What is the M50xBT?
Except that, in one pretty significant way, it isn’t. The M50xBT is a new headphone but the M50x is not. This is a member of Audio Technica’s affordable studio and DJ range and it is very much a wired product - neither studios nor clubs being terribly conducive to wireless use. Over time, it has developed something of a cult following though from people using their M50xs for all sorts of more domestic listening. Feedback suggested to Audio Technica that they wanted a wireless version, so here we are.
This, then, asks some interesting questions. What happens when you need to find the space needed for a pair of headphones to go wireless? Does it make a difference? On a wider level, how does the origin point of the M50 affect its abilities when used day to day? Last but by no means least, with so many headphones being designed from the outset, is this the best way to spend your money? Read on to find out.
Specification and Design
There are some key bits of Audio Technica engineering present. The drivers use a rare earth magnet which is not unheard of at the price but a little unusual. They also make use of a copper coated aluminium wire. Audio Technica is a big fan of this. It crops up in a very large number of their products, including some determinedly high end ones. The claim is that doing so has a positive effect on flux and other unwanted nastiness when arranged into a voice coil.
These drivers are placed in a closed back, over-ear housing - logical enough given the potential for use in noisy environments. These are well padded and combine with a level of pressure from the headband that will keep them in place under all but the most frenetic of conditions. They also fold flat and inwards to reduce the space that they take up. Audio Technica is a master at comfortable headphones and this is no exception.
As one of the first Bluetooth 5.0 headphones I have had pass through, one of the most noticeable aspects of this is the claimed battery life. The size of the battery is unspecified but Audio Technica claims a wireless running time of forty hours. Now, as ever, battery claims are like miles per gallon figures. All that needs to be done is connect the headphone up, raise the volume to the threshold of audibility and job done - a totally unrealistic listening pattern will give you some hefty numbers. The thing is though, after some days of testing, I believe that AT isn’t pulling a fantasy figure from nowhere. This genuinely does seem to have the legs to work for a week of commutes and be charged on the Friday evening ready to go again. It’s seriously impressive.
Not every aspect of the design is perfect. The controls on the bottom of the left hand housing are too small and close together and the charging socket is USB-A rather than USB-C which, on a brand new (wirelessly new anyway) is a mistake. Neither of these things is a deal breaker though. It would be nice if some of the colours that the wired version comes in became available for wired too but again, this is not the end of the world.
How was the M50x BT tested?
Kicking off with the M50xBT running in wired mode on the end of a Chord Mojo and Poly, the way that it performs does generally warrant the use of the word ‘pro’ around it, whilst it simultaneously avoids the worst pitfalls. The Chord duo is commendably neutral and the overall balance of the Audio Technica doesn’t change this. Emily King’s Remind Me is a lovely piece of recording and mastering and it shines through on the M50xBT. Where it is especially happy is that, because this is a fun and genuinely invigorating album and because it is in the business of faithful reproduction, all of this is delivered to the listener. The result is a pretty convincing take on the mix itself but just as importantly, it’s a great listen too.
Dig a little deeper and the basic foundation that the M50xBT uses to achieve this is a commendably flat frequency response that ensures that nothing in the music gains any undue prominence or is lost. Compared to something seriously pricey (and open backed) like the Sennheiser HD800S, the frequency extremes of the Audio Technica are on the soft side but you can have seven pairs of the Audio Technica for the price of the Sennheiser. For a sub £200 headphone, the result is very listenable.
And do you know what? Switching to Bluetooth results in commendably few changes to this overall balance. This might sound underwhelming but I can assure that it isn’t. First up, the price of a Mojo and Poly in February 2019 is effectively £1,000 whereas adding the wireless hardware to the M50x has cost £60. The Mojo can extract bass extension from these headphones that the Bluetooth amp can’t and the advantages of Hi-Res material can be quite considerable too. It can also do things with more expensive headphones entirely beyond the M50xBT. Listening to Tidal via Bubble UPnP to Poly or direct from the Essential PH-1 though, the basic character of the music stays the same.
As a self-contained device, the M50xBT goes about its business almost completely unphased by your partnering source. The performance via aptX via the Essential and AAC via the iPad are broadly speaking identical - I prefer aptX because I feel it has a little more drive and bass extension to it but this is entirely subjective. More importantly, it means you can buy it and be confident that it’ll deliver much of what it purports to offer. This isn’t unusual in Bluetooth headphones but I can’t recall one at this price that was quite as neutral and music friendly as this one. In the listening phase of testing, I have wondered through a test program that has spanned Ben E King to Boards of Canada and Nils Frahm to Nine Inch Nails and I’ve never really found myself unhappy at anything it has done.
Trying to find downsides has me scrabbling around and, to be honest, nit picking. I don’t think the call quality is very good and would suggest you deselect the M50xBT for calls (it also has the advantage of it not looking like you are standing there have an animated conversation with yourself too). Push the Audio Technica hard via the Bluetooth amplifier and it will start to harden up and this needs to be taken into account if your Bluetooth source has a relatively low output level. These are - as you can probably tell - not exactly serious issues.
- Excellent sound quality
- Very capable Bluetooth implementation
- Comfy and well made
- Call quality not great
- Controls a little fiddly
- Could do with USB-C rather than USB- A
Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT Over-ear Bluetooth Headphone Review
Ease of Use
Design and usability
Value For Money
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