Audio-Technica ATH-M50x review: The best-sounding headphones under $200 get (slightly) better

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The Good The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones offer excellent build quality and very detailed, balanced sound with tight bass. They're also very comfortable and have slightly more cushiony earcups along with a detachable-cord design (three cords are included).

The Bad There's no integrated microphone for making cell phone calls and the bulkier design makes them less suitable for mobile use.

The Bottom Line Quibbles aside, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones are a modestly improved version of the already spectacular model they're based on, and among the best-sounding pairs you'll find for less than $200.

8.7 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Sound 9
  • Value 8

One of the reasons Audio-Technica's ATH-M50 headphones became popular was that they were sort of the anti-Beats. Or, put another way, they were the headphones for "smart" listeners who looked down on people who overpaid and got suckered into the whole Beats marketing machine.

At around half the price of the original $300 Beats by Dre Studio (since replaced by an updated Beats Studio ), they sounded significantly better and were also built better. There was just one small problem. While the ATH-M50 headphones were studio-style -- the "M" in the name stands for "monitor" -- a lot of people were using them on the go, so an inline remote/microphone would have been helpful.

At first glance, the new-for-2014 ATH-M50x headphones seem to be that more mobile-oriented version. Almost identical to the ATH-M50 model, they have improved padding on the earcups and a new detachable-cord design. The headphones are available in black, white, and blue, and come with three different cords in the box matching the chosen color.

You'd expect that one of those cords would have an integrated microphone and remote, but oddly, none of them do. Instead you get a long 3-meter (9.8-foot) straight cable, a short 1.2-m (3.9-foot) straight cable, and 1.2-meter - 3.0-meter (3.9-foot - 9.8-foot) coiled cable.

Audio-Technica's explanation for the missing cord, found in the Q&A section of the headphone's product page, is this:

"Unfortunately, the ATH-M50x headphones do not feature an in-line microphone or controller. This is true of all the Audio-Technica M-Series Headphones. There is currently no known adapter available that would accommodate either operation."

So it goes. The ATH-M50x model is still excellent, with enough extras to mostly justify the somewhat higher price -- about $169 in the US, £126 in the UK, and AU$249 in Australia.

Before you invest in the ATH-M50x, note that it is one of four updated models in the line. The step-down ATH-M40x ($99, £88, AU$149), ATH-M30x ($69, £59, AU$109), and ATH-M20x ($49, £45, AU$79) are also worthy of consideration.

Design and features

As we said in our review of the previous model, the ATH-M50x headphones are 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.

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