your favourite songs. That's not good because headphones are like foods: some people like hot dishes, others like mild and we talk about the same category: spicy food. So when people say that "the bass is not enough" it's not enough for them, it might be perfect for you.
I was lucky to find one shop assistant who opened the display panel for me at JB Hifi and allowed me to listen to songs that I like. I was considering the Sennheiser HD 429, HD 439, and HD 280 Pro that time. I liked the sound of the Sennheiser Momentum but it wasn't in my price range and the tiny cable between the can and the head cushion reminded me my accident with the PortaPro. As many reviewers stated the HD 280 Pro had the best sound out of the three but it just squeezed my head after 5 minutes of wearing it. I use a headphone several hours a day (mainly for music, movies and during work) so I decided not to take this headphone. I tried the Sony MDR1A that was comfy but the price was too high.
Online reviewers always mention Audio Technica M50x and how good is it but to be frank, you can't rely on reading reviews, you need to listen music on the headphones. Luckily I found one audio shop nearby where I could test this model. I tested it twice. I went to the shop first time and tried to test this headphone with the Audio Technica ATH-AD900X, the Yamaha HPH200 and the Yamaha HPH-MT220. But they didn't have the Yamahas so I tested the Audio-Technicas. The original price tag on the AD900X was $350 (I could get it for $200 because it was on special) but after listening to the M50x (that was $200 as well) I didn't understand why it was more expensive. The M50x sounded better, at least for me. I asked the shop assistant to get me the Yamaha for a test and they did. It was in the shop next day because one of the guys (from the shop) had it. I'd like to say thank you for him to bring this headphone to the store and give me an opportunity to test it.
So I went back and tested the M50x and the MT220 on my ipod shuffle and android phone and believe me, you don't need amplifier for these headphones. They worked perfectly on these devices without any issues. Of course, I needed to increase the volume around 25-40% compare to my PortaPro but that's it.
Let's clarify this first: both of them are excellent. Seriously.
The following review is based on my ears, I'm not an audiophile so please forgive me if I don't use special words or enough critic like "the bass is not enough", "the high is not accurate enough", etc. I will describe my findings in plain English.
As I mentioned earlier, both of them superb but after 1 hour testing with a wide variety of songs, I found some slight differences such as
- M50x is more colourful in sound, it mainly enhances the vocal and leave the instruments in the background
- MT220 is equal in sound (the instruments are in the same level with the vocal) and it gives you the quality and the clear sound of the recording
I mainly could not "fly" (enjoy the music with closed eyes) with most of the songs by listening to the Yamaha. I'd use it during work (software development) so I prefer not do this But with some songs like Angus & Julia Stone - Big Jet Plane, I was in the music. I saw the instruments playing, it was unbelievable. Before any conjecture: I never used narcotics so if you though that I was high during this test - forget about it
The other difference that I recognised between the M50x and the MT220 was that when I listened to Eagles - Hotel California, I have never ever heard the sound of the airplane in the beginning of the song - from 0:20 to 0:32 (Note: I had this song in 128kbps MP3 format and it was hardly noticeable with the PortaPro). I heard it on the MT220 first so when I listened to this song on the M50x, I was already concentrating on this sound and well, it faded! I heard it in the background but wasn't as clear as on the Yamaha and if I didn't focus on this sound, I I would probably miss it. Also, the MT220 got so punchy in one song (sorry, not sure which rock song was it) and I didn't recognised this with the M50x.
The isolation is almost the same. I heard in low volume that people are around me with both of the headphones but I couldn't understand what they said.
UPDATE: I took the MT220 to work and well there wasn't any sound leakage on Volume 80 (normal sound card of a desktop). Just to clarify: our office is really silent so you can hear anything and my colleague, who sit next to me within a meter, couldn't hear my music. I tested the sound leakage of the MT220 at home with my musician friend and on volume 80 (with DFX Audio Enhancer + max Winamp volume on my laptop) I could hear nicely what song was playing. But without enhancement on normal volume (30) it isolated the sound nicely. On the other hand, with very low volume you can hear the noises of the environment. On volume 30, I could still hear a few noises (basically the songs' default volume aren't the same) but it wasn't disturbing at all. One time, my boss came to my desk and talk to me from 50cm (side way) and I didn't recognised that he was there. So it does the job but the MT220 is not a noise cancellation headphone so don't expect that.
In the shop, the MT220 had a $249 price tag but after talking to the shop assistant he offered it for $220 meanwhile the M50X was $200. I spent around 2 hours testing the headphones in the shop and if I could I would buy both of them. Unfortunately it was not the case, I had to consider other factors such as portability. The M50x is fold-able, has detachable cables so it's better for travelling but the MT220 is mainly for studio purpose so the fixed cable should not be an issue. Bear in mind, when a headphone has extra features (such as volume control, detachable cable, etc.) more things can be wrong. Although, I like the secure jack solution (plug in and turn) of the M50x.
UPDATE: Yamaha doesn't provide a hard case for the MT220 but I found a general headphone case (20x18x9cm) that's perfect for it. With this case, the portability and transportation of the MT220 is not an issue. It's a bit bigger case than the M50x's but doesn't make much difference for me. Perfectly fit into my backpack or messenger bag.
UPDATED - July 2015: I've bought and used the MT220 for almost 6 months (around 5-7 hours daily on workdays) and it's extremely comfortable. It can be hot after a while (3-4 hours) but if you remove it for 10-15 seconds and put it back, it will be perfect again (unfortunately, this is unavoidable in case of over-ear headphones). The built quality of the MT220 is superb, it has plenty of screws so if you need to change something on this headphone - that I doubt - you can easily do it. It doesn't have a detachable cable so there is no change that the socket will wear out.
UPDATED - Nov 2016: I used this headphone in the last 20 months so I felt that it's time to update you guys, how the headphone is going. I had two issues with the MT220 up to.
The first issue was related to the synthetic leather cushion as it started peeling off. Well time past and when you're wearing this headphone daily for 5-6 hours (on weekdays) as me, it's unavoidable after 1.5 years. I got annoyed of the small black pieces on my cloth and neck so I peeled the cover off recently (couple of months ago). You'll be surprised but I like this textile cushion better. Same comfort but less mess.
My second issue was more serious as it was related to the left ear cup. I experienced sound loss and much lower volume in the left ear cup than the right. I was afraid that this is the end of my headphone as this is the clear sign that you reached the life time of the headphone. As I use my MT220 at work (93% of the time), I was suspecting my desktop as a cause. The front audio socket of it always gives you the "secondary sounds" e.g. drum clearer than vocal or you can hear the additional singers in the "front" and the main vocal "at the back"... (I hope it make sense). As a result, I used the socket on the back panel. It worked well first but I started experiencing the issues with the left ear cup after 1,5 years. When I unplugged the headphone and plugged it into the front socket, the left ear cup was full with sound so it worked again... It was weird, so I took the headphone home to test it on my laptop that does not have audio card / driver issues. Surprisingly, I still had the ear cup issue when I first plugged the headphone into my laptop but after unplugging it and plugging it again, the problem was solved. It was really weird.
I did some research on this issue and people suggested to move the cushion on the ear cup when this "sound loss" happens. I tried it at work and sometimes it worked, sometimes not. So what did I do? Well, not much. I had to remove the cushion to peel the synthetic leather off and it might helped. I don't know. When I used the headphone again with the textile cushion, I had the sound loss but when I moved the cushion, it became good again. I don't have this issue with the MT220 since August... It's a very weird issue and it probably includes several components but if you experience this sound loss, don't throw this headphone away. Try to play with the cushion and it might helps... Something definitely solved this sound loss issue on mine as the sound of the MT220 is exceptional again. No volume issues, sound's crystal clear like when I bought it...