Headphone Showdown: Monoprice 8323 vs Audio-Technica M50X

Headphone Showdown: Monoprice 8323 vs Audio-Technica M50X

It's Wednesday, and it's time for the headphone showdown!

Today, it's a 20 dollar budget pair of DJ headphones taking on one of the most iconic studio monitors of the last twenty years.

Because why not?

OVERVIEW

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Monoprice 8323 DJ Headphones

Available for the last few years, the 8323's from Monoprice cost around 20 dollars online. They come with two removable cables, they fold down for easy storage, and they're built entirely out of basic plastic parts. The design purposefully evokes studio headphones from the last few decades, and if you do some digging, you'll find other cheap headphones that have used some of the same components.

Read my original review!

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Audio-Technica ATH-M50X

Perhaps the most recommended headphones on the internet, the M50X's retail for about $130-$150 dollars. They come with three removable cables, a carrying bag, a classic folding studio design, and Audio-Technica's trademark love-it-or-hate-it detailed house sound.

Read my original review!

 Both headphones can collapse down into the headband.

Both headphones can collapse down into the headband.

SOUND QUALITY

I think the M50X's sound much better.

However...

If you're the sort of person that prefers the laid back, warm sound of the average consumer headphone...you might actually like the sound of the Monoprice headphones more!

The M50X's feature Audio-Technica's characteristic house sound, with incredibly detailed upper mids that some people might find too harsh. There's a nice warmth and presence to the bass, and the highs are relatively airy as well.

The Monoprice 8323's excel the most in their bass response, with surprisingly good bass extension and thump for the price. The mids and highs sound bland and low in the mix...but that's by design. "DJ" headphones are meant for loud club environments, and higher frequency sounds can really fatigue/damage your ears when you crank up the volume. So the emphasis on bass is appropriate.

The M50X is much better for catching all the details in your audio. It has a speedier response and a sound that's much more like the original source material.

But if you crank them up a bit, they're harder to listen to over long periods.

The 20 dollar headphones do not sound "better" than the 150 dollar ones....but they sound good enough that they still have some merit depending on your use case and personal tastes. If you need all the bass, the Monoprice headphones are a better choice...but most folks will prefer the clarity of the M50Xs.

WINNER: M50X

 Here are the 8323's folded down in the same manner as the M50X's above. They look similar, don't they?

Here are the 8323's folded down in the same manner as the M50X's above. They look similar, don't they?

SOUNDSTAGE/IMAGING

Both of these headphones have a withdrawn, intimate soundstage. You won't feel like you're totally surrounded by your audio.

Imaging (the accuracy of channel separation) is better on the M50Xs, thanks to their better mids and highs. My 8323's have a very slight channel imbalance in certain midrange frequencies that slightly pushes some of these sounds towards the right channel. My M50X's image perfectly.

WINNER: M50X

 These little headband cushions are my favorite thing about the 8323's. They're wonderful!

These little headband cushions are my favorite thing about the 8323's. They're wonderful!

COMFORT/ISOLATION

On the whole, the M50X's are more comfy...but the 8323's have better headband padding.

No, I'm not joking.

Audio-Technica has barely padded the headband of the M50X's. It's a flat metal band covered in some leatherette material and a thin strip of foam padding. I wish the padding was twice as thick, and then I'd have nothing to complain about in the comfort department.

The 8323's have this great little strip of three pads, that use some soft memory foam or maybe pockets of air or some magic gel or something, I don't know. They're incredibly soft and fun to push down on even with my fingers, and the pads take forever to rebound...which means they do a very good job of conforming to the top of my head.

But the M50X wins all of its points back in the ear pads. Its ear pads are much softer, and have a larger opening for the ears with angled drivers. Positioned correctly on my head, I can wear the M50X's just fine for hours without discomfort. The longest I've been able to wear the 8323's without a break is about an hour. The ear pads are shallow, and feel a bit cheap.

Both of these headphones have a clamping force that's stronger than most consumer headphones, but that's fine considering what they're designed for. Neither one disappears on the head.

Both headphones isolate decently fine for closed-back headphones...but the M50X's have a slight advantage thanks to their denser materials.

Some folks have remedied the ear pad problems of the 8323's by buying third party ear pads...but I don't see the point of doing that when the headphones are only 20 bucks. I know that a lot of people hate the pads on the M50X also, but I find them to be totally acceptable, so your mileage may vary!

WINNER: M50X

 The 8323's stick out a little more from the sides of my head...but other than that, they're surprisingly comparable in design to the M50X's.

The 8323's stick out a little more from the sides of my head...but other than that, they're surprisingly comparable in design to the M50X's.

DESIGN

Both headphones feature a bunch of folding features, and a removable cable.

Honestly, on pure design, these are so similar. They're both black, utilitarian-looking headphones. They both feature minimal branding. They both have an easily removable cable. They both have a wide range of adjustment sizes.

You can rotate the ear cups fully in any direction on both models.

The M50X has a locking mechanism for its cable, which is nice...but the 3.5mm non-proprietary jack on the Monoprice headphones means finding replacement cables is easier.

WINNER: Tie!

 This cylinder on one of the Monoprice cables contains the *only* metal used anywhere in the build of the 8323's.

This cylinder on one of the Monoprice cables contains the *only* metal used anywhere in the build of the 8323's.

BUILD

The M50X's are built much better than the Monoprice 8323's...but honestly given the price difference, that's not too surprising.

The 8323's are built entirely of ho-hum plastic. Everything feels a touch thin and cheap...except for the center piece of the headband which has a solid rubber core. I feel like one of the joints might crack after a year or so of regular use. The backs of the ear cups sound and feel really hollow and basic.

Audio-Technica usually builds their headphones well, and the M50X is a good representation of this. While most of the materials are plastic...it's a much higher grade of plastic that doesn't feel as thin and cheap. And the headband is metal-reinforced. Also, Audio-Technica is one of the only headphone companies that actually uses speaker-baffling material inside their headphone ear cups, so the cups don't have a hollow feel at all.

Both headphones are built very well for their prices, I guess...but the M50X is clearly meant to last a lot longer.

WINNER: M50X

 Here's the bag that comes with the M50X's. It's pretty nice and the leatherette matches the material used on the headphones.

Here's the bag that comes with the M50X's. It's pretty nice and the leatherette matches the material used on the headphones.

FEATURES/EXTRAS

The Monoprice 8323's include two 1.2m cables in the box. One is comically thin and terrible, and the other one is okay and has an in-line remote/mic for phone use. The mic sounds okay...but it's positioned too low on the cable, so I have to hold it up near my mouth to get a better sound for the person on the other end of the line.

Audio-Technica includes three cables with the M50X, and that's the largest difference between this and the older non-X model. You get a 1.2m straight cable, a 1.2m coiled cable that extends to 3m, and a 3m straight cable. This is still great, even a few years after the launch of the headphones, and I wish all wired headphones had this level of cable choice included standard in the box.

You also get a decent leatherette bag with the M50X's.

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FINAL WINNER: M50X

"Alex, what was the point of comparing 20 dollar headphones to classic headphones that cost over five times as much?"

The impressive thing here is not that the M50X wins...it's that the Monoprice headphones come impressively close to matching their performance in a few key areas. I like the headband pad better on the Monoprice headphones. I like the folding features and removable cable. And the more relaxed sound might be preferable in long listening sessions.

Yes, the Monoprice headphones are cheap, but they're not at all awful. They're not going to replace anyone's M50X's any time soon...but it's amazing how many of the same features Monoprice packed in for almost no money.

If you want to dip your toes into the weird world of headphones...the 8323's are not a bad starting point, especially for 20 dollars. They provide the same level of impressive relative value dollar-for-dollar that the M50X's do.

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