Studio quality sound and wireless in the same sentence seems almost absurd, doesn’t it? And more so for those who have tracked this space for a long time. Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50 and M50x have been uber popular, if not legendary, among those who sought near studio quality sound at a reasonable price. The world has been going wireless, and with a plethora of wireless audio products available, there is always the temptation to cut the cord and jump ship. But for the audio purists, the presence of a cord is less of a bother than missing the odd chord when streaming wirelessly.
In an ideal scenario, everybody would want the best of both worlds — the comfort of wireless headphones and sound clarity of their wired counterparts. That is exactly what the engineers at Audio-Technica, headed by the creator of the original M50 (so I heard), set out to achieve. And the end result being, ATH-M50xBT. Let’s see how well it manages to bring these two worlds together.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT — Build and Design: 8.5/10
For starters, the ATH-M50xBT bears the signature Audio-Technica design and looks identical to its wired sibling, M50x. This is quite a bulky unit but solidly built. A mixture of high-quality plastic and metal lends a great degree of ruggedness to the construction. The nicely cushioned ear-cups hold a pair of 45 mm drivers, battery and the wireless circuitry and despite that, the headphone feels almost the same size as its wired variant. The left ear-cup hosts the power on/off switch, buttons to adjust the volume and receive calls and a micro USB connector for charging. There’s also a 3.5 mm jack to plug in the aux cable in case the headphones run out of battery or if you wish to use it with a non-Bluetooth device.
You have a metal strip running through the headband but it’s well cushioned too. The ear-cups can bend 90 degrees and rotate by a good 180 degrees. You can fold them, put them in the bundled pouch and carry them around. It still takes a considerable amount of space in your bag. The back of one of the ear-cups is touch enabled and can be used to bring up the virtual assistant in phones. It is compatible with Siri and Google Assistant both, however, it is a lot better to summon the assistants with your voice rather than using your hands.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT — Comfort: 8/10
As I said, this is a fairly large unit and on the heavier side too but it fits well on the head without any major discomfort. Of course, you will feel its presence but eventually get used to it. Despite the large 45 mm drivers, the ear-cups aren’t large enough to go entirely over the ears. They sit on the ears but the cushions absorb much of the pressure leaving just the right amount on the earlobes to hold the earphones firmly in place.
If you haven’t used large on-ear headphones before these might take a while getting used to. They don’t cause much ear fatigue for an hour or two of listening, but things tend to get sweaty beyond that, and you feel like taking them off for some time at least. It’s not a bad practice either to give your ears a break every hour or two irrespective of which earphones/headphones you use.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT — Performance: 9/10
M50xBT’s wired predecessors were known for their studio quality sound reproduction. What is studio quality sound, you ask? In simple terms, sound reproduced exactly the way it was recorded without enhancing any of the frequencies. In theory, it sounds wonderful and the audiophiles will swear by it. But in reality, it is an acquired taste — the sound is clear indeed but void of any extra bass and frequency smoothening that majority of the people are accustomed to in regular headphones. Most people who like clear sound but are honest enough to not call themselves audiophiles find studio quality sound overly bright and a bit harsh on the ear. Think of it like authentic Chinese food — just because it’s authentic doesn’t make it enjoyable for most Indian palettes, right?
Now the good part and the bad part about ATH-M50xBT is that they produce close to studio quality sound but not exactly studio quality sound. The lower frequencies seem slightly boosted and the highs seem slightly tempered making the sound signature a lot sweeter for a much broader audience without sacrificing the clarity. I don’t remember the last time I heard such resolved details in a wireless headphone under Rs 20,000. The sound stage is broad and the frequency separation is top notch with neither of the highs, mids and lows overpowering each other for most parts.
I tried different genres of music and almost everything sounds wonderful on it if you aren’t a bass head. If you like excess bass in your sound, these are not the headphones for you. Similarly, these cannot be used in a professional studio setup as some frequencies are enhanced, however little, and the margin for error is minuscule there.
I tried connecting the M50xBT to various phones that support aptX codecs and the experience was smooth. You just need to disconnect these from the previous source before syncing it with the next. One minor complaint I have with these headphones is that they support aptX codecs but not aptX HD. That would have added that extra bit of clarity perhaps. There is no active noise cancellation here, but these being closed back headphones, the passive noise isolation is pretty decent even in noisy places.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT — Call quality: 6/10
I know, having telephonic conversations on a the M50xBT would not feature anywhere near the top of the list of priorities for those looking to buy this product. But we have to look at everything relevant, just like the umpires do during a DRS referral (yes, Cricket World Cup fever). And let's be realistic, the smartphone is the wireless music player of choice today for most of us. So when you get a call while listening to music, you don’t want to take off the headphones, switch to the phone earpiece to answer it. Unfortunately, that’s what I had to do in noisy places.
The problem is with the microphone. I could hear the other person clearly even when I was outdoors but I was barely audible to the other person. When trying this in the peaceful confines of my home, things were a lot better but not perfect. The other person could hear me but it wasn’t as clear as with some other Bluetooth headsets or wired ones.
Audi0-Technica ATH-M50xBT — Battery life: 9.5/10
Audio-Technica claims that the ATH-M50xBT can last for about 40 hours on a full charge. That is a ridiculously high figure but it does get close. I used the product for a fortnight with a couple of hours of daily listening. I did not charge the product during the period and there was still some juice remaining at the end of it. That’s about 30 hours of usage right there along with 15 days of standby. That is absolutely brilliant.
The only minor issue is that it takes about 7 hours to charge fully, but that can be done overnight and you are good to go for a considerable amount of time before you need to go looking for a charger again. Speaking of the charger, you can use any micro USB phone charger to charge these headphones. In case your entire household has completely shifted to Type-C, you can use the micro USB cable bundled in the package.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT: Verdict and Price in India
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT is priced at Rs 18,490 with a one year warranty but can be purchased close to Rs 17,000 on Amazon India.
If you are looking for a Bluetooth headphone with excellent sound clarity and great battery life, you just can’t go wrong with the M50xBT. I would highly recommend them.
However, if you like your sound a lot warmer (extra bass), and there is nothing wrong in that, there are several other options in the market from the likes of Sennheiser, Sony and even from Audio-Technica itself that will serve you better.