Hands on: Audio-Technica ATH-SR50BT review

With a decent battery, these headphones definitely don't charge too much

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Our Early Verdict

The Audio-Technica ATH-SR50BTs are blessed with a massive battery and a premium look and feel. If you are after high-res audio listening, then there's a cable provided.

For

  • Huge battery life
  • Very comfortable
  • 3.5mm jack option

Against

  • Touch controls a little fiddly
  • USB charging but not USB-C

There's a lot to be said about battery life and Bluetooth headphones. When they were first released, there was the fear that you would have to charge them as often as you would your phone.

While this fear is still there a little when it comes to true wireless earphones, the Bluetooth headphone market has matured and the worrisome battery issue has all-but disappeared. Or at least got to a point that when you do have to recharge the battery it is one of surprise, rather than annoyance. 

At IFA 2018, we saw two Bluetooth headphones that broke battery barriers even more - and they were both by Audio-Technica. The ATH-SR50BTs are the most premium cans of the two and boast an eye-opening 28 hours' battery life. 

If you want jaw dropping, then look no further than the ATH-SR30BTs. These headphones push the battery dial all the way up to 70 hours. These are impressive specs, but how do the rest of the the headphones hold up?  

Design and features

Audio-Technica has always been a master of moderation in its design. You are never going to wear one of its headphones in the hope of turning heads - their designs are far too subtle for that. 

For those who want louche look elsewhere, what you have here is a really nice, smart-looking pair of cans that come equipped with a thick, cushioned memory phone headband, two ear-enveloping cups (that hold some decent touch controls) and buttons and ports hidden stealthily under these. And further within these earcups are good-sized 45mm drivers. 

These ports include a USB (not C) for charging and a 3.5mm jack. This is great to see, considering they are Bluetooth headphones - not all have the jack connector. It's here, though, and a 1.2m cable is supplied. 

The reason we are fawning over analog cables in a Bluetooth headphone hands on as it means that if battery power is getting low then there is another way to listen to your music. There is also the bonus of being to listen to high-resolution audio thanks to the 3.5mm cable - something Bluetooth just doesn't quite manage.  

The headphones we tried were the gray variant, but they also come in black. You get a carry case in the box and the wireless part of the headphones supports aptX, AAC, and SBC codecs.

There are a number of features that caught our eyes (and ears) with the Audio-Technica ATH-SR50BTs. The first is the touch control functionality that can be found on the left earcup and the two modes it offers when it comes to hear-through. 

Hear-through is done through a click of a button found on the left earcup and will shut music off and allow you to hear just what is going on in the world around you. 

This isn't so you can keep up with the latest fake news rants - although you can use it for that - but if you are on public transport and an announcement is taking place. 

Press this button and you can hear the world and its whines. There's also another version of this technology on board and that allows you to hear what is happening outside the headphones but also listen to you music. 

These can be altered through Audio-Technica's own app and you can also use the touch sensor to access this too. 

When it comes to travelling, the headphones fold up nice and neatly (fold flat) into a carry bag. 

Performance

The Audio-Technica ATH-SR50BT are a very comfortable pair of headphones. The memory foam earpads sit well over the ears and there isn't too much bulk from the headband, despite it being on the large side. 

We didn't try the ATH-SR50BTs with a cable so can't vouch for their high-res audio smarts but listening to Jeff Buckley's Grace album through Bluetooth 5.0 was a joy. 

Lilac Wine has always been one of our favorite Buckley songs and the cover of the '50s classic swooned as we wanted it to - there was no muddle in the midtones and the cans added meat to the ghostly bones of the heartfelt song. 

The Last Goodbye, his most radio-friendly hit, sounded as immediate as it should, while Mojo Pin's blues-like licks lingered well. 

The touch controls were a little fiddly at the beginning but we were shown the tricks of how to use them by those on the stand - as long as these taps and motions are in the instruction book with the headphones, then all should be well there. 

Both versions of the hear-through functionality worked well, but we didn't have the time to try out tinkering with them in the accompanying Connect app.  

Early Verdict

The Audio-Technica ATH-SR50BTs have some fantastic specs, but top of this has to be the battery life. This should give you over a 28 hours' worth of continuous music listening, which is impressive - unless you go for the ATH-SR30BTs and you can crank that up to 70!

These headphones have a premium look and the audio is driven well by the 45mm drivers. Add to this touch controls (that take a little getting used to) and the ability to listen to high-res audio through a cable and what we have is a very competent set of headphones. 

The Audio-Technica ATH-SR50BTs will be out in the coming months, costing £179 / $199 (AUS pricing TBC).

  • IFA 2018 is Europe's biggest tech show. The TechRadar team is in Berlin to bring you all the breaking news and hands-on first impressions of new phones, watches and other tech as they're announced.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.