For half the price of the bigger brother (that’s roughly $60), the Audio Technica ATH-M30 is an interesting entry level headphone. Its sound signature reminds you a lot of the M-50, and yet the M-30 has a more engaging and more forward midrange than the M-50 (even when compared to my newer M-50 variant). Of course it is inferior to the M-50 in a lot of ways, from soundstage, frequency extension, detail, to ergonomics and comfort. The M-30′s build reminds me a lot of the Sony MDR-7506, V6, or the CD900ST headphone. It’s slightly smaller and lighter than the M-50, though still much bigger than the ultra portables. If you want to, you can still squeeze it as an outdoor walk around headphone.
The sound is generally fun. As I’ve mentioned, the midrange is more engaging than the M-50, though not as clear. The treble rolls off much earlier than the M-50, but it also makes the M-30 a better headphone for treble happy recordings. You’re less likely to be annoyed by sharp trebles on the M-30, and likewise sibilant factor is also very low on the M-30. The bass, though not as good as the M-50, is quite potent and fun.
A lot of people has complained that the M-50, though great all around, is not forward enough, and doesn’t engage you enough. The M-30 is definitely more forward, just enough difference from the bigger brother while not going overboard. The frequency balance is very likable too, even more than the M-50. Hadi and I even joked that we should email Audio Technica to develop a flagship based on the M-line signature, called the M-1000.
The Achilles heel of the M-30 is the lack of technicalities. In addition to the frequency extension, detail, and soundstage, the housing quality is also very entry level, resulting in reverbs and occassional midrange glares. It’s really hard to ask for more quality at this price though. And I mean to warn people intending to get the headphone to be aware of the limitations of the M-30, rather than criticize it.
Compared to the good ultra-portables like the PX100, PX200, and the V-Jays, the M-30 still suffer from an inferior technicality. However, the M-30 still gives a bigger sound than the ultra portables, simply because it comes with a bigger size driver. So, there is a bit of give and take there.
The M-30 can be a second choice to people looking to buy ultra portables like the PX100. It is much bigger, even compared to the HD2X8 Sennheiser line, but I believe it can still pass as a portable headphone that you can take on the Metro, Campus, etc. The build should be able to take more abuse than the ultra portables, and so it’s quite a fun headphone to take around town.