What’s the “Best” Multi-Purpose Affordable Headphone?

The Answer Won’t Surprise You

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Let’s say you’re not crazy about audio like me, and you don’t want to own a rotating collection of six or seven headphones and gaming headsets.

You just want one, because you’re a rational person.

Which one should you pick?

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AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-M50X

The M50X? Seriously Alex? Are you writing another freaking article about these? What is this, 2012?

The internet is full of praise for the M50X…and some serious hate from the last few years. But there’s no denying their overall audio performance, efficiency, value for the money, and versatility.

In all my time in “Mid-Fi Purgatory” (Which isn’t actually a real thing and something I’ll talk about in another article soon), I’ve never found a pair that’s better suited to every different audio situation than the M50X. It’s not always my favorite pair of headphones…but if you need the most utility for your money, and you want a great example of what headphones are “supposed” to sound like, there’s no real better option at prices that sane people are willing to spend.

That’s why they’ve been a market leader for so long, and why that terribly ugly new blue version is the number one new release headphone on Amazon right now.

EXCEPTIONAL AUDIO PERFORMANCE

The M50X has a sound signature curve that generally follows the Harman Target Response Curve(tm). Basically, it puts out a sound that matches what one company feels is the best way to make headphones sound like reference speakers.

Bass is full and robust…a little too much for some listeners, but I think it’s great. Midrange is detailed, with just a bit of harshness in the upper mids that shows up in every Audio-Technica headphone and will vary listener-to-listener depending on how sensitive you are to this. Highs are mostly clear without any sibilance, and provide just enough of a sense of imaging and soundstage that you won’t totally feel assaulted.

They’re still probably the thinnest-sounding headphones with angled drivers on the market.

The sound signature is a perfect middle ground between what’s needed for analytical studio work and what you’d want for fun music/gaming/movie listening. They’ll happily pop back and forth between pro work and fun listening, and do a totally fine job for both.

They’re not as fun, speedy, or potentially screechy as my personally-preferred DT770’s, and not as boomy as popular consumer headphones like the Beats lineup. But I’d argue that their sound signature is just so generally “good” for a closed-back headphone that they’ll probably be around as long as Audio-Technica wants to keep making them.

HILARIOUS EFFICIENCY

The drivers inside the M50X are phenomenally power-efficient. They’ll put out high quality, low distortion, high volume audio out of just about anything. They’re plenty loud out of my Macbook at like, 1/4 volume. They sound great out of the lackluster PS4 controller output. They’ll happily run off of any smartphone.

You won’t need a special amp or DAC to power the M50X, unless you’re unhappy with hiss/noise present in your current audio gear.

You can easily deafen yourself using these with just about any wired audio playing device.

That uh. That’s probably not the sort of line their marketing department would want to put on the box.

VALUE FOR THE MONEY

The M50X is priced at $149, and can often be found for less…unless you want one of the limited edition colors. For a headphone that should last several years and provides great sound, that’s a solid price for people that aren’t looking to spend a fortune.

You get a few extras that other comparably-priced models don’t always include, like a carrying bag, three cables, and replaceable pads.

What about other “reference models” like the Sennheiser HD600? What about “high-end” $1000+ stuff? Don’t those provide better sound quality? In some cases…maybe! But the value for the money is tremendously high with the M50X, and that’s probably why they remain so popular for studios and consumers alike.

Outfitting a whole recording studio with Audio-Technica products costs half as much as filling it with HD600’s would…and then you’ve suddenly got more budget for important things like staff. And if you’re a general consumer, you’ll have more room in your budget for music, games, movies, and you know…food.

It’s important to be able to afford food. Don’t buy headphones instead of food.

VERSATILITY

I know it’s popular to hate on wired connections and proclaim that wireless is the future. And that’s fine. I’m sure some day whenever two lines cross on a graph, Audio-Technica will start producing their own wireless M50X…and they already produce a number of solid Bluetooth headphones.

But there’s no denying the extreme versatility and compatibility the M50X still provides with its wired connection. You get three cables of varying lengths in the box, and you can instantly connect to almost any device on the planet, and be guaranteed the same level of performance.

The only thing missing here is a dedicated mic for gamers. I don’t do a ton of voice chat online, and usually when I need to record my voice I use a USB condenser microphone…but if you’re looking for the convenience of a built-in mic, you won’t find it here.

(You’ll want to go look at the Astro A10, which isn’t as good for audio work but has maybe the best mic you can get on a headset and it’s only $60).

Still. If you can live with not having a mic you’ll be rewarded with a product that’ll fit almost any connectivity or listening scenario you put it into.

Here I am writing a section about versatility and multi-purpose headphones and it’s mostly about how the chosen product doesn’t feature a microphone.

Oh well it’s too late to delete it I need to get an article up today there’s no turning back.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I wrote this entire article because I saw that the stupid blue version of these was the number one new release best selling headphone on Amazon. I think the blue version looks ridiculous, it’s so bright and blue. The Gunmetal version released last year was objectively better-looking, because my opinion is clearly right and all others are clearly wrong.

People keep buying a lot of these in spite of the audio industry telling us that Bluetooth is the future, because there are no $150 Bluetooth headphones that can do everything these do. Not everyone wants to spend $300 or more to get good audio. And not everyone should have to.

My other writing: Medium, Twitter, www.worldbolding.com

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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