Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Great sound for less

Meet the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT: A budget wireless over-ear headphones disruptor

The Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT being held in hand
(Image: © Alex Bracetti/Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The $79 Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT delivers versatile sound and unbeatable battery life, but its imperfections are reflected in the price.

Pros

  • +

    Great battery life

  • +

    Solid sound

  • +

    Responsive controls

Cons

  • -

    Poor comfort

  • -

    Very little isolation

  • -

    Basic features

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Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT: Specifications

Type: Wireless/wired over-ear headphones

Colors: Black

Battery life (rated): 60 hours

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0 (codecs: SBC, AAC)

Water resistance: None

Size: Not stated

Weight:  7.06 ounces

Audio-Technica has a stellar reputation for sound, and if you’ve never experienced it, then the low-priced ATH-M20xBT is a great starting point.

These are the latest entry-level over-ear headphones in the widely popular M-Series and very similar to the well-received ATH-M50xBT. Minimalist design: check. Well-balanced soundstage that complements all music genres: check. Ridiculously long battery life: check. Strong connectivity: check. So what compromises were made in key areas to keep the Audio-Technica sounding great at such an affordable price point? Read on to find out more in our full review.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Price and availability

You can purchase the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT for $79 directly from Audio-Technica or at major online retailers such as Amazon (opens in new tab) and B&H (opens in new tab). Only one color is sold: Black. Inside the box are a 2.5mm audio cable and USB-C charging cable.

The market isn’t short on cheap wireless headphones and these cans face stiff competition in the sub-$100 range. Noise-cancellers like the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 give you adequate ANC and LDAC hi-res audio support for as low as $97 (currently marked down on Amazon (opens in new tab)). Another noteworthy alternative is the on-ear $99 Jabra Elite 45h (opens in new tab) that packs powerful sonics and up to 50 hours of battery life into a sleek, lightweight design.

For all of the latest wireless headphones sales, bookmark our best headphones deals page.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Design and comfort

Audio-Technica’s aesthetic remains intact, as exhibited by the all-black exterior composed of plastic with leather padding, thin metal extenders, and logo on each earcup. For consumers who like plain and functional, the design works.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT resting on a couch

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

I just wish the build quality wasn’t so cheap. These headphones feel very flimsy from the moment you take them out of the box. The plastic isn’t durable enough to survive a hard fall onto the concrete. Sitting or stepping on them at the wrong angle will break the yoke or bend the extenders. Not being able to turn the earcups sideways is another controversial design choice by Audio-Technica because this increases the risk of breakability when stored in your carry-on bag; the ATH-M20xBT does not come with a carrying case or pouch.   

Despite their lightweight feel, these headphones provide very little comfort. The clamp force is tight around the ears, causing fatiguing after an hour of listening. On top of that, the leather heats up and uncomfortably warms your ears.

Our reviewer wearing the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT in a backyard setting

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The loose extenders allow for seamless adjusting, but not having any settings in place can create an uneven fit. Placing the headphones at the lowest setting also causes the headband to apply pressure atop the skull.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Controls and digital assistant

The ATH-M20xBT’s control scheme is basic. No touch controls or motion sensors for auto-pause. Just a three-button module placed on the rear end of the left earcup to enable a full of suite of controls, including playback, call management, volume, digital assistance, and listening modes. All you need to know is each button is responsive to single and multi-press gestures and produces solid tactility that ensures listeners of commands being met.

Showcasing the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT's physical controls

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Siri and Google Assistant are supported, but neither performed at a high level via the Audio-Technica. Google Assistant was the more reliable voice assistant and picked up commands accurately, though there was noticeable lag when firing up the feature. It required several attempts for Siri to work on macOS, and even then, there were speech recognition issues. The mics misinterpreted “what is my next event” for “what is mascara,” which was concerning. Lag was also present whenever activating the feature.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Sound quality

Legacy sound can be difficult to achieve on low-priced wireless headphones. The ATH-M20xBT might not quite meet the standards of the company's more upmarket models, but it is well tuned and delivers a pleasing sound. 

Bass enthusiasts might find the low end somewhat tame, but I thought it was well balanced. Neither too aggressive, nor too passive. The infectious drums on Laura Mvula’s “That’s Alright” grabbed me from the start, remaining steady and impactful all the way through. I was tapping my right foot to the beat, which speaks to how infectious this track sounded on the ATH-M20xBT. Harmonization was also clean and crisp, and the layering was detailed to hear the background vocalists distinctively.

The midrange on Oh Wonder’s “Livewire” was impressive. Not only did it give the soft-spoken vocals a delicate feel that complemented the melodic piano play, but it sounded prominent over the pulsing bass drum. I was most satisfied with the high end on these headphones. The string section towards the conclusion of Jennifer Warnes’ “Ballad of the Runaway Horse” made for a serene listen.

Oh Wonder's "Livewire" playing on the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Listening in wired or wireless mode didn’t affect the quality much. There was only a slight increase in volume when connecting the aux cable to my laptop.

Audio-Technica didn’t need to include any listening modes, but they added a Low Latency mode for enhanced streaming and gaming. There wasn’t any difference when watching Netflix shows or YouTube clips. I’m not an avid gamer, but from the short amount of time I put into Call of Duty Mobile and Mario Run, audio synchronization was improved when enabling the feature.

All media was tested on my Google Pixel 6 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note S22 Ultra, and MacBook Pro. AAC and SBC audio codecs allowed for smooth streaming on Apple Music and Spotify. Advanced codecs such as aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC are not supported for enabling the best audio quality over Bluetooth.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Noise isolation

It isn’t a shocker to see noise cancellation absent from the ATH-M20xBT’s spec sheet, but there are other models in its price range that provide the feature, or at least an ambient listening mode to gain greater awareness of surroundings.

Testing the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT's noise isolation

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The ATH-M20xBT’s over-ear design is supposed to block out noise passively, but it doesn’t do this particularly well. Sitting in the backyard gazebo during work hours was distracting due to the several external noises that entered the soundscape. My toddler’s screams for attention, along with family chatter and iPhone ringers were all discernible. I could even hear car horns from the driveway. Indoors noises such as doorbells and loud TVs caught my attention as well.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Battery life

Audio-Technica rates battery life at 60 hours per charge. Realistically, you’re looking at 55 hours when factoring in high volume and latency mode, which is still an incredible amount to work with. Having tested the headphones for over a week, 5 hours daily, I had over 20 hours of playtime at my disposal. Only a handful of competitors achieve this type of battery life performance, two being the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 (40 – 60 hours) and the Cleer Enduro ANC (60 hours).

The Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT charging via USB-C

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

A 10-minute quick charge gets you 3 hours of use. For comparison, that is higher than noise-cancelling staples like the Bose 700 (15 minutes = 2 hours), but also lower than powerhouses like the Sony WH-1000XM4 (10 minutes = 5 hours).

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Call quality and connectivity

Call quality on the ATH-M20xBT is mediocre. Any calls I made inside or outside of the house were met with negative feedback. It was mentioned that I sounded muffled and that background noises blocked out my vocals, which only made it more difficult to communicate. Another complaint was that the volume was low on my end. The only time my wife heard me clearly was when I called her from a completely silent setting like my office.

Our reviewer using the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT as a calling headset

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Bluetooth 5.0 offers stable wireless performance across the board. Turning on the headphones will automatically enable pairing mode and instantly reconnect them to your recognized devices. One-tap Google Fast Pair expedites the pairing process on Android devices, while multipoint technology allows the headphones to pair to two devices at the same time. Having the luxury of streaming music from my Pixel 6 Pro and jumping right on a Facetime call via MacBook Pro was so convenient; the connections didn’t get scrambled.

Range extends up to 55 feet. That is nearly 30 feet longer than what Audio-Technica advertises on their site. I came out to the front porch with my smartphone charging in the back room and didn’t experience any dropout.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT review: Verdict

For $79, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT offers way more functionality than it should be able to. You’re not getting the company’s best audio performance, but what’s available is far superior to what most sub-$100 models deliver. Music sounds lively and vibrant. Listeners can go three weeks without having to recharge these cans. And the wireless range is more than sufficient for roaming freely around the house dropout-free. 

While there are plenty of positives that make them sound enticing, the negatives stack up. It’s OK to give Audio-Technica a pass for the flimsy construction, but the poor comfort and noise isolation, along with a pretty basic set of feature may count against them too significantly for some. Of course, the price alone makes them worth a listen, but consider the importance of the other elements for your requirements before you buy.

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.