Headphone Showdown: Audio-Technica ATH-M50X vs Sony h.ear on MDR100-AAP
It’s Wednesday… so it’s time for the Headphone Showdown!
Today’s contenders are both champions of value. The Internet’s Favorite Headphone(tm), the Audio-Technica ATH-M50X takes on the modern, hyped-to-the-max-on-head-fi Sony h.ear on MDR100-AAP.
Both of these headphones have long ridiculous names (Zero points for naming!) so from now on I’m going to use “M50X” and “100AAP”.
The Sony 100AAP wins this one hands-down. It’s not even a question.
The M50X is a refresh of an old design, originally created around the turn of the millennium for studio use. It was never meant to look good outside in public. In the early 2000’s, people didn’t really wear big headphones outside in public. Once the M50 caught on, Audio-Technica added a removable cable system and slapped an X on the name. They’ve tried releasing some special edition colors over the last couple of years, but there’s no getting around it: The M50X is an ugly tank of a headphone.
Sony set out from the beginning to make the 100AAP a fashionable headphone, and in my eyes they’ve totally succeeded. Keep in mind I know nothing about fashion! But the 100AAP is sleek, cool, and seamless in its design. The five different colors are fun. The lines are clean. The Sony logo branding is subtle. The aluminum cups are gorgeous. It’s small and portable and light. You can see the titanium-coated drivers through the ear pads, and they look amazing. I’ve never been able to see my reflection inside a headphone driver before.
Both are built pretty well. The M50X feels a little more solid in the hand. It has a largely plastic build with a metal headband. The locking cables feel more solid, and I’d trust it a little better to take drops or hits and keep working fine. The 100AAP is no slouch on build though. It has more metal parts. The headband and ear cups are metal, and it still manages to weigh less than the M50X. The cable system isn’t as nice-feeling, but does the job.
Winner: 100AAP. By a mile. The M50X was designed to be a robust studio headphone, and it is that. The 100AAP is solid and won’t make you look silly in public.
The 100AAP has a more neutral sound, and the M50X is bright with nice emphasis in the mids and lows. On first listen, I’d wager most people would like the 100AAP a little more. Nothing in the mix stands out with the Sony headphones.
The M50X represents a bit more of an acquired taste, but on first blush sounds like a more “detailed” headphone. This is because it has more prominent high frequencies, causing things to “pop” and “sparkle” a little more. If you’re sensitive to high frequencies, this might bother you and cause fatigue after about an hour of listening. But I kind of like it. The bass is also a bit more present on the M50X, sometimes to its detriment.
One of my favorite online reviewers, ZeosPantera, described the big brother to the 100AAP (the MDR-1A) as sounding like a bathtub full of leather jackets. Now imagine that, but a little more crisp, and you have the 100AAP. They’re a really nice listening experience, and they’re more forgiving of badly-recorded or compressed material than the M50X.
As far as width goes, the 100AAP’s seem to feel a little wider. Sony is really good at making wide-sounding headphones. You’ll still get plenty of depth to the image on the M50X, thanks to its angled drivers, but the Sony’s sound a little more airy.
This one is too close for me. The 100AAP is a great, general-purpose everyday-listening headphone. That’s exactly what it sets out to do, and it delivers. The M50X will expose flaws in recordings more easily, because it was made to be a studio headphone. It’s still fun enough to listen to for normal applications, but you might not like it due to the bright treble.
Winner: Tie. I like both of these a lot, and they’re different enough in sound to not just be clones of one another.
The 100AAP is more comfy, but these are both comfortable headphones. I should stop spoiling the winner in the first sentence of the section. The 100AAP is a bit lighter, and its ear pads and headband are more plushly padded. The ear hole openings are also a little bigger.
The M50X is certainly not uncomfortable by comparison, but just a little more noticeable on your head due to its weight and clamp. It has more swiveling ability to its cups than the 100AAP. I like the comfort of both of these headphones. The pads on the 100AAP fit a little bit better around my ears, which gives it a little more isolation, but they both isolate reasonably well.
Winner: The Sony 100AAP. It will disappear on your head a little better than the M50X.
Audio-Technica is known for making high-quality, affordable stuff. The M50X has a retail price that’s over $200 dollars, but it hardly ever sells for that. You’ll usually find it for around $150 bucks online, depending on which color you’re looking for. The special edition colors tend to be more expensive. It comes with three cables of varying lengths, a basic carrying bag, and it folds down to a pretty compact size.
Sony prices the 100AAP at $200 bucks. It pretty much sticks to this price no matter what. It comes with one cable, and a color matched carrying bag. It also folds down, to an incredibly small and portable size. The bag is nicer than the M50X bag.
Both of these represent fantastic value for the money. But the M50X comes with more stuff. And it’s cheaper.
Winner: M50X. It comes with more stuff.
Overall Winner: 100AAP
Sony’s new headphone narrowly wins this oh-so-scientific and important showdown! This one was tough. It’s like you asked me to drink two delicious glasses of chocolate milk and then pick a favorite.
The 100AAP is probably the best portable consumer headphone on the market right now, especially in its price range. The M50X is a great intro to studio/audiophile headphones, and it doesn’t cost that much. You’ll be happy with either of these. But if you must have a winner, it’s the Sony’s, mostly due to their excellent sense of style and wearing comfort.
I was going to do these every Saturday, but then I missed last Saturday. So now they could appear AT ANY TIME. Consider yourself warned!