Review: Audio-Technica ATH M20xBT
Another ubiquitous pair of A-T cans gets the Bluetooth makeover.
Bluetooth, as a wireless audio protocol, is making waves. Of course, Bluetooth has always been a handy smartphone feature and great to get the party started at picnics and down at beach but wasn’t up to any critical listening challenge. The data compression used in Bluetooth (whatever flavour it might be) meant an unacceptable loss in audio quality and an unacceptable delay in the audio arriving. Now, things have improved to the point that any compromise in sound quality and the inherent latency can mostly be overlooked in exchange for the ‘woo-hoo’ freedom of wireless sound. Audio-Technica is a company that has been closely following the progress of Bluetooth.
Its M50 headphones are akin to the NS10 of the headphone world. Whether you love them or hate them, it matters not. They’re wildly popular, with a sonic signature so well known that its frequency response needs little explanation or introduction.
So when Audio-Technica released a ‘BT’ Bluetooth version (the ATH-M50xBT2 priced at A$379) the response from the market was, ‘cool!’.
If you rely on your M50s for mixing or critical monitoring, that’s fine, simply plug in the lead and bypass the Bluetooth. If you crave the freedom of wireless sound, then press the Bluetooth button and you’re in business. In short, the BT version is a facsimile of the original ATH-M50x (A$319) only with a wireless ace up its sleeve.
Now it’s the M20’s time to get a ‘BT’ makeover.
The ATH-M20xBT (A$169) adds a Bluetooth capability to the original ATH-M20x (A$99). The Bluetooth functionality accounts for the extra cost, so you really need to review the sonic performance of the M20xBT as A$99 headphones rather than A$169 headphones.
In that way, these headphones present entirely as expected: a low-cost workhorse. They’re lightweight, but balanced and fit comfortably enough over the ears and head. The connecting wires between the shells and headband make me a little nervous that they’ll get snagged on something and the pressed-metal, slotted adjustment slides aren’t super-schmick but the M20s have been around long enough to convince me these headphones will last the distance with some care.
As with the M50xBT2, the M20xBT offers tethered and untethered listening options however these headphones have limited Bluetooth codec support: AAC and SBC, but no APTX.
Once paired, they reconnect quickly and easily, and they have a huge 60-hour battery life on a full charge. They offer Low-Latency Mode, allowing the audio delay to be reduced, but it’s unclear whether they drop from AAC down to SBC to achieve this. Increasing synchronicity when gaming or consuming video is recommended as audio lag can be more jarring or disruptive in those settings.
NEED TO KNOW
Audio-Technica ATH M20xBT
The M20 sound isn’t renowned for being ruler flat. The bold, robust sound profile has lashings of low end. A fairly noticeable mid-scoop is also present and probably functions as a means of revealing more bottom end without having to push the drivers harder.
These headphones are by no means an unpleasant listen — you can have fun with these cans in the context of recreational listening. They’re musical, with a response curve that seems suited to audio program with crisp, punchy production such as IDM, metal, or where their extended bass response can enhance the listening experience. If you’re not expecting the M20xBT to fill the shoes of the M50xBT2 on a shoestring budget then these bombastic Bluetooth headphones provide a good cable-free option.