Audio-Technica’s audacious move to take their most popular headphones wireless paid off brilliantly – and now they’ve managed to make them even better in this newly-upgraded version.
If you’re the sort of person who takes headphone music listening seriously, you’ll be well aware that there’s a huge range of options to choose from, depending on the sort of listening experience you’re looking for. For a long time, headphones designed to be used in recording studios have been a favourite go-to for those who are after high-quality sound that’s true to the source, with Sony dominating that market for years.
Audio-Technica released the original M50 headphones way back in 2007, and they quickly took on near-legendary status – here was a pair of headphones that delivered clean, accurate and viscerally exciting audio from just about any device, their fully closed-back over-ear design helping the huge 45mm custom-designed drivers to push out deep, accurate bass. And we’re not talking about the sort of bass you find in way too many modern headphones, either – Audio-Technica tuned their drivers so well that even with the most demanding dance music, that bottom end sounds almost like you’re experiencing it in the room.
These headphones got low frequencies so right that they effortlessly handle the deep rumble and thunder of movie sound mixes – your own personal subwoofer right there on your head. Combine that with crisp, accurate highs tuned perfectly to let vocals shine and you’ve got your new favourite headphones. They got it so right that when it came time for an update – the M50x – those stellar drivers stayed the same.
“Just like their wired counterparts, these headphones sound incredible.”
Only one problem, then – listening on the go. The M50x comes with an optional short cable for plugging into your phone… if your phone has a headphone jack. And as anyone who’s dealt with the nightmare of dangling USB or lightning headphone dongles knows all too well, while you can make it work, it’s far from elegant.
Bluetooth headphones are the obvious solution, and Audio-Technica performed a minor tech miracle a few years back by somehow converting the M50x design into a Bluetooth version, which now gets an update as the M50xBT2. And if you’re familiar with the wired version of these headphones, you’ll be taken by surprise by the Bluetooth version, which at first glance looks exactly the same. In reality, the size of each earcup has been ever so slightly increased to accommodate the Bluetooth circuitry, digital audio decoding, an amplifier powerful enough to deliver plenty of volume, a rechargeable battery and microphones. Audio-Technica say that they’ve designed all of this into almost identical housings without affecting sound quality in any way – and they’re not kidding.
Just like their wired counterparts, these headphones sound incredible. Whether it’s intense dance music, giant pop bangers, acoustically-minded folk or even classical, it’s delivered via the exact same drivers that have made the M50 series the go-to for so many for over a decade – but this time without needing to plug into anything. If you’re familiar with the M50s, wearing this Bluetooth version is an almost surreal experience, with you no longer tied to a cable but still hearing at-home-quality audio. There’s also a low-latency mode available (you’ll need the free companion smartphone app) which is perfect for watching movies or shows on mobile devices, where Bluetooth can often mean out-of-sync audio.
Of course, being Bluetooth there are some minor limitations. On iOS devices, you’ll get audio via the AAC codec, which sounds excellent but doesn’t quite match the extended frequency response of the headphones themselves. On Android, meanwhile, this second-generation model supports Sony’s LDAC for the first time, allowing high-resolution wireless streaming – that’s a huge upgrade over the previous model. The on-board amplifier is surprisingly capable, delivering suitably beefy audio levels – but there’s a limit to how hard you can drive these in wireless mode. Don’t worry though, just plug the included cable into an amp when you get home and you unleash the full potential of these headphones, a truly passive mode that turns them instantly into a wired M50x (if you have a wired pair already, though, note that the cables included with those do not work with the M50xBT2 – you’ll need to use the one included in the box).
Other improvements from the earlier wireless model include a pair of beamforming microphones to improve call quality. Microphones are usually an afterthought in Bluetooth headphones, and our experience with an earlier Audio-Technica model didn’t set the bar very high. However, they’ve nailed it here, with crystal-clear voice quality. Your voice gets sent back to you quietly through the headphones for more natural conversation, since these are the sort of headphones that completely cover your ears and shut out a lot of the outside world.
“Just being able to listen to music at this level of quality away from your home sound system is a treat…”
One thing you don’t get here is noise-cancelling. That makes sense, since the goal has been to take the M50x wireless without changing its sound – and those big earcups will block out most outside noise anyway. Audio-Technica does make excellent noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones at a similar price point if having that tech is important to you. These headphones are for those people who want to take a studio-quality pair of headphones on the road and get the exact same sound that they get at home.
Controls are surprisingly simple, with the few buttons handling everything from pairing and power to track selection and volume. A dedicated button for voice communication lets you answer calls as well as issuing commands to Siri or Google Assistant, and it works flawlessly. This button’s function can be changed to become an instant portal to Amazon’s Alexa, which requires the Alexa app on your phone to act as the interface. The Siri/Google option is the better and more responsive option, we think, but it’s great to have the choice.
Battery life has massively improved, now clocking in at around 50 hours on a four-hour charge. That’ll vary depending upon how loud you like your music, but suffice to say you won’t be caught short of music even if you listen constantly and only charge every few days. Charging is via a USB-C port, and you can fast-charge in an emergency – a 10-minute charge storing enough juice for around three hours of music.
So, is the M50xBT2 your wireless headphones holy grail? Quite likely, if you’re one of the legions of fans of the wired version. Just being able to listen to music at this level of quality away from your home sound system is a treat – but far from being a quick Bluetooth bolt-on to an existing product, Audio-Technica has made sure that these headphones have the built-in tech to make them shine just as brightly out and about as they do at home. Very highly recommended.
At a glance:
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Noise cancelling: No
Battery life: 50 hours
Wired option: Yes