Before we dive right into the Audio Technica ATH M40x vs. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
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What I will bring you in this review
Today I will outline the ATH M40x, compare it to the 280 pro, and then give a recommendation in the Final Word!
Who this mic benefits?
What you will need?
Thoughts from Stu’s notepad
Similarities & Differences
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!
Both the Sennheiser HD280 and Audio Technica ATH M40x are good headphones in their own right, but very different in a lot of ways.
When I first got into higher end headphones, it was 2010. I tirelessly researched for the perfect entry level can, and I believe I found it in the Sony MDR 7506. The sound really blew me away at the time, and from that moment on I was addicted. It was the first time I got a chance to hear what music is supposed to sound like. Coming from cheap products my entire life, I had no clue that headphones were capable of producing such accurate and engaging sound. I assumed that they were mostly created the same, and that the majority of them sounded alike.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I believed that high quality headphones existed inside the CVS pharmacy. That’s not to say that all of them are terrible; but rather, you’re probably not going to find audiophile type sound inside of a drug store. 🙂
A great example of a headphone like this is the old tried and true Sony MDR V150, which was (and still is) perhaps Sony’s most important budget model. It’s a sound that’s immediately accessible to the average listener and still remains a pretty good purchase even today!
After a few other purchases, including the Audio Technica ATH M50, I was curious to try out the Sennheiser HD280 Pro. I liked the sound okay, but it was a bit flat for my tastes, as I really didn’t need a mixing headphone at the time. I eventually gave it away, but I do believe it’s still a remarkable headphone for reference purposes.
I also ended up purchasing the M40x in 2017. It’s a great entry level headphone with a slight emphasis on bass, but flies mostly under the radar because of the M50x. While the 50x’s sound signature is a little more for pure listening enjoyment, the 40x boasts a relatively balanced sound with more emphasis on mixing and mastering.
The Audio Technica ATH M40x’s often get overlooked because of their 50x brother. They have a similar sound signature to that of the 50x, but are more neutral overall. The bass is a bit more subdued, but many appreciate the fact that it’s tighter and more controlled this time around. Related:Audio Technica ATH M40x vs. M50x
It’s mid-range is somewhat improved as well, and overall the sound is very clear and articulate.
It’s build and comfort however were consistent gripes among reviewers, and cannot be overlooked.
Balanced, neutral sound. Very clear and articulate.
Crisp, clear treble.
Controlled and balanced bass, but still tight. Compare a Mike Tyson punch with a Muhammad Ali punch. The 40x’s have the precise, strong Ali punches, while other headphones have a raw, brutal, wild, and uncontrolled Tyson punch. Heh.
Mid-range is great. It’s very neutral and realistic.
Voices sound natural.
Replaceable cables, and 2 chords included + a leather case.
May need frequent adjustments over a long listening session. Many reviewers complained that they aren’t very comfortable. Clamp force is a bit tight, and the ear-cups are a little small for some.
Not very durable? They aren’t quite as durable as the 50x’s, but I haven’t had any issues. The high stress areas of the headphone are reportedly prone to breaking.
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I wouldn’t really bother purchasing an amp with this set. Just make sure that your source files are of a good quality. More on that later. Also, a bit of EQ helps to get the desired sound. They aren’t perfect by any means, but can be tweaked rather easily according to many reviewers.
Hip-Hop. Don’t buy them strictly for hip-hop however. You may do better with the 50x’s in this regard.
Thoughts from Stu’s Notepad
The headphones are extremely light. A lot lighter than the Audio Technica ATH M50’s. The 40x’s don’t feel cheap in all respects, but the way the cups swivel does feel a bit underwhelming (as in cheap, lol).
There is a break in period. The high end harshness will go away within a week, and overall they warm up quite a bit. I can attest to this with the M50’s, as they went through the same process.
Make sure that your source files have a bit-rate of at least 320 kbps. You’ll also want to EQ just a tad and your experience should be good. If you’re listening to tunes with a bit-rate of 128, you’re probably going to be in for a world of pain (Like Smokey from Big Lebowski). That said, these are studio headphones, so adjust accordingly.
These aren’t really reference headphones as the moniker would suggest. The clarity, coupled with a bit too much bass renders them unworthy to mix with according to some. Others loved them for mixing however.
A lot of people complained of discomfort with the ear cups. If you do plan to get these, aftermarket ear pieces can be purchased. I’m not sure if it’s worth it to pour a bunch of extra money into these though, especially when you can find something better. I mean yeah, you can upgrade the cups, and add a 1.2m cable, but it’s going to cost you.
The proprietary chord mechanism makes it so you can only use Audio Technica cables with this set. You could buy an adapter, but it will cost. Again, not really worth all the trouble in my opinion.
Saw some people who said that if you wear glasses, these may become a bit uncomfortable as well due to the issue of clamping force.
I can’t really come to a clear consensus about the bass either way; some say it’s overpowering, while others claim there’s not enough. Still others say the response is tight and balanced.
The Soundstage here isn’t out of this world, but it’s tighter than that of the M50/50x. What is Soundstage?
A fantastic sounding set of headphones that suffer from a lack of comfort and some build quality issues – namely the plastic around the bottom of the headband (the swivel area that connects to the ear-cup) is rather cheap. Aside from some minor build issues (and many don’t ever end up having issues), this is a perfect entry level headphone that works well in a lot of situations.
Now let’s take a look at how the 280 stacks up!
Similarities & Differences
Both are pretty flat and neutral across the frequency spectrum.
Both have a tight clamping force at first. The 280’s do loosen up a bit over time.
Both are meant for in studio, and don’t do well on the go.
Both are closed back and circumaural, at around the same price.
Both include a 1/4″ adapter.
The 40x’s have less sound isolation.
The 40x’s aren’t as comfortable.
Bass. The 40x’s have more bass than the 280’s. I had owned a pair of 280’s for awhile, and to me the bass was on the leaner side. It definitely rolls off a bit more than the 40x’s. The 40x’s mid-bass has a bit of over emphasis which can sound a bit muddy/flabby at times. It’s pretty subtle but over time definitely noticeable. The 280’s bass is a little more consistent if a bit boring. Still, it’s probably just the right amount for reference purposes as it neither sounds too rolled off or boosted.
Mid-range. I would say the 280’s mid-range is more consistent and a bit flatter. More conducive to mixing. The midrange on the 40x is still very revealing, if a tad pushed back/recessed. You can definitely tell a difference in how vocals and instruments sound with each. The 280’s being a bit more forward in that respect.
Treble. The 280’s treble is also a bit darker with less sizzle than the 40x. The 40x’s can sound a bit grainy/metallic at times which is another pretty subtle thing you’ll notice with high hats especially. For instance, the same high high hat can sound a bit worse on the 40x vs. something like a 280 or V6. Related:Sony MDR V6 Review!
Overall/Mixing and Mastering. The 280 is certainly more relaxed than the intense, semi in your face character of the 40x. From a mixing and mastering standpoint, I would always opt for a 280 over a 40x if my intent was to be critical of the music. The 40x is more of a casual listeners choice, but it’s not like freeze dried Tasters Choice or anything. 😛 (Pulp Fiction reference?)
The 280’s are much more durable than the 40x’s. The plastic used is heavy duty, and doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap like the 40x’s. Keep in mind that the 280 is definitely more bulky.
The 40x’s come with a coiled & straight cable, while the 280’s only come with a coiled.
The HD280’s have better sound isolation. I remember wearing them and thinking to myself “This is probably the best isolation outside of a dedicated Noise Cancelling type of headphone that I’ve heard.” Related:How do noise cancelling headphones work?
The 40x’s cables can be removed, while the 280’s singled coiled cable cable cannot.
The 280’s are a bit heavier (10 oz. vs. 8.5 oz.)
I really do think the 280 is a great solution for mixing, but you may not like it if you ever plan on just listening to music casually with it. It’s a bit too flat for pure enjoyment. That said, I think it’s an important headphone and definitely worthy of a gander.
That said, my top recommendation in this price range comes in the form of the Sony MDR V6’s. They are definitely top dog, and do exceptionally well in mixing/reference applications. They’ve been around for decades too, and their longevity factor is extremely solid. Interested in learning more about one of my favorite closed back headphones?
My second recommendation for a closed back entry level can is in fact the M40x. I fully believe they improved upon the signature of the 50x, and it’s now a more balanced headphone that does phenomenal for most any genre you throw at it. In fact, it becomes very difficult to recommend either the V6 or M40x outright, so I’m giving you a sort of one two punch! Interested in learning more about the 40x?
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.