Audio-Technica’s M50 headphones are a standard feature in many studios, but you asked for more, and AT answered that call by adding an x to M. Andy Jones does the can-can…
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Last month we reviewed the entry-level set of headphones in Audio-Technica’s new range –the ATH-M20x, which scored a very good 8/10 and our Value Award. To be honest, though, it’s the ATH-M50x that we’ve been looking forward to more as this is a re-imagining of one of the most popular studio headphones, the ATH-M50. And when I say re-imagining, what I mean is that AT hasn’t totally redesigned them from the ground up – why do that with such a successful product? – but instead kept the best bits and added what you’ve asked for.
Detachable cables were a big ask and you get three of them: a 3m straight, 1.2m straight and a 1.2m coiled, my personal favourite for studio use. (I’m one of these people who clumsily gets cables tangled together in any situation, so having one that coils in on itself, keeping away from all other studio devices, cups of tea – OK, cans of beer – and other cables is a godsend.)
Next up are 90-degree swivelling earcups for one-cup monitoring or DJ’ing, plus what AT describes as ‘circumaural design contours… for excellent sound isolation’. So while these aren’t active noise-cancelling headphones, they certainly do a good job of excluding a lot of it. As I type this I can just make out my tap-tapping on the keyboard and the annoying, yapping dog next door has become less of a future dog murder victim. The ’phones themselves have 45mm large-aperture drivers that deliver a 15Hz to 28,000Hz range and – this is where AT has been wise – ‘the same coveted sonic signature.’
Add x to Excellent
Let’s check this signature out. First up, a couple of mixes I’m working on – kind of ambient house stuff with lots of deep basses, heavy kicks, pads and strings. These tracks were mixed on Unity Audio Rocks and the M50xs tell me I did a pretty good job with a great set of monitors. The arrangement sounds lush, deep and very wide. Initially on one of the bass parts I hear a very slight tingling, almost a buzz, so at first I think it’s a very slight fault in the ’phones. However, what they’ve actually picked up is some very slight distortion on one of the bass parts. On closer inspection in Logic I see that this part is just very slightly hitting the red, so I notch it down… buzz off. Impressive stuff.
On to some different tracks and a quick blast of Modeselektor – some of the best-produced music, in my opinion – and I’m hearing detail I’ve not heard through my Bose headphones (especially down at the bass end, which is strong but not overwhelming). Again, the stereo spread is astonishing and I’m starting to realise why these ’phones have such a good rep with mix engineers as I’m hearing new life in music I thought I knew well. I’d mix on these any day.
Some more delicate, more acoustic music is in order and I turn to Talk Talk’s I Believe In You, the same track I played through my Rocks when auditioning them. Not only did it make my arm hairs raise but my leg hairs, too, at the time – yes, the very reason I plumped for the Rocks. So do I get the same reaction using these? Oh yes…
On to some of my old 80s favourites and Uncertain Smile from The The is next, and these ’phones are so honest that they pick up hiss in the intro I’ve not heard before as noticeably. OK, so sometimes things can be a bit too clever by half…
If ever you want a set of headphones to use late at night listening to your best music, these will have you in tears in seconds. But, more importantly, for producers they will enable you to produce such music in the first place. They’re accurate, practical, sound excellent and will have you fixing bits of your mix that you thought didn’t need fixing. I also had them on the entire time while writing this review and the Cantus review (page 75) and experienced no discomfort whatsoever. Superb.