There are two ways in which most individuals first hear the Audio-Technica title: both in affiliation with Technics turntables or through a pushy buddy or YouTuber enlightening them concerning the M50x headphones. Audio-Technica acquired its begin again within the 1960s as a maker of phonograph cartridges — the corporate’s emblem is an abstraction of the needle form touching a document — and has all the time considered itself because the supplier of professional audio tools, which through the years has included an unheralded position because the provider of microphones for US presidential debates.
It was in 2007 that Audio-Technica made its surprising breakthrough into mainstream consciousness with the standard ATH-M50 over-ear headphones. As typical for the corporate, they had been designed for skilled use, nevertheless their indestructible construct, cheap value, and sharp, incisive sound had been warmly acquired by folks on the lookout for one thing extra hi-fi than the dominant Beats choices. Seven years later, the corporate made the cable detachable with the ATH-M50x, and this yr — after greater than 1.eight million M50 gross sales — Audio-Technica has freed its best-known product from wires with the ATH-M50xBT.
Protecting the identical value and look as its predecessors, the M50xBT mannequin is a type of fan service. Audio-Technica’s most typical request from customers has been a wi-fi M50x, and the corporate has tried to attain that in a really literal approach. The identical engineer, Hiroyasu Suzuki, who developed the M50 and M50x was tasked with creating an identical wi-fi model that sounds the identical as its wired forebears. However Suzuki and his crew haven’t fairly achieved their job. As a result of the wi-fi M50xBT truly sound higher.
At first look, you’ll be able to inform that the Audio-Technica M50xBTs had been designed for tough dealing with. They’re product of thick, hard-wearing plastic that has the chunky and reassuring really feel you may get from an additional heavy-duty cellphone case. There are only some slivers of steel of their design — inside the scarf and as contrasting accents on the outside — to interrupt up the matte black monotony. These are actually not fairly headphones, although their industrial look has a sure timelessness and conveys a “perform over type” perspective.
The fake leather-based pads are replaceable and of an inexpensive measurement, nevertheless they’re nowhere close to as snug or accommodating as one thing just like the Grasp & Dynamic MH40 or Sony’s class-leading 1000X M3s. The place these different headphones create a little bit chamber in your ear to reside in and breathe, Audio-Technica’s M50s make contact with the complete ear. That’s inevitably going to result in discomfort and irritation over lengthy listening classes, and greater than as soon as I walked away from sporting the M50s with pink, sizzling ears. With cautious positioning and periodic adjustment, I feel these headphones can supply a good match, plus they’re most likely extra forgiving for folks with smaller ears. I do like their neat cluster of bodily management buttons on the left cup, and the simply collapsible design is useful to have. However consolation is unquestionably not the M50xBTs’ energy.
The factor that has me returning to those headphones each day is their sound. I used to be by no means actually a kind of those who fell in love with the M50x sound. It was too strident and aggressive for my liking, with a metallic sheen to its treble that lent an unearned harshness to the music. The brand new Bluetooth M50s hew fairly near that method, however they chill out the sound simply sufficient to be enjoyably energetic relatively than astringent and in your face. These are actually headphones that begin the day with a double espresso as an alternative of a quadruple.
Miles Davis’ trumpet in Sketches of Spain is each bit as emotive correctly when heard by means of the M50xBTs. The pressing excessive notes in “Concierto de Aranjuez” come by means of with a crisp and pure conviction. And these headphones actually outperform their value in terms of their presentation of the encompassing components from the orchestra round Davis: every is rendered with its personal distinct place and air to breathe. Nina Simone is equally expressive by means of the M50s, together with her “Do I Transfer You?” exhibiting off the headphones’ natural high quality in dealing with vocals, blues guitar, and a playful harmonica. The timbre of singers’ voices and acoustic devices feels constantly on level.
Anybody nervous that Audio-Technica tuned its headphones too carefully to classical genres and music can chill out. Switching genres to trendy digital music, I discover the M50xBT headphones ship all of the pleasant bass slam and wobble that Channel Tres’ eponymous EP requires. Bass-starved headphones, these usually are not. It’s not probably the most refined or exact bass presentation, however it doesn’t should be if you’re speaking about headphones meant for use on the transfer. The truth is, the actual tuning of the M50xBTs is nice for noisy environments: it places an additional emphasis on the issues which are often dulled down by the din of a busy metropolis round you.
So far as sound constancy and realism are involved, I’d rank the M50xBT comfortably forward of Apple’s Beats Solo three and Studio three and, by a smaller margin, increased than the main wi-fi over-ear headphones just like the Sony 1000X M3, Bowers & Wilkins PX, and Bang & Olufsen H9i. You’d should go all the way in which as much as the $549 Audio-Technica DSR9BT to acquire meaningfully superior sound high quality from a pair of wi-fi cans.
Over-ear wi-fi headphones in 2018 are anticipated to all have built-in energetic noise canceling (NC), which is one thing the M50xBT headphones lack. That leaves you counting on their passive noise isolation, which is respectable: folks close to you’ll solely be disturbed by your music at actually loud volumes, and also you’ll be capable to scale back surrounding noise by popping these in your head. And but, the distinction between these and the 1000X M3s on a commute underground is important. With Sony’s NC cans, I’m mainly in my very own undisturbed cocoon — if I put them on and shut my eyes, I can escape the oppressive trudge. With Audio-Technica’s cans, I’m nonetheless there, inside earshot of the droning practice.
One other disappointing omission with these headphones is the absence of USB-C charging. IFA in Berlin this September was a decisive illustration of seemingly the complete headphones business biting the USB-C bullet and consigning the damnable MicroUSB to historical past. All apart from Audio-Technica, apparently, which debuted its first really wi-fi earbuds at that present, however not its first USB-C headphones. The rationale we’re nonetheless ready for that second’s arrival, Audio-Technica argues, is that the M50xBTs couldn’t have made it below the $200 marker with USB-C on board. And with a claimed 40-hour battery life, these needs to be headphones you gained’t have to fret about charging too typically anyway.
In my three weeks of testing, I’ve solely charged the headphones twice: as soon as at the beginning, and the second time after I hit the low battery warning just a few days in the past. Audio-Technica is being optimistic with its 40 hours declare, however I acquired effectively in extra of 20 hours on a cost even with my behavior of listening to music at excessive volumes.
Audio-Technica does embrace the modernity of our age by together with a voice assistant set off on its headphones, activating both Siri on iOS or Google Assistant on Android. This perform is touch-activated and completely horrible. It’s important to maintain a finger on the left ear cup for a small eternity, and then you definitely get a laggy response out of your cellphone because it activates its assistant. I’ve successful price of someplace round 10 % when making an attempt to make use of this, and I haven’t but been capable of activate Google Assistant with my Pixel three locked. What’s the purpose of a shortcut for activating your assistant if it’s important to convey up and unlock your cellphone first? By that time, saying “OK Google” would actually be quicker, due to the delay on profitable activations through the headphones.
On the plus aspect of the ledger, the microphone and wi-fi efficiency of Audio-Technica’s M50xBT are each praiseworthy. I carried out a number of calls whereas out on a loud avenue with these headphones and in all instances I used to be heard with readability and ease. I used to be additionally impressed by how far I might stroll away from my music supply with them whereas nonetheless maintaining a stable connection. In a very tough spot for wi-fi connectivity in my condo, the place different Bluetooth headphones would reduce out, the M50s are capable of maintain an nearly fixed sign. Solely Apple’s AirPods have been fairly this good in my earlier testing.
Audio-Technica’s M50xBT headphones help Bluetooth 5, AptX, and AAC, and although higher-quality requirements like AptX HD and LDAC would have been good to have, I’m not satisfied they’d have made a large distinction within the sound high quality on supply. Alas, these headphones can also’t settle for connections from a number of gadgets without delay, so I’ve to disconnect them from my desktop PC earlier than reconnecting them to my cellphone and vice versa. Each time.
The reality about these headphones, whether or not Audio-Technica cares to confess it or not, is that they’re a full step up from the M50x. Not solely are the M50xBTs extra handy by being wi-fi, additionally they sound a lot friendlier to the ear. So far as Audio-Technica’s personal vary of headphones is worried, it is a sensible all-around improve that retains the nice whereas discarding a number of the dangerous of its predecessor.
However within the broader wi-fi market that features Sony and Bose’s wonderful NC headphones; Bang & Olufsen and Bowers & Wilkins’ strikingly fairly cans; and the plethora of alternate options from the likes of Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, Audeze, and even Grado now, the M50xBTs’ star doesn’t shine fairly so vibrant. Audio-Technica’s wi-fi cans merely lack plenty of fascinating options, the absence of which may’t be completely masked by their very good sound for the value.
Pictures by Vlad Savov / The Verge
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