Audio Technica’s wireless monitor headphones look kinda ugly, sound kinda great

Headphone wires, especially for mobile use, can be an unnecessary distraction. They get tangled on your bag, snag on fellow commuters, or come unplugged and become a trip hazard.

Of course, wireless Bluetooth doesn’t sound as good as a wired connection, so audiophiles and others who buy monitor-grade headphones like the iconic Audio Technica ATH-M50 prefer wires. Four years ago Audio Technica released its ATH-M50x update, which boasted a more upfront sound and one of the most requested features of all: a detachable cable. Several third party manufacturers latched onto this free port and started developing Bluetooth adaptors to make that headphone completely wireless. But… they kind of looked silly. They hung off the bottom of the headset like busted earlobes.

The newest update, the ATH-M50xBT, finally brings with it integrated Bluetooth wireless, in a housing that’s the same size as the original. The ATH-M50xBT is $199, £179 or AU$379.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Audio Technica’s engineers have done an excellent job of integrating the Bluetooth electronics and controls inside the original shell. It’s hard to tell they’re the Bluetooth version at all. 

The controls are housed in the left cup, with the volume and play button all within easy reach behind the ear. My only complaint is that the power button is a physical slider placed forward of the ear, which makes it awkward to activate. Hold your finger against the Audio Technica faceplate for two seconds and it will activate either Google Assistant or Siri on your phone. While it takes about five seconds from first press to when the voice assistant registers, it worked fine otherwise

The headphones are built around a pair of 45mm drivers with a claimed frequency response of 15Hz to 20kHz. They’re more sensitive than most of the competition, they go louder than my reference Sony MDR-1R for example. It’s worth noting that unlike many Bluetooth over-ear designs at this price, like the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC and the AKG N60NC, the AT’s lack noise cancelling.

The headphones are compatible with Bluetooth 5, aptX along with AAC codecs and can play for up to an impressive 40 hours of continuous use. Despite the long battery life, they are not uncomfortably heavy at 310 g (10.9 oz). The headphones fold up and come with a leatherette bag for storage. Another thing the company has fixed since the original M50x is with the inclusion of an in-line mic on the optional 1.2m cable.

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The headset features a plush headband and spongy leatherette earcups. I did find that the headphone pressed down pretty hard on my head, and depending on how large your own ears are you may find the earcup sits on rather than around them. However, I was able to make the Audio Technicas more comfortable by flexing the headband backwards.

Sadly I didn’t have the ATH-M50x on hand to compare the new model to, though I did have the older ATH-M50 at my disposal. In my testing I alternated between the iPhone 8 ($600 at Walmart) with Bluetooth and the Lightning adaptor connected with the included wire. I used them connected to a AudioQuest DragonFly Red playing hi-res files.

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