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

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The earcups offer slightly more comfortable padding than the ATH-M50s do. Sarah Tew/CNET

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 just less than 10 ounces (283 grams), 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 of the Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise-Cancelling Headphones or Beats Studio (2013) , 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.

Performance

Soundwise, the ATH-M50x headphones are hard to fault. The tonal balance is accurate, stereo imaging (for a closed-back design) is spacious, and dynamic impact is excellent.

While Audio-Technica claims there's no difference between the sound of the original ATH-M50 and the updated version, we think the ATH-M50x model sounds clearer with more detailed bass, midrange, and treble. Switching back to the ATH-M50 headphones, the sound seems slightly veiled and cloudy. So we found sound very similar, but not identical.

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The headphones come with both a coiled cord and two straight ones. Sarah Tew/CNET

While we prefer the ATH-M50x, we're also sure some folks might prefer the ATH-M50 for the richer, more laid-back perspective. As always, when it comes to audio, there's some subjectivity involved.

Comparing the ATH-M50x with the V-Moda M-100 over-the-ear 'phones showed clear differences. First, the M-100 headphones emphasized treble and had a leaner overall balance, while the ATH M50x headphones were fuller, with deeper bass went deeper, and we felt they were more accurate. Both models are winners, but if we had to pick one over the other, we'd go for the ATH-M50x headphones because they sounded great with all music genres. The M-100s favor electric over acoustic-oriented music.

Conclusion

Although it's a shame Audio-Technica doesn't include a cable with a controller and microphone with the ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, that probably won't bother audio purists. You do have to pay more for than for the ATH-M50 model, but the ATH-M50x version has a lot to offer, with excellent performance and a slightly more comfortable fit to go along with the detachable-cord system and extra cords.