The Audio-Technica M50x Bluetooth series receives a much-needed technical refresh with the latest ATH-M50xBT2. First launched in 2007, the M50 went through several upgrades on the internals – the M50x refreshed on 2014, then the first Bluetooth model M50xBT on 2018. Despite its legendary status, the M50 series are incredibly affordable: the new ATH-M50xBT2 retails at S$298 in Singapore.
Everything about the ATH-M50xBT2 looks so familiar. You can instantly recognise this iconic headphones with the round silver ring on the earcup plates. The embossed model number shows “ATH-M50x” without “BT2”. The only way to distinguish from the first-gen is the buttons layout.
Of all the headphones I have reviewed, the M50 series have the most user-friendly design. The ear cups can be pivoted 180-degrees in both axis. The “L” and “R” markers are printed on both sides of the headband so you can identify the correct channel whichever side you look. The fold-and-pivot mechanism is sturdy yet not too loose, keeping the ear cups firm and in shape when you handle it. They also collapse conveniently for storage within a small footprint.
These headphones are also comfortable to wear, thanks to the roomy over-ear cushions with versatile joints, lightly-padded headband, and a clamping force that is firm yet not too tight. Clearly, any refinement would have been made in previous models given its long history. While nothing has changed on the design, the upgrade is on the wireless features. The second-gen M50x model runs on Bluetooth 5.0 with premium LDAC audio codec (990kbps 96kHz), Sidetone circuitry, low-latency mode, 50 hours battery life, multipoint pairing, Google Fast Pair, save custom EQ in the headphones.
There are 4 hardware buttons: one multi-function power button, two volume buttons, and a voice assistant button. Press-hold the middle button to power up the headphones, play-pause, and answer phone calls. On the volume buttons, tap to adjust volume, press-hold to skip tracks. The headphones go into pairing mode when no devices are found, but in the even that you need to manually start the pairing mode, press and hold both volume buttons for 3 seconds. There is also a way to force reset the headphones, by pressing the 2 volume buttons and power button altogether. The dedicated voice assistant button is placed rather close to the volume button, and I find myself pressing that accidentally more often than not when wanting to adjust volume instead.
Multipoint pairing allows you to connect the headphones to 2 devices at the same time. It detects the active device and streams the content to the headphones. When the first device is paired, turn off the Bluetooth on the first device, then initiate pairing with the second device. Once successful, turn on Bluetooth on the first device to resume connection.
With Connect smartphone app, users are able to customise the ATH-M50xBT, like select codec, apply EQ, pick the volume steps (unheard of), adjust L-R balance, adjust Side Tone level, enable Low Latency mode. Interesting to note that the app offers two types of EQ – Graphic and Parametric. The latter is an advanced method where users can pick the frequency, gain, and Q-value to tweak the EQ at the finest level.
One of the more immediate comments I received when I published the unboxing video of the ATH-M50xBT2 is how it compares to the ATH-S220BT which I reviewed a few weeks back. To recap the S220BT review, I described it as having an elevated midrange with suppressed brightness, while the bass is tight-sounding. In contrast, the M50xBT2 delivers a much brighter sound, clean midrange, and an equally clinical bass performance. The S220BT accentuates more on the lower frequencies and the sound staging is tighter, favouring listeners who prefer a boomier sound.
The M50xBT2, on the other hand, has a reputation as a professional monitoring headphones, so clearly they are not tuned for the consumers. As always, I auditioned it with and without wires, and since the headphones is designed for wireless use, I shall start with that. The sound signature on the M50xBT2 is distinctively crystal and spatial with sufficient body to fill up the aural cavities. The treble is forward transparent revealing expressive details which favour well-mastered recordings. The midrange is disciplined without lingering overtones to cloud the overall presentation. There are slight emphasis on the upper midrange where the vocals dwell, but it’s still not as prominent as the higher frequencies. The bass is understated in all that tuning, lacks participation, but keeps the mix tight.
- Bass – 7/10. Neutral, musical, not boomy.
- Midrange – 7.8/10. Clean, detailed.
- Treble – 8.5/10. Transparent, spatial
I took out the Shure AONIC 50 to compare with the ATH-M50xBT2. The AONIC 50 brings out the upper midrange a bit more fuller while the percussion on the M50xBT2 is snappier and wider-sounding. The bass on the AONIC 50 is boosted when ANC is activated, which makes the songs sound more exciting but lacks the audiophile resolution. In summary, the AONIC 50 positions the vocals before the percussions while the M50xBT2 emphasizes on airiness.
Using the M50xBT2 in 3.5mm cable mode, the overall sound is more dynamic, less compressed, with more extended highs. Once the wire is plugged in, the power automatically cuts off so there is no option for a powered wire mode. The cable lacks in-line mic, which is regrettable given the cheaper ATH-S220BT comes with it, but I’m sure A-T has done enough market research to conclude that not many owners would use the cables for conversations.
Speaking of that, the ATH-M50xBT does a good job in voice call quality. Mic pick-up is good enough and the Sidetone helps a lot since the earcup seal would obstruct the ability to hear your own voice.
For people who are familiar with the ATH-M50x series, the BT2 updates the wireless features to keep up with technology, plus several customisation options which you can adjust via the smartphone app. For new owners, the ATH-M50xBT2 is an affordable headphone that presents treble clarity in a positive light. They sit in-between Sennheiser and Shure, which in my view, puts the M50xBT2 as a better-balanced headphones for studio monitoring, as I find it easier to interpret the various instrumental texture for critical analysis. I definitely like the design of the M50xBT2 which folds into a compact size for storage and travel. Coupled with 50-hour battery life, multipoint pairing, SIdetone feature, voice assistant button, and LDAC codec, the M50xBT2 offers premium audio quality and features for audiophiles on-the-go.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 retails in Singapore at S$298. Visit the official product page for more information.