Master & Dynamic MW65 Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Over-Ear Headphones

IMG_0044.JPG

If you are an erstwhile reader of Audiophilia, you’ll know we have given highly positive reviews of several headphones from New York based Master & Dynamic. Although not yet adopted by some of the ‘cool kids’ as they have Beats, Master & Dynamic has shunned the bass booming, teenage friendly designs favoured by some and produced gorgeous headphones and earbuds with very refined sound and exquisite fit and finish. And like Beats, the audio educated of the cool kids can buy them at the Apple Store. CEO and Founder Jonathan Levine has also mastered a brilliant online strategy. 

Audiophilia began by reviewing the M40 Headphones and following the improvement of Bluetooth and the wireless explosion, we reviewed the equally beautiful M60 Wireless Headphones. Those, and the MW65 ANC Wireless Headphones ($499) under review, project a feeling of refinement both outside the ear and the sound within.  

M&D’s marketing is as follows, and in our estimation spot on: 

Since launching in 2014, New York City-based premium audio company Master & Dynamic has built beautifully crafted, technically sophisticated sound tools to help focus, inspire and transport minds around the globe.

Levine goes on to say:

We never rush our products. We waited until we could launch an ANC product that was acoustically stunning. Through vigorous research we were able to develop an amazing ANC technology that did not compromise our signature acoustics, which is a commonly known issue with ANC. As a result of patience and discipline we are also delivering our lightest weight headphones ever. This is quite an accomplishment considering we still use all metal and premium leathers.

Connectivity

Much of the critical comment during the early days of Bluetooth concerned the sound quality, interference, dropouts, etc. Early reviews would demand a link to a Bluetooth explanation; now, it’s in our daily lexicon. With the latest Bluetooth version, the deleterious effects are mostly gone. We’ve come along way since Bluetooth’s introduction in 1998. 

The M65 is M&D’s most advanced headphone and features equally advanced active noise cancellation (ANC). ANC is the Holy Grail of mobile technologies for listeners travelling in loud environments. Getting it right was essential to the M65’s success. Every top quality lifestyle headset released these days must offer ANC, great sound, wireless connectivity, comfort and beautiful aesthetics. Does the M65 tick all the boxes? 

 Specifications

• 40mm Custom Beryllium Drivers

• Feed-Forward and Feed-Back Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation Technology

• Bluetooth 4.2 Connectivity supporting AptX, SBC

• 20 Meter/65+Foot Bluetooth Range

• Durable and Lightweight Anodized Aluminum

• Up to 24 Hours Battery Life, Charges to 50% in 15 Minutes

• Charged via USB-C Cable

• 3.5mm Passive Audio Port

• W/L/D: 165mm x 190mm x 66mm

• The MW65 has the Google Assistant built in

• Protective Canvas Carrying Case • USB-C to C Charging Cable

• USB-A to C Adaptor

• Flight Adaptor

• 1.25m Standard 3.5mm Audio Cable

My Use 

I flew down to Palm Springs in February and looked on with envy at passengers with comfy, over ear ANC headphones. We had none in for review and my old Bose set broke some time ago. So, I organized a couple of reviews of top models in time for Audiophilia’s trip to High End Munich 2019 (we’re live blogging May 9-12). I could write the reviews and then test them in the noisiest environment I know, Air Canada’s Q400 and its two howling Pratt & Whitney turboprops. The plane is used for the 10 minute flight from Victoria to Vancouver, where the big jets fly. As we are flying on the date this review is published, I had to test the M65s in alternate noisy environments. I’ll post an M65/Q400 follow up in Comments, for those interested.

I contacted three manufacturers, two of which I knew had highly regarded models debuting this year, and one, Sony, who never got back to me. I didn’t bother with Bose. They’ve been done to death and the result is always the same, great ANC, but sound is usually below those of similarly priced models. Ditto for the current Bose QC35s ($349). The Sennheiser PXC 550s ($349.95) arrived the day after my request (thanks Katie Kailus) and the review will appear in June.

As for M&D, it was serendipitous that I contacted Levine with the email, ‘do you have an ANC model in the works?’. A very quick ‘yes’ was the response. ‘We’ll get them right to you.’ They arrived a few days later (thanks Michelle Ritorto). The M65s make their debut May 7. Today. You are reading this as I’m in the air lying on a Lufthansa flatbed with the M&D M65s in audio heaven.

The unboxing demonstrated once again M&D’s superior design aesthetic and manufacturing prowess. The headphones are gorgeous. You’ll be paying a $149 premium over the Sony, Sennheiser and Bose; the materials alone warrant the increase. Metal v plastic, lambskin v vinyl, etc. Yes, but the ANC and sound?

They fit very comfortably over my big ears and never got uncomfortable when worn for extended listens (they are made from fine leathers, with memory foam ear pads wrapped in lamb skin and weigh only 245 grams). Bluetooth pairing was a breeze with my iPhone XS Max and 12.9” iPad Pro. Immediate and every time. And though airlines are slowly joining the rest of the world with connectivity, M&D provides a cable and all adaptors you’ll need for the vagaries of air travel. 

M&D writes: ‘Utilizing best-in-class feed-forward and feed-back hybrid active noise-cancelling technology, the two beamforming noise-reduction mic arrays analyze and cancel the combination of unwanted outside environmental noise and user-heard ambient noise to provide the purest undistorted sound quality.’

The ANC features a high and low setting for environment fine tuning. Loving the luxurious silence, I used high, always. Ease of use was another benefit. You’ll be up and running in no time.

The launch colours are Brown/Silver (see above) or Black/Gunmetal. Mine were the latter (see below).

A full charge lasts 24 hours. I don’t expect the need to charge again for both the 9 hour flights, and some down time in Munich and Tuscany.

IMG_0046.JPG

Sound 

First, what you’ve all been waiting for. How good is the active noise cancellation?

Very, very good. A quick comparison with the Sennheiser PXC 550 pair demonstrated a similar outstanding quality of ANC. On the high setting, both headphones were exceptional. When listening in my home, I could hear muffled talking, but TV sound and music, gone! Outside, the detritus of the day is a thing of the past. The $349 Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphone I tried to get for the comparisons has received raves for its ANC and compared favourably to both Bose QC35 and Sennheiser PXC 550. As the M65 matches the Sennheiser easily, I recommend the M65s as one of the industry leaders in ANC. As a last minute edit to this review, I had a chance to listen to the Sony set and they do indeed offer superb ANC which confirmed my supposition that Sony, Sennheiser and Master & Dynamic all match the vaunted Bose technology.

So, they all get the ANC technology right. But, the sound? There are differences you should know and referenced by Levine about ANC and musical compromise. 

Back to the tech for a mo. Phone calls were heard in the moment, not the foggy, distant sound heard on other similarly priced sets. M&D reports ‘the MW65 is also optimized for Google Assistant, making it the perfect companion for getting things done during your travels or commute. Continue your conversations while on the go and easily access the best of Google, from Google Play Music to Google Maps. You can quickly enjoy entertainment, stay connected to friends, get information, and manage your day—all without glancing at your phone.’

I took a few calls on the headphones and asked for a few tasks by Google Assistant. It all works seamlessly and is well integrated. Many people will use these features, but the sound of the headphones is what propels M&D to the front of the class. And what interests me most. 

I’m not usually a ‘headphone guy’, so any model used at length or for a certain task must excel in ANC and sound. The M65s’ ANC lays down an invisible blanket from which emanate the most detailed and refined sounds. From prior experience, I know Levine and his team will get the sound correct. But with this very low noise floor, you’ll hear things hitherto unheard from your recordings. The scrutiny is there, sure, but it’s all delivered with each octave in balance—no tizzy highs or, God forbid, ‘the cool kids’ bass! As such, each tessitura is delivered with immediacy and refinement. This is where M&D headphones part musical ways with others of the lifestyle brand and converge with much more expensive audiophile favourites like Audeze and Focal. With the M65s, you get the best of both worlds. And though they can be driven easily by your portable device, they are refined enough to appreciate the musical efforts of a dedicated headphone amplifier.

I clicked on Qobuz and listened to the new Celebrating John Williams recording on DG with Dudamel and his LA Phil. Treat yourselves to this sonic spectacular with subterranean bass, sparkling highs and rich strings with doubling horns, typical of Williams’ orchestrations filling out the beautiful midrange. It really was an experience of the best musical kind and tested the M65s in all octaves and for timbral accuracy. Scrutiny? How’s this? My favourite recording of ‘Olympic Fanfare and Theme’ is with the composer conducting the Boston Pops (the Boston Symphony in white dinner jackets) on Philips. What I love most about the performance is the absolute abandon of the horn section, their recorded sound and the way they use portamento (in the horn’s case, a lip slide) in the thrilling opening (3rd beat of bar 4, if you’re playing along at home). The BSO horns better the wonderful LA Phil section with smoother execution. It’s all at a musically microscopic level, but demonstrates just how revealing the M65s can be. The DG recording is also of demonstration quality for soundstage, both wide and deep. This really surprised me as only the very best headphones such as the megabuck Sennheisers and Abyss get anywhere near how a well setup, two channel HiFi rig can relay a soundstage. And a special mention about the bass reproduction—deep and impactful.

Then, with the ANC still on high, my wife was watching a somber Scandi Noir on Netflix while I was listening to the transcendental slow movement of Schubert’s String Quintet, the epitome of subtle, quiet playing and named by Benjamin Britten as the most beautiful music ever composed. He may well be correct; also, the music was experienced as the performers and Schubert wished with no intrusion from Finnish brooding. And with the most beautiful glow of the recording around the five strings. 

Whether Ella or Frank, the M65s get vocal timbre just right. So many headphones ‘interpret’ the voice and a lot of the soul is lost. They can rock out, too, when the mood allows. ‘Rock out’, how’s that for showing my advanced age? Yet, with ‘Immigrant Song’ from Led Zeppelin III, they do just that. Lots of energy and recorded space. Splendid. A total headphone.  

Summary 

So, an easy recommendation. You know with Master & Dynamic you’ll be getting great value for money in the looks and manufacturing department, even more so with the materials. And wonderful sound goes without saying—M&D’s custom 40mm Beryllium drivers guarantee that. But now with a silent background within noisy environments to enjoy your countless and favourite tracks. On the subway, on a plane, in your busy house or walking on a noisy street. As such, count me among the ‘cool kids’, but with much better sound. 

 

Further information: Master & Dynamic