The bottom of the ladder?
A few years back now, Audio-Technica refreshed their famous M-series line of professional studio headphones. The only two models anyone really likes to talk about are the $149 M50X and $99 M40X.
Those two are celebrated with good reason.
The M50X offers a great, moderately aggressive studio-style sound and a good features package. The M40X dials back the aggression a little, and makes some small cuts to build quality, and cuts out the short straight cable.
But Audio-Technica also makes the M30X and the M20X. I?d never heard either of these. Until now.
The Audio-Technica M20X is a closed-back, wired pair of headphones that retails for $50. It comes with a 10-foot hard wired cable, and a snap-on 6.3mm adapter.
AT says that they?re ?tuned for enhanced low frequency performance,? which made me expect a sound more aggressive in the bass than its bigger brothers.
They also say that it?s ?An excellent choice for tracking and mixing.?
One of those claims turned out to be more true than the other.
Compared to the M50X and M40X?the M20X sounds a little dull.
I expected well-extended, powerful bass from the marketing on the box and the web site?and instead I got totally fine bass that?s a little ho-hum.
Puzzled, I listened to several more test tracks and kept hearing the same thing. There seemed to be a slight hump/punch to the mid-bass, but I would never personally call this ?enhanced low frequency performance.?
So I went looking for measurements.
I like to do this sometimes after I?ve done my listening tests, just to see if I?m missing something or if I?m in the ballpark. Fortunately, the good folks at Rtings measured these, and sure enough?.they?re not really a bass-focused pair of headphones.
There?s a couple of gentle rises in the bass, but the overall extension is a little bit lacking. I think both the M40X and the M50X provide a punchier, more accurate, more satisfying bass response.
I think the mids on the M20X sound sightly withdrawn. They aren?t quite hollow, and they aren?t quite muddy. They?re just a little bit?bleh, again.What descriptive language I?ve found today! Everything sounds natural, but a little veiled and boring.
There?s a strange dip in the lower treble that means these have less sparkly energy than typical AT headphones.
The treble is also somewhat harsh and tizzy here. It has a cheap, unrefined sound to it on certain tracks.
Listening to the M50X and the M20X back to back is like listening to the same speaker before and after putting a big wool blanket over it.
The M20X sounds a little blah all across the range, and it?s clearly a cheaper product than its siblings.
And yet, I don?t hate the sound at all.
Once my brain had a chance to adjust, these were totally fine. I think they more than meet the basic level that I?d call ?good? sound quality.
The soundstage is average for a closed-back headphone, thanks to the lack of angled drivers, but the imaging seems accurate even in spite of the slightly-off midrange and treble.
So, do these have enhanced bass performance? Haha, no, not really. You can hear everything fine, but aside from some light fun in the mid bass there?s not much in the way of big thump.
Are these a good cheap tracking/mixing headphone? Yes, I think they are. There?s enough isolation and accuracy here that they?d work in a studio, and they?re reasonably neutral enough that a mix on these won?t sound horrible once you?re done with it. They?re not as good as more expensive options would be for either task, but I totally get why Audio-Technica sells these in bundles meant for studios.
In this price range, these sound pretty darn good. I like them more than the HD 461?s I just reviewed, and I like them more than the Aurvana Live! They sound about 20 percent closer to my ideal headphone sound than either of those also-good products.
They?re not as punchy or fun as the Koss Porta Pros, but that wouldn?t really be appropriate for a ?studio? headphone, even one claiming to have enhanced bass.
So in summary: Solid in a vacuum, a bit bleh when compared to nicer stuff from their own range, or other companies. Totally lacking in ?enhanced bass response,? but that?s fine!
My pads got a little squished in the box, but not to the point of destruction.
Comfort has never been a strong suit of the M-series?but I?ve always liked how they fit. So I might not be the best person to speak to this if you?re looking for an ?objective opinion.?
The M20X is very light. The padding in the headband is a little bit stiff, but adequate to hold the weight. The ear pads have the same size and shape as the other M-series models?but the lack of angled drivers means your ears don?t have quite as much room inside as they could.
The ear pad foam material also isn?t quite as soft as the M50X padding, and the leatherette isn?t as nice.
Even with all those caveats, I think the comfort here is totally fine even with glasses. They are noticeable on the head thanks to the decent clamp and intimate size, but the light weight and acceptable amount of padding means they never pinched or fatigued me over time.
Isolation is average for a closed-back pair, at least as far as my ?listen in a loud coffee shop? test goes.
These have a similar look on the head to the Sony MDR-7506’s.
Okay, imagine an M50X but it?s?wound up like a metal spring?
This is hard to describe, so I took this picture of what these do when only one side is extended.
On the surface, these look like the other M-series headphones. That?s a good thing. I like their basic studio-inspired design.
However, the M20X?s don?t fold down at all. The ear cups swivel for a better fit?but only 15 degrees in each direction. The cable is permanently attached?though it?s really nice and supple and honestly bugged me way less than I thought it would. It?s of a similar quality to the M50X?s long cable option. The cable running through the headband is partially exposed, so you?ll have to be careful not to snag it on things.
The headband adjustment sliders aren?t clicky, and instead slide in and out with a friction mechanism.They?re tense enough that you?ll have to slide them in and out before putting them on your head.
I actually really like these sliders. They don?t get as large as the M40X or M50X?but I still have some extra adjustment room even on my big head so you?ll hopefully be okay.
Build quality is surprisingly okay for a cheaper pair of headphones. The plastics used are fine. The leatherette isn?t crazy cheap.
But oh wait the whole headband feels like one big weird spring?
Yeah, there?s that. It?s not bad?it?s just a little weird. The headphones feel like they have some latent energy inside waiting to get out. It?s hard to describe unless you?ve held one. I don?t think it?s a drawback or a deal breaker, it just feels a little?strange.
You get a 6.3mm adapter.
The Audio-Technica M20X is a totally fine entry level version of some famous headphones. They sound more veiled and less fun than the M50X?s, but they?re built just fine and the cable didn?t annoy me as much as I thought it would.
If you?re looking for big bass, these are a no. If you?re an ardent audiophile who likes the flat response of the M40X?you might like these if you don?t nitpick them to death. Although, if you already own the M40X or M50X?there?s no real reason to run out and get these unless you?re curious like I was.
Now, if you?re a producer just starting out and want to spend exactly $50 on tracking/studio headphones, these are a totally fine choice! For most pro tasks these are acceptably decent, as far as budget models go.
I can?t totally shake the feeling that their weird design means they?re going to come to life at night and dance around with springy energy in my apartment. But other than that, I liked these way more than I thought I would even though their bass claim is a bit of a stretch.