I originally purchased a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones to replace my Bose Triports, which I had been using for monitoring (in addition to studio speakers) from 2005-2008. I originally picked up the Triports when I worked at The Sharper Image (at discount), because they presented music in a very clear, in-your-face manner. I wasn’t used to that “clarity” from any of the headphones OR speakers I had experienced in my 25 years on earth. However, over the next few years (and MANY mixes), that “clarity” proved to be the classic Bose “smily-face” EQ curve…. meaning that the headphones, themselves, were adding (and subtracting) valuable frequencies, and thus skewing my perception of the music. I also went through a few replacements, as the construction of them was anything but studio-durable. As comfortable as they were once, it was time to find some “truer” headphones. In fact, 3 years is a pretty good run with me!
In order to avoid making similar buying mistakes from my past, I started checking out all the models of headphones in my price range, and any reviews that existed for them. One model kept coming up, and it was brand-new at the time- the Audio Technica ATH-M50. They were reviewed as comfortable, durable and having a near flat frequency response, so I bought a pair for $150 and started working with them. It also certainly didn’t hurt that some of my favorite engineers were using them and raving about their consistency and imaging.
Immediately after starting to use the new headphones, my mixes and masters became better, faster. Mixes that sounded passable on the Triports sounded dull and flat on the ATH-M50’s, and when I made adjustments to those mixes, they consistently translated perfectly on other systems. Yes- progress! I also was able to hear very low frequencies with ease and the “air” around the sound felt true to the real world (something the Triports failed miserably at). Placing reverbs and other effects became stupid-easy and I was using them more than the speakers for good reason. Between the new headphones and a few sets of studio monitors (ex. KRK, M-Audio, ADAM) I felt like i finally had a solid handle on what things TRUELY were sounding like. Over time I bought two more sets, so that I could have them at my mastering place and two sets at the studio. They have proved to be amazing tracking headphones too- comfortable, loud and durable.
Now that I am doing much more mastering, using better speakers; my ears have improved, and now I am starting to have some issues with the ATH-M50…Even though their sub response rivals the low-end extension of $10,000 sets of speakers i have heard, I feel like their representation of the low-end isn’t translating as well as it should be on other systems. After noticing this consistently, I looked more into it and saw that these headphones definitely have some issues in the frequency response (almost all headphones and speakers do). The main issue is a deficiency in the area of 10-50hz and a wide boost, centered around 120Hz or so. What I was noticing is that what sounded perfect between my headphones and speakers (now JBL LSR 308’s), was coming out SLIGHTLY thin and sub-boomy on other systems. We are talking the slightest issues, but as a mastering engineer, that is unacceptable. I imagine I will still use and love the ATH-M50 for tracking and maybe mixing duties, but probably not for mastering anymore.
After doing some more research (and with a higher budget) I have ordered a set of AKG 702’s. Their frequency response is much flatter, especially in the low-end, and they seem to be (of only a very expensive, select few) recommended for full-on mastering. Supposedly UPS will be delivering them any second (holds breath)….Review coming soon- wish me luck!
EDIT/UPDATE- Just received them. Damn these things are comfortable and my first description would be….revealing. Even without burn-in (which I am doing now), the stuff i have heard through these sound very clear and honest. Sweet mixes sound…very sweet. Bad mixes sound…bad- but they also say “why”…This will be fun.