If you’re out looking for closed-back headphones, chances are you’ve run across the M series from Audio-Technica. The most popular headphones from this series, from most cheap to most expensive, are the ATH-M20X, ATH-M30X, ATH-M40X and ATH-M50X models. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these headphones offers and how they are different.
All Of These Models Can Be Good For Electronic Drummers
One thing that’s interesting about this particular lineup of four headphones from Audio-Technica is that they all have the qualities that we’d look for in a good pair of headphones for electronic drummers at varying quality levels and price points.
They offer closed-back, over ear design. They have longer, straight cables and their cables don’t introduce noise when bumped or rattled. They have decent to great sound depending on the model. They have decent to great noise isolation depending on the model. They also have decent to great comfort depending on the model.
Another nice positive is that the pads on the ear cups can be replaced on all of these. That makes them more flexible for those that like to modify and upgrade the pads, or easier to fix if the pads wear out.
User Targets For Each of These Headphones
It’s not entirely obvious who each of these headphones are designed for if you are unfamiliar with them. After looking at the details and trying them out it becomes a little more clear. Here’s my thoughts after trying them out.
Good for beginners or people who want a good sounding pair of studio headphones for cheap. They aren’t perfect for mixing but better than most other options at their price point.
Good for people that want a little more clarity in the mid range and boost in the lower-highs. They’re a little more comfortable than the ATH-M20X’s and collapsible as well.
Good for people that want a flatter frequency response with good clarity throughout the spectrum. Great for mixing and analyzing mixes.
Good for people that want a little more mid and high end emphasis than the ATH-M40X’s and a more exciting sound overall. Can work well for studio mixing and much more.
There are some varying levels of comfort with these headphones, and the more expensive models tend to feel more comfortable on the head. The ear cups on all of these are about the same size and if you have larger ears they might feel just a little bit too small.
Keep in mind that you can upgrade the ear pads on all of these headphones. If you find you don’t like the stock pads but like the sound and other qualities, you can always try out new types of ear pads instead of a completely different pair of headphones.
The least comfortable of the bunch, but still decently comfortable. Also the most lightweight. Not as snug of fit as the rest of the bunch.
A little more comfortable and slightly more snug fit than the ATH-M20X’s. Still pretty lightweight overall.
A little more heavier than the lesser models, but very comfortable with a slightly tighter fit than the rest.
About the same amount of overall comfort as the ATH-M40X’s but with a slightly less tight fit. The heaviest of the bunch.
The sound quality varies but it’s not based solely on price. Each model has something to offer depending on what you’re looking for. They all sound pretty good when compared to other headphones in their price range.
Good sound for the lower price. A little under-emphasized in the low end and in a couple spots in the mid and high end. Good enough for mixing on a budget.
The sound is a little more clear than the ATH-M20X’s. Fairly flat frequency response with some slightly boosted highs. There’s split opinions on if these are good for vocalists or not.
Flat frequency response without any over emphasis or coloring in the frequency spectrum. Good for those who prefer a natural sound without any pushed frequencies. Full low end.
Fairly flat frequency response but can sound a little emphasized in the low and high end when compared to the ATH-M40X’s. Their sound and design can work well for studio use, gaming or DJing.
The build quality of these headphones seems to increase a little more with each of the price levels.
Very lightweight, lots of cheap plastic. A little creaky. Exposed wires on the headband. Definitely a cheaper build quality than the rest.
Lightweight with lots of cheap plastic. Not creaky like the M20X. Ear cups feel a little better than the M20X. Exposed wires on the headband.
A step up in overall quality from the M30X’s with a little more weight and more solid feel. Better ear cup padding. No exposed wires on the headband.
These feel like the highest quality of the bunch. The heaviest, but only by a small margin. Thicker plastic parts. Nicer ear pads like the M40X.
Ear Cup Swivel
The swivel feature on the ear cups improves as you go up the line.
15° Both Directions – enough to fit appropriately depending on your head size/shape.
15° Both Directions – same as the ATH-M20X’s. Just enough to allow some flexibility in how they fit.
15° In / 90° Out – You get a little more swivel here for single ear cup monitoring, but only in one direction.
90° Both Directions – These offer the most swivel range and they can lay flat in both directions.
All of these headphones have a long, straight cable. There are some differences in cable options and detachability.
10 foot straight cable, non-detachable that exits from the left ear cup. The cable is a good length for electronic drumming.
10 foot straight cable, non-detachable that exits from the left ear cup. Also a good length for electronic drumming.
10 foot straight cable and a 4 ft coiled cable. Cables are detachable. The straight cable is a good length for electronic drumming.
10 foot and 4 foot straight cables with a 4 foot coiled cable. Cables are detachable. This model gives you the most cabling options out of the box.
Not all of these models can be collapsed for easier transport, but most of them can.
Non-collapsible design. With the cheaper build quality you’ll want to be more careful with these during transport.
Collapsible design. With the build quality you’ll still want to be careful when transporting these.
Collapsible design. Should hold up a little better to transport with their better build quality.
Collapsible design. Better build quality and will hold up better during transport. Can be worn around neck easily if that’s your style.
Some Final Thoughts
When all is said and done, what are your best options going to be between these headphones?
If you absolutely need to keep it cheap, the ATH-M20X is a perfectly serviceable pair of headphones for their price. I like their sound more than just about every other set of headphones I’ve tried at their price point. They will sound good on electronic drums and the closed back design will help keep the sound of hitting pads to minimum, even though they’re not as good at isolating noise as the other options, mostly due to a little sloppier fit.
If you have a little more to spend, but still want to keep the budget low, the ATH-M30X is going to give you more clarity and a better overall sound for not much more money. The noise isolation is going to be just slightly better here as well along with better comfort. They also collapse for transport and storage.
The ATH-M40X have a noticeably different sound characteristic than the rest with their flat frequency response and they’re the set you’re going to want to shoot for if you want a very natural sound without much frequency emphasis and coloring. They have the best low end out of the bunch in my opinion. These can double up well as studio mixing/mastering headphones along with being a great pair of headphones for electronic drumming or casual listening. So if you’re looking for one set of headphones that can cover all those bases, this can work.
The ATH-M50X is the premium set of this bunch and if you have the money to spend they can be worth it. If you like a more exciting sound with more pronounced mids and highs, you’ll likely be most happy with these over the rest. They feel good on the head and around the neck, and they have a really nice sound that can work well for studio work as well as electronic drumming, dj’ing, casual listening and probably more. If you strongly prefer a more natural sound though, you might want to look back at the ATH-M40X and save a few bucks.