It’s Friday, so it’s time for the headphone showdown!
UPDATE: 6/23/17: Why not keep the nightmare going? I’ve added the Best Buy Exclusive SR6BT to the list…which is actually pretty good. It’s like a slightly smaller wireless MSR7.
UPDATE 6/7/17: Because this article wasn’t stupidly long enough, I’ve updated it to include my new favorite headphone when I want an M50X-style sound: The Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro.
UPDATE 3/11/17: I’ve just done a showdown between the M50X and the HRM-5.
UPDATE 12/16/16: I’ve decided to update this article over time, because why not? Today I’ve added the Audio-Technica SR5BT.
Today: it’s Audio-Technica’s extraordinarily popular M50X vs *absolutely everything I can personally compare with it. I’ll be going upwards in rough price order. Until I go insane and decide to stop.
Intro to the M50X
If you’ve ever spent time reading articles or watching videos about headphones online, you’ve heard about the M50X. It’s an upgraded version of Audio-Technica’s M50 monitoring headphones, which first launched around the turn of the century. The M50 caught on with both professionals and budget-minded consumers who prized audio quality over marketing hype. So, Audio-Technica released the M50X, adding a collection of removable cables, better padding, and a slightly refined sound signature.
The M50X has garnered numerous positive reviews over the last few years. Tyll at Innerfidelity feels it’s one of the best-measuring closed headphones on the market. In fact, he recently took a bunch of crap for comparing it favorably to the much more expensive $1800 Mr. Speakers Ether C Flow.
The M50X offers a balanced, crisp, punchy sound, with some small peaks in areas that make it a more entertaining listen than typical studio gear. It’s suited to a wide variety of music genres and sound applications, and sells for an affordable price of around $150.
But recently, some have begun to hate this headphone with a fiery passion that I’ve never fully understood. Critics say that the sound signature is too v-shaped, that the soundstage is too thin, and that it’s a generally unpleasant listen that’s just overhyped by people that don’t know anything.
It’s true that the response isn’t 100 percent flat, but it performs exceptionally well for its price. More expensive headphones often have poorer response curves, and in fact, due to physics, no headphone can achieve perfectly flat tonality. That the M50X comes so close to neutral for so cheap is impressive.
The soundstage is a little more narrow than the average headphone, even in this price-range. But this was originally designed for studio use, and an upfront sound is vital for picking out flaws in recordings.
To that third point about people overhyping it and being clueless…I think this actually comes from good old rage. I bet several people out there have invested a ton of money into new headphones after first getting into the hobby with the M50X. Then they compare their new purchase to the M50X…and don’t notice as big of a difference as they’re expecting.
It’s often easier to lash out at something good, and the people who like it, than to admit one’s own mistakes.
If you read all of this without just scrolling down to the comparisons, thank you! Let’s get this sucker going. Enough preamble.
M50X vs Skullcandy Grind ($49 wired, $89 wireless)
The Skullcandy Grind is an on-ear headphone, so it’s less comfy than the M50X. It has a detachable cable, and doesn’t fold down…but it does have a mic built-in for taking calls.
Sound-wise, the Grind is more v-shaped than the M50X. The bass is a little bit muddier and more distorted, the mids are a little bit withdrawn, and the highs can be harsh in certain registers. But it still sounds pretty good. In fact, if you want the most sound for the absolute least money, the Grind is a great choice. As long as you can deal with the minor comfort and portability issues.
I love the Grind, but this is an unfair comparison. The M50X is in a whole other price bracket, and has the features and quality to match that. But the Grind still puts up a good fight, and is a great choice for someone that needs to approximate high-end sound at a cheap price.
Winner: This seems unfair. They’re both value kings in their price ranges. The M50X is objectively better in numerous categories, but the Grind doesn’t suck.
M50X VS Sony MDR-ZX110NC($40)
I’ve already violated my whole “order by price” thing, but that’s because I didn’t want to start with this thing. The Sony MDR-ZX110NC is a cheap plastic-y $40 noise-cancelling headphone that’s available pretty much everywhere. It folds up. It’s loosely based on a $10 headphone that Sony also sells everywhere.
The best thing about this Sony model is that it does Active Noise Cancelling better than anything this cheap probably should. That’s about it for positives. It sounds terrible in passive mode. It sounds better with the power turned on, but still kind of boomy. The comfort is not great, especially along the headband…which has no padding whatsoever.
Audio-Technica’s M50X doesn’t cancel noise actively…but it does everything else better. Design, Build, Comfort, Features, Sound…as you’d expect from a headphone that’s about $100 more.
If you just need to get through a flight and you don’t want to spend much on ANC headphones, these Sony’s will do an okay job for you. Everyone else should run the other way.
I think the $10 non-powered version of these is actually a better deal for the money. It sounds about as good and is cheaper.
Winner: M50X. Because of Course. I’m feeling silly for even doing this.
M50X vs Sony MDR-V6/MDR-7506
I will now write a fiction that I imagine in my head to be true.
One day, around the end of the nineties, some folks were having a meeting in a board room somewhere in Japan. An Audio-Technica logo is on the wall. They all look around, and breathe a collective sigh. Then the discussion begins.
“Sony has been selling its successful V6/7506 headphone for years now, and my time machine tells me that they’ll both still be on the market even in 2016. We need to do something about this. We can do better. Let’s try and do better.”
And so the original M50 was born.
I have nothing to substantiate this…but the M50 and M50X are so clearly based on the legacy of the 7506. The ear cups have a similar shape. The pads have a similar design. The folding mechanisms work similarly. The sound signature is useful for similar tasks, but punched up to be more. They both have a look more at home in a studio than in a home. They both come with a leatherette carrying bag.
They both love coiled cables.
Do I think the M50X is better than the v6/7506? In a couple of areas, yes. The removable cable system on the M50X is great, and I’m surprised Sony never tried to implement something similar to retaliate. The M50X has even more room for larger heads than the Sony models. The M50X has a more modern look due to being designed 20 years later. The bass on the M50X is more impactful and better-extended into the lowest frequencies.
The Sony V6/7506 is still an exceptional headphone. It has more metal in its construction than the M50X. It comes with a schematic in case you want to pull it apart into its components and replace them. It has a lighter, slightly more pleasant fit, even though the padding on the M50X is cushier. It folds to a smaller size, perfect for field work and portable use. And its sound, though a little bit brighter and less accurate in the bass, is really great for professional work.
And the Sony headphones are cheaper.
The M50X is better suited to general applications like movie-watching, gaming, and music listening across genres. Its highs are a little less harsh and its lows are a little bit more impressive. It’s more easily portable, and adjustable. The V6/7506 is better for fine detail audio work, for bringing out all the nasty flaws in a recording. The M50X will still work for that sort of stuff, and indeed many studios use them today. But I’d rather have the Sony’s personally, if I’m doing monitoring work.
Winner: M50X for consumer applications, 7506/V6 for audio recording work. Both will still do whatever job you need. The V6 is probably ever so slightly more of a good deal for the price. I love both of these. This is like asking me to pick a favorite type of cheesecake.
M50X Vs HyperX Cloud II($99) AKA Takstar Pro 80
The Takstar Pro 80 is a Chinese clone of the German Beyer-Dynamic DT770 Pro 80 Ohm. It has a similar design, similar ear cup adjustment arms, and a very similar sound signature. It’s also cheaper.
Kingston, a PC peripheral company, has a gaming brand called HyperX. Its most prolific product is the Cloud headset line. The main models, the Cloud, Cloud Core, and Cloud II, are re-branded Takstar Pro 80’s with a detachable microphone.
The Cloud is a very good headphone. It has a solid build. Its sound signature provides thumping bass, smooth mids that are a little boxy due to the cup design, and highs that are sparkly and grainy, with a dip in their response that helps prevent fatigue. If you’ve ever listened to the M50X and didn’t like them, this is a great alternative that accomplishes the same type of sound in a different way.
If you don’t like either one of these headphones, then headphone sound in general might not be for you.
Design-wise, the Cloud II looks a little more stylish. It’s slightly more comfy than the M50X thanks to its softer padding. However, it’s not as adjustable as the M50X. The Cloud II barely fits on my giant head. It doesn’t fold down. The cable doesn’t detach.
HyperX offers some models that come with a bag, and others that come with a hard case. Their included mics are very good as well. If you’re looking strictly for a gaming headset, then the Cloud line is an excellent choice.
I personally prefer the M50X, but I like the Cloud/Takstar Pro 80 a great deal as well. When I want deeper bass and more sparkle in the highs, I reach for the Clouds, and give my brain time to adjust to its less-natural mid range. When I want accuracy, I reach for the M50X.
Winner: M50X for general multipurpose audio use. The Cloud II is a much better gaming headset…since it’s designed as a gaming headset. If gaming is your main focus, the Cloud II wins for its cheaper price and included microphone.
M50X VS HyperX Cloud Alpha ($99)
So hey. I prefer the sound, comfort, and build of the HyperX Cloud Alpha to the M50X. Someone other than Pioneer finally did it.
The Cloud Alpha takes the basic design concept of the Cloud…and adds new drivers, better padding, a removable cable, and a new “dual chamber” ear cup.
This ear cup is where the magic happens. Basically, they’ve built one chamber in the cup to tune bass frequencies, and a different one for mids and highs. They say that this helps them to lower distortion…and I absolutely believe them
The Cloud Alpha has a cleaner, nicer sound than the M50X with less aggressiveness in its signature. The bass is nice and warm and present, without overwhelming the mids. The highs are clean without any grain. And the soundstage is much wider than the M50X.
High marks all around.
Combine that with incredibly soft memory foam ear pads and a durable aluminum frame build, and you’re looking at a real winner. You even get a little carrying bag.
It doesn’t collapse down like the M50X and the HRM-5, but that’s the only knock I could place against it in comparison. Oh also, the mic isn’t really any different than the earlier Cloud microphone.
WINNER: HyperX Cloud Alpha. It’s cheaper, more comfy, and has an excellent sound. Just like the HRM-5, it’s the real deal.
M50X VS Creative Labs Sound BlasterX H5($99)
The Sound BlasterX H5 is an awful lot like the HyperX Cloud II, but with a darker, wider sound signature, a removable cable, and a slightly worse microphone. I prefer the sound of the Clouds, but the H5 is a pretty good gaming headset. The M50X has a better sound overall, and again, unless you’re specifically looking for a value gaming headset with a removable cable, the M50X is probably a better buy.
Winner: M50X. The H5 is a strange thing that competes directly with the Cloud II.
M50X Vs HyperX Cloud Revolver($120)
Not to be confused with the Cloud II, the Cloud Revolver is a weird-looking thing with a suspension headband system. It has a sound that reminded me of the Sony MDR-1A. The bass is the most prominent part of the response, but it’s a nice-sounding headphone that seems more expensive than its asking price.
The bass-heavy signature and wide soundstage make it good for gaming. However, unlike the M50X, it doesn’t fold down, it doesn’t adjust that much, and it doesn’t have a detachable cable. It’ll make you look pretty darn silly in public if you wear it outside. Its metal superstructure makes a weird ding sound if you touch it while wearing it…which bugged every reviewer that wasn’t me.
The M50X is a better buy for all general sound purposes, and it’s actually useful as a portable headphone. The Cloud II is better if you want a headset that you can take outside. But if you want the sound signature of the MDR-1A for less money and you just want to play games at home, this is a great choice.
Winner: M50X. The Cloud Revolver is great for gamers who don’t do any other listening outside the home.
M50X VS M40X($99)
You thought I was going to skip this one, didn’t you? This is one of those big comparisons everyone asks for.
To wit: The M40X is about 90 percent as good as the M50X, for less money. Some folks out there like it more than the M50X. I don’t, but I still think it’s a great headphone.
The M40X isn’t built as well. It feels a little bit cheaper, and it’s not as adjustable. It still has the satisfying “Football fold” collapsing capability, and it still has the detachable cable system. Though, it only comes with two cables instead of three. The cable they cut is the 4 foot mobile cable, emphasizing that the M40X is meant for studio/home use.
The M40X’s have smaller drivers, and their sound signature is a little bit more subtle. It’s not quite as bassy, and the treble isn’t quite as prominent. The mid range is about the same as that on the M50X. If you’re someone that thinks the M50X is a bit too v-shaped, then the M40X might be for you.
I find the M50X more comfy on my head for long wearing sessions. I also prefer its sound signature. But if you handed me a set of M40’s I wouldn’t be unhappy. I just wouldn’t be as happy.
I think this product is priced and marketed correctly. It’s a slightly cheaper, slightly less good M50X. Others out there think it’s much better than its big brother. And that’s fine. I disagree.
Winner: M50X. But the 40 is a good headphone too. I wish the 40 had included the mobile 4 foot cable instead of the stupidly long straight 10 footer.
M50X Vs Sennheiser HD 558 ($100)
The 558 has been discontinued and replaced by the 559. But why not include it?
I’m not doing a picture for this one. Every Sennheiser 500 series headphone looks the same. I liked this when I first reviewed it. It comes with a stupidly-long cable. It has a wide, warm, gentle sound to it.
Unfortunately, a few weeks after I wrote my review, the headband started to fail on my unit. The glue that holds the pad to the headband stopped doing its job. I think my large head furthered the problem. The build of the headphone is basically entirely plastic.
The M50X is better than the Sennheiser. I know some people swear by this line of headphones, and I plan to give them a try again someday. A strong first impression was let down by defective glue.
A Warning for those about to scream “bias!”
This article is long and silly. And I’m gonna keep going. The point of it is that the M50X is really good. It’s a great-performing headphone with a solid build that measures well and serves as a good baseline to help me determine the sound characteristics of other headphones when reviewing them. I like them.
A little bit further down the page, the M50X is going to be bested by a bunch of Audio-Technica models. They didn’t pay me to write this. I do like their general sound signature and design ethos compared to other companies’ products I’ve tested. But these are my honest opinions. Most of the headphones on this page are decent depending on your personal tastes, except where noted.
M50X Vs Steelseries Arctis ($79)
The Arctis is great.
I have blown the price order thing once again. But there are sooo many headphones to get to! The Steelseries Arctis is a fantastic headphone, with a brighter sound than the M50X. It’s got a nice washable headband made out of ski goggle strap material. It’s got great ear pads, also washable, that don’t isolate as well as the M50X.
If you’re looking for a gaming headset and don’t want a Cloud II, the Arctis is the best choice. If you’re looking for pure audio performance and portability, I still like the M50X. The M50X folds down. It has multiple cables. It has better bass, and crunchier treble.
But the Arctis is a true star in the budget arena.
Winner: M50X. Another unfair comparison due to price disparities. This highlights the futile nature of this sort of comparison. The Arctis is great in its price range.
M50X VS Sony MDR-100 AAP ($199)
I was swayed by the style and comfort of the 100AAP. But honestly…I think I valued those aspects too high. Upon review, the M50X has a better sound to it. Yes, it’s not nearly as stylish, and yes, it can be a little more noticeable on the head…but it’s still a better-sounding headphone. Plus the M50X is cheaper and comes with more cables, and has a more solid feel in the hand.
Allow me to correct my previous mistake.
M50X VS Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro(~$199)
I love the DT770 Pro. It’s probably my favorite pair of headphones?
I…I own all three different models of it.
The DT770 Pro is like an M50X that’s better built, more comfortable, and has a much wider soundstage. The overall sound signatures are rather similar. Both have a sound that’s just north of neutral, with bumps in all the right places. Some will find the highs on the 770 too fatiguing at higher volumes, but like the M50X, it has authoritative bass.
Unlike the M50X, most models of the 770 (outside of the 32 Ohm version) have impressively isolating velour ear pads. The fit is extremely comfy. The headband is easily replaceable on the 770s.
The only thing that the Beyerdynamic model doesn’t have going for it compared to the M50X is portability. They don’t fold down at all, and their cable doesn’t detach. If you can live with these two quirks…the 770 is easily a better pair of headphones.
Like the M50X, the price of the 770 pinballs up and down depending on current supply and demand. Their retail price is over $200 but I’ve seen them go in the $150 range. They’re worth $199, easily, and that’s probably the most I’d pay for them.
I love the DT770 Pro, and it’s the headphone I currently use when I want an M50X style sound. The better soundstage and superior comfort are icing on the cake.
Winner: DT770 Pro.
M50X VS Audio-Technica MSR7NC($249)
Ah. Now we’re talking! And with the recent price drop on MSR7 models, this is even more exciting.
The MSR7 is a better-looking, better-sounding, more comfy M50X. It doesn’t collapse as well, and it doesn’t have the locking cable system. Everything else about it is better. It’s one of the few headphones I can easily say is better than the M50X.
On first listen, the MSR7 feels like it’s stabbing you a bit with treble. But when your brain adjusts, you’ll find an impressively accurate sound with hyper-realistic mids. This is like sitting inside of a recording. One of the few headphones to make me think hi-res audio/high-bitrate audio is worth it.
I have the NC version, which adds active noise cancelling. It’s not as good as Bose’s noise cancelling, but it’s still really solid and doesn’t change the sound at all. A really impressive headphone.
The regular version now goes for about $189, and the NC version goes for about $219, so they’re not even that much more expensive than the M50X. Absolutely worth the upgrade if you’re a fan of detailed/brighter signatures, but still want some accurate bass too.
M50X vs Audio-Technica WS1100iS ($229)
Now we’re talking, again!
The WS1100iS is a semi-open, more bass-focused MSR7. It’s better built. It has larger ear cup openings. It has a wider soundstage. It doesn’t collapse like the M50X, and includes only one cable, but these are its only shortcomings.
It’s a great headphone, and like the MSR7, a great upgrade from the M50X.
M50X VS Audio-Technica SR5BT($~149)
If you can stomach the reduced comfort of an on-ear design, the SR5BT will offer you incredible detail and wireless support for very little money.
The SR5BT is less comfy than the M50X, but probably has it beat in every other category. It’s tiny and portable. It supports SBC, AAC, and AptX over Bluetooth, and also comes with a wire that has a remote button and microphone. It features the same exact drivers as the MSR7, crammed into a tiny frame.
In fact, the driver is somewhat obscured by the ear pad. The sound quality is a little bit different than the MSR7’s. I’d say it’s about 90 percent as good. It’s slightly more thumpy, and a little bit less wide…both expected side effects of the on-ear form factor.
I don’t usually love on-ear headphones. This is one of the few I can recommend. The wired model is even cheaper, and both are exceptional. This is where to look if you want something that’s a step up from the Skullcandy Grind.
M50X Vs SR6BT($199 Best Buy Exclusive)
As you might guess from the name, the SR6BT is like a bigger SR5BT.
It’s still a little snug around the ears, but it has just big enough of a fit to be an over-ear headphone. The pads are more comfy than the M50X pads thanks to being made of a softer memory foam.
The SR6BT has an identical feature set to the SR5BT. SR-series 45mm drivers. AptX, AAC, and SBC Bluetooth modes. NFC pairing. A nice 3.5mm cable with a mic and remote. Good long battery life.
Overall, this is a better-sounding and better-fitting pair of headphones than the M50X. The build quality isn’t quite as robust however. I can tell that this is a mass-produced item for Best Buy stores. But it’s still okay, and it comes with a nice little leatherette bag.
If the MSR7 sounds appealing to you but you want a foldable wireless version that won’t break the bank, here you go.
M50X VS Blue Mo-Fi($349)
Sigh. The Mo-Fi isn’t very good. Neither is the Lola, the passive version. At one point I really loved the Mo-Fi. I was so wrong. And stupid.
The Mo-Fi has a boomy, cluttered sound. The isolation is good…but comfort is very difficult to achieve. The adjustment mechanism is impressive, but also really fiddly. It can be comfy one day, and awful the next. Also, it’s a really heavy headphone, so it never disappears on your head at all.
Don’t buy the Mo-Fi. Don’t buy the Lola. Buy three M50X’s instead.
The M0-Fi was recently discontinued and replaced with the Sadie. I can’t figure out what they changed other than the name.
M50X VS Bose QC35($349)
The QC35 is wireless. It has a cleaner, nicer, more modern style to it. And better, more impactful bass. The mids are comparable to the M50X, as well. The QC35 is more comfy.
However, the treble is where the M50X shows its superiority. The highs on the Bose are rolled-off a bit, to make for a more relaxed and enjoyable listen over a long period of time. The M50X has a nice, crisp, prominent treble. It’s not fatiguing, but it’s very active and sharp.
If you’re looking for a wireless headphone, it’s hard to do better than the Bose QC35. But the M50X will provide you with a more even sound across the frequency range. The QC35 still gets the nod for its features and impressive active noise cancelling, but the M50X has a more refined sound signature, by a hair.
Winner: Bose QC35
M50X Vs Sony MDR-1A DAC ($399)
This is the most expensive headphone I’ve ever had in my collection. I don’t have it now. It’s a solid headphone, and probably better for longer listening sessions than the M50X, thanks to its comfort and laid-back treble. It also has a built-in DAC that supports all kinds of hi-res formats, and even plugs into a lightning jack on an iPhone.
But I don’t think you should buy it. In fact, if you’re going to buy a Sony headphone, the V6/7506 is a profoundly better deal. The MDR-1A line has comfort that’s nearly unmatched in the industry. But the sound is strangely warm and artificially pleasant for something marketed as hi-res. If comfort and style are your first priorities, try to find a regular non-DAC 1A on discount. If it’s detailed sound you’re after, the M50X and several others above will probably serve you better.
M50X VS Any Beats Product
Beats headphones have more style, and more bass than the M50X.
The M50X has more everything else that you want that is good. And I say that as someone who thinks the Solo 2 and 3 have a pretty good sound.
There were a few more headphones I could have included. I left out the Sennheiser Urbanite, the Urbanite XL, the Sony XB450 and 950, and the Skullcandy Crushers. And probably some others. But I think you get the point by now.
The M50X is an exceptional headphone in its price bracket. It reproduces sound very well. It gives you a good sense of what neutral headphone sound is supposed to be, and will help you to determine which frequencies in other headphones are more pronounced or recessed. I think it has more than earned its place as a de-facto standard for headphone fans.
And yet some people still hate it. That’s fine! Sound is subjective. For me, the M50X is able to render every type of sound with energy and accuracy. It’s always fun for me to listen to. I like its cable system. A cable with phone controls, or a wireless model, would both be nice…but Audio-Technica has other models that meet those needs with a similar sound signature.
If you have M50X’s and love them, you’re good! No need to keep buying headphones! If you do go out there and spend again, don’t be surprised if you find yourself slowly drifting back to the M50X. It’s a great buy which deserves its accolades.
Thank god this is done. This was a stupid idea.