Best in Class: Another Audio-Technica M50 Review

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by Airz, Aug 31, 2017.
  1. Airz
    There are a thousand and one reviews on this product, so if you want to read a normal step by step review, you don't have to look far. What I have to say in this review goes for both the old M50, which I own, and the newer M50x. What I want to do is help beginners and first time buyers on the fence to make a decision, because sometimes it can be hard to know what to do with all of the various opinions you get regarding these headphones.

    I went up to visit some friends in Kentucky and met someone who had recently bought some V-Moda headphones. They are good headphones and a solid option to choose. This fellow had also gone on Head-Fi and looked up what he wanted out of a headphone. All good. When the friend I had come up to visit and was staying with asked what a good choice of headphones are, I wholeheartedly recommended the Audio-Technica M50’s and this fellow recommended the V-Moda’s. I had the M50’s personally for 4 years at the time, and I felt they were a very good choice for him, especially since he listened to so many genres. Then the guy with the V-Moda’s said, “No, I don’t think you want those. They are waaay too bass heavy!”

    Wait. What? I’ve had these for years. Bass “emphasis” yes. But I would be hard-pressed to call them heavy, especially compared to the “SUPER”, “EXTRA”, “MEGA”, “ULTRA”, Bass headphones at Best Buy. He extolled his V-Moda’s and how good they were. And they are. But the “better” V-Moda’s were at a much higher price point, and although I didn’t have my M50’s handy to compare I could tell that the bass was hardly any less than the M50s. In fact, after a recent demo, they definitely had a higher quantity of bass. I asked him if he had ever actually tried out the M50’s in person before. And of course, he said “No”. But what he said next struck me. “But I read all kinds of reviews on Head-Fi about them and I know what they sound like”.

    Well, so have I. In fact that’s what lead me to buy them. But the fact is that here, great exaggerations are often made because reviewing sound is akin to trying to describe color. It’s very hard. We often use words that are texture, elevation, or visually related to try. Crunchy, piercing, warm, bright, punching, hot, cold, clear, clean, smooth, dark, fuzz, bite, sparkle, muddy, and flat. Think for a moment. What these actually have to do with sound? Without context, they each describe something very different. To make matters worse, many headphones sound very similar to each other overall, and the differences, while obvious to a listener, may prove very hard to put on paper. So it is no wonder that exaggerations are made.

    I read tons of reviews before my purchase. I vacillated and vexed over what to buy for weeks. I read about how they have tinny highs, sound terrible with piano, have a ridiculously recessed midrange and yet too much mid-bass, have too much bass in general, boomy, muddy, piercing, how you can barely hear the vocals, are not balanced, have no sound stage, sound like a bad club, and so on. I was worried because of all the negative reviews that I read. After I told all this to an audiophile friend of mine, he said not to worry and just buy them. So I did. After I bought them all of that worry disappeared. I loved them. What did I think of all of those reviews I read? Every single one of them was true.

    You see, there are many different songs, from many different artists, recorded in many different studios, using vastly varying equipment. Because of that there are huge differences in the way the end product sounds. No set of headphones will be perfect for them all. Even among the Hi-Fi, different setups are preferred for certain sounds.

    So did it sound terrible on piano? On certain songs, yes. Does it sound muddy and unclear? On certain songs, yes. Does it have “tinny” treble? On certain songs, yes. Is the mid-range way to recessed? On certain songs, yes. Does it “suffer” from not having a soundstage? On certain songs, yes. Is there a lot of bass? On certain songs, yes. Do they sound imbalanced? On certain songs, yes. Do they sound like a bad club? On certain songs, yes.

    You see because of the vast quantity of music out there, it is inevitable that a lot of it won’t sound good through these headphones. They are far from alone. Many high end headphones costing many times the M50’s price have that problem too. The point is, that they sound good with the “majority” of music. In fact most headphones that you hear in all of these stores have sound signatures that resemble the M50’s V Shape to one degree or another. It is a very popular sound signature, because most music these days are recorded to sound good with it. It’s exciting and fun, and the M50’s give you that with enough of a balance and clarity to be better than most.

    Which leads me to the point that I told him. The Audio-Technica M50 and now M50x is a Best in Class Headphone. It is not the best headphone. It is not even the best headphone at this price point. But for what it does, at the price it does it at, it is very hard to beat. It has stood the test of time. Studios all over the world use them professionally to monitor tracks and have been doing so for years now. Because of this a great deal of music will sound great with them.

    Of course there will still be people that disagree with this. Keep in mind however that most of them also own thousands of dollars’ worth of better equipment and have no real need or desire to use these anyway. I’ve seen more than my fair share of “angry” M50 reviews here and elsewhere. In fact I’ve even decided that how someone reviews the M50 is a qualifier for what kind of reviewer they are.

    So if you’re on the fence about buying these, hop on off that fence. These are great headphones that are used both professionally and for personal enjoyment. They are headphones that have stood the test of time very well. If you think that these might just be the headphones for you, they probably are. Go ahead and read the reviews, but just know that great exaggerations will be made and very personal opinions will be given, even if they say they are not. You can be confident in your purchase and know that you made a sound decision.

    And PLEASE. Don’t tell someone you know how headphones sound just because you read the reviews on Head-Fi.

    Go get yourself some great headphones!
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2017
  2. serman005
    I own the M50x and personally, my experience has been that the bass is overly exuberant and tends to step on the mids. Those are my problems with the M50x. I find the M40x (also own it) to be a more balanced iteration of the MX0x line. Your mileage obviously varies, but that is just my take on it. --)
     
  3. cossix
    Am I wrong or isn't there a forum for reviews
     
    Music Alchemist likes this.
  4. Audioholic123
    I used to own ath-m50x's and I thought they where good but I don't understand why they are used as studio headphones..
    Perhaps they would be a good choice to record/produce bassy music..but ideally studio headphones should have a ruler flat frequency response.
    Fostex T50RP's are the perfect studio headphones IMO, not ath-m50x's.
     
  5. Hondadude85
    If my ears could properly fit in the Dixie cup sized earcups I could give them a listen... but apparently audio technica thinks everyone has Shrek ears.
     
  6. Airz
    One thing that people often forget is the difference between Monitoring and Mastering. The M50’s wouldn’t be used in professional mastering. Not unless they wanted a reference for what a normal consumer would wear. In fact headphones are not usually used at all for mastering. High quality speakers are. And any headphones that are at the desk are used as a reference to pin point something or to hear something from another point of view.

    People have various opinions as what is good enough for Monitoring. But that fact is that for Monitoring, all you need to do is be able to hear what you’re doing. (Technically you could use a lot lower quality of headphones to get the job done, but nobody wants to have to hear those when recording.) For that reason a plethora of headphones are used for monitoring. This one just happens to be one of the more popular options. And I agree about the M40. It’s a great headphone and I think it should be used more in studios. Maybe it will be in the future. (And maybe it is now. It's not like I work in one.) My point was not whether the M50 should or shouldn’t be used. My point is that professionals are using in a production environment, and it’s one of the most popular for the job, so there has to be merit to them. They aren’t going to sound horrid, like some angry reviewers suggest.

    And of course I am not a professional music producer. Most of us on here aren’t. We are just enthusiasts. So we can’t really say why they choose the M50 for sure. (If there are any sound engineers in the music industry with a comment, please explain.) I have a few reasons that might serve as possibilities.

    1. Musicians don’t like FLAT

    True, I’m sure there are some that like that signature. But ask any guitarist what their preferred sound of amp and speaker is and you will not get the word “flat”. Ask any acoustic musician what they sound of their stringed instrument should sound like and “flat” will not be said. Ask a singer what they would like their voice to sound like coming out of a PA and “flat” still probably won’t be mentioned. It’s not that a flat signature couldn’t be useful in any of these scenarios, especially the vocals. It’s just that as a whole musicians want their sound to be better than it is, not the same. And many musicians know little about how to produce their music. They just know what their vision of the song is. So when tracking or listening to themselves through headphones “flat” may not be what the studio wants them to hear. Perhaps they found that musicians were happier with hearing the sound “colored”. I have a feeling that might be part of the reason.

    2. Familiarity

    Example: I personally don’t like the Shure SM58 microphone. I think that, at least with my voice and the equipment I’ve used, it sounds metallic and muddy. I also think its durability is severely overrated. At its price point there are many other microphones that have better sound quality. I am not the only person who feels this way. However, it is used in studios, concert halls, coffee shops, and venues all over the world. It has been that way for decades. And it doesn’t look like it will be giving up this status anytime soon. Why? Familiarity. People know what they are getting with this microphone, be it the singer or the mixer. It has a predicable sound and they know what to expect and how to use it properly with the other equipment. And it can be made to sound very good if you know what you’re doing. So even though it’s not the “best”, it’s still #1.

    I relate this to the M50. While I think the opposite is true regarding its price point, it may be familiarity that keeps it in studios. It is a good sounding headphone and keep in mind that the M40 and many competitors did not exist for a long time. This was the king for many people. If the studio knows what to expect, the musicians know what to expect, and the engineers know how to EQ it; it’s not going anywhere for a long time.

    3. Durability and Robust Design

    Something that cannot be overlooked is the build quality on these headphones. The attached cable version (Not M50x) has one of the best jacks I have ever seen for ¼ inch. I personally used my M50’s in high school and I lived in a place known for its intense heat. Let’s just say that they survived and still function well, even after being left in hot cars time after time. And while they are a little worse for wear after all these years, the sound quality has not degraded. If it can survive that, surely it can survive studio use. Another good reason to use them. Now that they have removable headphone jacks, these may never leave service from shear lifespan alone.

    Another point on the design is the swivel cups. Quite a few studio headphones don’t have this feature (AKG is one of the popular ones) and it is very useful for one ear use.

    A point was made about comfort. I understand. I have a smaller head and my ears fit perfectly. Even the AKG Q701 headband, notorious for those bumps, doesn’t bother me because so little pressure is being exerted. That said though, this is the first time anyone has told me that their ears didn’t fit. So it may not be a problem for the vast majority, but is something that maybe should be considered if you… well, have a rather large noggin.

    As for the bass, I agree it is far from flat. Perhaps I did not specify in the original post just how much this person was exaggerating it, even though they had never tried them. It was bad. He really came away from Head-Fi believing the V-Moda’s he bought were more neutral than the M50s. And I’m sorry to say that they weren't. They were more bass heavy. But he still got good headphones and he really enjoys them. I think that’s really the point. Anyone just entering the higher quality audio world doesn’t really know what “bass heavy” ultimately means, and in fact probably just doesn't want of those “SUPER”, “EXTRA”, “MEGA”, “ULTRA”, “SEROUSLY WE INCLUDED A SUBWOOFER” bass headphones at Best Buy, Apple, or one of the various retail stores they went to. And a lot of the people that come to this forum, like myself many years ago, believe at first that “Bass Heavy” = “Bad Sound Quality” because of past experience with these other headphones. It’s simply not true.

    That’s why I think it’s important not to over exaggerate the M50’s bass reproduction. It’s not anywhere near as heavy as most people would say it is. In fact for someone who is really a “bass head”, it’s probably not going to be enough bass. “Emphasis” yes, but “Heavy” can lead someone to believe something else entirely. It’s far from a neutral headphone, but what heavy is can mean different things to different people. That is why I put it the way I do.

    Also a lot of us with open backed headphones get used to the “bass light” reproduction of the sub bass (not all are this way, just many of the popular ones). Going back to having more of this bass can be a bit jarring. For those used to that Hi-Fi sound, you have to spend a bit more time with them for brain burn in, rather than just jerking them off and stating that they are terrible. And I've seen quite a few angry reviews where it was obvious this happened. It takes a little time to fall back down to earth.

    Every person I know (I don't exactly have audiophile friends) that has demo'd the M50 in real life have told me they thought they sounded great. I think most of the hate the M50 and M50x get has more to do with people recommending it to everyone regardless of their usage and musical taste. While it can be a jack of all trades for a lot of styles, just blindly recommending it without taking into account these preferences isn’t right either. The way some people rant about them though, you would think they were talking about the original Beats headphones.

    Anyway, I hope this clears some of what I said up. I might rewrite the original post for clarification or add it as a sub portion. Thanks for your input.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017

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