Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT Review: Great Wireless Headphones on the Cheap

For decades, Audio-Technica has been a leading manufacturer of pro-studio equipment – its headphones have become a go-to for many DJs, engineers, producers and audiophiles. The immense popularity of its most successful headphones to date, the ATH-50x, has earned acclaim from consumers and industry experts alike. Now, the company has decided to launch a wireless version: the ATH-50xBT.

Carrying over the same design that its predecessor had while bringing modern features and stronger sound into the fold, the ATH-M50x is a worthy upgrade capable of outperforming most headphones in its class –– but it could still use a tune-up in certain areas.

Design

Available only in black, the ATH-50xBT is a near-replica of its wired counterpart, but subtle changes have been made to the design. Nonetheless, you can expect the same minimalist appearance and robust construction that have become synonymous with the brand.

Hard plastic, leather and metal make up the ATH-50xBT's entire frame. All of these materials have a premium look and a sturdy feel that ensure long-term use. Both ear cups swivel to the side and inward, which makes it easy for listeners to wear them around the neck or store them away. The faux-leather pads look good and can be swapped with other compatible ear pads. I also thought the silver accents around the ear cups gave the cans some necessary flair.

The only design changes are the mounted controls and touch interface on the left ear cup – which is a huge deal, considering the previous model had no control scheme. I commend Audio-Technica for integrating both features into the design, especially the touch panel, which is disguised as the brand logo and has no tactility.

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Since they're packaged in a huge box, I figured these headphones came stocked with a full suite of accessories. No, sir. The company kept extras to a minimum, leaving me with just an auxiliary cable, micro-USB cable and leathery travel pouch.

Comfort and Fit

A huge selling point for the first-gen model was wearability. While the ATH-50xBT is relatively comfortable, it's large and heavy at 10.9 ounces  – more than the ATH-50x (10 ounces) and other competitors like the Bose QuietComfort35 II (1.4 ounces) and Marshall Monitor Bluetooth (9.5 ounces).

Despite the extra weight, I wore the headphones over a few days for 5 to 6 hours at a time and never felt encumbered. The foam-pad ear cups rested gently on my ears and the shallow cutouts provided a comfy, spacious surrounding that minimized pressure. The headband conformed to my skull nicely, bearing enough flexibility to accommodate all head shapes.

I do recommend sporting them at the smallest setting possible to achieve the best fit. The buttery feel of the earpads makes it difficult to secure a firm grip, however, causing the headphones to slide around whenever the wearer nods their head or takes a power walk.

Controls and Setup

Audio-Technica placed its control scheme on the left ear cup, where three buttons perform the duties of Bluetooth/power switch, charging port, audio jack and control panel.

Sadly, the controls aren't as intuitive as they are on other Bluetooth headsets. The multifunctional button in the middle will play/pause music or answer/end a call. The plus (+) or minus (-) buttons manage volume with a tap, whereas holding either down for 2 seconds will skip/rewind a track, respectively. But, you aren't given the option to play a previous track. Also, the touch interface is limited to one command: holding it down for 2 seconds will activate your device's digital assistant. This feature doesn't work as well here as on the Sony WH-1000XM3; Audio-Technica could have added more functions to optimize the experience.

The pairing process is one of the most convenient I've encountered on any wireless headset. Simply push up the toggle switch to enable Bluetooth mode, and this will pull up the device name (ATH-M50xBT#PP) on the available devices list. Select it, and you're good to go.

Audio Performance

Equipped with proprietary 45-millimeter drivers, the ATH-M50xBT features a more balanced and brighter soundstage than the company's ATH-ANC9 model. I tested the headphones across multiple music genres and enjoyed the results all around.

The cans did a stellar job of revealing imperfections in recordings. I immediately caught the hissing feedback at the start of Led Zeppelin's “Immigrant Song," as well as the crackling noises near the end of The Beatles' original recording of “I Want You (She's So Heavy)". Miles Davis' “Black Satin" showcased the headphones' mid and high range superbly, producing a wealth of instrumentation and blending unique effects like polyrhythmic claps into the soundscape.

Jumping into Phil Collins' “Take Me Home," the ATH-M50xBT met expectations by accurately reproducing the deep, vigorous drums and xylophone riff. I was immersed in the song's melodic ambience from the first note. More impressive were the airy vocals, which sounded more ethereal the more I listened. To my displeasure, the QC35 II couldn't match this depth and softened the beat.

The headphones handled the booming bass line of Nas' “Halftime" with ease. The echoes in the chorus were impactful and transparent, channeling smooth reverberations through my ears. Pushing its lows to the max, “A Milli" by Lil Wayne had the ATH M50xBT pulsating with powerful snares and throbbing bass levels that never once distorted the rapper's vocals. I'd place the headphones' bass response in the same league as the WH-1000XM3.

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Plugging in the auxiliary cable provided a boost in sonics. Acoustics and treble sounded noticeably better and volume levels were cranked higher. The cable came in most handy when I watched Netflix movies, giving film scores a surround-sound presence.

Noise Isolation

Those wanting quiet time from the outside world will receive it with these wireless cans. The closed-back design is effective in blocking out most ambient noise. I rode buses and trains, not once interrupted by what transpired around me. I drew attention from several riders, however, as the headphones bled sound when I listened at max volume. Bringing down the sound a few notches helped me maintain a quieter profile in public.

Connect App

The Connect app doesn't offer much and caters mostly to wireless fidelity mongers. There was no customizable EQ or preset sound profiles to personalize audio. Instead, you're given access to multiple codec formats: aptX, AAC and SBC. Each is programmed to improve sound over Bluetooth, though you'll need to ensure your audio source supports them. Also, switching between them requires disconnecting and reconnecting the headphones. The only other feature worth mentioning is the Product Locator, which helps you track down misplaced headphones.

Digital Assistant Support

The ATH-M50xBT isn't the most reliable headset for voice assistance. For one, enabling the feature was frustrating, since the touch interface failed to register the command numerous times. When I launched Google Assistant, the mics had trouble picking up my vocals, therefore misinterpreting my requests. One example was mistaking “When is my next event?" for “When is my next alarm?" Just pretend the feature doesn't exist and use the digital assistant directly through your smartphone.

Battery Life

Do you like the idea of 40 hours on a single charge? Great! This is longer than elite wireless models such as the WH-1000XM3 (30 hours) and QC35 II (22 hours), though keep in mind, the ATH-M50xBT doesn't feature active noise cancellation, which sucks up juice.

I got 6 hours of listening time daily for six days before needing a recharge. Others who use their headphones in moderation should receive two to three weeks of continuous play time. Not having USB Type-C on board isn't a deal breaker, but it would have made a vast difference with charging times, since the ATH-M50xBT takes about 5 hours to generate full power via micro USB.

The headphones do come fully charged out of the box.

Call Quality and Connectivity

Call quality on the ATH-M50xBT was subpar at best. I was able to hear people loud and clear on my end, but many said I often sounded muffled. My girlfriend mentioned this as well, even though she mostly recognized everything I said. Skype calls fared better, and I recorded a podcast, sans any dropout.

These cans use Bluetooth 5.0, promising faster speed and wider communication range. Where most headphones allow 30 feet of wireless listening running Bluetooth 4.2, the ATH-M50xBT stretches to 40 feet before interference occurs. I connected to my smartphone instantly. Note, however, the headphones pair with only one device at a time.

Connectivity is a bit wonky when the headset is connected to laptops. For some reason, the headphones wouldn't let me hear Instagram or YouTube videos unless I was playing iTunes or Spotify at the same time. This forced me to mute songs directly on both music programs, just to hear online videos.

Bottom Line

With amazing sound combined with durable, premium aesthetics and strong battery life, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT carries all the strong qualities of a high-performance headset at a cheaper cost. Not many models in its price range are engineered to match its audio performance. Also, those familiar with audio codec formats can experiment with the companion app and enjoy music files the way they were originally meant to be heard.

Those who favor function over form can look past the ATH-M50xBT's bulky and industrial look, but just know that all is not perfect: There are bugs that need to be ironed out on the connection side, plus the touch controls are nowhere near as responsive as Sony's or Microsoft's.  

In the end, the ATH-M50xBT is all about producing the best sound at a midrange value, which it accomplishes. If that's not enough, you can always go a price class higher with the QC35 II ($300) for first-rate audio, reliable connectivity and noise cancellation.

Credit: Audio-Technica

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