The Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT is the legendary audio brand’s entry into the mid-range segment of the Bluetooth headphones market. However, it is not like the others that are out there. It stands out with the pro-audio badge slapped right next to its name. It is because the headphones have their roots in Audio-Techncia’s pro audio headphone lineup. It’s essentially a pair of wired entry-level headphones bearing the ATH-M badge. While this is the factor that helps it stand out from the rest, it also puts it in a weird spot.
When the ATH-M20xBT showed up at the Digit Test Centre, my first question was, what is the positioning that the brand is looking for in the market with these headphones? Has the brand given it a similar treatment as it had to the M50XBT, making the sound signature a bit bass-heavy to cater to a wider audience that isn’t limited to the studios? And if that is the case, then why did they not include features like ANC and app support? I got answers to most of these questions, but some others also came along the way. If you are to look at the imagery on the website and the way they are positioned, it is made very clear these are not targeted particularly at “professionals”, rather young individuals that are out and about, but also care a bit about the sound quality.
Here’s what I found it while testing the Audio-Technica ATHM20XBT –
Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBTBuild and Design
Just like always, we start by talking about the build and design of the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT. And, just like always, Audio-Technica did not let us down with this pair of headphones. While the build quality may look a bit off when you get a first look at these headphones, when you start using them, the excellent build quality shines through.
With a head size that is slightly on the higher side, I always find it difficult to get a pair of headphones that get me the perfect fit. And these headphones shone through in that regard. During my time using these headphones, I never found myself feeling the headband or the earcups digging into my skull. The headphones are lightweight and stay on my head well. I also passed them around to the folks in the Test Centre, and they resonated with my opinions of the fit. The clamping force might be on the lower side for some. However, if you are sitting around, it won’t bother you much. Plus, there’s the swivel in the earcups, which makes up for the inherent lack of clamping force on these headphones.
Another thing that caught my attention when testing out the fit of these earbuds was the metallic headband. This instilled quite a bit of confidence in me when I was using these headphones, especially when people were around and I had to adjust one earcup and put it to the side of my head. Not only that, when stuffing these in my bag, I never felt that the headband would give out. And, as I already pointed out earlier, the headband has a decent amount of padding. Even the earcups also have a decent amount of padding on them, which aids in not only the fit, but also prevents a lot of sound leakage when you are playing your favourite tunes. So, during extended mixing sessions, you won’t have the headphones bother you or the people around you.
In terms of the materials used, they are not at the level of my daily driver, the M50XBT. However, at ₹8,490 it is definitely bang on. Our lead reviewer of audio, Dhriti, did her signature “creaking test”, and these headphones passed with flying colours in her test. The earcups are mostly plastic and have very few points of failure if you are planning to stress these out to the max when using them. Another point in the bag for the ATH-M20xBT.
The controls are on the left earcup, with the 3.5mm audio jack and the USB Type-C charging port making an appearance next to them. The same earcup also has an indicator LED, which also does its job well.
The only thing that you will need to take care of when using these headphones is the exposed wire connecting the two earcups. It can get caught up on something or the other or experience significantly more wear and tear than the other parts, giving out earlier than they should and ruining the headphones. So, be careful of that.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT: Features
As for the features, these are not the most feature-packed headphones. Like most other brands who have a ton of experience making headphones and other good quality audio products, Audio-Technica has gone for the quality over quantity approach.
The controls on the left earcup, which I mentioned in the last section, are responsive and intuitive. The pairing process is simple, and the audio indicators, when triggered, do their job well. When you plug in the 3.5 mm cable that is supplied along with the headphones, they automatically turn off, and when you remove the cable, if the headphones were on, they turn back on again.
Additionally, Audio-Technica has included multi-point connectivity on these headphones, which makes sure that you can switch between your devices easily. There’s also a low latency mode, which gamers would love. Although, I could not figure out how to trigger it, as the official Audio-Technica app available in India does not support these headphones.
That is where the features list of these headphones ends.
There’s no ANC or any other features that are generally seen on Bluetooth headphones around this price which could be a deal breaker for many. And this brings me to my first question. What is the positioning of these headphones in the market? The lack of features clearly pushes these headphones to the bottom of the list of headphones that are preferred by the masses. And, if you are someone who is looking for a pair of proper studio headphones, then you’d probably go for the wired variant of these headphones, which is available at almost half the price.
We’ll get to this at the end of the article, but keep this in mind as you read ahead.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT: Performance
When it comes to performance, the Audio Technica ATH-M20xBT shows its true colours. The headphone has a sound signature that many of us have come to expect from Audio Technica’s professional-grade headphones. It is not something that you’d compare to their flagship products or for that matter, some other similarly priced headphones that are made by brands like Sony, JBL, and the like. The sound coming from the ATH-M20xBT has its own nature, which you will understand as you look at the graph and read through.
As you can see in the simplified and full spectrum graph, the sound signature is not something that would appeal to purists or audiophiles. The dip in the low frequencies means that the sound that you get from these headphones will lack that thump. The bass hasn’t completely been neutered, but in the low-bass frequencies, there’s a significant drop, which would eat into your experience of watching explosions or backing sounds of kick drums in some tracks.
It is not something that should deter you from considering these headphones, though. For many, they are perfectly fine. If you are someone looking to get your taste of how studio headphones sound without breaking the bank, then you should definitely go for these headphones. The sound signature of these headphones sufficiently close to neutral. If you are listening to podcasts, the boost in the mids also ensures that you get crystal-clear vocals despite the presence of a backing track in podcast recordings.
In my real-world usage, all this was reflected as well. When listening to tracks like Uptown Funk, and Motherjane, I found the bass to be slightly on the lower side, meaning that it lacked the punch, which would have added a lot of character to the sound. But, when I switched to vocal heavy tracks like Rescue Me, the headphones shone through. Ideally, we love to have a balance across the board, but at this price, it is a difficult find. One thing that is a major letdown though, is the codec support. These headphones support only SBC and AAC codecs. We’d have loved it if it had additional codecs, at least aptX.
As for the microphone, it is nothing special. It is serviceable for calls and will hold its ground when you are on conference calls but don’t expect anything out of the ordinary, which is there in the headphones around this price point.
There is no ANC, which means that you’ll have to rely on the fit of these headphones to get you that passive isolation. And it will vary from person to person. For me, it did hold up well. However, for Dhriti, the experience was completely different. The fit will also dictate the amount of sound leakage. The better the fit, the lesser the sound leak would be, and vice versa. Also, one more effect that the fit would have on your experience would be on the sound signature. The better the fit, the closer the sound will be to what the brand intended.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT: Battery Life
Audio-Technica claims that these headphones can last up to sixty hours on a single charge. In our tests, the battery life came pretty close to the claimed numbers. To be precise, it was about 56 hours, at 50 per cent volume. And depending on your use, the number can be higher or lower. If you are in a crunch situation, then you also get fast-charging capabilities.
The brand claims that in a 10-minute charge, you can get up to three hours of listening time. The connector type is USB-C, so most of your chargers, if they are of the exact wattage or are PD capable, will be able to juice up these headphones easily.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT: Verdict
Now, let’s get back to the questions. What is the positioning of the Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT headphones in the market? It is hard to give a definitive answer. On one hand, the line of headphones they come from makes it feel that they are meant for professionals who are on the go and do not want to be tethered to their source by a wire. But, the pricing and the marketing of these headphones suggest otherwise. This is again contradicted by the sound signature, with the boosted mids and the underemphasised low bass.
Should you go for it? Yes, if you are out looking for a pair of headphones that will serve you well for years, you don’t mind playing around with EQ settings on third-party apps to bring back the missing low bass and are looking for headphones that could be your gateway into the world of professional headphones and audio.
Now, if you are looking for an experience that has a lot of features, ANC, and app support, with a design that looks more in tune to be worn in public, then you can look at the offerings by Sennheiser, Jabra, Sony, and JBL. These include Jabra Elite 45H, Sennheiser HD458 ANC, JBL Tune 760NC, and Sony WH-CH720N. All these headphones come with loads of mainstream features and have a sound signature that is more in tune with what is loved by many.