The budget headphone market is difficult to navigate. There are a plethora of options out there. In this review, we check out the entry-level option from Audio Technica, the ATH-M20x. A compelling option for DJs and producers on a budget.
Audio Technica ATH-M20x
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x is an affordably priced pair of headphones. These are not as refined as Audio-Technica’s more expensive options. But still some of the best cheap studio headphones currently available.
There is a lot to cover when it comes to the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x headphones so let’s not waste any more time and dive right in.
The marketing for these headphones touts that these are for studio tracking and mixing. And while they are serviceable they certainly don’t reach the heights of other headphones out there. But when you factor in the price they become increasingly appealing.
The balance across frequencies is rather impressive for headphones this cheap. While not ultra-accurate these do a great job for light tracking and mixing work.
The ATH-M20x features good sound quality with an impressive mid-range.
I can see these best suited to content creators as opposed to working professionals. Just enough neutrality to not mask obvious issues.
The highs are clear and defined but do suffer from more peaks and dips compared to the other frequency ranges.
The mids are very respectable with plenty of life and fullness. Obscure changes in response aren’t present. Well-defined. Considering the bulk of productions have heavy mid-range elements I’m happy to see how well these perform in this area.
Likewise the low-end is very transparent. These handle the lower end without too much issue. But there is a distinct lack of lower bass tonality.
This is great for accuracy but a bit underwhelming for general listening. It doesn’t have the full kick and warmth I like. It is especially evident with bass-heavy genres like EDM.
For an exceptionally low-priced pair of headphones, these performed a lot better than I expected. Not ideal for DJing but well suited to casual studio work.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x is a reasonably comfortable pair of headphones. But a few things are holding it back from greatness.
The ear padding is good quality but a little on the stiffer side. This stiffness is slightly amplified by the lack of swiveling earcups. It all feels a little too rigid without enough flexibility.
The ear cups are also smaller than you’ll find on Audio-Technica’s higher-priced models. Not a huge issue unless you have large ears. If that is the case you may feel these are a little cramped. But for most people, this shouldn’t be a problem.
The ATH-M20x features thick padding but small ear cups.
The headband however is great. Good padding and plenty of notches to adjust to your head shape. The clamping force is on the lighter side. But there is still enough stability and pressure to ensure a decent fit to help with isolation.
At just 0.42 lbs. (190 grams) these are also lightweight. This ensures there isn’t too much pressure applied on your head making for a relaxed and comfortable fit.
Comfort is a difficult element to judge. Head and ear shape vary from person to person. But there are enough positive points here for me to confidently say that most people will find these comfortable.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x offers a clean and basic aesthetic that blends in seamlessly in a studio environment.
No gaudy colors or excessive use of chrome styling that tends to plague the budget headphone space. But some people may not be drawn to the all-black plastic appearance.
The exposed wires can catch on things which can lead to damage.
Beyond appearance, there are some other elements worth noting.
First, passive isolation is better than I expected. The reasonably secure fit and thick ear pads do a respectable job of keeping noise out. These won’t drown out the rumble of an airplane engine or a crowded bus. But they will dull enough exterior noise to make these a good option in most studios.
Some minimal sound leakage is present but I can’t see it being a huge issue unless you are pushing these in the volume department.
Unfortunately, the ATH-M20x isn’t collapsible. Not the greatest choice if you want a portable pair of cans. The lack of an included pouch also points to these not being a great option for travel.
Another drawback is the exposed wires. These hang out aggressively and I could see this catching quite easily. A hardwired cable is also present with no ability to replace or switch to another cable.
At 47 ohms these are a good option for smartphones and other lower-powered devices. You won’t need an amplifier or DAC to get the most out of these.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x headphones do have some notable shortcomings. But when you consider the price point it is hard to be overly critical. If some of the issues mentioned are deal breakers you’ll likely need to explore more expensive options.
The construction quality of the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x is respectable for this price point. It does feature a near full plastic build but the plastic doesn’t feel overly cheap and fragile.
The headband metal strip is on the thinner side but once again more than good enough for the price.
Combined it makes for a stable and reliable feeling pair of headphones. These can take the odd knock or two without falling apart like some budget headphones out there.
At this price point, the ATH-M20x offers decent build quality.
Good quality 40mm Neodymium Magnet Drivers deliver rich sound well beyond what many other headphones offer.
The headphone cable doesn’t feel cheap and at 9.8 ft (3 meters) it is long and accommodating. The ⅛-inch connection point is secure and high quality. As is the included ¼-inch adapter.
While not premium these punch well above their price range when it come to quality. A dependable set of headphones that I can’t imagine falling to pieces quickly.
By far the most appealing element of the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x headphones is the aggressive price point.
Studio gear can be expensive. And while there is nothing wrong with buying headphones worth 500+ dollars many people don’t need to spend that much.
The ATH-M20x comes with an adapter but no pouch or case.
Understanding your needs is very important when setting up your studio on a budget. If you are doing light studio work or casual DJing without epic volume levels these tick all the right boxes.
These headphones also deliver impressive sound and reliability. With a price tag that won’t make your wallet cry. Great value for money.
Budget headphones are a dime a dozen but I’ve seen so many fall horribly short. The ATH-M20x is not in that category and the reviews show it. A staggering amount of 4 and 5-star reviews highlight how popular these are.
How Good Do Your Headphones Need To Be?
I spend a lot of time reviewing studio gear. As a result, I’ve had the chance to experience some stellar pieces of equipment. But one of the most important elements of approaching gear is understanding who it is for.
Not everyone needs the absolute best to achieve their goals. A home DJ that plays at moderate levels doesn’t need epic isolation. Likewise, supreme neutrality doesn’t need to be high on their list of priorities.
This is often the case for hobby producers as well. Headphones may play a secondary role to a quality pair of studio monitors. In that case, you may not need an expensive pair of headphones.
For people editing podcasts or other media, there is only so much definition that they will need. But a working professional may need something more advanced.
While it is nice to own a superb pair of headphones there are many great budget alternatives. Understanding what you expect from your headphones can save you a lot of money.
Avoid the overly cheap options and stick to quality brands like Audio-Technica. That way you can get the best of both worlds. Good quality while enjoying a lower price point.
If you are looking for quality budget headphones there are plenty to choose from. Below we take a quick look at three alternatives worth checking out.
Shure SRH440A Review
If you can stretch your budget the Shure SRH440A is a fantastic pair of headphones. These are still reasonably priced and offer great sound quality.
- Great frequency range with excellent neutrality. Good for studio work.
- High-quality materials throughout. From the earpads to the casing.
- Does present some brightness in the top-end frequencies.
Roland RH-5 Review
If you are on a tight budget the Roland RH-5 is worth considering. Its dynamic sound profile is well-suited for tracking and monitoring.
- Punchy bass and clear highs with a well-rounded midrange. Ideal for instrument tracking.
- Low price point while maintaining a good degree of build quality.
- The output is a little muddy and unbalanced with more complex compositions.
Sennheiser HD 25 Light Review
The Sennheiser HD 25 Light is the entry-level version of the popular HD 25. These outstanding headphones offer premium sound for producers and DJs.
- Loud and dynamic output that is neutral and balanced.
- The lightweight frame and firm clamping force result in a reliable and comfortable fit.
- The on-ear design might not be to everyone’s taste.
Sennheiser HD 25 Light
Should You Buy?
I’ll have to admit I’ve been a little harsh on these headphones in this review. A lot of that comes from the amount of praise I shower on Audio-Technica’s more expensive line-up. They make great headphones and are among my top picks in several categories.
But the entry-level ATH-M20x is a respectable entry into the lineup. It doesn’t have all the extra bells and whistles. What it does offer is an affordable price with some seriously impressive sound. And that is what it boils down to. At this price point, it is among the best.
Audio Technica ATH-M20x