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Audio-Technica ATH-M50 review: Audio-Technica ATH-M50

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Let's get something out of the way from the get-go. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor Headphones are a great pair of headphones for the money -- and great headphones period.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Studio Monitor Headphones
8.7

Audio-Technica ATH-M50

The Good

The <b>Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor Headphones</b> offer excellent build quality and very detailed, balanced sound with tight bass. They're also very comfortable and are a relative bargain.

The Bad

There's no integrated microphone for making cell phone calls; the bulkier design makes them less suitable for mobile use; and the headphone cord isn't detachable.

The Bottom Line

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor Headphones are among the best available for less than $200, offering excellent sound and build quality.

What makes them great?

Well, for starters, they're well-built and have a sturdy design that looks and feels like it will hold up well over time, with a thick single cord that terminates in a heavy-duty, reinforced plug. The thick, padded earcups swivel on two axes, and the headphones fold flat for storage, though it's worth noting that the simple soft case they come with is essentially just a bag.

As their model name indicates, these are monitor headphones and they look and sound every bit like headphones you'd find in a recording studio (and some folks will use them for that purpose). Weighing in at 10.1 ounces, they're not light, but they fit nicely and are comfortable to wear. 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-Cancelling Headphones or Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Studio Headphones, they do a good job of passively sealing out the sound from the outside world. No, you don't get the same level of noise reduction, but they're a good alternative to the QuietComfort 15 headphones for people who are sensitive to the slight pressure of active noise cancellation -- and they sound better.

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones are very well-built and comfortable to wear. Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones are better suited to indoor, stationary listening (they come with a 1/4-inch adapter for plugging into a home receiver), they work fine on the go, and in size are on par with the aforementioned Monster Beats By Dr. Dre headphones. But the Audio-Technicas, which cost significantly less, are a much better value.

The one thing missing for on-the-go listening is a built-in microphone and in-line remote for making cell phone calls. But this set is more for purists and it doesn't have any extra bells and whistles. One thing I did appreciate was that while the cord is long, it isn't crazily long like that of the step-down Audio-Technica ATH-M30. I also liked that the cord had a coiled section at the end (like old corded phones used to have) that allows you to the extend the cord if need be. Audio-Technica also makes a version of the M50 that has a straight cord (the ATH-M50s), and that model comes in a white version as well as a limited-edition silver version.

The M50's have a heavy-duty plug and come with a 1/4-inch adapter you can plug into your home receiver. Sarah Tew/CNET

Impressive sound
Aside from the build quality, the ATH-M50 headphones' signature quality is their sound. These headphones are nicely balanced and offer impressive detail and good tight bass that's ample but not overpowering. 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, well-balanced, and accurate.

In terms of technical specs, the ATH-M50 headphones feature "proprietary" 45mm large-aperture drivers with neodymium magnet systems. I ran an eclectic mix of music through them and the headphones sounded really 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. Like higher-end headphones that cost even more, these headphones make you want to go back and listen to old songs in your music collection that you haven't heard in a while just to hear what the headphones can bring out in the song. As I said, there's lots of detail; the sound is rich, refined, and open for closed-back headphones (by "open" I mean the music doesn't feel stuck inside your head).

Both editor Justin Yu and contributor Steve Guttenberg felt the same way I did about these headphones, and Guttenberg, whom we often turn to for reviews of high-end headphones, had very high praise. "They're just really good headphones," he said. "I'm very familiar with them and I've always liked them." Yu and I also like the $149.99 Incase Sonic Over Ear Headphones in this price range. They're lighter than the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones, are very comfortable, also sound very good, and have a built-in microphone. However, the ATH-M50 pair have an arguably sturdier design, sound a bit better, and fold flat.

Our take
Alas, we should have reviewed this model and the more affordable Audio-Technica ATH-M30 Closed-Back Dynamic Stereo Monitor Headphones, also an excellent value, sooner. But now that I have spent some time with them, it's clear that these are among the best headphones available that cost less than $200. At around $160 online, they're an excellent bargain. Highly recommended, particularly for those looking for full-size headphones.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Studio Monitor Headphones
8.7

Audio-Technica ATH-M50

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9