Technical Audio Group | RRP $169
This might be a massive call, but it wouldn’t be too much of a reach to say that the humble ATH-M20x monitoring headphone is Audio-Technica’s most popular and visible product, at least in the studio space. Sure they may not have the universal acceptance of the mighty M50x, but rest assured no monitoring headphone has given more budding producers and in-the-box musicians their start than the modestly priced M20x.
This accessible price point, combined with the M20x’s surprising clarity and accuracy has made them a staple in classrooms and Audio Institutions the world over, with many colleges recommending the M20 (or other Audio-Technica M Series headphones) as the perfect vantage point from which to work through the curriculum.
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Audio-Technica have recently set about introducing Bluetooth versions of their iconic M Series into their product line, including (naturally) the Bluetooth variant of possibly the most beloved studio headphone in history, the M50x. So far, the results have been impressive to say the least, with the M50x successfully navigating that middle ground between enjoyable everyday headphone and functional studio tool. Given their ubiquity among the student and general listening crowds, you would imagine the new M20xBT to be possibly the most natural fit of all the M Series in terms of integrating Bluetooth into the studio realm.
While it may always have its issues with latency times and performance playback, the limitations of Bluetooth are far less noticeable in the context of in-the-box MIDI work and everyday, general listening or viewing of video lectures and the like, and this is precisely where the M20xBT really finds its stride.
As a headphone for these kinds of multi purpose applications, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more suitable. With over 60 hours of battery life (almost two full school weeks!), they are obviously well suited to the demands of student life, while also leaving your USB-C ports free for hard drives and other more important storage tasks.
The familiar circular casing houses a powerful yet subtle 40mm neodymium driver that is as close to completely neutral as you’ll ever get without splashing out on complete, active noise cancellation. They are lively when you drive them hard but tidy enough that you can hear ugly sub and low mid frequencies that need taming even at higher volumes. With frequency response between 15Hz and 20kHz, there’s more than enough frequency reproduction to serve as a useful barometer for audio quality here. Given their roots as a monitoring headphone for the studio, the M20xBT shares the impressively flat and transparent mid-range that made their wired counterparts such a popular choice for those making their first forays into EQ and dynamics processing. This particularly comes in handy in the context of double checking mix revisions and bounces or as a last minute mix check before submission.
One area that Audio-Technica has always been highly regarded in is with the quality of their CODEC algorithms and audio streams and the M20xBT is no different in this regard. The consistency and reliability of the connection is really something to behold and is especially important when talking about something like a Bluetooth headphone, a product that has undoubtedly been designed with usability and convenience in mind. Needless to say that the Bluetooth 5.0 found on the M20xBT offers easy, intuitive connection with a surprising amount of leeway in regards to distance from the media source. Newly added to the M20xBT, are easy-access buttons on the left ear cup allowing control of play, pause and skip audio functions. There is also a built-in microphone for hands free phone calls and video conferencing.
Comfort wise, the M20xBT’s are a home run, with a solid firm headband and nicely breathable ear cup leaving you confident in its rugged quality while also enabling you to seamlessly go about tasks as they adorn your scone. Adjusting the size is a breeze for all heads big and small with a simple slide and set adjusting mechanism, reliable and sturdy enough to not slip at inopportune times, or ever. The contoured, circumaural, oval ear cups sit comfortably over the ears providing good sound isolation, while also remaining snug enough to not move around and beg for readjustment from simple movements. They don’t apply too much pressure on the head so whether you’re watching a short video or some three-hour epic opus (with the low-latency mode option), they’ll still feel comfortable enough. They’re lightweight enough for necks ranging from pro boxers to the little ones who pinch them to watch YouTube on their iPads.
That leads me to my next point which is the nifty multipoint pairing feature which allows you to connect to more than one device simultaneously, instead of taking a few minutes to disconnect, reconnect, not be visible, and then finally connect back again. This speeds up that process to be almost instantaneous, while also being handy for when you’re switching from working on your laptop to your phone to listen to music in this age of the home office. Another instance could be if you receive a call on your phone when you’re watching a video on your laptop, you can patch it through right away.
In the context of audio and music education, headphones are as essential as stationary. The ability to work in silence or in transit, watch endless tutorial videos and then make honest and translatable mix decisions from home is all part of the course – in fact we call that ‘homework’. By combining the convenience and freedom of movement of Bluetooth with the transparency and truthfulness of the brand’s acclaimed M Series headphones, the new M20xBT is the perfect middle ground between studio and civilian. The only thing lacking here is the price, which is an absolute bargain. Top marks.
For more information, head to Audio-Technica.