Au­dio-Tech­nica ATH-M50xBT

Fine sounds with full free­dom

Maximum PC - - IN THE LAB -

THERE ARE FUNC­TIONAL head­phones, and then there are ex­pe­ri­ence head­phones. Let’s not skirt around the sub­ject for any longer than nec­es­sary: With the ATHM50xBT, Au­dio-Tech­nica de­liv­ers ex­actly the kind of sound stage you’d ex­pect a com­pany like that to de­liver, and it does it hard. This is a set of brash closed­back cans that well and truly thumps through mu­sic, seem­ingly throw­ing im­pact straight down through your spine when you push the deci­bels up, lit­er­ally throb­bing along with the bass end. But where some bass-heavy cans al­low that ketchupy low end to smother the high­end fries, A-T knows there’s a bal­ance to be found, and the com­pany has dipped the M50 driv­ers in just the right amount of sauce. Highs fizz, and mids stand out if you go look­ing for them, even when the driv­ing fre­quen­cies start to go low.

This bal­ance isn’t go­ing to suit all ears. If you pre­fer not be bat­tered by your bass, you’re not go­ing to be happy with the mix, no mat­ter how high the lev­els of clar­ity may be. But if you’re look­ing for head­phones that would re­ally rather you stopped what­ever else you were do­ing and lis­tened to them in­stead, be­cause they are well and truly in charge, then your weird fetish is fully catered for. Clamp these on your skull and the iso­la­tion takes over—that’s par­tially a re­sult of the closed-back de­sign, par­tially a re­sult of those driv­ers, and par­tially (we sus­pect pri­mar­ily) down to the se­ri­ous amount of torque the stiff head­band ap­plies to each earcup.

Nor­mally, we would spit and curse about tight­ness, but not here. In other head­phones, we’d whine about the in­ad­e­quate pad­ding. Again, no. While it’s true that Au­dio-Tech­nica’s at­ten­tion to cush­ion­ing has not been quite as laser-fo­cused as its work on the M50’s driv­ers, these head­phones can sus­tain long wear times with­out crush­ing. Again, it’s a case of bal­ance—soft ma­te­ri­als, pad­ding that’s just shal­low enough to in­tro­duce your ears to the speak­ers, but not quite tight enough to crush at least this re­viewer’s car­ti­lage, and the right kind of hinge to sit ev­ery­thing nice and snug, with­out ar­gu­ing with your skull about what shape it should be. All of this in a pack­age that, should you wish to take full ad­van­tage of its Blue­tooth porta­bil­ity, folds up beau­ti­fully, with a notched hinge that stops the arms flop­ping about un­til you’re ready to re­lease them.

About that Blue­tooth. It adds a good bun­dle of bucks on to the price of the wires-only M50, and it’s some­times a lit­tle finicky about pair­ing with cer­tain de­vices, but it does trans­form these cans from desk­top dailies to proper street war­riors. De­sign-wise, they’re clean and thin, less os­ten­ta­tious (and more lis­ten­able) than the likes of Beats, and the bat­tery goes on and on. Con­trols are lo­cated on the left earcup, the in­cluded ca­ble also in­cludes in­line con­trols for phones, and there’s a mic built in if you’re forced to take a call on the move. The only real qualm we have with the Blue­tooth end of things, be­yond those pair­ing nig­gles, is codec sup­port— they run Blue­tooth 5.0, and can work with AAC and aptX, but not aptX-HD, a bit of a shame for a set of cans that brings oth­er­wise pro per­for­mance and de­sign down to the con­sumer level.

Even though we’ve been forced to say at least one bad thing, the su­perla­tives ab­so­lutely have the most weight when it comes to the Au­dio-Tech­nica ATH-M50xBT head­phones. This is a har­mo­nious com­bi­na­tion of de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing that sounds just great. Yes, if you’re a purist who’ll never lis­ten through Blue­tooth, you’ll prob­a­bly be look­ing for some­thing flat­ter than the rather overex­cited sound of these cans, and that’s fine. They’re not for you. But they are for us, even at the price. –ALEX COX

Au­dio-Tech­nica ATH-M50xBT

WIRE­LESS All-around sound; great bat­tery; solid en­gi­neer­ing, bril­liantly por­ta­ble.

TIRED Some Blue­tooth awk­ward­ness; no aptX-HD.

$199, www.au­dio-tech­nica.com

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