Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphone Review: Budget studio monitors go wireless at a price- Technology News, Firstpost

– Almost neutral sound signature
– Excellent battery backup
– Comfortable to wear
– Multipoint support
– Can be used as wired headphones with an Aux cable

– Over-priced in India
– No ANC, ingress protection, companion app
– No high-end codecs support
– Plasticky build, non-foldable design 
– Poor passive noise isolation

Price: Rs 13,499

Rating: 3.3/5

A large percentage of wearable audio products are understandably targeted at masses, and as a result, cater to their taste in sound. In simpler terms, most headphones offer boosted bass for that extra thump. Then we have some that offer a more balanced sound and features like active noise cancellation (ANC). And lastly, we have studio monitors, which strive to reproduce the sound as is without boosting any frequencies.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphone Review - Lead image
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

The last category is fairly niche, and a huge chunk of the target audience prefers wired headphones. Audio-Technica ATH-M20x was an immensely popular headphone for those looking for studio-quality sound at an affordable price; in fact, it still is. The company has now launched a Bluetooth version of the same, ATH-M20xBT that hopes to do the same without wires. Let’s see if it succeeds and if it’s worth the asking price.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphones – Build, design, comfort: 6/10
There is nothing wrong with the ATH-M20xBT’s aesthetics with a typical Audio-Technica design language and a smooth black matte finish. But I wasn’t pleased with its build quality, which feels distinctly plasticky, and even more so given its pricing. The hard plastic shells seem like they may crack after a fall or two, but we are not sure as we didn’t do a drop test. Another concern was the durability of the thin wire connecting the two earcups through the headband. The weight is perfectly fine at 216 grams. 

The padded earcups sit well over the ears with just the right amount of pressure. The fit not being too tight makes sense as these headphones are not meant to be used during workouts. And that’s not just because of the sound profile here, but there is no IP rating for ingress protection, and one wouldn’t want to risk sweat damaging the product. The headband padding is just about fine. While the comfort is good, the passive noise isolation is quite poor on the M20xBT. You can hear almost everything around you even after wearing the headphones.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphone Review - Headband
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

The earcups can neither be turned much nor folded, making the product hard to carry around, as it takes up a lot of space in your bag. A carry pouch is missing here, which is something the company shouldn’t have been miserly with. The left ear-cup hosts all the buttons and connectors. A 3.5 mm aux input and a USB-C port can be found there next to a status LED and playback controls. A USB charging cable and an aux cable are present in the package.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphones – Key features: 5/10
Though the price raises your expectations, the ATH-M20xBT is quite light in this department. In essence, it is a basic pair of Bluetooth 5.0 wireless headphones with support for only SBC and AAC codecs. There is no ANC either. We understand that its entire focus is on delivering studio-quality sound and robust battery backup, but a better codec like aptX or LDAC would have certainly helped with the former. 

You don’t get a companion app to alter the sound profile or update its firmware. Each ear cup of these closed-back headphones hosts a 40 mm driver. The claimed frequency response ranges between 5 Hz to 32 KHz, which is impressive. Another standout feature of this product is its battery backup, with the company promising up to 60 hours of playtime; a claim we will verify shortly.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphone Review - Design

Like most wireless headphones, this product can also be used as a wired headphone using the bundled or any aux cable. There are three physical buttons on the left earcup that include the volume rockers and a play/pause button that doubles up as a power switch as well as a Bluetooth pairing button. Long pressing the volume up and down keys lets you jump to the next and previous tracks respectively. This headphone is uncomplicated to use but too basic in terms of features.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphones – Performance: 7/10
The wireless range on these headphones is quite good up to the advertised 10 metres mark with a clear line of sight; no complaints there. Pairing this device with a phone or a tablet is also a straightforward process. Moving on to the sound quality, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT does deliver close to neutral sound output. That means no particular frequency range gets a boost and you indeed get almost studio-quality sound.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphone Review - Earcups
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

Before you jump out of your seat in excitement, here’s a word of caution. Just because your self-proclaimed audiophile friend claims that neutral sound is the best thing on this planet does not necessarily mean you will enjoy it. You do not get prominent bass here as we are generally accustomed to, and some may find the sound a bit too bright for their liking. So first gauge what’s on offer here and then consider spending on it. 

Now judging it for what it is, the bass is minimal and yet has a decent punch. As a result, the midrange frequencies get a chance to shine and shine they do. The vocals are crisp and most instrument sounds are distinctly audible with a more than decent separation. The highs have ample sparkle but could have been tempered better. The S sounds tend to sound a little harsh, and you do not have the extra bass here to balance them. The detail in the audio is good but the soundstage is average at best. The volume needs to be pushed up to 80% for normal loudness.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphone Review - Flimsy cable
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

The ATH-M20xBT is a good option for listening to vocal or instrument-heavy tracks, be it jazz or classical. If you are more into Rock, EDM or Bollywood, they aren’t as enjoyable on these headphones. It is not too bad for watching web series and movies either. The latency is low enough and there was no noticeable lag between the video and audio when watching content from various OTT platforms. There is ample clarity in the dialogues, though the thump in action sequences is a notch or two lower than ideal. But let’s not forget, these are meant to be studio monitors, and they serve that purpose well. 

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphones – Call quality: 6.5/10
Most on-the-ear headphones struggle when it comes to calling quality. With the M20xBT, it is pretty decent in quieter areas. When indoors, people on either end of the call are audible to each other with fair clarity. In noisy environments, the microphone tends to pick up some ambient noise as well as wind noise, and your voice sounds a bit distant. The person on the call did complain about it. So when outdoors, you may want to answer the call on your phone directly.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphone Review - Controls

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphones – Battery life: 9/10
The battery life of the ATH-M20xBT is probably its best attribute in my opinion. The company claims that the battery can last up to 60 hours under test conditions, and the results were not bad for us. At about 3 hours of daily audio playback at 80% loudness, the battery lasted a full fortnight; that translates into 45 hours of battery backup. During the course of the testing, I couldn’t use it for a week, and one needs to factor that in too. 

That highlights the fact that its standby time is impressive too. Thus, if your usage is similar to mine, you may need to charge these headphones only twice a month, which is great. This headphone takes about four hours to charge fully using a standard USB-C charger. It supports fast charging too, but the figures are modest. 10 minutes of charge can give you close to 3 hours of playtime, which is handy if not special. 

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT Headphones – Price and verdict
The Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT wireless headphone is priced at Rs 13,499 with a one-year warranty. The pricing is something I have the biggest issue with. This pair is popular abroad because it is affordable and priced under $79. Even with duties and taxes, it shouldn’t reach anywhere close to its selling price in India. Around 8K, it would have been a neat option for those looking for wireless studio monitors with close to the neutral sound. At 13.5K, it is hard to recommend. 

It is a niche category here, and a huge chunk of the target audience for studio monitors still prefer wired headphones. That price tag won’t entice them enough to switch. Also, the feature set is extremely limited to command that kind of price. It would make more sense to opt for its wired version instead, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x, for almost one-third its selling price here, and a relevant adapter for the phone in case it doesn’t have a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

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