Everything I wrote about the sound of the original ATH-M50 headphone model [Tape Op #63] still rings true for its replacement, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Monitor closed-back headphone. Like its predecessor, the newer model has wonderful clarity. In the highs, there's a slight accentuation from 7-10 kHz that adds detail without crispiness, but also brings out some sibilance — a useful trait if you're working on cleaning up a vocal track. The midrange is exceptionally smooth, particularly in the critical 500 Hz — 2.5 kHz region, and is devoid of any resonances that would cloud your judgment when balancing vocals and instruments in a mix. There is a slight high-bass to low-mid "push" from 130 Hz to 300 Hz, but if anything, that forces you to concentrate on the "muddy" frequencies, especially if you tend to track in smaller rooms that have a build-up of those frequencies, or if you do a lot of close- mic'ing and your tracks are sounding too "thumpy" or "chesty." The lows are strongly represented but not over-the-top like they are on so many "lifestyle" audio products. Even down at 20 Hz, I can clearly hear fundamentals, where harmonic distortion remains commendably mild. In summary, both the original ATH-M50 and the current ATH-M50x are headphones that I trust for tracking and mixing, because the work I do on them translates well to other playback systems and environments. 

What improvements were made to the newer version? The very first ATH-M50 model had a long, non-detachable, coiled cable that could slap against mic stands or instruments and make noise during overly spirited performances. A later revision came with a non-detachable straight cable. The ATH-M50x, on the other hand, comes with three detachable cables (4 ft straight, 9 ft straight, and 9 ft coiled) that plug into a 2.5 mm TRS jack in the left earcup. I like the fact that you can choose to lock the cable into the earcup (by twisting the plug), or keep it unlocked to allow the cable to disconnect if it's inadvertently stepped upon, potentially saving the headphone from crashing onto the floor. All three cables have standard 3.5 mm TRS ends, and a thread-on 1/4'' adapter is included. Smartly, the shortest cable does not include threads (although you can still plug it into the adapter) so that it can easily fit into the headphone jacks of case-enclosed mobile devices. Also, the earpads and headband are covered with an improved material that will supposedly remain soft and pliable longer. I've been using my original ATH-M50 for close to nine years now, and its earpads still look (and smell) new, and the headphone remains just as comfortable as the first time I put it on, even on my bespectacled, big-eared, size L head. 

Otherwise, the design and materials from the ATH-M50 to the ATH-M50x remain unchanged. The dual-axis yokes allow you to rotate, flip, or fold the earcups into any one-ear listening posture you prefer. (Only the right earcup can flip over by 180° due to the cabled left earcup.) And for packing, you can fold the earcups under the headband to form a bunched-up "wad" or rotate the earcups 90° to form a "pancake"; the included drawstring-tied carrying pouch, which is made of protein leather, only supports the former folding method, as it's not wide enough for the latter. 

The ATH-M70x is the new flagship in Audio-Technica's Professional Monitor line. Compared to the ATH-M50x, the ATH-M70x looks similar, but its closed-back earcups neither flip nor fold, they only rotate forwards, and their backsides are shaped with more rounded transitions. Moreover, all of the headphone's parts — earcups, yokes, headband — are lower in profile. Strangely, the ATH-M70x feels lighter on my head as well 

as in my hands, but both models weigh 10.0 oz on my postage scale. Also, the protein leather used for the ATH-M70x's earpads and headband feels much suppler. The earpads are a slightly different shape (imagine a NASCAR "oval" that's not really an oval because it has two long straightaways), and instead of peeling off for replacement, they just snap off with a strong pull. If you've ever tried to replace the earpads of the peel-off variety (I've had personal experience in this regard with Audio- Technica, Sony, Beyerdynamic, and AKG headphones), you'll appreciate how easy it is to snap on new ATH-M70x earpads. Just align the earpads, and then push against each tab until you hear a snap. 

Comfort-wise, the ATH-M70x is slightly more pleasant on my head and ears for longer periods of listening. Accessory-wise, the two models come with the same detachable cables, but the ATH-M70x eschews the drawstring pouch for a semi-rigid, zippered case that holds the headphone pancake-style (once the earcups are rotated forward). A removable, banana-sized, zip-up inner case holds the extra cables. Soundwise, the difference is night and day. 

To put it simply, the ATH-M70x's voicing is decidedly "scooped" and puts strong emphasis on the highs. When listening to music, I found that pop/rock vocals were easily swamped by brash cymbals or trebly guitars (acoustic or electric), and many EDM songs were too "cutting" for my ears. Running test tones, I heard a small -3 dB dip centered at 760 Hz; a wide carve-out from 900 Hz to 3.6 kHz that's -9 dB down; followed by a small peak of +2 dB at 4.3 kHz; and a broader, more prominent lift from 7-12 kHz, with a +6 dB peak at 10.5 kHz. I confirmed using a measurement mic (mounted in a headform) that the frequency response I perceived correlated closely to actual measurements, and I also checked that the ATH-M70x's highs extend out to at least 30 kHz (which is the top limit of my mic's capabilities), where it's only -9 dB down. On the other end of the spectrum, the ATH-M70x exhibits very controlled, low-distortion bass response. From 40 Hz to 200 Hz, the ATH-M70x has significantly less harmonic distortion (especially higher-order) than the ATH-M50x, and there are no significant ridges or valleys in its frequency response or settling time. From 30 Hz heading down an octave to 15 Hz, the frequency response slopes downward -9 dB, and harmonic distortion becomes clearly audible at 25 Hz, even at tame listening volumes. In short, I would characterize the ATH-M70x's low-frequency performance as refreshingly accurate and clear. 

Keep in mind that we all have differently shaped heads and ears, so what you hear wearing these headphones may not match exactly what I hear (or what my test rig measured and analyzed). So with any headphone purchase, listen and try, before you buy. 

With that said, what are my recommendations? If you're someone who reaches for the bass and treble controls (or if you like to listen at low volumes with the loudness function enabled) on your hi-fi, then give the ATH-M70x an audition. Imagine your bass turned up to perhaps 2 o'clock, and your treble to 4 o'clock, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. If you prefer a headphone that's closer to neutral in response, then try the ATH-M50x. Me? Of the dozens of headphones I've tried, the ATH-M50x is not only a great choice in its own right, but it's the lowest-priced headphone that I would unequivocally trust as a primary reference for recording and mixing. If you shop around, you can find these headphones heavily discounted. 

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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