Review: Audio-Technica ATH-S220BT – Affordable Portable!

Audio-Technica's new entry-level wireless headphones, the ATH-S220BT.
Audio-Technica’s new entry-level wireless headphones, the ATH-S220BT.

These new entry-level Bluetooth headphones are designed for all-day comfort and to fully immerse users in videos, games, and music.

Thank you to Audio-Technica for providing the ATH-S220BT for review purposes.

The ATH-S220BT are the latest entry-level Bluetooth headphones from Audio-Technica, with a design focused on providing ultimate comfort to the user. With support for low latency Bluetooth transmission and extremely long battery life, Audio-Technica claims the ATH-S220BT can handle anything, be it music, movie playback, or gaming.

Do the entry-level ATH-S220BT live up to the promises of outstanding sonic performance, comfort, and usability? Let’s find out more in this article.

The ear cups can be twisted and the headphones can be placed flat on a table.
Bottom Line

The ATH-S220BT wireless headphones have a lot of features that are appealing to casual users. They're long-lasting and come with Rapid Charge for quick recharges, but their sound quality is diminished when connected wirelessly due to the quality of its internal DAC/amp.

What We Like
  • Long battery life
  • Rapid Charge fast charging
  • Low latency mode
  • Attractive sound quality on wired connection
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Multipoint connection
What We Don't Like
  • Poor sound quality on wireless connection
  • Headphones cannot be folded for better storage

Company Introduction

Founded in 1962, Audio-Technica is a worldwide group committed to designing, manufacturing, marketing, and distributing problem-solving audio equipment. Audio-Technica started its journey in the audio industry with its well-known state-of-the-art phonograph cartridges.

The company did not stop there. Audio-Technica now produces high-performance microphones, headphones, wireless systems, mixers, and electronic products for home and professional use.

From critical government installations such as the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to significant broadcast music events like the GRAMMY Awards and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, Audio-Technica microphones and wireless are chosen because of their reputable track records!

Technical Specifications

  • Form: Wireless closed-back on-ear headphones
  • Drivers: Single 40mm dynamic driver
  • Frequency Response (Hz): 5 – 32000 Hz
  • Sensitivity (dB): 105 dB/mW
  • Impedance (Ohm): 32 Ohms
  • Removable Cable: Y
  • Bluetooth Audio Codec: SBC
  • Battery Life (hrs): 60 hrs
  • True Wireless: N
  • Bluetooth Version: 5.0
  • Mic: Y
  • Additional Features:
    • Low latency mode suitable for gaming or video playback
    • Rapid Charge technology for fast charging
    • Multipoint connection

Packaging

The ATH-S220BT come in simple, yet elegant, packaging. The model name and brand logo are printed on the front, while on the back, Audio-Technica lists the unique selling points and specifications in multiple languages.

The ATH-S220BT's packaging is simple, with model name and logo printed on the front side.
The ATH-S220BT’s packaging is simple, with model name and logo printed on the front side.
Audio-Technica prints the ATH-S220BT's unique selling points and specifications at the back of the box.
Audio-Technica prints the ATH-S220BT’s unique selling points and specifications at the back of the box.

In the box

Cable

Despite being Bluetooth headphones intended for wireless use, the ATH-S220BT can be connected to your music source with the provided analogue 3.5mm cable.

The analogue cable comes with an inline control. However, the volume control buttons do not function well with iOS devices – my iPhone XR recognizes all three buttons as play/pause.
The angled TRRS jack is for the source (phone or computer) while the straight TRS jack is for headphones.
The angled TRRS jack is for the source (phone or computer) while the straight TRS jack is for headphones.

Design

The ATH-S220BT’s design is simple with the entire body constructed of black plastic to maintain a light weight. The ear pads and headband cushion are made of padded synthetic leather, which creates a modern and classy look.

Control buttons, charging port, and analogue input are located on the left ear cup. The ear cups are adjustable so that the headphones can be placed flat on a table or in a bag. Unfortunately, the ATH-S220BT cannot be folded, which would significantly reduce storage space.

The ATH-S220BT's control buttons are located on the left ear cup.
The ATH-S220BT’s control buttons are located on the left ear cup.
The synthetic leather ear pads give users a premium feel, despite the low price.
The synthetic leather ear pads give users a premium feel, despite the low price.
The headband is well-padded with a similar material to the ear pads.
The headband is well-padded with a similar material to the ear pads.
The ear cups can be twisted and the headphones can be placed flat on a table.
The ear cups can be twisted and the headphones can be placed flat on a table.

Comfort

The ATH-S220BT are my first pair of on-ear headphones. Initially, I was quite concerned with comfort and isolation because the ear pads press on my ears constantly. After trying the ATH-S220BT, I am relieved – despite the on-ear design, I do not experience any discomfort.

A further benefit of the ATH-S220BT’s on-ear design (rather than a larger over-ear design) is that they are less likely to trap heat and become too hot. This further improves their portability and comfort.

Internals

The ATH-S220BT are powered by 40mm dynamic drivers. Armed with Bluetooth version 5.0 technology, the ATH-S220BT support multipoint connection. This feature is very welcome for someone like me who has multiple devices on my working desk. I can connect the ATH-S220BT to my laptop for short conference calls and to my phone for music playback simultaneously.

According to Audio-Technica, the ATH-S220BT supports a low latency mode, despite only using the basic SBC Bluetooth codec, which tends to have high latency compared to more advanced codecs (such at aptX or LDAC).

By clicking the power button three times, the low latency mode is activated. I observe a significant difference between low latency mode and normal mode, especially in video playback. The low latency mode, while not as good as a wired connection in terms of synchronization, is indeed better than the normal mode.

60 hours of battery life is amazing too! With a single charge, I can use the ATH-S220BT for close to 5 days for many conference calls and much music listening in the office or while commuting.

The long battery life, together with the Rapid Charge fast charging technology means I only need to charge them once a week. Even if I forget to charge the ATH-S220BT, I can leverage the Rapid Charge function to buy me 3.5 hours of battery life with only 10 minutes of charging.

Even if the internal battery is dead, just connect them with the included cable!
You can still use the ATH-S220BT with the provided cable if you forget to charge them.
You can still use the ATH-S220BT with the provided cable if you forget to charge them.

ATH-S220BT Sound

The ATH-S220BT’s sound quality varies significantly when I switch the audio connection between wireless and wired. I quickly realized the internal DAC and amplifier in the ATH-S220BT is incapable of achieving the full potential of the headphones.

With a wireless connection, the sound signature is less engaging, more laidback, and darker. Connecting them to my iPhone via an affordable AVANI ALC5686 HD Type-C to 3.5mm DAC dongle changed the sound signature – the ATH-S220BT became more energetic and forward.

The 40mm dynamic drivers in ATH-S220BT have great potential, but they are constrained by the poor internal DAC and amplifier performance.

Pairing the ATH-S220BT with Avani USB Type-C dongle DAC helps to improve the sound quality.
Pairing the ATH-S220BT with Avani USB Type-C dongle DAC helps to improve the sound quality.

Bass

The changes in sonic performance between the wired and wireless connections can be clearly heard in the bass. With the wireless connection, the bass is less impactful. The attacks and decays are looser, creating a less accurate and muddy performance. The sub-bass extension is only average and the rumble created by the sub-bass is insignificant.

Moving to a wired connection, the sub-bass rumble is more dynamic, with great extension, making the soundstage more holographic. Besides the better extension, the attacks and decays are tighter with a richer body, clearing up the overall presentation. This is obvious when listening to Jazz or Rock tracks with more bass instruments. Drums and bass guitars are far more realistic sounding using a wired connection.

The 40mm dynamic drivers in the ATH-S220BT scale up well with powerful source such as my iFi Zen Can desktop amplifier.
The 40mm dynamic drivers in the ATH-S220BT scale up well with powerful source such as my iFi Zen Can desktop amplifier.

Midrange

Midrange is often affected by the bass performance. Through the wireless connection, the ATH-S220BT midrange sounds hollow to me – the vocals have no body or emotion. The overall presentation is dark and dry. To be honest, I was initially very disappointed by the midrange performance.

Using the wired connection, the presentation changed drastically. The more accurate bass performance gave the midrange a wider headroom to stretch its muscles. The midrange becomes more open and three-dimensional, and no longer hindered by loose muddy bass. With a more engaging sound signature, the midrange is pushed forward, closer to the audience, and becomes sweeter and more enjoyable.

The overall presentation is sweeter and more enjoyable with a wired connection.
The overall presentation is sweeter and more enjoyable with a wired connection.

Treble

Similar to the bass and midrange, the ATH-S220BT treble improves with a wired connection. The wireless connection has a darker and congested signature, with recessed treble and low fidelity.

I cannot “feel” the airiness and spaciousness in the overall presentation with the wireless connection.

Moving to the wired connection, the treble is now more obvious and significant, with airiness and spaciousness restored. The treble has a good extension, is comfortable to listen to, and there is no irritating distortion at the end of the treble decays.

It's disappointing to have the performance constrained by the poorly implemented internal DAC and amplifier on ATH-S220BT.
It’s disappointing to have the performance constrained by the poorly implemented internal DAC and amplifier on ATH-S220BT.

Where to Buy

Conclusion

The ATH-S220BT have a lot of powerful features such as long battery life, Rapid Charge, and a proprietary low latency implementation. These features are extremely attractive for casual users who are looking for a pair of entry-level wireless headphones for portable usage.

Unfortunately, the internal DAC and amplifier seriously diminish the sound quality from a wireless connection.

When I realized the real potential of the headphones sonically using the wired connection, I could not return to using wireless. These could be a pair of nearly perfect entry-level portable headphones if the wireless connection sounded as good as wired.

The ATH-S220BT poor wireless sound quality is definitely a deal-breaker for those who are considering this pair of headphones.
The ATH-S220BT poor wireless sound quality is definitely a deal-breaker for those who are considering this pair of headphones.

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