If you're looking for a pair of over-ear headphones to wear at home, but don't want to break the bank, and aren't interested in bass-boosted unnatural listening, then the Audio-Technica M50x are a definite contender.
Whether or not the Japanese manufacturer is a name you've heard of, fear not - far from an untrained newcomer, it's a company that's been in the audio business for over 50 years. And that expertise can be heard loud and clear in the ATH-M50x studio monitor headphones.
You won't get stacks of premium materials for the £120 price point, there aren't snazzy features like noise-cancellation, but for an all-encompassing, ultra-comfortable natural listen with the focus firmly on audio quality we've been mighty impressed. Here's why.
After taking delivery of the M50x its large product packaging made us expect giant cans - but that's not really the case. These are professional studio monitor headphones, it says so on the website after all, so they're not small, but much of the bulk comes from the ample padding on both headband and earcups. And boy are they comfortable to wear.
From the very first time we slipped the M50x over our head those oversized earcups housed our ears perfectly, avoiding a fit that excessively pinched our brain like some competitors out there. They're immediately comfortable yet assert just the right amount of force to stay in place, unlike the larger-banded and looser Sony MDR-1A cans we've tested recently.
Audio-Technica isn't sparing with its use of plastics, though, but in the black-only matte finish that's disguised and we wouldn't expect any more at this price point. Beneath is a metal headband with plenty of flex to fit heads of all shapes and sizes.
Additional detailing from embossed Audio-Technica symbol logos presented within silver-coloured circles give the earcups' exterior visual interest without turning the headphones into a free advertising board, unlike the AKG Y50 on-ears.
To the left side earcup is a detachable 3.5mm jack to plug in one of the three included cables. None of them include a remote control, but there are 1.2m and 3m straight cables, and a 1.2-3m coiled cable included in the box. All have a proprietary fit, as the jack needs to reach deep into the fitting than a standard 3.5mm jack. Unlikely to be a problem unless you have a cable-hungry house pet we would think.
We might not wear the M50x when out and about (although there's nothing stopping you), and the clue's in the name: these are studio monitor over-ears. The collapsible design does aid transport and the inclusion of a carry pouch will keep those earcups protected should you choose them as your weapon of choice for commuting.
Irrelevant of the use of plastics, the Audio-Technica M50x deliver exemplary audio. It's a minor miracle they only cost £120.
Each closed-back earcup houses a 45mm driver capable of delivering a 15-28,000Hz frequency response. Now while that's way beyond the range of human hearing at both low- and high-frequency ends, it does signify clarity for whatever kind of music you like to listen to. It's an unfussy listen where bass, mids and treble all sit together in harmony.
With many headphones we tweak a multi-band graphic equaliser to get the sound just as we like it, but no need with the M50x. A default flat EQ provided taut bass delivery without being remotely overpowering and mid-to-high frequency response that was perfect for splashy drums, whether tucking into the latest from rockers Royal Blood, or the bass-driven productions of Ulterior Motive.
You won't get drowned in bass, but that is a benefit for whatever you choose to listen to. We've fed the M50x the pop tones of Jessie Ware, and the dulcet vocal wash of Warpaint and each has amply filled the stereo soundscape without over-pronouncing or tainting the reproduction. The sound is great, complete with all the separation you would expect for a very natural listen.
As we mentioned, there's no active noise-cancellation. However, the large earcups make a tight seal around the ears and that goes a long way to diminish exterior sound spoiling your listening experience. It won't totally stop sound spilling out, but that's not to excess.
The only real moan, if anything, is that wear can become rather warm around the lobes - another reason we would prefer not to be out and about wearing these cans.
Sometimes products exceed expectations, and the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones are one such example. At first we didn't think these largely plastic-constructed headphones would achieve their "professional monitor headphones" label, but they absolutely do.
It's the audio experience that shines through, delivering a loud, clear and natural listen throughout the full frequency range - whatever your preferred musical genre. Irrelevant of the use of plastics, the cushy earcups and padded headband make for a comfortable wear, and for the money we defy you to find better. So long as you're not expecting to be drowned in a wash of bass like some other over-tuned headphones, because that's not what monitoring headphones are about.
If Audio-Technica is a new name to you, then take note: the ATH-M50x are an exemplary pair of over-ear studio monitor headphones.