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Master & Dynamic MW60 Review: Hearing is Believing

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Master & Dynamic MW60 Review: Hearing is Believing

Audiophiles, be prepared to rethink what you know about Bluetooth headphones. New York audio startup Master & Dynamic’s MW60 wireless over-the-ear cans not only fill your ears with high audio fidelity— a challenge for most Bluetooth headphones— but also elicit enough joy that you’ll catch yourself quietly bopping your head and singing along to whatever track is playing.

Crafted out of luxury materials— you won’t find any plastic parts, unlike Bose, Beats and other popular headphone brands, to mar the beautiful, modern design— the MW60 feels like it could have been the love child of Apple industrial designer Jonny Ive and luxury French leather atelier Hermes. The MW60 is constructed from stainless steel, aluminum and supple lambskin leather, giving it a premium feel, not unlike what you’d expect from the Apple Watch Hermes edition.

No stranger to eye-catching design and premium craftsmanship, the MW60 is a follow-up to Master & Dynamic’s popular wired MH40. Made to look like aviator headphones with its stainless steel hardware and saddle brown lambskin leather, the MH40 could look at home on Amelia Earheart’s ears. The headset’s steampunk-inspired design won the company many accolades with its faux grills and laudable audio quality.

On the MW60, however, Master & Dynamic took a bold move and abandoned the 1940s era aviator motif on the MH40, opting to go with a cleaner, minimalist look. Available in either black lambskin leather and gunmetal steel or brushed stainless steel and saddle brown lambskin, the MW60 retains its predecessor’s craftsmanship, but swaps the vintage aviator grills for a more modern circular design.

mw60design.jpgMaster & Dynamic didn’t miss a beat in redesigning the MH40 for the wireless generation, and the result is just as stunning. The MW60 is handsomely appointed, and, spoiler alert, sounds incredible without the need for wires.

However, the challenge for most headphone manufacturers extends far beyond good design aesthetics. Even with plastic parts, which is far better for wireless signal penetration than dense metals like MH60’s steel frame, many of Master & Dynamic’s contemporaries still haven’t been able to create Bluetooth headphones that produce distortion-free audio with good range.

Early wireless headsets, for example, took the wrong steampunk inspiration, resulting in hissing, crackling sounds and hollow sounding tunes that could easily be mistaken for music played over a 1920s era transistor radio. Another challenge is that poorly implemented Bluetooth antennas result in music that cuts out when the signal is obscured. Even moving your phone from inside a bag to your rear pocket can result in audio clipping, as the headphone struggles to maintain a reliable connection.

To overcome these challenges, Master & Dynamic looked at modern smartphones with external antenna placements, designed to better receive and transmit wireless signals than internal antennas. Phones, like Apple’s iPhone, Samsung’s latest Galaxy handsets, LG’s metal-clad G5 and HTC’s unibody metal 10 integrate the antenna into the phones’ metal frames. In a similar vein, the MW60 doesn’t hide the Bluetooth antenna internally. Instead, the external aluminum antenna placement helps with Bluetooth reception, thanks to plastic bands that are integrated into the left ear cup’s metal frame.

I tested the MW60 in some extremely challenging urban environments, and the headphones never once lost connection with my iPhone 6s Plus or my Samsung Galaxy S7. Master & Dynamic claims Bluetooth range to be “four times the industry average.” I found this to be accurate— the MW60 managed to stay connected to my phone, even when it’s separated between floors in a multi-level San Francisco condominium constructed of steel and concrete.

mw60brown.jpgAnd when my phone is across the house from me, separated by multiple walls of wood beams and sheetrock, my music didn’t skip a beat. On the open sandy beaches of California, I even wandered as far as sixty feet away with no loss of connection, quite a feat when compared against a range of 10 to 33 feet promised by competing Bluetooth cans.

On wireless mode, Master & Dynamic claims that the MW60 will last for 16 hours of music playback. The headphone comes with a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, allowing you to continue listening to your audio through a wire if the battery dies on the MW60. Most likely your smartphone’s battery will deplete before you exhaust the MW60.

Audio quality is equally as impressive as Bluetooth range and reception. Even to my untrained ears, the MW60 is the first set of wireless headphones that sound like it can replace wired. And to a person who’s constantly getting tangled in wires while listening to music on daily train commutes, this is a freeing experience that my ears can rejoice to.

What gives the MW60 its great sound are the custom 45mm neodymium drivers. Audio purists will likely notice that the sound pumped out of the MW60 isn’t 100% pure, but the custom tuning makes the sound pop a bit without sounding unnatural or contrived.

Master & Dynamic quotes that the frequency range is between 5 and 25,000Hz. Vocals and higher-pitched instruments sound rich, but I found the headphones didn’t deliver the power required by bass-heavy songs. You won’t get the fake thumpy bass on the MW60, but if you’re seeking a balanced, natural-sounding audio experience, the MW60 delivers high audio fidelity over Bluetooth 4.1 and aptX.

Sound quality of MW60 exceeds most rivals in the price range, and the headphone’s wireless sound quality is almost on par with the pricier, but wired, T5 p headphones from Beyerdynamic, a model that costs twice as much as the MW60.

Depending on your position on noise cancellation, the omission of active noise cancellation on the MW60 may be a good or bad thing.

mw60vert.jpgRival Bose has built a reputation among frequent business travelers for its comfortable, albeit plastic-feeling, headphones, creating a personal bubble where noisy jet engines and crying infants on a flight are “canceled” out from your music enjoyment experience. However, the downside is that the more signal you inject to actively cancel surrounding audio nuisances, the more noise you add to your music. This means that the audio won’t sound as pure or pristine, but to some that’s a worthy trade-off for moments of quietude.

Master & Dynamic uses a different approach when it comes to tuning out background noise. The MW60 comes with passive noise cancelation. The removable lambskin leather ear cups are padded with memory foam, which conforms to your head, creating a tight seal to isolate background noise from your music listening experience.

The over-the-ear design feels far more comfortable, especially for long sessions of music listening, than on-ear headphone designs, and the memory foam allowed the headphones to snugly wrap around my head without bothering me. Prior to trying the MW60, I was using Bowers & Wilkins’ P5 Wireless on-ear headphones, and I prefer the MW60’s over-the-ear design better.

The leather on the ear cups of the MW60 feels just as supple as those used by Bowers & Wilkins on the P5, P5 Wireless and P7 headphones, but Master & Dynamic’s all-metal construction resulted in a product that feels more premium than the metal, plastic and leather build on headphones by Bowers & Wilkins.

If the memory foam wears out, replacement cups retail for $39 through Master & Dynamic. The collapsible hinge design means that the MW60 can fold up compactly for travel.

mw60book.jpgCommuters, city dwellers, frequent travelers and audiophiles in urban environments will be happy to know that noise isolation on the MW60 works well. With the headphones on and music playing at low to medium volumes, I couldn’t hear the washer or dryer in my apartment, nor could I hear my neighbor blasting his awful bass-heavy songs. The TV in the room was only audible if I focused on it.

Like the company’s philosophy on omitting active noise cancelation in favor of noise isolation, you won’t find anything superfluous on the MW60. You won’t find any touch-sensitive panels on the headphones like on the Philippe Starck-designed Parrot Zik headphones. What you’ll find are tactile switches and buttons. On the bottom of the left ear cup is a steel switch, allowing you to toggle between various Bluetooth phones – you can pair up to two Bluetooth devices to the MW60. On the bottom of the right ear cup, you’ll find physical buttons, letting you control music playback. A built-in microphone means you can take calls with the MW60.

In the premium headphone space dominated by brands such as Sennheiser, Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins and even Apple-owned Beats, Master & Dynamic is an audio upstart that proves it could create beautifully functional products that deliver exceptional performance. At $549, the MW60 seems pricey, but its wireless audio quality and construction is unrivaled. With Apple rumored to ditch the headphone jack on a future release of the iPhone and Android manufacturer LeEco already replacing the headphone jack with a multipurpose USB Type-C port on its smartphones, the Bluetooth-equipped MW60 is a sound, future-proof investment if you enjoy listening to music on the go.

With headphones that sound this good, I can’t wait for the day when Master & Dynamic expands its product line to include wireless speakers.