Nearly 60 years after its founding, the Japanese company Audio-Technica remains one of the world’s most beloved audio brands. The best Audio-Technica headphones routinely rank among the world’s best-selling headphones, loved by audiophiles and casual users like. Find out which Audio-Technica headphones are right for you in this detailed roundup.
Bose might have a bigger brand. Sony might sell more units. But few headphone brands have the critical acclaim and commercial appeal of Audio-Technica.
The company that was founded in 1962 to manufacture phonograph cartridges (Audio-Technica’s turntables still rank among our favorites) has evolved over the decades to become a ferociously competitive and widely beloved headphone maker. The venerable ATH-M50x routinely ranks at the top of most beginner audiophile and studio monitors list (including ours). Their lower-tier models are universally praised for their attention to quality minus the price.
If you’re looking for Audio-Technica headphones, the biggest challenge isn’t to figure out if the brand is worth buying; it’s to figure out which among the company’s massive selection are the right option for you.
Which is where this guide will help. We’ve carefully combed through Audio-Technica’s (which we’ll shorten to ‘AT’ for this review) wide range and narrowed down to the 10 best Audio-Technica headphones you can buy right now. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a budget buyer, an audiophile, or a hip-hop head who needs deep bass, there’s an AT headphone for you.
Read on, or use the table of contents below to jump to the right section.[toc]
The 8 Best Audio-Technica Headphones: Detailed Analysis
You saw our picks for the best Audio-Technica headphones above.
In this section, we’ll do a deep dive into our top picks, why we chose them, and what’s the right option for you.
But before we can start, there’s something you should know:
With this note out of the way, let’s look at our picks for the best Audio-Technica headphones money can buy right now:
1. Best Overall: Audio-Technica ATH-M50X
- 45mm drivers
- 98db sensitivity
- 38 ohms impedence
- 15-28,000 Hz frequency response
- 90 degree earcup swivel
- Detachable straight, coiled cables
Before we’d even started planning this review, we already knew what would be our best pick: the all-powerful, all-popular ATH-M50x.
Few headphones are as beloved as this one. An upgraded version of the bestselling M50, the M50x has topped the sales charts for years. Extremely versatile, relatively affordable, and accurate to a fault, the ATH-M50x is ideal for anyone – DJs, producers, and casual listeners alike.
The first thing you should know is that the ATH-M50x are studio monitors, not just “headphones”. That is, they are designed to be used in studio settings to accurately render sound. Essentially, this means they have a “flat” frequency response; the headphones do not accentuate or suppress any frequencies.
The result of this focus on accuracy is both positive and negative:
- Positive: You hear every track as it is supposed to be
- Negative: Poorly mixed tracks can sound flat since no batch of frequencies (lows, mids, highs) are emphasized
If you’re used to cheap headphones, the sheer fidelity of the ATH-M50x will be nothing less than shocking. This reviewer has personally seen friends who’ve used cheap Apple earbuds switch to M50x cans and the joy on their faces has been palpable.
If you’ve used fashionable expensive brands, like Beats, the accuracy of the M50x will be equally shocking. You’ll hear instruments you didn’t even know existed in the track. And you’ll appreciate your music a lot more when you realize that good songs aren’t just about a fat bass.
The best part about the ATH-M50x is that they sound equally good on any equipment type. Many premium headphones or studio monitors tend to be fussy about their input source. Some don’t sound good unless you plug them into a DAC and play only WAV files.
But the M50x will sound great regardless of whether you use crappy 128kbps MP3s on your 5 year old Android, or whether you plug it into a powerful DAC and use only FLAC audio.
(Of course, we at MIDINation always recommend investing in a DAC and using better quality audio source for a more pleasurable listening experience.)
Bottomline: if you have the money, buy these headphones. They’re not particularly expensive for the sheer quality and pedigree that you get. If this is your first step into audiophile gear, you will be blown away by their quality.
What we don’t like
While nothing is perfect, our list of complaints with the ATH-M50x is pretty limited:
- The earpads are a little bulky and can get uncomfortable after extended use
- Although they’re studio headphones, they do have a bass heavy sound stage which affects accuracy
- You don’t get a built-in microphone so if you intend to use them as a headset, look elsewhere. Or get an external microphone – you’re unlikely to find any audiophile-grade headphones with built-in mics.
2. Best Budget: Audio-Technica ATH-M20x
- Intel i5-8210Y CPU
- Retina display for greater color fidelity
- Touch log-in functionality and pressure-sensitive touchpad
When we first used the M20x, we couldn’t believe they were priced so low. The accuracy and sound quality are easily from one or two higher segments. It is a testament to Audio-Technica’s engineering that they could pack in so much into such as affordable package.
Sound quality: The first thing you’ll notice about the M20x is that the bass isn’t quite as punchy as some of the other consumer grade headphones on the market. Chalk it up to Audio-Technica’s conservative sensibilities, but the company hasn’t really jumped on the “drown everything in bass until you can’t hear anything” philosophy (looking at you, Beats).
The result of this bass-less focus is that you get to enjoy so much more o the mid and higher frequencies. If you’ve never used a decent pair of headphones before, you’ll be surprised at the things you can hear. We recommend tracks that emphasize the mids and highs – Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is a perennial favorite.
Another thing you’ll notice is that the headphones sound a little softer when you first plug them in. That’s because these have some of the highest impedance of any headphones in the Audio-Technica stable. This makes them great when used with preamps. But when plugged as is, you will have to turn up the volume to get a good punch.
The build quality is good. The earcups are large and lined with soft rubbery material. The headband is nicely padded, though the faux leather is prone to giving out.
On the whole, if you’re a budget buyer and need a pair of headphones for mixed use – casual listening, hobby level production, gaming and movies -the ATH-M20x is a fantastic option. The sound quality is incredible for the price you pay, the build quality is robust, and you get a brand that is respected by audiophiles the world over.
What we don’t like
One of the biggest complaints we have is with the earcups. The rubber material used in them tends to get hard and crusty over time. Thankfully, you can replace the cups, but at $25 a pop, it’s hardly affordable (we’d just recommend upgrading to M40x or M50x when that happens).
Another complaint is the lack of a detachable cord. As experienced users among you would know, cords are the first point of failure in any quality headphones. Since the M20x cord is built-in, you can’t replace it if it breaks. Thankfully, the cord is thick and heavily insulated which makes breakage a rarity.
Bass heads will also be a little disappointed by the tinnier bass.
Given the high impedance, we also recommend pairing these up with a good budget DAC.
3. Best for Audiophiles: Audio-Technica ATH-M70x
- Packed with 17 different drum voices
- Steiner-Parker output filter
- 64-step pattern sequencer
- Tons of I/O options
- Swing time, randomness effects
The way we’ve raved about the M50x, you might be led to believe that that’s the best Audio-Technica headphones money can buy.
That’s until you use the ATH-M70x.
The flagship model of Audio-Technica’s M-series, the M70x is everything an audiophile could ask for, and then some more. Boasting fantastic sound quality, extreme accuracy, and top-notch materials, this is a “bucket list” tier headphone. If you have the money, go buy it pronto. If you don’t, start saving right away.
Let’s start with the sound quality. The M70x are reference headphones. That is, they are meant to be used by producers in their studios and audiophiles who want to catch the tiniest of details in their favorite tracks. They are not meant for casual listeners. If you listen exclusively to Drake off YouTube videos and swear by Beats by Dre, you will be disappointed by the sheer flatness of these headphones.
However, if you are the kind of person who a) either makes music, and/or b) cares about listening to music critically, you will fall in love immediately with the M70x. The headphones are tuned incredibly flat. Nothing peaks, nothing troughs. Everything sounds exactly the way it was meant to be. Suddenly, barely audible parts in your favorite instruments start to pop. The mids – so often muted out by cheaper headphones – become thicker and more nuanced.
The difference in fidelity is staggering when compared to cheaper headphones. For music lovers, the M70x will start an enduring love affair – guaranteed.
As for the build quality, the M70x are decidedly lighter and more comfortable than the M50x. You will audibly sigh the first time you put these on and notice how light they sit on your head, and how airy they feel.
Low weight doesn’t mean that Audio-Technica has sacrificed on the build quality, however. Everything from the headband and the earcups to the swivel mechanism screams “built to last”. Detachable cables and replaceable earcups mean that even if you damage these critical bits, you can change them later.
Oh and as a bonus, the M70x comes with a nice travel case to protect your headphones when you’re on the go.
Overall, these headphones aren’t for everyone, but if you’re an audiophile/producer, they are one of the best Audio-Technica headphones you can buy. The sound quality is fantastic, the build quality is robust, and the way they feel – physically and aurally – is totally worth the hefty price tag.
What we don’t like
Nothing is perfect and neither is the M70x. Some of our biggest complaints are:
- The flatness makes these a poor choice for people who don’t have the equipment to complement them. If you don’t have high bitrate audio files or a preamp, you won’t be able to utilize the M70x to their fullest potential.
- Another negative is the overuse of plastic. At this price point, you’d expect higher quality materials in the headphones body (such as metal).
- Third, the M70x don’t fold which is a problem if you want to carry these around with you.
- Lastly, these headphones are tuned to work with preamps. Without one, the volume is a little on the lower side. Be prepared to hit the volume button all the way up if you don’t have a preamp/DAC.
4. Best Wireless: Audio-Technica ATH-SR50BT
- 45mm drivers
- 5-40,000Hz frequency range
- 100db sensitivity
- 47ohms impedance
- Detachable cable included
- Ambient noise reduction
- Built-in mic
- Built-in touch sensitive controls for volume, playback
One of the first things you notice about the SR50s is how good they look. There are more radically designed headphones on the matter, and certainly more fashionable, but in terms of sheer class, you can’t beat the SR50s aesthetic.
Looks, of course, isn’t the reason to buy headphones. But the SR50BT (where ‘BT’ stands for ‘Bluetooth’) performs great on all the other counts as well – sound quality, features, and build quality.
Let’s start by talking about the sound quality. Unlike plenty of other Bluetooth headphones on the market, the SR50s have a truly neutral sound. The result is that you get to hear tracks as they were meant to be heard.
The sound quality itself is clear and crisp. We’d say it’s somewhere between the M40x and the M50x – nearly audiophile-grade, especially when plugged in (Bluetooth, by virtue of being wireless, can’t offer as good quality).
As for features, the SR50BT packs in a lot. Of particular note are the touch controls. Instead of buttons, you can interact with the headphones by touching the earcups. Even though they tend to malfunction at times, using them is always fun, such as palming the left speaker to switch between modes.
Speaking of modes, the SR50s support three modes – Hear Through (to let you hear what’s around you), Off (standard headset mode), and Noise Cancellation.
The build quality is good. The earcups are large but airy and the entire unit is surprisingly lightweight. The compression force from the headband is very low, making it a great choice for long-term usage.
On the whole, these are great Bluetooth speakers for someone who wants to prioritize sound quality over everything else. The noise cancellation might be less than ideal, but the great sound quality more than makes up for it.
What we don’t like
Some of our biggest complaints with the ATH-SR50 cans are:
- Bluetooth setup is error-prone on Windows. Windows 10 sometimes recognizes this as a handsfree headset which impacts sound quality.
- The earcups, while comfy, tend to run a little hot.
- Touch sensitive controls don’t always work.
- Ambient noise cancellation is okay, but can’t compete with Bose QuietComfort.
5. Best Open-Back Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X
- 53mm drivers
- Raised-fabric earpads for lower weight
- 1/8” connector, 1/4” adapter included
- Tangle-resistant cord
Open back headphones aren’t nearly as popular as their closed back counterparts, largely because the sound leakage from these is a privacy nightmare.
Which is a shame because in terms of both “presence” and comfort, most open back headphones outperform closed back headphones.
(In case you’re wondering, here is our list of the best open back headphones right now.)
The same holds true for Audio-Technica’s budget-focused open back pair, the AD700x. A lower priced variant of the ever popular AD900x, these headphones promise nearly the same performance at a great value.
The first thing you should know is that open back headphones, as the name suggests, have an “open” back. That is, the enclosure is open, turning the headphones into mini speakers. While this results in sound leakage – everyone will be able to hear what you’re hearing – it also creates a powerful sense of “presence”. Listen to any live recording on a solid pair of open back headphones – such as this one – and you will feel that you’re literally there.
Keeping this in mind, the sound quality of ATH-AD700x offers a fantastic sense of “aliveness”. Put these on, throw up your favorite live album onto iTunes, and you will feel that you’ve been transported right to the concert. The sound is crisp, clear, and has a wide soundstage. Instruments don’t seem cramped up inside your head; you can hear them at a distance as if they’re placed all around the stage.
The frequency response is flat in theory (Audio-Technica bills these as “audiophile” grade). In practice, however, these cans clearly favor mids and trebles. The bass is noticeably muted and if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy tracks, look elsewhere (here are our favorite bass headphones).
As for the build quality, these are among the most comfortable headphones we’ve ever used. Mostly, this is because open back headphones tend to be airy and light. You can wear these for hours without sweating or getting uncomfortable.
Audio-Technica has also eschewed a solid band in favor of open cable design. For extra support, there are two foam pads called “3D wings”. These offer a great combination of comfort and support.
On the whole, if you’re looking for a pair of open back headphones, you will love the ATH-AD700x. They’re priced fantastically, are extremely comfortable, and boast Audio-Technica’s proven sound quality.
What we don’t like
- The low bass makes these a poor choice for a lot of modern music genres. Hip-hop, for instance, isn’t nearly as fun. They also make poor gaming headphones since the punch of explosions and gunshots is often lost in the crowded mids.
- Since they’re open back headphones, they leak out sound. Your spouse will hate you if you use them around the house.
- The lack of clamping force is great for comfort, but also means that the headphones tend to slide down sometimes, especially on people with smaller heads.
Audio-Technica’s headphones are rated among the best in their respective categories for a reason: the company has a storied history of focusing on the essentials and choosing sound quality over gimmicks and trendy designs. You can safely pick any of the headphones we’ve listed above and not be disappointed.
Just to recap, here is our list of the best Audio-Technica headphones, sorted by category:
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50X (Best overall)
- Audio-Technica ATH-M20x (Best budget)
- Audio-Technica ATH-M70x (Best audiophile)
- Audio-Technica ATH-SR50BT (Best wireless)
- Audio-Technica ATH-AD700x (Best open back)
Questions, suggestions, or doubts?