Before we dive right into the Audio Technica ATH M40x vs. M50x, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this review
My goal for this article (and all articles really) is an attempt to outline everything you could possibly want to know about the stuff in question. In the case of today, it concerns the M40x and M50x, two highly regarded and extremely popular audiophile (or casual consumer) headphones, depending mostly on who you ask.
Today I will outline the M40x in great detail, and then compare it with the M50x. By the end, you should have a clear idea of which will accommodate to your needs better!
With that, here’s the itinerary 🙂
Table of Contents
Click any of these to navigate to a specific section!
For people who don’t want to read my in depth discussion; I am sad, but I understand 🙂 Here are quickly the Similarities and Differences:
Similarities & Differences
Both the M40x and M50x’s ear-cups rotate 90 degrees. The original M50’s rotated 180 degrees.
Both are closed back.
Both are Circumaural (Around Ear).
Both have detachable cable features.
Price. The 50x’s are a bit more expensive.
Design/Build. The M40x has a different design. It’s a bit more minimalist. It’s smaller in stature, and feels a bit cheaper. I had a pair of 50’s for 5 years and they took quite a bit of abuse. My 40x’s are still going strong, but I don’t use them on the daily. Still, they are pretty durable but a bit lighter than the 50x. An important note: The 40x’s have been known to snap around the hinge area because they don’t move/rotate as freely as the 50x.
Cushions. The 40x’s have softer cushions, making them more comfortable.
Bass/Sound. The bass on the 40x is tighter and more integrated into the sound, whereas with the 50x it’s a bit more in your face/hard hitting. The 40x still retains it’s V shape but is less aggressive than the 50x. The 40x is a flatter response, with a tighter, more in your head sound. There’s not as much Soundstage as the 50x. What is Soundstage? The M40x is a more accurate headphone overall. It’s more suited for reference than the 50x, but I wouldn’t considerit a reference headphone like it’s marketed to be. It’s still a fairly fun sound, but can work for mixing. Overall, I would say the 40x is a bit more of a relaxed, and detailed affair, while the 50x is more in your face, intense, hard hitting, and bass heavy. Both do really well with those types of genres, but the 50x more so. It’s your standard issue bass head can.
Cables. The M50x’s come with 3 cables: 1 coiled, and 2 straight of differing lengths (1.2m & 3m) The M40x’s only come with 2: 1 coiled, 1 straight. They are both also extremely long, which many people have complained about.
Impedance/Sensitivity, and Amp requirements. The M50x has a bit of a higher impedance, meaning it requires more power to produce higher volumes, but it’s not enough to notice a difference to the casual listener. What is Headphone Impedance? The 50x also has a higher Sensitivity, meaning it takes less power to reach loudness levels (typically 100dB is the standard for loud). What is Sensitivity in Headphones? Neither need Amplification, but it will improve the sound a bit. Just don’t go overboard. An entry level Amp/DAC like the E10K is perfectly fine, and sounds sublime! Learn more:FiiO E10K Review!
Weight. The M50x’s are heavier, coming in at 285g as opposed to 240 for the 40x.
Indicators. The 50x’s have clear and classy indicators of Right ear vs. left ear. They stand out considerably. The 40x’s R & L indicators sit on the inside of the headband, and aren’t as noticeable.
Color. The M40x’s only come in black, while the 50x’s come in different colors (Subject to change).
I would say if you’re more of a critical listener, and prefer a more balanced sound, the 40x is the golden ticket. Think you would prefer it?
I’ve since given away my M50’s, owning them from January 2013 to April 2018, and I must say they are the most durable and time tested cans that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.
Of course there are probably better models out there, with a flatter sound signature, less awkward frequency response curve, etc. etc. But who cares? To my ears and thousands of others, they sound fantastic, all flaws aside.
Nowadays I will say that I do like a different sound signature than I did when I was first getting into the audiophile world. I still enjoy the sound of a more bass oriented type of can, I just don’t prefer it anymore if that makes sense.
That said, the 40x’s are a pretty similar sounding set of cans to the 50x, but with some subtle differences that you should be made aware of.
In this evaluation I will casually discuss the 40x and how it relates to the 50x. Should be fun!
The build of the M40x is very solid, but it’s not quite on the level of an M50x.
Why do I say that?
Well for one very specific and important reason: The hinge.
On the 50x, you’re able to rotate the ear cups completely 180 degrees. This allows the hinge to remain free like Nakey Tommy Pickles.
What this freedom enables is a preventative measure from the headband snapping or cracking around that sensitive point where the ear-cup meets the hinge.
On the 40x, this isn’t the case. They do not fully rotate like the 50x and therefore are prone to breaking in that very area.
The good news is that I haven’t had any issues with it personally, but your mileage may vary. I do tend to take care of my headphones though. This was a main concern from others about the build of the headphone in various online forums and review hubs.
Other than that, the 40x is built very well.
It’s smaller, more compact, and lighter than a 50x. It does feel a bit cheaper than a 50x, but doesn’t feel cheap on it’s own if that makes sense.
The 50x feels more rugged, and did survive 5 years of cold hard abuse from me. When I first purchased it, it replaced my MDR 7506 for mixing and reference duties, but that’s a whole different story in and of itself.
All in all, both are very durable and you’ll feel like it was money well spent when you hold them in your hands. I go into more regarding the build in my Video Review. More on that in a bit!
I wouldn’t call it bad or good. It lies somewhere in the middle. For instance, the clamp force is a bit tight, similar to something like an HD600.
The cups do envelop your ears, but just barely. I would say they’re roughly the size of the pads on the MDR V6, but slightly larger. I do not consider a V6 to be a Circumaural headphone (Around the Ear), but rather a hybrid On Ear/Around Ear.
The sound of the 40x is definitely not neutral, but it is fairly balanced, all things considered.
I would say the mid-bass here has a bit of a rise/bump in it, which can sound slightly unnatural at times. There’s a slight fuzz to tracks which can kind of distract from the mids as well as the overall clarity of the sound as a whole. It feels like some type of thin cobweb or something. I’m kind of nitpicking however, as I find the character of the low end to have a lot of nice impact and clarity.
To be honest, some will call this a bass head can and others will claim it for reference. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
I probably would not rely on this headphone as a primary mixing can, but I also wouldn’t toss it aside if it was the only thing I had lying around. I do prefer the V6 for that as far as closed backs are concerned, and this 40x more so for general listening purposes, which it really excels at.
Compared to the 50x
The bass on the 50x is going to provide more slam and impact, and I would definitely consider it more of a bass head headphone more so than the 40x.
Surprisingly, the mid-range on the 40x is very resolving and pretty accurate. I don’t find it to be recessed (although it can be in certain areas) which is a welcome change from most closed backs with that V-shape type of sound.
Vocals and instruments have a nice clarity to them, with an overall sense of crisp excitement and detail.
You will hear a clear difference between the mid-range of the V6 vs. the mids of a 40x. I say that because I do a lot of mixing/critical listening, and going back and forth I was able to discern that the 40x sometimes has this weird way of pushing stuff back a little bit, while the V6’s mids are brought to the forefront, sounding more natural and nuanced.
Compared to the 50x
The mid-range in comparison to the 50x is definitely more natural, while the 50x’s is a bit more recessed. The 50x is your typical V-shaped can, and should be treated as such.
The treble is mostly very good, with a small concern. They can sometimes sound slightly metallic and essy, but it’s kind of faint and you may not even notice with the majority of tracks. Still, there’s a sense that this is indeed a $100 headphone as opposed to a $400 one. To me it’s palpable because of the fact that I’ve demoed over 70 headphones and kind of have a good idea about how stuff sounds in relation to another.
For example, a particular high hat I used for this one beat sounds great with a V6 but not so great with a 40x. This is kind of disappointing and makes me want to either EQ it, or scrap it in favor of something else. This is what I mean by not considering the 40x first for mixing. It simply doesn’t perform as well as a V6 and shouldn’t be your primary reference headphone.
Compared to the 50x
I think the treble on both is fairly similar and more so than either the bass and mid-range. You’re going to get some slight metallic hues with both, so be forewarned.
One thing that the 40x really excels at that you wouldn’t think is Imaging.
These have a way of separating instruments and vocals very well, with a mostly natural sounding character and some nice Timbre. What is Timbre?
I definitely wouldn’t sit down and expect these to sound marvelous with Jazz, but they can work in some circumstances like good source files, etc. I think the Bass is too heavy for such an affair, but we’ll get into Genre in a bit.
Soundstage is fairly narrow, but that’s to be expected. Just don’t write them off completely though. I do get an “out of my head” feeling at times which is completely awesome considering how isolating these are. I think Audio Technica did a fine job here.
Compared to the 50x
I think Imaging on both is excellent and about the same. I remember first hearing an M50 and being amazed at how good the Soundstage was. A lot of purists might argue with me about that but I know what I heard. I kept thinking stuff was going on around me and there was very nice width to the image, despite it being a closed back headphone. I think this is one of hte main reasons that the 50x is so popular and still remains relevant.
It does an incredible job of this and tends to win over the hearts of many who may not even be aware of what Soundstage is. Related: What is Soundstage?
They are very pretty efficient at 98dB, but I still may consider some sort of amplification as it will help with clarity and resolution to a great degree. The M50x as mentioned earlier is 99dB. Not too big of a difference.
With that said, I wouldn’t really worry too much about which Amp/DAC combo or Amp + DAC (separate) you go with.
Here are some good options to consider:
The Budget Homie
Listening right now with the E10K actually, and it’s hard to believe this puppy is under $100. For instance, on the track “Over Sensitive” by Chelsea Jade, it’s so intimate that I feel as though the woman is speaking directly to me. She sounds so close I could touch her face! Lol.
The E10K provides just enough power for an HD600/650, but you’ll have more than enough for the 40x. With a gain switch and bass boost, you’ve got everything you need to enjoy music on a deeper level than simply plugging into your phone. The E10K provides a ton of clarity, crispness, and detail that really does impress me considering how cheap and small this thing is. It’s good! You like! Comes with coaxial out, line out, and USB input for your PC/Laptop.
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A Step Up
Audioquest Dragonfly Red
I really like the Dragonfly as sort of a step up from the E10k. You’ll notice a bit better clarity, Imaging, and Soundstage, but the differences are fairly subtle. What’s great about the Dragonfly is that it’s much more portable and convenient. You can literally stick it in you pocket and take it anywhere!
If you do a lot of traveling around like me, this will prove to be very valuable as you don’t have to worry about wires, or the size of the amp and DAC. Just toss it into your laptop bag and away you go! Once you reach your destination, whip it out and stick it in the USB hole. If you desire to pair it with your phone, that’s cool too. You’ll simply need this adapter which is very cheap and gets rad reviews.
After owning both for a significant amount of time, I believe the 40x to be a more realistic representation of the music. It’s still got a lot of bass impact, but it’s more “true” sounding than the 50x if you will.
The 50x is definitely a bass-heads can, and possesses the typical V-shaped response: Lots of bass, a recessed mid-range, and a sparkling treble. I owned the M50 from January 2013 – April 2018, so I have a pretty good idea of how it sounds.
Anywho, it’s not much different than the 50x which I have also demoed in the past.
If you’re looking for a more honest sound signature, the M40x is phenomenal, and does come across as more balanced and true to life. I consider it a fantastic all around solution that will handle most any type of music you throw at it.
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.