Most headphones and earphones are designed with some kind of bias to their sound profile. Usually heavy bass, for rockin’ tunes. Studio monitor headphones, on the other hand, are careful to reproduce an audio signal exactly as it is supplied by the audio device. For certain kinds of music, and certain kinds of listener, this is desirable – even essential. Audio Technica offers this set at a fairly reasonable price, and with good results.
The ATH-M50s have 45mm large-aperture drivers and can handle 1600mW of power. Their frequency response is from way down at 15Hz up to 28,000Hz. They weigh 284 grams, which isn’t too heavy, and the coiled cable only attaches via one earphone – a vital design feature.
The 3.5mm connector is gold plated, and the box includes a 6.3mm adaptor which screws over the top rather than just clicking on, which is a simple but handy little addition.
The earphones are designed to rotate through 180 degrees so you can ‘reverse’ them and just listen via one ear. Not so handy for people on the road, but good in a studio.
The magnets powering the drivers are neodymium, but as is typical with most manufacturers, the actual design of the driver is ‘proprietary’. You can bet that they use tried and tested methods though – these headphones are about dependable, accurate listening.
Actual sound quality is very good, especially for $300 headphones. Listening via the ATH-M50s is about your music, not about the headphones. As is proper with monitors, no part of the audio signal receives undue attention, unless you’ve specifically set your amp or device to do so.
The main advantage of these is in detail. In fact, because they’re relatively small and light, they work well with portable devices like the iPod. It’s worth encoding tracks in a lossless or raw format, since you will be able to pick up every nuance, every creak of the guitar’s fretboard, every last reverberation of the snare.
The ATH-M50s handled all genres with aplomb, from hard rock to flowery classical. Be aware though that your listening tastes have to run to a flat, clean, unadorned sound. If you’re used to big bass, they’ll sound anaemic.
Our problem with these headphones has more to do with ergonomics. Each cup makes a very tight seal against your head – this is great because even with the tunes pumped to a level that contravenes health and safety regulations, people around you won’t be disturbed.
But that seal also traps heat. And sweat. And it gets sticky. And the headband is similarly sturdy and uncompromising. In an air-conditioned studio, where you’ll be pulling them on and off all the time, this heavy-duty construction is welcome. On a 40 minute bus ride, less so.
These headphones offer excellent sound reproduction for the price. If you like monitor-style sound, with no bias or emphasis, the ATH-M50s will do a good job for you. For the daily commute, in-ear buds will be more comfortable that these big sweaty cans – provided you can find similar performance for a similar price.