Closed Cans Shootout: M-50, ESW-9, T50P, HD25-1, Beats Studio, SRH-840, SRH-750DJ, K181DJ, and DJ1Pro.


Here is another closed headphone that has been a long term crowd favorite from Audio Technica. The ESW-9 comes with a fancy wood housing, and accordingly, belongs to $200-$300 range along with the Monster Beats Studio and Beyerdynamic T50p.

Unlike the two Shures or the M-50, the ESW-9 belongs to the smaller housing size group, along with the Sennheiser HD25-1 and the Beyer T50p. I know that I’ve confused the term “portable” many times, calling the M-50 and the Shures as portables, when in reality, they belong in a desktop environment. The truth is, the EWS-9, the HD25-1, and the T50p are the true portables.

The ESW-9 is the one with the wood housing, third from the right.

The ESW-9 is clearly designed as a music listener’s headphone. The sound is warm and very musical. There isn’t a lot of treble presence in the ESW-9, as the presentation is a more to the relaxed and mellow side. It’s fairly good for classic Rock, but definitely lacks PRaT and energy for the faster Rock and Electronica. If your music is any of the above, then you’d better cross out the ESW-9 from the list.

Having the least amount of treble among the others, the ESW-9 may sound dull and unlively for some people. But for some others, it means hours of unfatiguing music session, while scrolling through multiple genres of music. It’s a very safe player, with good midrange and bass performance, but as I’ve said earlier, it may also sound dull for people who’s used to listen to livelier sounding cans. Previously, I’ve said that the ESW-9 sounds like it has a tube amp permanently attached to its driver, and I think it’s still a fairly good description of the ESW-9.

If you’re going to evaluate the headphones on a segment by segment basis, then the M-50 actually will with better score than the more expensive ESW-9. The lack of treble on the ESW-9 alone is enough to cross out treble lovers from the list, and the fact that the M-50 has one of the most brilliant treble in this comparison sounds like a double blow to the ESW-9. Moving to the midrange, and the M-50 is just as good as the ESW-9, though in slightly different ways. The ESW-9’s mid sounds thicker, but the M-50’s is actually fuller bodied down to the low mid area. The less treble presence on the ESW-9 does make vocal sound less sibilant, and that’s an appeal in itself, but at the same time, I find the ESW-9 to lack the midrange clarity of the M-50. Moving down to the bass, and again the M-50 will score better on a table. The bass has better definition, is fuller sounding, and extends lower on the M-50.

I keep on saying that if we were evaluating on a segment per segment basis, because at the end of the day, the tube-amp sound of the ESW-9 do have a very strong appeal to a lot of people. The ESW-9 is another case when the total sum is greater than the individual parts. Undoubtedly, the mellow tube amp sound of the ESW-9 sound has a very strong appeal, especially for smooth jazz and female vocal lovers, as the lack of upper treble actually makes for a sweet coloration that works well for female vocals.

Closed Cans Shootout: M-50, ESW-9, T50P, HD25-1, Beats Studio, SRH-840, SRH-750DJ, K181DJ, and DJ1Pro.
4.2 (84%) 5 votes

  • Hey Mike!

    I’m looking for new headphones. I had a pair of Denon AH- d1100 and was quite pleased with the sound. I want to use them on the go with my iphone but size doesn’t really matter much. All of my hps have broken by me getting stuck on things so the cable eventually breaks at the bottom, so I’d like the cable to be removable. I listen mainly to different kinds of metal and electronic music. my budget is max $300. After i read the review i noticed there’s a lot cheaper headphones that still get great reviews.  The ath m-50 is looking really interesting.

    Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Tom,
      So you listen to both metal and electronic? I’m listening to the new Philips Fidelio L1 headphone with some Armin Van Buuren and Massive Attack and it’s very nice. It’s very new and not out in most retailers, but the price should be around $300, has it removable cables.

      • Thank you so much for answering my question! Would you say that it has a good value for it’s price? If you compare it to the ATH- M50 that is about half the cost. And also, would it make a big difference in sound if I used for example an FiiO E6 with those headphones and my phone?

        • Oh yes.. I think this is better than the ATH M-50, especially the build quality is so much better.

  • burinkan

    Mike, a few days ago, you recommended the HD25-1 over everything else for classical and pop, for a $200 budget; why do you prefer it over the M-50? How do the two hp’s compare — particularly in terms of sound (especially bass), comfort for many hours of listening (I’m  the guy w/ a size 8 hat size, if you recall), and, lastly, portability (tossing in a backpack).
    Many thanks; it’s really great to be able to get advice from somebody who knows his stuff and who’s tested so many hp’s in depth.

    • In terms of bass, the M-50 has more bass quantity, but a bit loose and lacking punch. The HD25-1 is a lot more punchy and overall has a faster bass, which is important if you listen to Rock and Metal. 
      The comfort factor, I think it’s a give and take between the two. The M-50 is softer but gets warmer faster. The HD25-1 clamps harder but gets less hot than the M-50. 
      If you’re going to toss the headphone in a backpack, the HD25-1 will withstand far greater abuse than the M-50. 

      You’re welcome, burinkan. 🙂 

  • burinkan

    Mike, sorry, forgot to ask just now whether you’d recommend using a hp amp with either the HD25-1 or ATH-M50 when used w/ an iPhone.


    • I’d recommend trying it out yourself.  If you feel it does the job, then you’re ready to go.  If you think improvements are needed to suit your taste, seek out an external amp.

      • Thanks, Chris.

    • You can get enough volume without an amp, but with medium to big headphones, it’ll be good to have an amp to improve the bass impact since the Iphone’s amp often is too weak to produce a good bass impact. Between the two the M-50 needs a good amp more to control the bass, the HD25-1 does better without an amp.

  • This is a great article that I really enjoyed reading and found very informative.
    It would be great to have another shootout like this. A lot of people like closed cans.

    Some closed cans that I think should be compared to each other:
    KRK KNS 8400
    M-Audio Q40
    Beyerdynamic DT250
    Allen & Heath Xone XD-53
    Koss Tony Bennet Signature
    Sennheiser HD449
    Sony MDR-ZX700
    Pioneer HDJ-1000
    Technics RP-DJ 1210

    • Thanks. There’s a LOT of closed cans out there if we want to do a comparison. 😉 

  • Mike, do you think it is worth upgrading from the ESW9 to ESW10JPN? I like the warm sound from the ESW9. Any similar sound signature portable with a better noise isolation? This is one of the biggest weaknesses for me on ESW9, can’t hear the music properly in public transports

    • Victor,
      When I tried the ESW10JPN, although it was more spacious, it did lose the warmth that the ESW9 has. So, I wouldn’t really see it as a straight upgrade.
      If you want noise isolation, you probably should try an IEM. Something like the Ortofon EQ7 ( has a warm and mellow voicing, though not quite like the ESW9.

      • Hi Mike, when I use the SR71A with the ESW9, I found both medium and hi gain works but the hi gain produce louder sound, which gain level will you recommend, will there be a difference in sound quality?

        • In general, and I’ve witnessed this on maybe almost all amps with gain settings, lower gain will give you a cleaner sound, blacker background, better instrument separation. Higher gain would give you a more forward, punchier sound at the expense of the technical aspects.

        • In general, and I’ve witnessed this on maybe almost all amps with gain settings, lower gain will give you a cleaner sound, blacker background, better instrument separation. Higher gain would give you a more forward, punchier sound at the expense of the technical aspects.

  • What would happen if you put ATHPRO700 MK2 in the Shootout? Which one is best?

  • I really have to disagree with your assessment of the SRH840 cans. I own both the m50s and the Shures, and with I vastly prefer the Shures over the ATs. The difference for  me is night and day, the M50s compared to the SRH840s is like comparing an MP3 file to a lossless file; the Shures feels more open, airy, and life-like whereas the m50s feels compressed or condensed due to the emphasized mid range. The bass extends into the abyss of the sub frequencies with SRH840s but with the M50s all the emphasis is on the upper bass and lower mids. The Shures are the closest I’ve ever heard closed back headphones come to the expansiveness and soundstage of open phones. Also the Shures are incomparably more comfortable and there is no mention in the article about the bayonet style detachable cable and the inclusion of an extra pair of ear pads. That being said, the M50s are built like a tank, stay on the head very sturdily, sound amazing for hip-hop, electronica, and dance punk stylistically far more appealing and sound much better with lower quality amplification and source audio (and for these reasons these are my “out and about” and work-out headphones). Keep in mind that the Shures require a ludicrous amount of burn in to open up their full potential. On a side note, do you have a review of the AKG Q701? I want to pick up a pair and I didn’t see anything about them on the site.

  • Trent_D

    Where would the superlux HD660 place in the closed cans shootout?

    • Tough..

      Maybe roughly SRH-840 level technicalities with a more forward sound than the Shure.

      • Trent_D

         So it could compete with the M50?

        • Yes actually.

  • C.I

    Hi Mike,
    Need your expert opinion.  Narrowed my choices to the ff. which one do you think would be the best choice for pop, male vocals, nothing bass-heavy or metal music.  I also listen to a little alternative and light rock. I’d prefer not too have the vocals very forward sounding or harsh in high volume.  Using the an ipod 160GB and a Fiio e17:

    ATH M50
    ATH AD 700
    Senn HD 598

    Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated, Mike!  Thank you so much

  • Hi Mike. 

    I have to buy a new headphone 
    I’m in doubt about Shure SRH -840 ,Shure SHR- 940, Audio Technica M-50 and AKG K550, I dont know what would be the best for me. 

    I listen all types of music:

    Linkin Park
    Sound track  from gladiator, 300 
    Daft Punk
    Cold Play
    Swedish house mafia 

    Best Regards
    Pedro Malheiro

    • dalethorn

      I would say just one thing, Pedro. Watch out for brightness. A lot of people focus on bass response, but the high end brightness is more likely to be where a fatigue factor will be lurking. For example, while the Shure 940 gives extraordinary high freq. detail, to many people it’s just too bright. If I were buying it again, I would do the earcup mod like I did with the 1440. And BTW, those simple and non-destructive mods are also applicable to other headphones as well.

      • Yes out of the four headphones you listed, they’re all great (I’m especially enjoying the K550 at the moment). Problem is most of them don’t have the PRaT for your music, except for the Shure 940, which as dalethorn said, a lot of people find them bright.

    • Pedro,
      You seem to like fast aggressive music. Try the Senn HD25-1?

      • unfortunately I dont find any of this headphones to try 🙁

        For what I see until now, I think the HD25-1 is the best choice overall , I just dont know if the on hear headphones would be a good choice because I will use them almost all day.

        And I’m waiting for the K550 review

        Thank you very much
        Best Regards

        • The K550 is a really nice headphone and I’m loving it, but I don’t think it has a good attack for Rock. Full size with a good attack for Rock, I think either the Shure 940 or Beyer’s DT770 80 ohms.

  • How would a sony xb 700 and a beats solo hd fare against the Audio Technica M-50?  I’ve been looking for a good pair of headphones and those seem to be my three choices so far..thanks for your expert advice!

    • Fred,
      I would say that the M-50 has the most linear response and the best technicalities of all the three headphones you listed, but it happens to have some good bass in there as well. The XB700 is quite smooth but it’s tuned more to be a fun sounding bassy headphone. The Solo, well I don’t think it’s as good as the other two.

  • dalethorn

    I got one of the new white M50’s recently, and it looks like AT must have made a large batch of these to get the street price down to $160 USD or so. I’ve had very few headphones in this price range – v-moda M80, Phiaton MS400, GMP 8.35D – but the M50 seems more like a real hi-fi headphone than most of the others excepting maybe the GMP. I found a small treble brightness or sibilance, a slight midrange coloration, and really good bass if it’s not overwhelming and getting boomy or muddy. I haven’t had bass problems on more than one or two tracks out of a hundred, so overall the new M50 (or new production anyway) seems like a heckuva deal at the price.

    • Aren’t they just the same as the old black one?

      • dalethorn

        I would hope they sound the same, but I never heard one before, so I thought if I post my impressions, someone might say “Yeah, that sounds about right”, or “Whoa, that sounds different from what I remember”.

        • ahh ok. I myself feel they lack mids, have too much sibilance and have too much around 30 to 40 hz vs the midbass making the sound less tight than I would want. They are quite clean sounding though.

          • dalethorn

            Good to hear – they kept the sound pretty much the same. Now if only Sennheiser would make a really large batch of 700’s and sell them for $500 each – I’m lining up for that one.

    • It was down to ~$110 at amazon at one point. The black version that is.

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  • Hi Mike,
    I am thinking of buying m50 but I will be listening rock music a lot. So if I use an amp to improve the bass speed and punchyness of m50 will it be as good as hd25-1 for rock music?
    And what about sound leakage and isolation of hd25-1?

    • Ege,
      I’ve tried using many different amps with the M-50 and I still find the bass not fast enough. I’d go directly for the HD25-1.

      Sound leakage and isolation is excellent with the HD25-1, among the best in portable headphones.

      • Thanks for the fast reply.
        Lastly; you said that hd25-1 is kind of an old headphone and its driver is older than others. Will it be a problem for me.

        • Yes it is an old driver, still it’s a good headphone.

  • Hi I am wondering which od these three to buy : HD 25-1 or AKG 181 DJ or Audio T. M 50 . I really like clear but
    entertaining sound. I like when the basse is clear and bit stronger .But not as strong
    as Shure 750 DJ have. Can someone help me pls ? 🙂

    • Erik,
      I would suggest either the HD25-1 or the AKG K181DJ.

      • Thanks for fast reply . I think I ll go for AKG K181DJ they are cheaper than HD25-1 in Czech Republic .

        • Yes they are cheaper than the HD25-1 here in Indonesia too.

  • Hi Mike, how about another big shoot out but this time for open backs?

  • Good Reviews!
    After reading all of this. I still got 2 choices left.Audio-Technica M-50 and AKG K181DJ. I’m listening to almost genres of music, even Gabba. Which headphone that I could choose. I don’t mind about clamping force on my head and design. Thank you! 😀

  • Někdo

    I want to ask you …. From other reviews I read that the AKG 181 Dj are the best DJ headphones . Which of these is better then AKG 181 DJ ? I mean better in sound , lows , mids ,hights and so on … I don t care about comfort orbuild quality .Can someone help me pls ?

    • Někdo,
      It’s really hard to say which one is the best DJ headphones. I’ve talked to several DJs and they all seem to have their own favorite headphone.

  • Hi Mike,

    I keep trying to comment and it doesn’t seem to come up. Anyway, I’m looking at getting the HD 25-1 because I want a good portable set of headphones, but I have a diverse range of genres I like (Electronic, Ambient, Jazz and occasionally classical). Firstly, do you think the HD 25-1 will suit my needs? Secondly, do I need an amp for it?

    Thanks for all your helpful advice!

    • I think the HD25 would suit electronic but not the latter genres, and rule of thumb is that an amplifier would improve the sonics ever so much. Portable headphones are relatively easy to drive, it’s just up to you and your wallet and your current source to decide about the amplifier. For the latter genres I would recommend Beyerdynamic perhaps, probably the DT1350 might just be what you’re looking for.

      • I read Mike’s review of the DT1350 where he suggests the mid-range and timbre of the headphones make unideal for those genres. If you have any other suggestions they would be much appreciated!

    • James,
      For your music, mostly Ambient Jazz and Classical, the Sony Z1000 would be better than the HD25-1. For electronic, the Sony is also pretty good and probably a tie with the HD25-depending on the sort of electronic you listen to.

      • Thanks Mike,

        How does the Z1000 fare against the HD25-1 for instrumental music?

        Again, your advice is invaluable and much appreciated!

        • James,
          Big difference. Z1000 has a bigger soundstage, clearer separation, much more smoother, better detail and frequency extension.

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  • internetshortage internetshort

    Hi mike, why is the AKG k181 DJ cheaper than sennheiser hd 25-1 when it out performs sennheiser in wider bass response, and soundstage?

    • Different pricing policies from the two companies.

      Also the HD25-1 has a legendary reputation among TV stations and production crews, while the K181DJ is less known.

  • Guys i am confused between ATH M50 and Shure 750DJ, i listed to everything, from normal music (yanni…) to house music …. I have listened once to ATH M50 and it is great ! really … I am confused because some says shure is brighter and warmer and according to this review the M50 still didn’t beat up the 750dj … I am afraid buying the 750 and regretting over not getting the M50, what do you say ?
    I guess listening to both of them is my only option to decide

    • and according to people the 750dj build quality is really bad… is it ?

      • The build is not as good as the M50.

        • Thanks a lot for the advice ! 🙂

    • The M-50 is the better all rounder. I suggest you go with that one. It’s an extremely popular headphone and a lot of people love the M-50. Surely something is right with that headphone.

  • Have you ever compared the M50 to AKG K167 ?

    • Or to V Moda M80 ?, Some says K167 is from another league (it is better than the M50).

  • 22diabolo

    Hi, Mike

    i hope you can help me choose the right headphones for me 🙂

    i mostly i am listen to R&B, Hip-hop and rap… i have the HD-25 and i just in love with them! i can listen to music 3 hours a day and its just perfect!
    i also have the 558 with the hud-mx1 but i don’t know why but after like 30 min listen to music its makes me headache its just not like HD-25 🙁

    i am thinking about the M-50 do you think it will be good for me?


    • 22diabolo

      I meant the sound make me headache not the design 🙂

      • I think the best solution for would be to stick to the hd25-1 then

  • I think this review is slightly biased. The audio technica ath m50s, from what i have read in many different places, has a weak midrange with a heavy bass and bright highs. the fact that the author wrote that the m50s are better than both is an overstatement. The m50s are not bad headphones, just not as good as the author says it is.

    • dalethorn

      I had the M50, Beyer DT1350, Senn HD25/Amperior, still have the ESW9 and ESW11 and a few others. The M50 does have colorations, but in extended listening to a variety of genres, I don’t consider the mids weak. Not ideal certainly, but not especially weak. The bass isn’t heavy like the Philips L1 or v-moda M100 – the M50 has a very unusual bass that gets stronger down deep, which I find much better than the two I just mentioned that have big emphasis in the upper bass. The M50 highs aren’t bright – try the Senn HD800 or IE800, or Shure 940 and 1440 for bright. The M50 treble may be a little peaky, like the Beyer DT770LE, but overall it’s not particularly bright.

    • L.

      Dead you read it or listen to it? 🙂

    • Dean is absolutely right! From my extensive auditioning sessions with both SRH840s and ATH-M50s, I had a very different experience about the two cans from that of the author. To me SRH840s are just overall better headphones than M50s in almost every aspect. For instance, the bass on M50s is too heavy and overshadows the mid-range, which makes the mid-range sound recessed (aka a weak mid-range). And contrast to the author, I found SRH840s to be much more refined than the M50s. The reproduction and separation of the instruments are just better on SRH840s to my ears. The highs on SRH840 also sound more natural, smoother and less sibilant than on the M50s. And in terms of the comfort, SRH840s are also the better choice between the two. SRH840s’ pads are more comfortable on the ears and they won’t make you sweat like crazy like those of M50s do. You can’t wear M50s even for a short period of time without your ears sweating like a pig! The only positive thing I can say about the M50s is that they do have a better design and built than the SRH840s, but that doesn’t mean much if you (like most audiophiles) value sound quality over appearance of the headphones.

      • dalethorn

        It is interesting, isn’t it? Compare headphone x to y and x may sound bass heavy, then compare x to z and x’s bass may sound weak. But the Shure has a good reputation, and the M50 is widely regarded in its price range. If you check the Stereophile headphone forum (Stereophile, not innerfidelity) you will see that of all the many reviews I posted, the M50 with 33674 reads totally dwarfs all of the rest.

        • Well, you can’t deny the internet popularity of the M50s, that’s for sure. And I’ll admit that there used to be a time when they were my top choice too just because of how well they were received and recommended by the people on the internet. And after having listened to cheap headphones my whole life, my first experience with the M50s were mostly positive too. They were ‘almost’ perfect for my needs and my budget, but unfortunately the overpowering bass, sibilant treble, and the sweat-inducing pads really just turned me off so I had to give up on them in the end.

          Having said that, I still feel that the M50s are good headphones for their price, but personally I think there are definitely better choices in this price range.

          • dalethorn

            I wonder which headphones you would consider better (more hi-fi sounding) in the M50 price range, which in the U.S. is about $125?

            • icecoffemix

              IMHO, even CAL which is about $50 cheaper has better tonality than M50.

              • dalethorn

                CAL gets favorable reviews. Apparently the build quality isn’t great, but for the savings you get you could buy a backup.

  • Thach M Truong

    hi Mike! Thank you for the review. I have a question. I’m looking for a new headphones after the HD 668b. I listen to mostly Daft Punk House, Pop, R&B and Instrumental. I’m considering between the M50, M50x and K181DJ. Which one do you think is better for me? Thank you very much in advance