Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mini Review: Audio Technica ATH-M50 Headphones

So my old, trusty Sennheiser HD25 1-II just died...

The Sennheiser HD25 went through a lot of things with me, it was pretty much used for anything from DJing in clubs as early as 2007, to playing games, watching movies, it was like my swiss army knife headphone that gets the job done, other done the ear pads peeling off (damn leather!) they have performed exceptionally over the years

However, while i was doing an audio engineering school mixdown project the other day i noticed a distortion on the right driver of the headphones - this happens mostly on the lower frequencies (100-300 hz) and it would crackle the shit out of anything that plays - I tried pulling out the cords and refixing them without any luck, the distortion remains at all times on the right side,  so I would assume that the right driver simply died - well it's about time, it served is purposed over the years and was pretty much beaten up on the daily so it was bound to happen sooner or later

As always before buying anything I do A LOT  of research - I found that  it is very hard to find a negative review on the ATH-M50, most reviews everywhere are rock-solid, from consumer reviews from amazon, all the way to the gear heads in gearslutz from, these headphones seemed to reach a legendary status for its quality and price

So there I decided - The next headphone that will be my faithful companion for (hopefully) years to come like my Sennheiser HD25 did, so after a bargain hunt on the lowest price in Singapore (where I am studying audio engineering at this point) , In US these seem to retail around $150 - $160 USD, in singapore the prices range from $220 - $230 SGD (which is just a little bit more than the price in USA after currency conversion), I am not going to say how much I got them for but lets just say that I paid a little bit below what they are selling over here - Just Luck! :)

The headphone will be primarily used for studio related audio work, being an Audio Engineering student I do need a good pair of headphones that is quite balanced (good near flat frequency response) and also isolation as I need to do some work in my headphones when people are asleep at night, the objective is a little bit different with when I first bought my Sennheiser HD25s (which was bought for the purpose of DJ monitoring when I was still a DJ full time years ago)

This review will be largely comparing the ATH-M50 to the Sennheiser HD25 1-II which I owned for many years and was a solid performer as well, having owned the HD25 for so long and the HD25 being a somewhat legendary headphones among DJs i would say that the comparison between these two headphones would be appropriate and applicable to many - not just me

The ATH-M50

The Audio Technica ATH-M50 - They Look Good Dont They? :)
The ATH-M50 is big and solid, even when folded!
The Audio Technica ATH-M50 is a closed-back dynamic headphones with a frequency response of 15 hz - 28khz and 38 ohms impedance. It is one of Audio Technica's most well known and praised headphones.

The over - the ear design (rather than the on the ear like my old sennheiser HD25's) proved to be much better for me for isolation, when wearing the ATH-M50 i can hardly hear anything that's happening with the outside world compared to the HD25s where i can actually still talk to people without removing my headphones -

with the Audio Technica's I find myself asking "Say What?" all the time when someone (my wife most probably) tries to talk to me - which can be both a good thing and a bad thing - I can imagine in a very loud club sistem the Audio Technica would be a better monitoring device than the Sennheisers which honestly did not give me much isolation (perhaps my ears are too big) and in the past I ended up cranking up the volume up to hear things better - this is not a good practice for the ears!

So for isolation : +1 point!

Looks like someone forgot to bring their Beats

Another thing that I noted with the ATH-M50 is that they are much heavier than the Sennheiser HD25s to the point that If I do jump around with them , I really worry that I might drop them (due to the size and weight) , with the Sennheiser HD25's they are so lightweight that you can just clamp them to your ears and they will pretty much stay put - if you wax up / gel your hair you will definitely know what I mean by this (lol) .

The Audio Technicas are heavier, bulkier, but for me a little bit more comfortable to wear due to the bigger ear pads that goes around the ears - I find this design work really well , I must say though for DJing I would still take out my Old Sennheisers (which I would need to fix first) due to their feather - light weight , as much as I love the isolation and sound of the ATH-M50 i still much prefer to take out the HD25 because it is so light and so compact

From Skrilly to Sir McCartney! 

No Replaceable Parts!

One thing the ATH-M50 did not have was replaceable parts, while the HD25 was a modder's heaven due to its ability to be taken apart piece by piece quite easily, the ath-m50 does not allow you to do that other than the ear pads - which is a shame! I would have been much happier if at least the cords (where most problems happen) are user - replaceable. Sadly they are not. If anything was to go wrong with your ATH-M50 you would have to either send them to the service centre or try your luck with the soldering iron - there arent many cases of them going broken though so at least they are known to be durable

The Sound : ATH-M50 VS HD25 1-II

the frequency graph of the HD25 (blue) vs ATH-M50 (red)

The ATH-M50 definitely has much deeper bass than the HD25's. If you see the graph above it clearly shows that, but there are some things that are not able to be described graphically, the bass on the ATH-M50 is really much much better, deeper without being muddy at all, I can describe the ATH-M50 as having a deep and defined bass sound, sub basses are much much more apparent without being annoying - BUT THIS MAY DISTRACT YOU when doing proper mixdowns!

For example, I was adding layers of sub bass to my new track im working on and I swore that on the ATH-M50 it sounds just right, however on my Yamaha HS50m reference speakers i suddenly find no bass at all - why is this happening? Well due to the slightly boosted lower frequencies you might find that the mixes that you do with the ATH-M50 might just get really flat in other speakers - you see the boost in low is not always a good idea, however this makes the ATH-M50 pleasurable as a listening headphones other than just as reference monitors , so if you plan on using this to mixdown the low frequencies, be aware of the extra boost in the lows!!

The mids and the highs are represented well as well, the HD25 had this weird notch cut in the mid-highs (8khz?) which I have grown to be used to, upon listening to the ATH-M50s it was good to hear this mid-high that was strangely missing / notched out with the HD25s again.

Sound wise , I much prefer the sound of the ATH-M50, I can actually use the headphones for a much much longer time than I could with the HD25 before getting ear fatique, I dont trust the ATH-M50 enough to do final mixdowns and mastering (reference monitors are irreplaceable for these purposes) but for quick rough mixing and sketching out ideas at night, the ATH-M50's are perfect!

I would conclude that for DJing - the Sennheiser HD25's might still a better choice, except if you really want the isolation that the ATH-M50 can provide, I personally having used to the feather weight HD25 find it a little hard to get used to the solid weight of the ATH-M50, although I much prefer the sound and the isolation of the Audio Technicas rather than the Sennheiser, the ATH-M50 is much much better for studio / audio related purpose where good monitoring / isolation / sound is required

For me I'd say I will use them for different purposes, my old HD25 will get fixed up / modded and be used as my primary DJ headphones, while the ATH-M50 is my permanent home monitoring headphones for my late night ableton sessions!


The isolation + sound quality of the ATH-M50 is simply really really hard to beat - this is an extremely well built,  high quality, awesome sounding headphones that is definitely worth every $$$! If the weight / size does not bother you - this one's a keeper!

If you want something lighter, with a balanced sound, the Sennheiser HD25 might be a good alternative!

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

Sennheiser HD25-1 II Closed-Back Headphones