I originally wrote this for my site, H4A.
As recently as a few months ago, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 was at THE headphone to recommend to new audiophiles. However, due to factors like price hikes, a design change, and new players in the headphone game, it has now been displaced at the top. How did this happen? H4A takes a look:
On Head-Fi, the world’s largest online community of headphone lovers, there are 346 registered owners of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 and ATH-M50S (The M50S simply denotes a straight cable). Compared to the Ultrasone HFI-580, one of its original competitors (which has 27 registered owners), that number is astounding. In a spiral of recommendations to inexperienced owners to more recommendations, it gained the lead for a long time. However, many factors have lead to its demise as one of the top recommendations. They are:
1. Many more senior voices in forums such as Head-Fi have come out of the woodwork to fight the vicious cycle of first-time headphone buyers immediately recommending their only headphone to other first-timers. Up until recently, whenever a question was asked to an online audiophile community, newer members who had only owned the M50 jumped into the conversation and claimed the M50 as the best thing ever until other voices were simply drowned out. Since they’d never tried any other similarly-priced can, these people had no frame of reference and were more likely to overhype (think Beats). Now, many dissident members have taken back control of these discussions and lead to a more educated decision based on each person’s preferences.
2. A redesign has made the M50 obsolete at its original use. When it first came out, it was known as a very satisfactory can for budget-minded bassheads. However, the new white-box version of the headphone approaches the situation with a more neutral sound. While it is, on the whole, still bassy, it has nothing on headphones from Ultrasone or other basshead brands. Since it is still not quite neutral, though, it cannot truly compete with true monitor headphones employed in studios.
3. Audio-Technica, in conjunction with the redesign of the M50, increased the price of the headphone. This opened it up to a slightly higher level of competition and made many of its peers in the lower price range seem a better value. Now, instead of the M50 being suggested for a budget audiophile, now competition from other established brands has effectively shut down its cause.
4. Finally, new competition from previously-unknown manufacturers has been in vogue recently, with the wealthier members of the forums going out and trying almost every no-name brand they can find. Companies like KRK and Fischer Audio have managed to excel at everything the M50 was known for, often even besting it at a lower price.
Don’t get me wrong. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 is still a great headphone. I own one that has over 1200 hours of listening time on it and is still used regularly. However, a combination of many factors has seen to its value becoming less and less as time goes on, and there are now other cans out there that beat it for the same price or are on par at lower. Most importantly of all, the hype train for the M50 has been slowed, with lots of response to any recommendation of it.
The old king is dead.