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ATH-MX0x Family

Audio-Technica Comparative Review: ATH-M20x vs 30x vs 40x vs 50x Headphones

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Headphones varieties are usually part of a series. For every model that exists, the odds are there’s an upgraded version of it. Or it may even be the upgrade itself as part of a succession. The technology and science of audio progresses as fast as in any other field. It’s why delving into the world of audiophile gear can be so overwhelming to some.

Audio-Technica has become a world-renowned brand name among headphone enthusiasts for good reason. They are frequently cited alongside Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, Grado and Audeze for making some of the best audio gear ever made. But Audio-Technica’s flagship models are a little different from many others. While they make great higher end products, they are more known for catering to the lower end of audiophiles with cheaper entry-level equipment. That’s where the ATH-MX0x family comes into play.

As one can assume from their ID names, these four headphones have a lot in common. That’s why we’ll first cover the basics and the similarities of the ATH-MX0x family and what makes them such good headphones for someone looking to finally enter the world of high definition audio.


Why should you buy a pair of the ATH-MX0x’s? Simple: they’re cheap and they’re good.

That sounds overly simplistic but that really is the gist of it. Of course there are better headphones out there but then you’ll be needing to spend upwards of $500. While there’s no question Audio-Technica’s ATH-ADX5000 is far superior than the ATH-MX0 series, we can’t just ignore the $2000 price tag now, can we?

Think of the idea of diminishing returns. The more expensive headphones become, the more minor the increase in quality you get. In other words, the headphones with the most value in a monetary sense are going to be the ones in the mid ranges of price. A headphone that costs 10 times as much as the ATH-M50x’s may only sound four or five times as good.

Audio-Technica’s flagship series of headphones are still some of the best out there for providing as much bang for your every buck spent. All four of these models are priced differently but accordingly.

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The Similarities

These four ATH-MX headphones are classified under the “Professional” category by Audio-Technica. While there are other categories such as DJ, High Fidelity, Sound Reality and more, Professional is their jack-of-all-trades lineup. They can be used by a variety of people for a variety of purposes. The Professional group’s sound quality meets the cut for casual listening experiences but they are also suitable for more professional work relating to audio engineering.

There is an undeniable first impression many people have when looking at these four pairs of headphones: they all look remarkably similar. Their overall cup shape and headbands are nearly identical. The most noticeable visual difference is that the Audio-Technica logo featured on the speakers are stylized slightly differently on each model.

What is Circuaural?

ATH-MX padsAll four of these headphones have closed-back circumaural pads. That may sound complicated but what it really means is quite simple. Circumaural means the pads completely envelop your ear, whereas supraaurul pads are smaller ones that rest on your ear. Circumaural pads are usually much comfier, provide superior sound isolation and their larger size better accommodates larger headphone drivers.

Closed-Back Vs Open Back Design for Headphones

Closed-back means the outer portion of both speakers are sealed off. Open-back headphones have holes that look like “grills” in a mesh pattern. The Sennheiser HD598s are a popular example of this. Closed-back headphones are better at isolating your audio and blocking out external noise. Open-back headphones tend to have more authentic sounding audio quality but at the sacrifice of having poor isolation capabilities.

That doesn’t mean you need to worry about closed-back products sounding bad. That couldn’t be any more false. There are great benefits to closed-back headphones. You may be wearing them on a commute to work and want the noise of your city blocked out. Maybe you work in audio engineering and need the isolation for more technical and precise purposes.

Impedance: A Measure of Power

Some headphones have what is called a high impedance. To put a long story short, impedance is the measurement of how powerful a pair of headphones is. The higher the number, the more energy or amplification it will need from an external headphone amplifier. 100 ohms and up is generally considered high, but anything below 50 ohms will function perfectly well without one. Though some still like to say they do benefit if you do happen to have an amp.

ATH-MX Series – Units Compared

The ATH-MX family is also very portable. They’re not too big and certainly not too heavy and will rest comfortably on your head without inducing wearing fatigue. They also work great being plugged into any device such as your smartphone or your laptop.

The ATH-M20x and 30x are both 47 ohms, the ATH-M40x is 35 ohms, and the ATH-M50x is only 35 ohms. In other words none of these headphones are power hungry machines and don’t require extra purchases of supplementary equipment to function properly.

The Differences

Let’s begin with the ATH-M20x. It’s not only the least expensive model on our list. It may very well be the best headphone in its price range on the market. Audio-Technica set out to create the best possible budget audiophile headphone, and they may have done it.

If these are the first high definition headphones you’ve used before then they will sound much better than any of the default ear buds that come with your phone or iPod. Every instrument gets to shine with glowing detail. You’ll be able to make out the vocalizations and lyrics easier. You’ll be able to hear each string of the guitar and each cymbal and each bass beat more noticeably. The greatest thing about getting a new pair of headphones is re-listening to your all time favorite songs and records and noticing dozens or hundreds of details you never noticed before.

The M30x is very similar to the M20x in terms of its sound signature but it has some slight tweaks and improvements to its hardware. It weighs 220 grams instead of 190 but this is a very negligible difference and both feel fairly lightweight. But the M30x is a bit better at producing treble sounds. Buzzy guitar tones and higher-pitched soprano saxophones and female vocals are just some examples of how the M30x is better than the M20x. The mid-range also has a little more clarity and detail. The low end of tones and pitches are the same across both these pairs. It’s still fairly neutral overall compared to other treble heavy speakers.

As usual it comes down to your preference and whether you listen to a lot of upper-range higher pitched music in deciding which of these two budget pairs is “better”. But now let’s move onto the more expensive models.

The ATH-M40x costs about twice as much as the ATH-M20x. It’s also safe to say that it is the most neutral sounding option out of all four of them. It does an even better job at balancing all different ranges of tonality and timbre than the M20x but it even goes a few steps farther.

The M40x and the M50x have detachable cables. This is a big plus for some people. The advantages here makes them even more portable as disconnecting the cable makes the entire package easier to store away. It also means you only have to replace the cable if it breaks and instead of buying an entire new set of headphones. It’s a great kind of insurance to have and makes these pairs all the more enticing.

The M40x is also much better than the M20x and M30x at soundstage. All this means is that it does a better job at accurately positioning instruments. This feature is more noticeable with open-back headphones but the simulated experience of hearing instruments come at you with varying angles and distances is an extremely immersive phenomenon when done correctly. It’s also the easiest to drive being at only 35 ohms, meaning it will work better with your cell phone or computer than even the M20/30x.

The ATH-M50x, the most expensive pair here, is arguably not even a budget pair at all. Its weight of 285g is explained by the fact that it’s the only headphone on this list with a 45mm driver instead of a 40mm one. This bigger and more sophisticated driver makes the soundstage and the clarity of instruments superior to all previous pairs. It is an excellent sounding headphone that works with any genre very well.

They are a little too heavy on the bass end of things which may be fine for fans of certain genres. They’re also noticeably physically heavier than the other pairs but anything below 300g is considered comfortable by most. Wearing fatigue shouldn’t set in with the M50x unless you have a particularly sensitive head.

In summary

Audio-Technica Comparative ReviewAll four of these headphones are comfortable, good at noise isolation and are well-priced for the quality they deliver. However we do have to admit that the ATH-M20x and the ATH-M40x are probably going to be the best choices for value.

The M20x gets a lot done for the price you pay. It may not have a detachable cable or much soundstage functionality but there’s no denying that even for a budget pair of headphones they make music sound so much better than most other sub-$100 pairs. They’re also the comfiest headphones on our list by a slight margin due to being the only pair weighing under 200g.

The M40x is actually slightly the best at noise isolation because they’re just a tad firmer and tighter than the other pairs but without sacrificing much comfort. You get used to its pushiness pretty quickly. Include the fact that they have a detachable cable, solid soundstage for a closed-back pair and are very easy to drive makes them an easy choice for anyone willing to spend around $100.

The M30x’s are basically just a slightly heavier M20x that can really only benefit people who really, really like their high-end sounds but are also on a budget. The M50x’s are great and are objectively the best sounding pair on this list, but they’re not the best value. At this price range you can probably find other headphones that are even better, be that for comfort, noise isolation or soundstage.

The M20x and the M40x will surely satisfy the majority of people on the fence but always use your better judgment as you know your own tastes better than anyone else. We hope you choose well as you enter the world of high-class audio.

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