A few days ago, I took a look at the new Audio Technica ATH-SR50BT – a $200 Bluetooth headphone that goes toe-to-toe with the best in the business. But today I’m taking a gander at the $169 wired version, the Audio Technica ATH-SR50. As a budget-minded option, the big sell here is the inclusion of a 4.4 mm balanced cable. But how does it stack up against other headphones?
Audio Technica ATH-SR50 Review
Aside from the headphones, the SR50’s packaging also includes a carrying case and two 4 ft (1.2 m) cables – one with your standard 3.5 mm connection, and one with a 4.4 mm balanced connection.
Inside each earcup sits a 45 mm driver – the same size used on the venerable Audio Technica M50x and new, higher-end MSR7b.
Build-wise, this Audio Technica remains light but comfortable, featuring the same great construction found on its wireless counterpart. A predominantly-plastic affair, the headphone remains strong and just a little clamp-y thanks to the aluminum extensions on the headband.
Plush PU leather padding on that same headband – as well as on the earcups – allows the SR50 to be worn for hours on end without a shadow of discomfort.
Frequency Range: 5-45,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 47 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 100 dB
On paper, the SR50 boasts a lot of extension in the low and highs, leading to a fairly wide frequency range. Impedance comes in relatively low at 47 ohms, allowing this headphone to benefit from some amplification, but still sounding decent without it. Lastly, sound pressure level measures a fair 100 decibels – pretty much what I would expect from a closed back headphone, and more than enough for adequate volume.
The Audio Technica ATH-SR50 hosts an impressive low end. Detailed but energetic, it’s the kind of low end that works with almost any track – vibrant, full, and meaty. The bass sounds punchy and lands with gravity – you can feel it slamming into your ears like a lead brick. But individual notes within the low end remain distinct and articulate, as evidenced on tracks like The Midnight’s Los Angeles and Atmosphere’s Trying to Find a Balance.
In the mids, the SR50 exhibits a clean presence, without compression or distortion. While the SR50BT sounded just a little recessed in this part of the frequency range, the SR50 offers a more present (but still slightly restrained) performance. Vocals and instrumentation jump out and remain just as fun and engaging as anything in the lows and highs, leading to strong, exacting sound that just won’t quit.
The highs receive the same attention lavished on the lows and mids. Home to some impressive detail, the highs do seem to suffer just a tad from that thick, uncompromising low end, leading to the impression of a slightly warmer sound. Vocals in this part of the frequency range still sound smooth, but instrumentation can be overwhelmed at times, leading to the impression of a warmer sound.
In regard to soundstage, the Audio Technica ATH-SR50 offers a fairly deep if a little narrow sense of space. Vocals still separate nicely from background music, but instruments might seem a little confused and jumbled. While this seems less of a deal breaker where some genres are concerned, it does prevent the SR50 from sounding as good with more intricate recordings and orchestral stuff.
The inclusion of a 4.4 mm balanced cable does much to recommend the SR50 – especially for anyone interested in exploring the benefits of balanced audio. While the superior 4.4 mm connection has yet to be adopted by some brands – like Astell & Kern and, to some extent, FiiO, I’m glad to see Audio Technica rolling with it. Because alongside Sony and Sennheiser, it marks a trend of industry leaders opting for a stronger, more robust balanced connection.
Pairing this headphone with the FiiO Q5 DAC/amp or a Sony DAP offers a great entry-level option for interested parties, though I imagine you could still benefit from these headphones if you had a DAP with a 2.5 mm output and the necessary adapter.
Personally, I find the SR50 a fairly strong headphone with only one minor issue – the lackluster high end, which at times seems drowned out by the lows and mids. However, for folks who want that kind of sound, the MSR7b does present an even better sound – albeit at a higher price of $249.
If you’re in the market for a headphone that won’t break the bank, while also delivering a slightly warm (but still detailed) sound, it will be hard to pass up the SR50. Admittedly, the highs could be better. And the soundstage isn’t going to be that stellar with classical music. But as a wired headphone at $169, it still competes – and even wins out in some areas. For rock, hip-hop, and electronica, this thing is an absolute BEAST.
And, when you throw in that balanced cable, you start to see even more value for your money.
Now, if classical music is you’re thing, I’d recommend the Audio Technica ATH-M40x ($99) or the M60x ($199). Both of these pro models from Audio Technica do offer more in terms of midrange detail and overall balance, not to mention soundstage.
However, is there anything at this price that can really stack up to the SR50? The most obvious comparison, that of the SR50 to the Audio Technica ATH-M50X, should get its own, dedicated review. In the meantime, I’d speculate that the SR50 offers a good amount more of bass and low-end emphasis, but loses out to the M50x in regards to some high-end detail.
For a paltry $169, the Audio Technica ATH-SR50 offers a high-res listening experience that delivers detail in droves and a rich, emphatic sound. Compatible with 4.4 mm balanced outputs, it also offers a great starting place for hearing balanced sound. While it may not be the best choice for classical music fans, it still offers a fantastic sound for rock, hip-hop, and electronica – and one that deserves a demo if you’re in the market for a headphone under $200.
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