AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-M50XBB HEADPHONES
Blue, blue, blue and more blue… but you can also buy them in red, white and black… and there’s a good reason that you should, because they’re a great buy!
This is the latest version of the headphones created for Audio-Technica’s 50th anniversary celebrations back in 2012, since when not a year has gone by without a special or limited edition arriving with tweaks and/or some new colour scheme. Last year the M50x went red. This year’s colour is blue.
The packaging is impressive—strong recycled cardboard internally, while the headphones themselves emerge, well yes, extremely blue. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, aside from the black headband and ear-pads (hence the full name of ATH-M50x Blue/ Black), it’s hard to imagine how they could be any more blue.
These are closed headphones, using large 45mm diameter drivers backed by copper-clad aluminium voice coils and neodymium magnets, and they come with three cables: one curly coiled for home/studio use, one long 3-metre minijack-terminated cable and a shorter but still sturdy 1.2m minijack cable for portable use, though there are no in- line smart controls, so you’ll need to get your phone out for track and volume control.
Their first achievement is their high level of passive isolation to shut out exterior noise. Nor are they overly tight to achieve this—firm, but not distractingly so. Their next delight is the delivery of a powerful and punchy sound that is very well supported in the bass; they offer a flat response to a perceptual sweep but their delivery of music is nevertheless notably full in the bass up to the lower mids. This gives great substance to all manner of material. How full and atmospheric the orchestration of Chick Corea’s Australia piano concerto, while classical pieces gained a great size and weight of presentation, along with open but smooth treble allowing full soundstaging and a fine tone to strings and piano—Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor was highly engaging, a-powering out of the gate.
The deepest bass notes of Neil Young’s Walk With Me were not only delivered but also clearly separated from the additional layers of grunge around them, a very fine job indeed. My torture tests of slightly thin recordings were swept away by the M50xBB, that lower weight combining with their lack of insistence in the treble to both fill and soften these difficult tracks—I wonder if Dion’s I Read It (in the Rolling Stone) was perhaps mastered on a pair of MT50s, since I’ve never heard it more acceptably balanced than here!
Occasionally they could pivot the balance into a touch of over-emphasis around the second octave of bass guitars—the bass on kd lang’s The Air that I Breathe rather too forward, and on spoken word recordings male voices could be a little over-full and relatively lacking in definition. Even so, let’s call it a larger-thanlife presentation rather than a defect—they never lost their musicality, always remained enjoyable, and I much prefer full support to a lack of substance. On the daily commute, their passive isolation and fullness of sound worked to present music powerfully over the rumble of bus travel. And of course they only sound better given the additional control of a decent headphone output from home hi-fi or professional audio gear (they swivel to provide handy one-ear DJ monitoring).
Sound good but just too blue for you? The red, black and white versions of the M50x remain available in Australia at the same price. Another bonus of a headphone with history is that new pads and replacement cables are easily available, and likely to remain so, potentially extending the usable lifetime of your pair of M50xs.
In every regard these Audio-Technica are a little larger than life—from their physical dimensions to their sonic size to their extreme blueness. I loved them, and their price makes them a great buy. Jez Ford