October 19, 2018

Review: Master & Dynamic MW60 wireless headphones

There are tons of headphones that look amazing but don’t sound a whole lot better than the earpods that came with your phone. There are boatloads of headphones that sound amazing, but have the aesthetic appeal of orthodontic headgear. A headphone that looks and sounds great is pretty rare. Throw in bluetooth, and I can probably count the number of great headphones on one hand and have a whole bunch of fingers left over.

Naturally, I was excited to try out the MW60 bluetooth headphones from Master & Dynamic. They look different from most other headphones I’ve seen, in a good way. They give off this ultra-premium yet retro vibe, all leather and metal, the kind of headphones that belong on the head of an executive. These are headphones the Don Drapers of the world would wear.

The review unit Master & Dynamic sent over was the brown lambskin model, and I was impressed by how solid they felt. Master & Dynamic claim these headphones are built to last a lifetime. I don’t know about that… but they’re definitely built to last a while. I’d have no problem tossing these in a carry-on or backpack. If I want a little extra protection, they can fold up to fit in their included soft carrying case. When I first saw the case, I was disappointed. Many of my favorite headphones come with a sturdier hard-back case, but my disappointment faded when I actually slipped the phones in the canvas pouch. It was a pretty tight fit at first, but once in, the package felt surprisingly safe.

I’ve never been a huge fan of bluetooth headphones, but I’m not sure how much of that was just my own anti-bluetooth biases creeping in. My primary experience with the tech was with older headphones and the wireless connection in my car. Based on my limited experience, I had decided that bluetooth didn’t sound anywhere as clean and transparent as wired sound.

If the MW60’s are any indication, bluetooth technology has come a long way. Sitting indoors, at my quiet desk, it was tough as hell to tell the difference between bluetooth and wired music. Both sounded great. Lows, mids and highs sound clean and clear. Nothing overpowers anything else, and even at low volumes I’m able to make out the fine details in my music. A friend did find them a little too treble heavy for his tastes though. The headphones are closed and I haven’t experienced any sound leakage, so these are idea for listening in a shared office. Nobody around you will hear what you’re listening to, and if your music taste is as eclectic as mine, that’s probably a good thing.

I found myself using the MW60s wirelessly almost exclusively, and I didn’t miss a thing sound wise. The convenience of not having cables get in the way while typing was too huge a draw.

There were, however, a few downsides to the bluetooth. Walking on the street with MW60s, I could reliably predict the exact spots where the sound would cut out because of interference. I’m not sure if it was because of security cameras, power lines, or some other sort of interference, but in those specific spots, my music was choppier than trying to stream House of Cards over dial-up. Even sitting at my desk there were a few times (very few) when the sound cut out or hiccuped, though not often enough to get me to reach for the cord, for what that’s worth.

Master & Dynamic claim a 100 foot bluetooth range, but I never got close to that. In real world situations, with walls and other sorts of big immovable objects in the way, I couldn’t get much more than 25 or maybe 30 feet without dropouts. 30 feet is still a pretty good distance for reliable bluetooth, you could play music on your computer and walk to get a coffee two rooms over without missing a second — but then you’d be that guy who wears full sized headphones to get a coffee.

Master & Dynamic claims that the MW60’s can be paired with two devices at the same time, but the implementation of this was a little buggy to me. It took a while to get the headphones properly paired with the right device and eventually gave up, and just kept them paired with my phone. When paired with only one device, the pairing worked quick and flawlessly.

The headphones also work as a bluetooth headset for phone calls. The sound quality on my end was great, I heard people loud and clear, but I was told that my voice sounded little muffled when compared to speaking directly into my iPhone. People were able to understand me, and I never found myself disconnecting the headphones when a phone call came in, but the MW60 can’t compete with dedicated bluetooth headsets.

The headphones are incredibly comfortable with two minor caviates. The lambskin earcups do get hot after a couple hours, and you may find yourself cranking the AC up a couple notches to compensate, or you may need to take off the headphones to let your ears cool every once in a while. Also, the narrow headband, while well padded, can weigh down on your head after a few hours of listening. I found that over time, I got used to the headband, but the warmness on my ears, not so much. As I type this, my ears are feeling a little toasty and I’m debating giving my Sufjan Stevens listening marathon a tiny break.

I decided against it. Cranked up the AC a notch instead.

The battery on the headphones lasted me about 15 hours, which was enough to get me through a couple days of listening. Also, because the headphones charge quickly with the included USB cable, I never worried that they’d die on me at inopportune times. And even if they did die on me (not that they ever did), I could then use them as wired headphones to continue vibing. Master & Dynamic doesn’t recommend charging and listening at the same time though, so you might need to make some touch choices.

While I think these are amazing premium bluetooth headphones, they do come with a premium price tag. At $550, they’re not the cheapest phones out there, and if bluetooth isn’t a priority, there are many great sounding premium headphones that can be found for under 300 dollars. But if you want great looking, ultra luxurious bluetooth headphones that will make all your friends jealous, you should definitely consider the MW60s. And if you do decide to buy them, know that you will become the guy at the office who wears full sized headphones to get a coffee, for better or for worse.