Headset Showndown: HD25 / ATH-M50X / MDR-7506

Three well known and loved headsets: Sennheiser HD25, Audio-Technica ATH-M50X and Sony MDR-7506. We have tested and compared them for three scenarios: DJing, vocal tracking and casual listening.

There can be only one winner. Who will it be?

First impressions:

Audio-Technica ATH-M50X:

+ Most prominent bass of the three
+ Bundled with three different length cables
Heaviest of the three
Very isolated, quickly hot behind the cans

I was really looking forward to try this set. I’ve barely read a single bad word about it online, did not know it from before and it looks like something that really will deliver, both on build quality and sound.

And right out of the box there’s one really pleasant discovery: A selection of three cables to choose from!
One short for smartphone usage, one long straight and – my favourite – a coiled cable. I love it!

Sony MDR-7506:

+ The flattest frequency response of the three, with well defined highs
+ Solid build, light weight
It’s sitting a bit tight over larger heads
It comes across as bit anonymous, nothing that really stands out

There’s a reason why Sony is such an established brand in the professional workplaces: Their quality VS price ratio is always on point. Incredibly predictable. Their products always deliver within the budget segment you’re operating. There’s no major weak points compared with the competition in that segment.

They may not always be the single best deal for that budget, but you’re also guaranteed to never be truly disappointed. One of the safest brands to lean on if you can’t be bothered with doing excessive research each time.

Sennheiser HD 25:

+ The most coloured sound of the three – but in a good way!
+ Very light and comfortable to wear
– Angled jack spells trouble
– Too short cable!

Here I have one major rant that I need to get off my chest right away: This set is fitted with a ridiculously short cable. It’s absurd short and will cause a problem for absolutely all other scenarios than if you’re wearing the sound source on your body.

It’s a far too short cable for studio and DJing – this one needs an extension cable. I’d call it a requirement. And that’s annoying.

And what makes it even worse is that the end is fitted with an angled jack. This is a set that you accidentally WILL pull out of the connector over and over (I’ve already done that multiple times just while testing it in my home studio!) and an angled jack runs a much higher risk of breaking the female jack connection if inadvertently ripped out in a rough pull, due to the force being bent towards one side. It really is a horrible, horrible design idea.

It is clearly designed for smartphone use – and that’s a shame cause the qualities of the set warrants much wider user scenarios. Also, today all smartphone headsets are wireless anyway so there’s no excuse:

Fit this model with a proper cable, Sennheiser! Or even better, learn from Audio-Technica!


So – all set! Let’s begin with the…

Sound quality:

Summary: The Audio-Technica ATH-M50X offers the warmest sound with the most prominent bass. Sony MDR-7506 has the flattest, most neutral sound with a very well defined upper mids and highs. And Sennheiser HD25 has the most fun sound.

Yes, fun! It’s remarkably tight and punchy, nowhere near anything “flat” or “natural” at all but it benefits almost anything upbeat/energetic you-re throwing at it. It’s like the audio contrast is dialled up. And especially in a DJ setting that’s a great benefit, cause what you hear in there must fight with the massive sound on the PA in the club.

But what to prefer?
It’s important to notice that this is not a test on reference cans in a production settings. Therefore sound is here all about personal preferences. And my personal favourite here is hard to choose. One moment it’s the Sennheiser, then it’s the Audio-Technica.

The only thing I’m sure of is that I’d unfortunately not choose the Sony. A bit too sharp highs and anonymous in the lower regions – it’s too neutral. I’ll write more about this aspect, under “casual listening” later.

So this is a tie between Sennheiser and Audio-Technica.


Comfort:

Comfort is so important for longer sessions. It’s tiresome with uncomfortable headsets, and in worst case it becomes distracting from your work.

And this is where things gets a bit interesting: I expected the big, soft Audio-Technica to win in this category easily. And indeed, instantly it really does sit well on the head and feels most comfortable. By a long shot, even.

But it didn’t take long before I noticed the downside of these big, solid cans. They are so isolated and tight that there’s simply no circulation of air inside, and the consequence becomes obvious: If you’re working with these, you’ll get really hot and sweathy behind those big clocks. This won’t be a problem when being inactive in a fairly tempered environment. But add heat to this mix and it quickly will become a sticky situation.

The Sony set is much better in this respect. It’s lighter, smaller, breaths a bit more. But my experience – and now I must inform you that my head is a XL size – is that during recording sessions I pretty soon found this set to be a bit too tight and uncomfortable to wear. But this will obviously depend on the wearer. Someone with a smaller head might quite likely find this one to be most comfortable of the three.

The Sennheiser surprised me. It looks so small and flimsy so I expected it to be the least comfortable of the three. But it’s actually the opposite – it’s really nice to wear over longer periods. It doesn’t easily get hot, and while it’s on ear (as opposed to over ear) it never caused any real fatigue on me. That is honestly one of the bigger surprises here.

The split headband on the Sennheiser also provides an additional stability and fit that contributes to the comfort.

So for most situations the Sennheiser would probably end up being my favourite in this category. However, if you just want to distance yourself from the world and drift into the music, the excellent isolation of the Audio-Technica is hard to argue against. It does depend on the setting.


Let’s now dive into the three scenarios we want to pitch these headsets against:

Studio/tracking work:

The single most important thing when it comes to tracking, is the headset’s ability to keep the sound inside and not bleed onto the recording. And not surprisingly – as it’s the smallest headset – the Sennheiser leaked most sound over to the recording.

However the differences between the three are really not that significant, and all three are totally fine to use in a studio session. The differences becomes more of a deal if they are played REAL loud – and I would strongly argue against doing that anyway.

But if we now rule out the Sennheiser it’s really hard to declare a winner between the two remaining sets, Sony and Audio-Technica. In regards to bleeding they both are very similar.

But if I had to choose one for my recording booth I’d choose Sony. It’s silent, and not as hot.


DJ Work:

A headset for DJ usage is one of the – if not themost challenging task for any headset.
There’s so much that needs to be right.

It has to be built like a tank cause those babies are thrown all over the place, the cable is stumbled on and ripped off the head, it needs to isolate the noise from the club and provide a clear listening signal. It will be used with one can, both cans, pulled on and off, around the neck, back on the head. It’s a moving piece.

And in this context, my conclusion is that none of the three are what I would rate as perfect for this task. They are adequate, but not without flaws.

The Audio-Technica has a really good sound isolation, and the detachable and replaceable cable is one massive, shining triumph for this set. Two major reasons to go for this one.

But in my experience it was a bit too large and bulky. It’s clumsy to take on and off, not easy to flip one can off to beat match with one ear on the cue, and feels like a clamp around your neck when not in use.

The Sennheiser isolate much less due to the small size. But it’s easier to work with. It doesn’t choke you when sitting around the neck, has a punchy sound and is light enough to be tossed around with ease – including swapping between one and two cans.
The main issue with this set is the mentioned cable and shape of the jack. Get that extension cable and pray it won’t disconnect and land somewhere on the floor.

The Sony headset is actually a really good contender here, despite it being profiled more as studio equipment than for a DJ. It has a proper coiled cable, is lightweight and fairly easy to work with. The form factor actually gave me slight associations to the mega-legend Technics RPDJ1210 – the headset that every single DJ wore back around the turn of the century. And yes – I still have mine in full working condition. They are TANKS.

But the Sony chokes you when worn around the neck – even most of all three. And although being a solid build I am not entirely convinced they will be able to stand the heat of accompanying a touring DJ.

So who would I choose for this job?
Of these three my choice would land on the Sennheiser HD25 – with a cable extension. The main reason is because it’s so practical to work with. No heavy clamp around your neck when not in use, quick to cue with one ear, it’s an easy tool to work with, it doesn’t get in your way. But to be honest, if I were to seek specifically for a DJ set, I have a strong feeling there’s better alternatives out there. So my research would continue.

For casual listening:

As if it’s not been subjective enough up until now, this category is where personal preferences really kicks in.

Sennheiser has the comfort as well as the punchy sound – perfect for the kind of music I usually listen to. There’s an audio presence in this set that I really love. However this will also be the disadvantage for others. It’s also surprisingly comfortable to wear.

The Audio-Technica does have a richer, fuller sound. It’s bigger than the other two, and that may prove to be a disadvantage in some settings. But to just kick back and chill deep in the music, this set is probably your #1 choice due to the very warm and full sound you only get from a headset with these dimentions.

All in my personal opinion of course, but the Sony set unfortunately falls behind in this context. It lacks that “consumer headset colouring” (and that’s by design!), it sounds too flat and uninspired in the context of casual listening.
And let me now elaborate on this: I know by experience that I would describe most headsets who by design offer a “reference” flat response as boring. Because they are. Including those at a much higher price range. A “flat” sound is overrated, and this article is not about studio monitoring.
I prefer more juicy audio in a non-studio session setting. While working on mixing or mastering tasks a neutral sound is crucial. But while recording, DJing or just enjoying music? Give me that big fat juice, baby!

The three are quite different from each other, and who you would prefer is impossible for me to say. But for me, personally I struggle with making up my mind. It’s either the Audio-Technica or the Sennheiser for casual listening.

If I had to choose one, if my life depended on it: The Sennheiser HD 25. But I’ll call this one a tie.


SUMMARY:

So there you have it!
Three sets at roughly the same price, and they all have each their own characteristics. And honestly, all three are good at being what they are. But in reality it is a bit like comparing apples and oranges here, and their differences are significant and personal priority and even habits could tip the scale differently for others.

But personally I became really impressed with the set that I initially thought would be the underdog here. It definitely is a good one. So if I am to declare an overall winner, it would have to be:

The Sennheiser HD25

… But no matter what your preferences are, I at least hope you now have a better foundation to make your own informed decision! That is my primary goal of this post.

Keep listening!