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Audio-Technica ATH-M30 review: Audio-Technica ATH-M30

Audio-Technica ATH-M30

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

Audio-Technica makes a few popular full-size headphones, including the ATH-M30 reviewed here, that perform very well and offer excellent performance bang for the buck. The ATH-M30, which retails for around $60 online, isn't as ruggedly built as the step up ATH-M50, nor does it sound as good. But hey, it's only $60, and at that price point, you're not going to do much better.

Audio-Technica ATH-M30 Closed-Back Stereo Monitor Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M30

The Good

The <b>Audio-Technica ATH-M30 headphones</b> offer good build quality and detailed, natural sound with good bass. They're also very comfortable and a bargain at around $60.

The Bad

There's no integrated microphone for making cell phone calls; the extra-long cord makes the headphones less suitable for mobile use; don't fold-up like the ATH-M35; and the cord isn't detachable.

The Bottom Line

While they're not in the same league as the step-up ATH-M50 headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M30 set costs a lot less and offers impressive performance and decent build quality for the money.

Like the M50, this model has a thick single cord that terminates in a heavy-duty, reinforced plug. The padded earcups swivel on only one axis (the M50 swivels on two), and the headphones don't fold flat for storage. Audio-Technica also makes the ATH-M35, which retails for around the same price. The only difference between the two models is that the ATH-M35 has a hinge that allows you to fold the earcups inward for storage in an included pouch. I prefer a fold-flat design, but many people will appreciate that the ATH-M35 has some sort of collapsible option, making that model the better choice.

As I said, the M30 doesn't feel as sturdy as the M50, and the headband isn't as thick, but they're well-built for their price. They're also quite comfortable and relatively lightweight, weighing in at 7 ounces compared with the M50's 10.1 ounces.

The ATH-M30 headphones have comfortable, nicely padded earcups. Sarah Tew/CNET

Naturally, since these are over-the-ear headphones, with a closed-back design, they will make your ears pretty steamy on warmer days.

Although they don't have the active noise-cancellation feature of the Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise-Canceling Headphones or Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio Headphones, they do a pretty good job of passively sealing out the sound from the outside world. No, you don't get the same level of noise reduction, but again, they're only $60 and they're a reasonable alternative for people on a budget who also happen to be sensitive to the slight pressure of active noise cancellation.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M30 headphones are better suited to indoor, stationary listening (they come with a 1/4-inch adapter for plugging into a home receiver). They're technically "monitor" headphones and some people will use them in the studio for making recordings (or perhaps podcasting) or out in the field for video shoots. They also work fine on the go with smartphones/MP3 players and in size are on par with the aforementioned Monster Beats By Dr. Dre headphones (they're slightly smaller, in fact). However, the one big drawback of the headphones for mobile use is the length of the cord. It's 11 feet long and because it's so thick, it becomes a bit unwieldy.

Another thing missing for on-the-go listening is a built-in microphone and in-line remote for making cell phone calls. But like other monitor-style headphones, these cans are more for purists and don't have any extra bells and whistles.

The extra-long cord makes the headphones less desirable for mobile use. Sarah Tew/CNET

Impressive sound

In terms of technical specs, the ATH-M30 headphones feature 40mm large-aperture drivers with neodymium magnet systems. As with the ATH-M50 headphones, I ran an eclectic mix of music through them and they sounded good with everything I threw at them (they're designed to play well with just about any kind of music -- or movies and games, for that matter). While they don't offer the level of detail, more-refined bass, and overall more dynamic quality of the M50 headphones, they deliver well-balanced, relatively open sound for closed-back headphones (by "open" I mean the sound doesn't feel canned or trapped inside your head).

The cord terminates in a reinforced plug.

That bass may not be quite big enough for folks who are looking for a booming low end with big thump, but I gravitate toward headphones that are a bit more laid-back (warmer) and have flatter, more natural sound. These guys certainly fit that description.

As with the step-up M50 headphones, I had both editor Justin Yu and contributor Steve Guttenberg listen to these. They both prefer the M50, of course, but also thought the M30 sounded quite good, especially for the price.

There are several other "studio monitor" headphone models in this price range, including Audio-Technica's own ATHM40FS, which requires a 3.5mm adapter for mobile use and weighs slightly more. That model also has a extra-long cord. The Sony MDR-7506 and MDR-V6 are other popular and highly rated sub-$100 options, but they cost more.

Many of these full-size, closed-back headphones weren't designed with an emphasis on mobile use. But with larger headphones being in fashion these days (thank Beats for that), more people are taking a look at affordable models like the ATH-M30 and ATH-M35 to use for listening in the office (they do seal out sound, so they're good for cubicle use) and at home, as well as on the go.

Alas, I wish Audio-Technica made these with a shorter cord (and perhaps provided an extension cord for "studio" use), but that's the only serious strike against them. Otherwise, they deliver a solid mix of comfort, decent build quality, and impressive sound for an affordable price.

Audio-Technica ATH-M30 Closed-Back Stereo Monitor Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M30

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8Value 9