Headphone Showdown: Pioneer DJ HRM-6 Vs Audio-Technica M50X
Does Pioneer go toe- to- toe with the big gun once again?
I got a few raised eyebrows when I wrote one of these articles comparing the HRM-5 and the M50X, and I ultimately concluded that I liked the HRM-5’s a little more.
I still stand behind that result, and I also want you to know that these are subjective articles. I don’t know what’s going to win until I go through “The Process,” which is basically just me listening to things and rambling at myself in a room until I find a winner.
Headphone tastes can change with human whims, source quality, and what I happen to be listening to at that time.
With that all out of the way, let’s do this!
Pioneer DJ HRM-6
Introduced a couple of years ago as a direct competitor to every other studio headphone in the under- $200 range, the $169 Pioneer DJ HRM-6 is a closed-back headphone with three removable cables and a bag.
It has shiny styling. It has big pads that look sort of like MSR-7 pads. It’s built out of better materials than its little brother, the HRM-5. And it has a sound that’s…a bit more warm than you might expect from a studio headphone.
These famous headphones almost need no introduction. They usually sell for around $150, they come with three removable cables and a bag, and they come highly recommended by virtually every major name in the audio reviewing game.
Of late, though, some people have turned on them. Whether that’s due to overhype or just the inevitable jaded mentality of the internet is not really for me to say. These are still the benchmark for “Quality Audio,” in my opinion. They have a relatively flat signature that’s acceptable for both studio and home use.
I love both of these headphones. They’re both in my top five favorite headphones of all- time. Trying to pick a “winner” requires splitting some incredibly tiny hairs, and looking at some details that might sway you to one or the other.
I think these both sound about even, as far as raw quality goes.
The M50X measures closer to a neutral Harman compensation curve, and the HRM-6 has slightly gentler highs and slightly more aggressive bass.
If you’re used to consumer headphones, like Beats headphones… the HRM-6 will feel more like home. It has a nice, pronounced bass slam to it that still doesn’t ruin the overall character of the audio.
The M50X’s have a W-shaped signature with gentle emphasis points in the lows, mids, and highs. I think the M50X’s give music a wonderful detail, clarity, and character, and truly mimic what I’d expect to hear in a mixing environment.
But you might disagree.
If you’re trying to do studio work, the M50X is probably a better choice. It’s better able to show the flaws in a recording, thanks to its brighter upper midrange and treble.
The HRM-5 was like a slightly more gentle M50X, and the HRM-6 takes that same vibe and pumps in a little more fun bass.
When I did the HRM-5 vs M50X showdown last year, I was impressed by the HRM-5’s lack of foam inside the earcup, exposing the all of the driver’s audio straight into your ear drum. The HRM-6 does the same thing. They’re both a little more relaxed and a little more likely to please more people over long listening sessions. That was the sort of sound I was looking for a year ago.
Right at this very moment, however, I find myself enjoying brightness again. I’ve recently reviewed and enjoyed the DT990, and I’ve been playing more games lately. Video games benefit from a little extra presence in the upper range, for the detection of footsteps and the like.
I’m telling you all of this because my choice on which model wins this category is completely down to my whims on that day. Right this very moment, I’d pick the M50X. But a few weeks from now I’d probably prefer the HRM-6.
You can’t go wrong with either of these, sound- wise. If you like a little more warmth and boom, the HRM-6 will do that for you. If you have a lot of critical listening in your future, then the M50X is a better call.
Neither one should require a dedicated amp. The M50X is a little better equipped to handle higher levels of power, and it also gets louder faster even out of a mobile device.
Winner: Tie? It depends on what kind of sound *you* want. These are both in the same neighborhood of quality.
Soundstage is a little hard to quantify, because it’s going to vary depending on the way the headphone interacts with your personal ears, and what sort of material you’re listening to.
That said, I think these both have a similar sense of width…with the Pioneer model feeling just a touch wider. The HRM-6’s have large ports on the top of each ear cup, and thicker pads which should keep the drivers farther from your ears.
The M50X isolates better. This is the one downside of the HRM-6’s ports. Neither model isolates amazingly well…I’d prefer a DT770 to either if I had to stick with something passive. But side-by-side, it’s easy to tell that a little more sound is getting in on the Pioneer model. And the HRM-6’s also leak a little more too, if you’re thinking of using these at a high volume right next to someone.
I didn’t have an isolation category in my old HRM-5 vs M50X showdown, but the M50X’s would have won there, too.
I think that most people will find the HRM-6’s to be more comfy…though I also think they’re a little more present on the head.
I’m one of five people that thinks the M50X’s fit just fine. I don’t have any issues with their ear pad size or depth, or with their clamping force. I know that’s not true for everyone. Yes, the inside of my ear touches the inside of the M50X pad…but it’s nicely padded in there, and it doesn’t really bother me.
The HRM-6’s take the tasteful memory foam padding of their smaller brother and amp it up to comical levels. There’s tons of room inside the cup as a result, for a nice, floaty feel. In theory. The clamping force keeps them from ever disappearing on your head. But they’re still pretty good.
The M50X is like a soft, well-balanced hug around your whole head and ears. The HRM-6 gives your ears more room to breath, but you’ll notice you’re wearing them a touch more.
From a style perspective, the HRM-6’s look nicer. They have a modern design, with fun metallic accents and nothing that sticks out. They’re a bit more contoured to the shape of a human head, looks-wise.
The M50X was designed for studios a couple of decades ago. It’s black and has bright chrome accents. Audio-Technica does produce limited edition colors from time to time that I think look a lot nicer. But the underlying design is still the same utilitarian thing.
Both pairs use twist-lock cables. And both have similar folding and swiveling features. Both will also fit a very large variety of head sizes.
The HRM-6’s look more like modern style headphones, so for most folks, they will have a better design.
The M50X is famous in part for its industrial-grade build quality. But if you really look into it, you’ll find just a tiny bit of cheapness in the ear cup forks. They’re made of a higher grade of plastic than some other models, but they’re still hollow plastic bits with cables running through them.
Pioneer has solved this problem on the HRM-6’s by slapping some nice thick rubber into the center of their ear cup forks. These little classy touches are present all over the headphones, making for a nicer build overall.
That’s not to say that the M50’s have a bad build. They’re great! The HRM-6’s just have a few touches here and there that make them feel a little nicer. They’re ultimately totally unnecessary to the function of the headphones, but they’re still nice touches to have.
Both of these headphones come with three different cables of the exact same lengths, and a carrying bag. Each one has a 1.2m straight cable, a 3m coiled cable, and a 3m straight cable.
Audio-Technica used a slightly nicer and more supple material on their cables. They bend and twist around much more easily, and they’re a bit less prone to tangles. I guess you could make the argument that Pioneer’s cables feel a little more durable due to their thick stiff springiness. But I slightly prefer the feel of the M50X cables.
Pioneer includes a nicer bag, though.
The M50X bag is made of a thick leatherette with a basic cloth inside. The HRM-6 bag is really soft and velvety-feeling, and it’s larger. You can store the HRM-6’s inside the bag without folding them up.
One point to AT for cables, one point to Pioneer for bag.
OVERALL WINNER: HRM-6
The M50X’s and their slightly brighter sound have more utility to me on a week-by-week basis because I do a lot of critical listening for my other job that’s not rambling about audio on the internet.
But the HRM-6 is a “better” headphone for most average consumers. It looks nicer. It’s a little better built. And it has a sound signature that’s a bit more friendly to long listening. If you can deal with its slightly worse isolation and springy cables, then you’ll probably love it.
I’d be happy with either of these being my only pair of headphones. They’re both easy, instant recommendations. If you like a little more sonic detail, you’ll like the M50X’s more. If you need a bit of style with your substance, you’ll probably enjoy the HRM-6’s enough to warrant their slight price premium.