Master & Dynamic MW50 Wireless Headphones: hands-free grooving
19th April 2017
The wireless MW50s are packaged well and stylishly designed, using anodised stainless steel and aluminium plus cowhide leather and lambskin ear pads to complete the finish. At first glance, there’s an almost retro-industrial, compact complexity about them. They are almost 50s-era in their form. Paul Rigby reviews this new pair of wireless headphones from Master & Dynamic
The headphone cup size is compact and sits on the ears only while bonus slim cables are offered for wired use, in case the battery gives way or you prefer passive listening in-doors. There’s an additional cable for charging too although you will need to buy yourself a suitable USB-ported mains plug (£4) if you want to charge the headphones directly off the mains. The bare USB cable obviously is a sign that the company expect charging only to occur from a computer/laptop but it’s a shame that Master & Dynamic couldn’t have included a mains plug attachment in this package. A hinge-lidded leather container holds both of the cables.
On one ear cup go the headphones is an accompanying mini-USB charging port is available in the right cup along with volume controls and a multi-function button, useful to handle incoming phone calls if the headphones are connected to a smartphone plus for play/pause if controlling music.
The left cup handles the battery status light and Bluetooth 4.1 pairing as well as the off switch. Both cups rotate for storage. The only issue I had with the MW50s in terms of design was that it struggled to cope with my massive head (well, us journalists carry many pounds of brain power around with us, doncha know) so that I struggled to put the headphones on my head. I have to add that I have tested dozens of headphone types in my time and this is the first time that this issue has ever arisen.
Based upon 40mm Beryllium drivers and spanning 190 x 175 x 60mm, the headphones weigh in at 240g. They can also be stored in an included cloth bag that features a snap, magnetic lock.
To begin, I decided to pair the headphones with my smartphone, an iPhone 6S. Smartphone pairing will be one of the most common functions for this design so the ease of pairing and the accompanying sound quality is paramount. The MW50s features a small power button on the left cup that also initiates Bluetooth pairing. Pulling that spring loaded button for a couple of seconds and the headphones appeared on my iPhone Settings screen. Tapping it forged the pairing in quick time.
I streamed Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me via a poor quality MP3 but I was impressed by how the MW50 translated the skimpy sonic detail offered to it by this horrible format. The MP3 file is still to be found in every nook and cranny and any wireless design has to handle this format with some style otherwise mobile use will be compromised and aural fatigue will set in very quickly. The MW50s actually made the MP3 experience a decent one. Not spectacular – it could never be that because of the inherent source – but acceptable while Gaye’s vocals were never bright or too thin in the presentation. The relatively spacious soundstage allowed secondary percussion to be heard which, in turn, enriched the overall presentation.
I decided to up the streaming quality and connected the headphones to my MacBook playing David Elias’ Vision of Her at 24bit/88.2kHz. This is a ballad sung by a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar.
While bass was a little wooly and lacking focus, Elias’ vocals were warming and intimate, offering a smooth and relaxed delivery that was pleasant to the ears. Yes, the guitar was not quite as incisive or as open and airy within the midrange but there was enough detail here to blend nicely with the vocals, providing a easy and composed performance.
Similarly, on the jazz vocal piece from Carol Kidd, How Deep is the Ocean, the presentation might be thought of as rather bass heavy, veiling the mids rather and recessing the acoustic guitar solo but the warming and comforting Kidd performance did offer a reassuring solidity during the presentation.
I then took these headphones on the road and pitted the sound against the perils of the street, battling against the noises of life: traffic, sirens, pneumatic drills, people and more. In this scenario, the MW50s were much better balanced in sonic terms. Although lacking in finesse, focus and detail, the MW50 sound output made much more sense here. The headphones were able to successfully combat the aggressive, outside ambient noise, enabling you to hear and enjoy your music easily.
I wanted to see how the headphones could perform during a wired performance. Yes, the wireless feature is the selling point but inherent wireless technology does no headphone any favours, hampering sound quality. So, I roped in an Icon Audio HP8 Mk.II headphone amplifier and some Sennheiser HD650 headphones to see how the MW50s could cope on a somewhat more level sonic playing field.
The MW50s proved pretty easy to run, a lot easier than my reference HD650s at any rate. The sound profile was intriguing and reminded me of the sound output from a lot of B&W’s headphones, being very strong in terms of bass. Sometimes the lower frequencies overwhelmed the midrange through, veiling the detail through the sheer force of the bass. Midrange frequencies were much improved in the MW50’s wired mode withmore attention to tonal detail and a greater degree of air within the soundstage, although a lot of that was expunged by the dominant lower frequencies.
In both wireless and wired format, I would not recommend the MW50s for internal use. The headphones provide an unbalanced, veiled and overly bass-heavy performance.
Wireless performance outside, in the mix of public activity was a wholly different matter, though. The MW50s work well in this environment. Wireless mode in itself provides convenience too because, well, there’s no wires to cope with and such a mode is useful when you’re carry lots of bags or you’re in a busy situation and require free hands and no encumbrances.
MASTER & DYNAMIC MW50 WIRELESS HEADPHONES
Email: [email protected]
GOOD: wired performance for outside/mobile use, neat styling, easy to use
BAD: not for big heads, wireless performance, veiled mids in wired mode, bass heavy in wired mode