These studio headphones sound exceptionally good and won’t require a second mortgage


Jack Wallen/ZDNET

The perfect headphones don’t exist. Sure, you can pay a ridiculous amount of money for a pair of headphones that will sound as if an angel is whispering in your ear the secret to eternal life, but unless you’re willing to shell out 5-6 figures, those are out of reach. And then there’s the bottom of the barrel, where you can buy headphones for less than $20 that will sound as though that angel is whispering through two cans tied to a string.

Also: These high-quality headphones can last years longer than Sony and Bose alternatives

There is, however, a nice middle ground, where affordable headphones exist that sound exceptionally good and won’t require a second mortgage.

But before we get into it, I want to talk about expectations.

Most people use headphones for music. There are also those who use them for the likes of audiobooks, podcasts, news, and even talking on the phone. For me, headphones serve a few different purposes, such as:

  • Exercising
  • Canceling out the never-ending deluge of external noise
  • Listening to music (or any other form of entertainment) without bothering those around me
  • Recording audio (such as for audiobooks, podcasts, and videos)

For the purposes of this piece, let’s strike exercising from the list because the headphones I want to discuss do not serve that purpose. They do, however, serve other ones.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Studio Headphones


Audio Technica ATH-M50x Headphones

Critically acclaimed, neutral sound at a mid-range price.

As far as the expectations, I want to clear the air before continuing on. If you’re looking for headphones that have active noise canceling, touch input, or sound that is embellished for added bass or heightened highs, you’re going to want to look elsewhere. The headphones I’m talking about are intended for (but not limited to) studio use.

Also: Best studio headphones available right now

When in the studio (such as recording music or even audiobooks), the sound you hear must be as close to the source as possible. You don’t want to hear beefed-up bass or exaggerated treble. You want the most honest, natural sound you can get. And at $169, you won’t find a pair of headphones that better fits the bill than the Audio Technica ATH-M50X.

I’ve been working with a pair of these headphones for years (as you can see by the wear on the headpiece) and their clarity and natural sound reproduction have never once failed to astound me. Although the ATH-M50x is short on bells and whistles, they are big on truthful sound.

A worn headband on a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones.

The wear and tear don’t affect the sound quality.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

The specs 

Here are the specs for the ATH-M50x headphones:

  • Design: On-Ear
  • Driver size: 45 mm large aperture with rare earth magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils.
  • Sensitivity: 98db
  • Max input power: 1600mW
  • Impedance: 38ohms
  • Frequency response: 15-28,000Hz
  • Earcup swivel: 90 degrees in both directions
  • Collapsable: Yes
  • Cables: Detachable 9.8′ coiled cable and 3.9′ straight

As I mentioned earlier, these headphones are not about tricks and more features than you’ll need. These are basic studio-quality headphones that do one thing and do it extremely well… reproduce truthful sound. 

Also: Best over and on-ear headphones you can buy right now

When I originally purchased the Audio Technica headphones, my intention was to only use them when I was recording audio for either audio books or voice-over work. Since that original purpose, those headphones have become my go-to for listening to anything at my desk, when privacy or accuracy is key. 

The only thing I do not use these headphones for is listening to vinyl. The reason for that is I don’t use an amp with a built-in headphone feature and don’t want to introduce extra noise into my system by adding such hardware. Plus, my desktop speakers and sub are pretty incredible sounding and the experience of listening to vinyl (for me) requires wide open space for the sound to blend with the acoustics of the room.

Also: How to improve the quality of Spotify streaming audio

But are these headphones for you? We can arrive at that conclusion by asking a few simple questions:

  • Do you want amplified bass? If so, then no.
  • Do you want the most accurately reproduced sound you can get? If so, then yes.
  • Do you want Bluetooth or a wireless connection? If so, then no.
  • Do you want active noise cancelation? If so, then no.

I’ve never found a pair of headphones that were a better mixture of honest sound reproduction and cost-effectiveness. The Audio Technica ATH-M50x has yet to be bested in my home office and I cannot imagine finding a pair on the market that would usurp my trusty cans.


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