I have a long history with audio tech products. Back in my 20’s, I received a diploma in audio engineering. I learned how to record, edit, and mix music on a computer. At the time, I couldn’t believe I had the technology and know-how to make music at home. I spent hours wearing headphones during recording and editing sessions. That’s when I realized the importance of a good pair of headphones.
Today I’m revisiting my audio production roots by reviewing three professional monitor headphones from Audio Technica, the M30x, M40x, and M50x. These are part of the M-series monitoring headphones. Since a lot of you may not know what monitoring headphones are, let’s start with a brief explainer.
Headphones vs monitoring headphones
Many people may not know the difference between traditional over-the-ear headphones and monitor headphones. In a nutshell, “monitoring” is an audio production term that refers to the listening of sounds being created or recorded. Monitoring headphones are therefore designed to reproduce sound as close to the original recording.
Compared to traditional headphones, monitoring headphones have a wide, flat frequency response and no boosted bass. I find them more comfortable to wear but it’s been a long time since I wore a pair. My ears are in for a treat.
Unboxing the Audio Technica monitor headphones
Each pair of headphones comes with a soft carrying pouch and a quarter-inch to 3.5mm adapter. The cable on the M30x is non-removable, whereas it can be removed on the M40x and M50x. The M40x and M50x come with one coiled 3-meter cable and one straight 1.2-meter cable. The M50x includes an additional smaller straight cable. The cables have Audio-Technica’s proprietary connector on the end that attaches to the headphone. They cannot be replaced by generic cables, so you definitely don’t want to lose these.
Build quality of the Audio Technica monitor headphones
As monitor headphones, M-Series were designed with comfort in mind. Users will typically wear these for hours on end. Comfortable headphones are incredibly important for long studio sessions. I speak from experience.
The earcups are contoured to give a tight, seal fit for sound isolation. I was alone when I reviewed them so I’m not sure if there was any bleed coming out. If you work close to others, audio bleed is definitely an issue with some headphones.
I noticed the metal frame in the headband was thinner on the M30x than the M40x and M50x. The M30x also doesn’t swivel as well as the higher-end models. The M30x has a 15-degree degree swivel whereas the M40x and M50x have 90-degree swivels for each earcup.
Each headphone folds down into a compact format to fit into a pouch. The non-removable cable on the M30x hinders its portability. If I needed to carry headphones around, I definitely wouldn’t get the M30x. The cable becomes too cumbersome to fit into the pouch.
Cable quality on the Audio Technica monitor headphones
Another thing I look for in headphones is the build quality of the cable ends. From my experience, that’s the first thing to go. I’ve owned many high-end headphones where the cable gets damaged at the connector, and the sound only comes through one earcup. It used to drive me nuts, especially after spending good money on a pair.
The M-series cables have reinforced rubber on each end to prevent cable damage. My concern is if the cable can still get damaged, at the end of the rubber reinforcement. Only extended use would tell if that protects the cable or not.
As mentioned, the M40x and M50x use a proprietary locking connector. This prevents the cable from ripping out if you accidentally trip over it. This happens all the time with headphones, especially with long cables. That’s why I prefer to use the provided coiled cable. It’s more flexible than the straight cable, but the added tension can be annoying.
Sound quality of the Audio Technica monitor headphones
This was the first time I reviewed three monitoring headphones at once. It was a remarkable experience listening to the same song, switching between the headphones.
Moving between the M30x and the M40x, I noticed that the M30x lacks a lot of detail and brightness in the treble range. The M30x and M40x both feature 40 mm drivers so I’m not sure the average user would be able to tell the difference.
The M50x has a 45 mm driver which made a sonic difference compared to the M40x and M30x. I was impressed with the bass accuracy, especially as it relates to the mid-range. I mostly listened to cheesy 80s inspired synth wave music. There was a lot of room in the low-mid range for the thump and punch of the 80s kick drums. Vocal and lead instruments were clear and well-balanced.
With my eyes closed, I felt like I was in a mixing session. I could hear subtle things in the low-mid range that I never heard before in some songs. This was a refreshing experience, as many headphones are tuned to extenuate certain frequencies like low-end bass.
I want to hear music the way it was mixed in the studio. That explains why I also prefer to listen to music on monitor speakers. I think even the average person out there will notice a sonic difference between their headphones, and the M-series.
Which M-series monitoring headphones should you buy?
It is no accident that Audio Technica created three headphones in the M-series. Each comes in a different price range and are geared towards different users.
The M30x is the entry-level version, perfect for casual audio and video editors. I recommend this over any pair of traditional headphones. They are comfortable to wear for a long time and produce a well-balanced sound.
If you need portable headphones, I would spend a little more and get the M40x. It’s always best to take the cable out of the headphones to prevent wear and tear. I’ve learned my lesson on that.
Personally, I would get the M50x. Having tried all three at the same time, I felt most comfortable with the M50x. While I didn’t wear them in a marathon session during this review, I feel I could do one without any comfort issues.
It’s also nice to have different cable sizes. I don’t like to use long cables if I don’t need to. Since the cable end is proprietary, you can’t go out and buy a third party cable. That said, if I was working on a budget, I would be completely satisfied with the M40x. It pretty much has the best of both worlds with additional features over the M30x, but not the price tag of the M50x.
For anyone doing a lot of editing at a dedicated workstation, a good pair of headphones is a worthy investment. If you want the best sound possible, it makes a lot of sense to pick monitoring headphones. It provides an accurate representation of audio recordings, and they are designed for extended listening sessions.
Within the audio production circles, Audio Technica is a brand used by many professionals. The M-Series over-ear sound-isolating headphones are perfect for content creators, video editors, and musicians. If you want to listen to music the way it was intended, I highly recommend you try out the M30x, M40x, and M50x.