AUDIO-TECHNICA M70X HEADPHONES
The detail of the new M Series flagship won’t spare your feelings but may save your mix.
Review: Christopher Holder
It’s easy to see why Audio-Technica’s M50s have been so popular. They manage to strike the perfect balance of price and likeable sound quality. ‘Likeable’ because the M50s are accurate enough for day-to-day studio use but exciting enough to make any well-produced audio recording enjoyable to listen to.
For most of us the $200 M50s will be an ideal choice. But we may look longingly at pricier headphones and wonder what we’re missing out on. Well, don’t get too ‘grass is greener’, because pricier cans may be more accurate but not always as fun to listen to.
I’ve had a pair of open back Shure SRH1440s for a couple of years now. They’re an amazing headphone — natural, accurate and beautifully detailed. But if I’m listening back to one of my EDM mixes they’re a real party pooper. The ruler flat response does nothing for my low end. In fact, it’s sometimes really quite hard to hear the full character of synth bass sounds. I’m much better off with an M50-style headphone. Saying that, the more detailed 1440s give me some unnervingly good insights into just about every other aspect of the mix.
Audio-Technica has released its ATH-M70x which are the new flagship headphones of the M Series. They’re a $400 headphone, and although Audio-Technica avoid using the ‘reference’ word, everything that’s coming out of Japan reinforces the fact that these headphones are built for accurate, linear monitoring (all the way from a quoted talk-to-the-sperm-whales 4Hz to terrier-terrorising 40kHz).
Plug them in and you instantly get the picture: totally un-hyped low end, super-detailed mids and highs, and an extraordinarily detailed sound stage. Plug the M50s back in and, by comparison, they’re like a party going on in your head.
Mixing with the M70x headphones is a sobering experience. You’re not spared anything. There’s no low-end, feel-good distractions, it’s all detail: that reverb tail isn’t doing it for me; why am I hearing that vocalist’s bracelet jangling?; I thought I nailed that delay time?; I really wish I could get more width on that acoustic guitar; that double tracking could have been better… Want me to go on? But this is the intent of sticking headphones on in a control room. Detail. And the M70x delivers.
Given the M70x is a $400 headphone, you’re unlikely to leave them sitting on a chair in the live room. But being closed back, you can record with them without fear of spill into open mics. In fact, for the self-contained producer this is a real advantage. The M70x may well be all the headphone you need — tracking, mixing, mastering… okay, maybe invest in a pair of hyped DJ headphones for when you’re on the bus listening to your iPod. (After all, let’s not deny ourselves the occasional ‘ignorance is bliss’ descent into overblown, outta whack performance.)
The M70x isn’t for everyone. For professionals accustomed to open-back reference headphones, they’ll acquit themselves well. Up against my open back SRH1440s they felt largely cut from the same cloth. If this was an audiophile magazine I guess I could nit pick, but the more I listened, the more I realised that for a closed back headphone, the M70xs had far more in common with open backs.
And here’s where the M70x has found its own niche. If you need reference-style headphones with open back attributes, but you need closed back privacy, then the M70s are a walk-up winner. They’re priced well, built well and look professional. Well worth an audition, but hold onto those M50s — life’s too short to be totally lost in the detail.