With 2019 just hours away, my final headphone review of 2018 finally commences. And, with the new Audio Technica ATH-SR50BT sitting on my desk, I’m not short on ideas. At $199, this over-ear, noise-cancelling, wireless headphone boasts loads of features. But how does it sound compared to its competition?
Audio Technica ATH-SR50BT Review
The Audio Technica ATH-SR50BT comes with a soft leatherette pouch and an standard aux cable with an integrated mic and remote. A micro-USB charging cable also comes included.
Charging takes 5 hours, but yields 25 hours of continuous use (with noise-cancellation and wireless operation). However, the battery life can be stretched to 30 hours (wireless only) or even 45 hours (noise-cancellation only). Standby time measures a whopping 1000 hours.
I’m surprised at how lightweight the ATH-SR50BT feels. Despite the plastic construction, there’s an impression of quality, thanks to aluminum extenders in the headband.
Lush padding on the earcups and headband result in a comfortable fit, and this headphone strikes me as surprisingly comfortable. It never feels too tight or clamp-y, and I could probably give that 25-hour battery a good run for its money.
Inside the earcups, the SR50BT sports a 45 mm driver – the same size as those in the M50x and M50xBT. However, unlike these models, the new SR50BT offers noise cancellation.
Audio Technica offered a similar level of cancellation in the ANC700BT, but this time around the technology has been improved to block out more noise and do so more comfortably. A noise-attenuating feature also allows the music to take a backseat while surrounding noises are amplified – allowing users to remain more aware of their surroundings. Controls for the noise cancellation technology – as well as a 3.5 mm aux port and controls for Bluetooth connectivity – sit on the bottom of the left earcup.
Connectivity remains breezy, and you can easily connect in a split second.
A listener can also control playback and volume by swiping in various directions on the left earcup.
Frequency Range: 5-40,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 35 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 95 dB
These specs reveal a fairly wide frequency range that may hint at some ample extension in the lows and highs. A relatively low impedance of just 35 ohms will work well with low output devices like phones and personal music players – just what you would expect from a wireless headphone. Finally, sound pressure seems a bit low at 95 dB, but should be more than enough for most folks. However, this does jump up to 98 dB when noise cancellation is used.
Low-end-heavy tracks like Interpol’s Same Town, New Story and MF DOOM’s Monday Night at Fluid exhibit a richness in clarity and resonance. Lows on the SR50BT come across as precise and detailed, but never sloppy or uncontrolled. There’s a tight, snappy bass at play here – landing where it should, lingering where it’s needed, and never bleeding into other areas. This impressive low end sounds marvelous with rock, hip hop, and pop.
In the mids, the sound seems slightly recessed, but only very, very slightly. Some compression appears, but that’s more than expected for a wireless headphone for $200. Tracks with tons of vocals still excel, though, and detail here remains pretty sharp and contrasting. Vocals on Blink 182’s What’s My Age Again and The Front Bottoms’ West Virginia showcase this quality perfectly, with a decidedly dense diction delivered alongside a wealth of guitar, bass, and drum. Yet, that instrumentation doesn’t suffer, either, and the sound in the mids remains thick enough to impart a sense of substance no matter what you’re listening to.
Here you’ll find a good level of detail and only a modicum of brightness. My test tracks – Mai Lan’s Autopilote and Damien Rice’s Amie – reveal a good level of extension in the high end. Despite this extension, though, the highs still sound relatively relaxed and smooth, with velvety vocals and fragile, intricate instrumentation that never sounds too piercing. This tempered sound lends itself well to pop as well as classical, and everything in between.
Soundstage on the Audio Technica ATH-SR50BT seems cramped at best. Though there’s some depth to the music in all tracks, the sense of placement remains almost nonexistent. On some tracks, like Ludovico Einaudi’s Eros, that sense of placement does get a little better, but by-and-large, most tracks suffer in terms of soundstage. While this cramped sound might cause classical tunes or more intricate recordings to suffer, it’s still not so claustrophobic as to detract from every tune.
Noise cancellation on the SR50BT seems good, but not great. At 50% volume, I can still hear one or two of my coworkers talking. That being said, at about 70% volume, only people standing directly next to me can be heard. All-in-all, this feature is well done, without the uncomfortable low-frequency vibrations found on the older ANC700BT.
Really though, the noise cancellation feature seems secondary to the overall sound quality one gets from the ATH-SR50BT. Despite the low price and lightweight build, it packs an impressive sound that seems more on par with a $300 headphone. The overall sound profile, with its rich, emotive lows and glistening highs, works wonders with almost any track.
For folks who need the very best noise cancellation, Bose may still be king. Personally, I would opt for the SR50BT, but I care more about actually hearing my music in detail…
Which brings me to the subject of who this headphone is really for: anyone looking for a revealing, high-res sound that still offers creature comforts (like wireless connectivity or noise cancellation). Because, make no mistake, this sound remains just as defined and engrossing as that of any other Audio Technica model – the MSR7, DSR7, and M50xBT models all draw comparisons with this new headphone. But the SR50BT offers the best characteristics of all of them.
Compared to Sennheiser, or Bowers and Wilkins, the sound here remains a tad bit more detailed and exacting, but with a better, smoother high end that forgives older recordings while keeping newer, more precise recordings intact.
This headphone sounds perfect for rock, hip hop, electronica, pop, acoustic, and light instrumental music. The only genre I wouldn’t recommend it for would be classical music, due to the slightly-less-open soundstage.
With a price tag of just $199, the Audio Technica ATH-SR50BT offers stellar value – especially when taking sound quality into consideration. With impressive lows and highs, and a well-engineered midrange, the sound never seems too out of place for any listening tastes. Add in noise cancellation and worry-free wireless connectivity and you’ve got one hot headphone on your hands. Suffice to say, this is my go-to recommendation for sound quality on the go in 2019.
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