Review: Audio-Technica M50xBT2

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Review: Audio-Technica M50xBT2

audio-technica m50xbt2 headphones
Words by Pablo Francois

Technical Audio Group | RRP AU$349

Even for the most non-technical of human beings, headphones are a very intimate thing.

We wear them for hours on end, for years at a time, slowly and subconsciously growing accustomed to their particular sonic profile and feel. We wear them for privacy, we wear them out of consideration for those around us, we wear them for personal entertainment and if you are also someone involved in the recording of music or content, we of course wear them for work as well. 

Suffice to say, in the current era of daily video chats, gym playlists and rampant content consumption of every kind, choice in headphones is about as intimate as your choice in underwear.

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In our natural habitat, often referred to as the recording studio-it’s Audio-Technica’s beloved M50x headphone (in utilitarian black of course) that has emerged to become as ubiquitous an icon as you are ever likely to find, having surpassed all other competition to become without question the undisputed industry standard for closed-back personal monitoring for much of the post-2000s. The reasons for its popularity are numerous.

As easy as it might be to simply write it off as a case of ‘right product, right time’, in reality, the whirlwind success of the original M50 marked so much more than just the success of one pair of headphones. It was the first time that we had seen a product from our world really outgrow its traditional market, plucking the M50 from the relatively obscure little niche that we call Pro Studio and transplanting it into the broader world of consumer electronics, where it’s reputation for providing professional levels of Audio and build quality at an attainable price made them the ideal vantage point through which to witness the rapidly changing digital climate.

Their instantly recognisable chrome adornments and stylish etched ear cups have since made them a kind of visual shorthand for what professional quality headphones should be in the modern zeitgeist-in many ways writing the book on design considerations for over-ear monitoring in the professional space and the various ways these features overlap into everyday use. 

Everything from comfortability and modularity in replacement parts, through to things like isolation and various ideas surrounding driver size and optimum bass response, the original M50 (along with it’s updated cousin, the M50x) really set the benchmark for what a monitoring headphone should be in the context of the modern listening environment, at a time when the very definition of ‘modern listening environment’ was evolving quicker than most product designs would ever allow for. 

Given their baseline flatness, relative isolation and accessible price-point, it didn’t take long for the M50 to become the defacto standard for all things Home Recording and Content Creation, which naturally lead to them making the jump over to the iphone/consumer crowd as a favourite during the first wave of online content consumption, back when wired 3.5mm jacks were a thing and the world made sense. 

With the M50x finding almost unanimous universal appeal across the studio, creator and casual listening crowds alike, the next question was always going to be ‘where to next’ for the iconic product line? 

The only logical step was to take the same iconic silhouette, proprietary 45mm drivers and industry standard levels of isolation and comfort and apply these pro features to the rapidly evolving landscape that is consumer bluetooth audio (which Audio-Technica did so successfully, with the M50xBT back in 2018.)

Three years on and Audio-Technica’s new M50xBT2 is here to pick up exactly where the M50xBT left off, taking the basic premise and refining it in ways which pay obvious and immediate dividends in regards to overall user experience.

Three years is a long time in tech and the new M50xBT2 is testament to just how much the playing field has changed in the interim, with features like a vastly superior battery life, better connection stability and various other improvements pertaining to DAC, Codec and mic quality all serving as a considerable level up to an already quality product. It’s a real testament to the kinds of massive technological strides that are currently being taken in the area of bluetooth headphone, as well as the kind of thought being put into the unique needs and wants of this changing sector of the market. 

The battery in particular has been subject of some insane leaps in both capacity and overall efficiency, with the new models being reportedly capable of over 60 hours of continuous play (compared to the previous gen’s 40 odd hours). This is made even more impressive when you take into account the fact that AT have been able to achieve this while almost halving the amount of time required for a full charge. There is also a 10-minute fast charge feature which allows for three hours of use, perfect for anybody looking to quickly charge up before a run or daily commute. 

Feature wise, the dual mics and beamforming technology are a considerable improvement in terms of conversation intelligibility and call quality. For a product line so closely aligned with quality at the reproduction and driver end, it’s nice to know that the same level of care is reciprocated the other way as well. 

The low latency mode for gaming and video is also an awesome addition and is controlled through an accompanying app, which also has the option to select your voice assistant of choice as well as allowing for simple EQ and frequency customisation. For anyone familiar with M50x in the context of the recording studio, these practical, everyday features are sure to bring a smile to one’s face and only further increase their versatility of application as an everyday headphone.

Similar to its wired counterpart, the ATH-M50xBT2’s foam pads are replaceable and the headphones are collapsible to save space. In addition to these features, the ATH-M50xBT2 also has Touch Control technology on the Audio-Technica logo for Voice Assist to be used with Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. The left headphone features controls to answer and end calls, play and pause your music, and you can also skip tracks and adjust the volume. 

While it may be their sheer value that originally brought the M50 to prominence, it is indeed it’s obvious sonic upside that has kept them there for so long and the M50xBT2 continues this legacy with a default sound profile that is perfect for both everyday listening and cross checking mix decisions in equal measure. Their surprisingly transparent reproduction and reference-ability (even for a consumer style headphone) is impressive to say the least, with only the smallest noticeable differences in sonic output between the BT and Studio versions.

In many ways, this is truly where the ATH-M50xBT2 really shines: in its familiarity and faithfulness to it’s classic lineage, albeit transposed into the context of an extremely versatile and convenient headphone for entertainment and everyday use.

It’s the same great sound, same stylish looks, but with the kind of practicality and hands-free operation that can really brighten up the mundane, making the average commute, Zoom meeting or domestic chore that much more of a critical, sensory stimulating auditory exercise. It might be argued that such a statement could be said for Bluetooth headphones in general, but the audio quality, bass extension and awesome isolation of the ATH-M50xBT2 really make it that much easier to tune in and drop out on some of the more grinding aspects of daily life (whilst also providing a convenient, hands free monitoring setup for critical listening, for those looking to multi-task.)

Given how much we rely on headphones for entertainment, communication and more (and especially for us audio types), it makes a tonne of sense to go with something that ticks as many boxes as possible. The M50xBT2 may just tick them all. 

The sheer versatility of application, the intuitiveness of the handheld interfacing and the practical upside of features like low latency monitoring, personalised EQ and more, combined with the well earned familiarity of the M50 product line, ensure that Audio-Technica’s new M50xBT2 will be a valued addition to the daily ritual-for work, rest or play.

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