Audio-Technica M50xBT Wireless Headphones: Studio-Quality Made More Portable

The truest jack of all trades

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Last November, Audio-Technica released a wireless version of their classic M50x studio headphones, dubbed the M50xBT. The company boldly claimed that their new model would deliver all the same pro audio performance in spite of being wireless…and they absolutely nailed it.

OVERVIEW

Priced at $199, and sometimes on discount for a bit less than that, the Audio-Technica M50xBT is a closed back wireless Bluetooth 5.0 headphone that supports the AptX, AAC, and SBC codecs. It also features a wired 3.5mm backup connection.

The battery lasts around 40 hours at low to medium volume, and it recharges over a micro USB connection. Charge times are a little long at 5.5 to 7 hours from a dead battery, depending on the power delivery capabilities of your USB port.

In the box you get a reduced version of the standard M50x extras. The same leatherette bag is included, along with one 4-foot mobile listening cable that has a deeply recessed plug which firmly clicks into the headset side.

If this exact pair of headphones had somehow magically existed in 2015, I would have bought it, been quite satisfied, and then I never would have taken the long headphone buying and reviewing journey I’ve been on for the last few years. It perfectly meets my headphone wishlist from 2015.

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SOUND QUALITY

On first listen, I cynically didn’t enjoy the M50xBT’s as much as the original wired version.

Audio-Technica’s M50x is the headphone I have the most personal ear time with. I’ve used them more in the last four years than any other headphone. They’re my personal favorite closed back “reference” headphone, both for measuring other products I’m reviewing and for doing audio work.

I’m really really familiar with how they sound.

The M50xBT sounds a little bit different. And this difference was initially off-putting to me. To wit, the sub-bass region is slightly more emphasized, the lower mids are a touch more withdrawn, and the sparkle in the treble is a little bit toned down. The result is a headphone with the same sonic characteristics as the original pair, with just a bit more warmth and a bit less pop.

Over the last three days I’ve come to really appreciate this additional smoothness. The slight increase in bass is smart for mobile listening, and helps compensate for the fact that these are aimed at portable use but don’t have an active noise cancelling system. And the smoothed out sparkle will probably please listeners who’ve found the M50x sound signature too shrill in the past.

Outside of these small tweaks, this still has that classic, awesome, Audio-Technica sound. The emphasis on the upper midrange makes these a clean, crisp pair of headphones, providing lots of exciting detail to instruments and female vocals in particular. They’re a wonderful headphone for jazz, acoustic, and classical music, and will bring out depth and detail in other genres you probably haven’t heard before if you’re used to consumer-focused warmer sound signatures.

Overall then, Audio-Technica has taken a slightly-refined version of their traditional sound and packed it into a wireless headphone. They sound great regardless of the codec you use. And impressively, they sound identical when connected through a wire. That’s no small feat. Usually, there’s some noticeable difference in sound when comparing wired to wireless on Bluetooth headphones, since the circuitry can help correct any tuning deficiencies in the acoustic design. But there’s none of that here.

If you’ve spent a lot of time with the original pair like I have, then you’ll notice that these are a tiny bit different-sounding. Otherwise, they deliver some of the cleanest, most impressive sound you can get out of a wireless headphone at any price, let alone for $200.

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COMFORT

In spite of the new wireless approach, the M50xBT still has the same high-clamp, high-isolation design that’s useful in a production setting. For the first day or two of wear, you’re going to notice way more pressure on your head than you’d get with something from Bose, Sony, or Beats.

After the clamp conforms and relaxes to the shape of your head, these are still a tight-wearing pair of headphones. The drivers are angled, but the pads aren’t that spacious inside, and the soft inner foam will probably squish into your ears. The ear pad foam isn’t the thickest, and isn’t the dense memory foam used in some other models on the market at this price. The headband is just padded enough to keep the frame from digging into your head.

These are designed to grab your head, stay there, and isolate you from outside noise passively. And they’re really good at that. I also happen to find them reasonably comfy, as studio headphones go, once they’re broken in a little bit. They never disappear thanks to their omnipresent clamp and snug, close fit, but I can happily wear them for hours.

A lot of people will disagree with me, and I totally understand why. They don’t have the extreme plush comfort of something like the QC35, nor the expansive padding of other studio models like the DT770’s.

Still, as workhorse-style headphones go, these are comfy. And they provide enough passive isolation for a work environment or a loud coffee shop. An active cancellation pair is still a better choice for places like a train or a plane, if you want high isolation.

A note for big-headed individuals: these are awesome. I often have to wear headphones near or at their full extension, but I only have to extend these halfway. These should fit almost every possible head size with ease. And they have no trouble sealing around my thin-armed glasses.

The battery and Bluetooth circuitry have raised the weight from 285g to 310g, and it’s only a tiny bit noticeable if you’ve got the old version side-by-side to compare. That’s an impressively small weight increase and doesn’t change the comfort profile at all.

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Image courtesy of Audio-Technica (https://cdn.audio-technica.com/m50xbt/assets/images/ATH_M50xBT_2@2x.jpg)

BUILD/DESIGN

Nothing about the build or design has changed from the wired version. And I mean nothing. The look, feel, and materials are all 100 percent identical to the older wired version.

That means you’re still getting the finest studio headphone design that the early 2000’s can offer, which comes in black and also black.

I’ve always enjoyed the look and build of the M50x, but if you were hoping for an update or a more modern design, you’ll have to try some of Audio-Technica’s other wireless pairs.

They don’t stick out super far from the head, and the Audio-Technica branding is pretty subtle except for the giant bright white logo on the top of the headband, which screams “old pro gear.” They probably could have skipped that on this wireless version…but that would mean not just using the same part they’re already producing for the wired ones, and thus increase production costs.

I’m hopeful that Audio-Technica will release special edition colors of these down the road, as they’ve done with the wired version in the past, just to give consumers a few more options. People really like to choose from different colors, myself included.

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FEATURES/EXTRAS

The Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity works well and I couldn’t make it totally cut out even 45 feet away in my apartment with some walls in the way. I do hear the quality drop off slightly once I hit about 35 feet to account for the lowered bandwidth, but the headphones stay connected. Exactly what I’d expect from a modern wireless pair at this price.

I quite like the included 3.5mm cable, because it includes in-line controls and a mic. A whole lot of Bluetooth headphones include a wire, but don’t allow you to use the buttons or microphone in wired mode, and don’t offer any other workaround. It’s really nice of Audio-Technica to include these features on their cable.

The only downside of the cable mode is that the headphone connector end is recessed into the cup, so even though there’s nothing proprietary about the connector itself, finding a third party replacement might be slightly tougher than normal.

You should get at least 30 hours of battery life out of the headphones even if you really crank them, and although I don’t personally mind using micro USB to recharge, a lot of people would rather see a USB-C port as that’s the cool new thing.

The back of the left ear cup features the standard three button control setup seen on a million other headphones, and they work just fine. The headphones include basic voice prompts that sound good. They can only connect to one device at a time, and pairing a new device requires you to sit and wait for the headphones to first attempt reconnecting to your older devices before they’ll drop into pairing mode. You can reset the headphones to force them into pairing mode a little faster, but you have to hold down all three buttons and the touch pad, and that’s harder to do than it sounds.

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Yes, the surface of the left ear cup is a touch pad…which does almost nothing and seems like an unnecessary inclusion and parts expense. If you’re connected to a phone, holding your finger on the touch pad for two seconds summons your voice assistant. That’s it. That’s all the touch pad does. It’s slower than just using the button on your phone, or using the normal voice callout (Okay Google, Hey Siri, etc).

I don’t know why they included this. They could have at least allowed for remapping in their app. Maybe that’s coming in the future?

The Audio-Technica Connect app is basic, but it’ll allow you to rename your headphones, see the battery life, and attempt to force the Bluetooth codec you prefer. It also allows for firmware updates.

Updating the firmware is the only thing about these I don’t like at all. It takes a really long time to load the new firmware onto the headphones, because they insist on transferring it over Bluetooth. It took me about 40 minutes to install the current update.

The reset process you’re required to do at the end of the update is pretty convoluted, requiring you to perform the hold-down-the-buttons-and-touchpad maneuver mentioned above while also pressing a button on your phone screen. Then, you have to plug them in to a charger. Then, you have to turn them back on and re-pair them.

In a world where we’ve come to expect seamless quick updates, the process here is anything but. I’ll live with it for the sound quality, though. And maybe put off installing the next update as long as possible.

The included bag is the same Audio-Technica leatherette bag that comes with a million other headphones they make, and it’s still totally fine.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

These sound amazing, have solid battery life and codec support, and have all the good things I’ve come to expect from the M50x’s. They also manage to be a great “jack-of-all-trades” pair of headphones. They’ve got Bluetooth, and their wired mode works well enough that they could replace your M50’s as long as you don’t need the longer cords. Their in-line mic will even work in a pinch for gaming on a console, though the performance of both mics is so ho-hum you’ll notice I didn’t mention them till now.

The real focus here was on the sound quality, and delivering that same beloved signature in a wireless package. The M50xBT’s are exactly what the marketing claims they are, and they’re priced just right. Assuming you’d get some use out of their wireless features, they’re easily worth the price premium over the standard model. But they’re also not a great upgrade choice from that pair since they’re nigh-identical, but now with Bluetooth.

It’s rare to know exactly what you’re getting in the headphone/tech world, so kudos to Audio-Technica for precisely delivering what they said they would.

Written by

I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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