AUDIO-TECHNICA MX HEADPHONES
Audio-Technica adds some ‘x’ factor to its headphone line.
Review: Mark Davie
I’ll come out and say it. I’m a big fan of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphone. They’re comfortable, extremely capable, and have plenty of bottom to go round. I’ve had a couple of pairs over the last few years. My first set lasting about five years of abuse, in and out of a laptop bag every day, bounced around sessions, and dropped on plenty of floors. They finally gave in when one of the ear cups broke away, and I now have another set. Though I’d become so attached to my first pair, it took a violent clean-out by AT editorial director Chris Holder to finally get the remains off my desk.
I’ve talked to plenty of people that swear by them, but, equally, I also get why others don’t really dig them. They can be bass heavy. In the office, we have an assortment of cans, and another favourite closed-back can is the Shure SRH-840. Indeed, when you compare the two, the Shure does seem more linear in response (and it would be unfair to compare it with the clarity of the open back SRH1440, for example). I’ve noticed a level of snobbery coming from the Shure-fanciers’ camp because of the headphones’ even response. Saying that, the conceit didn’t preclude one such fancier ‘borrowing’ the Audio-Technica’s because listening back to their EDM mix on the Shure’s didn’t quite have the impact it had at home.
And this is exactly why I love the Audio-Technica’s. They’re not the flattest headphones in the world (they’re not ridiculously bass-heavy either), but they never disappoint when it comes to impact. Which is why I recommend them as a great all-rounder headphone, especially great for tracking. You’ll never be left feeling like the headphones are letting you down when trying to get into the groove of a track, even with the swathe of crappy headphone amps out there. And I’m making it sound like they have a sloppy reproduction. Far from it, they can be clear, detailed, and handle level really well.
X MARKS THE SPOT
Okay, now you have seen my Audio-Technica colours nailed to the mast, you can understand why I was keen to hear what the ‘x’ update was bringing to the party.
The Mx range has four models: the revised ATH-M50x, the M40x, M30x and M20x. All are closed back designs, with the same-sized generous ear cups. The M50x features a 45mm driver, while the rest of the range have slightly smaller 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets and copper-clad aluminium wire voicecoils. And all come with a two-year warranty.
M50x: The M50x is exactly the same as its predecessor where it counts — the sound. It’s voiced the same. So the changes are, in a way, minor but worthwhile. The main tweak is the detachable, twist-lock cables. It comes with three: 1.2-3m coiled, 3m straight, and 1.2m straight. Personally, I love this addition. I’ve had both fixed types with the M50s, and would have loved the option to alternate. There are just some applications where coiled is better, and some straight. Having the choice is handy. The other changes are subtle updates to the ear cup and headband material. They’re noticeably softer than the previous version, for comfort and a better seal. Hopefully it will stand up to abuse as well. You can also grab it in black, white, or a trendy blue/tan colourway. Again, nice to have the option, especially if you’re DJing.
M40x: Of the bunch, the M40x probably represents the best value. You get most of the functional trappings of the M50x — swappable locking cables (coiled and straight included), concealed wiring, easy stepped headband adjustment, rotatable ear cups (though not bi-directional like the M50x), and a bit of inlaid metallic bling — with a lot of the sound too. It has the lowest impedance of the lot, and at 35Ω, will match well with all current gear. The M50x sounds a little more subtly detailed, compared to the M40x, which gives it the edge for long listening sessions. The M40x doesn’t sound as big as the M50x either. But the M40x is also a little lighter in the low end, and is lighter in weight too, which might make it more attractive to some.
M30x: Initially the M30x sounded a bit boxier and harsher than the other two. After listening to them interchangeably for a while, it became apparent that this model has a pronounced upper mid range, which had some interesting effects. Sometimes hi-hats tended to poke out a lot, and in general it tended to feature the attack portion of drums and favoured the cutting elements of synths. They made for quite a good drum tracking headphone, especially for drummers that might struggle to follow a click and are always asking for it to be louder.
Moving down from the M40xs, you lose the detachable cables, the padding materials are a little harder, they’re not as efficient, and the wiring between the headband and earcups is exposed. The headband adjustment isn’t as nice, but the ear cups still fold up into the headband for a smaller package to stash into a bag. It’s all cost-cutting stuff you’d expect as you move into the cheaper models.
M20x: I actually liked the M20x a bit more than the M30x. Initially this model felt a little bit more comfortable, and while it didn’t have the upwards extension of the top dogs, it tamed down the upper mid-range harshness of the M30x. It’s really a light, competent-sounding, tracking headphone, that is more reminiscent of the deeper M50x voicing than its slightly more expensive sibling. They’re also streets ahead of the bulk of other ‘budget’ headphones I’ve heard.
All the headphones in the Mx range are comfortable, with big ear pads that seal really well. The two lower-end models both felt like they pressed into your head a little more, but with some adjustment will sit comfortably for long sessions. It’s a well-thought out range. The M50x just got better as an all-rounder, the M40x is great bang-for-your-buck, the M30x suits applications where you want a more pronounced mid-range, and the M20x is a great tracking option if you need a room full of headphones for not much. Perhaps the next move for the Mx series would be to make an open-back M60x model. I’d like to hear that.