When I write-up any sort of documentation at work—perhaps some technical project documentation or a Powerpoint slide deck—I think often about my boss who insists on a “rule of 3” when it comes to lists. 3 is his go-to number when trying to come up with any sort of explanations or examples of something; a list of 3 is not too long, not too short, and easy to complete (see what I did there)?
I probably use the rule of 3 in my reviews more frequently than I realize. As it were, I happen to have a rule of 3 when it comes to the must-have array of bluetooth speakers—so it seems only fitting to review my rule of 3 for the must-have array of headphones. And without further ado, here it is:
- Basic ear bud with inline mic – for every day use, generally less expensive, comfortable to the point you forget about them, and usable in most places.
- Studio headphones – for musical or cinematic (or both) adventures; they are your lounging headphones for when you want to zone out in your media.
- Wireless – for the gym, yard work, house work, etc.
All headphones I acquire have to be rated into one of these categories…and I have a new possible entry for studio headphones with the Master & Dynamic MH30’s.
Before we get into the performance—I want to emphasize a couple of things. First—these are not budget-friendly headphones. You might find them on sale, but you’ll be dropping three bills on these in most cases. They are true high-end headphones, and everything about the experience screams quality. The unboxing is the best experience; the box itself smells much like it comes from a very high-end shoe store, is extremely sturdy and simple to open.
Inside the box you find the stunning headphones and a nice cylindrical leather case for cable storage…and it is real leather. There’s also a nice paper insert indicating just how high-end these headphones are: “We design and build products utilizing the finest components and the most durable, luxury materials to ensure decades of use.” Decades? The notion of a piece of tech I get in 2017 serving me for decades is a bit foreign to me, but I guess only time will tell.
So, I don’t need to go on about this I don’t think—but these things are gorgeous. A clean design, extremely solid build quality and feel; anodized (not painted) metal; lambskin ear cushions…these headphones are beautiful. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, they also fold flat and can be stowed in the provided soft pouch (which also smells heavenly) for easy portability. But although the carrying case has an odor profile that competes with newborn babies, I would have liked to see a hard shell case for these.
Alright, so solid build and design—check. How’s the sound? God-like, or at least the closest thing this side of heaven. Keep in mind, I have an array of headphones and ear buds with price tags that hover from $50 to $250, so the premium audio market is not one with which I have a ton of experience. But, I can distinguish the difference even in the narrow price range of most of my gear.
The MH30’s are clearly on another level. As a point of comparison, I briefly owned Bose’s QC35 ANC headphones and had to return them due to the ANC being so good they caused motion-sickness (it’s a real thing—Google it). The QC35’s were in the $350 price range when they were released, and from an audio quality perspective they were nothing compared to the MH30’s. Never before have I experienced headphones with this level of accuracy and crispness at all frequencies—lows, middles AND highs—regardless of volume. At full volume, the MH30’s outperform any audio equipment I’ve tested.
All things being equal, it’s important to point out that the MH30’s are not over-ear headphones like the QC35’s, nor do they have any noise-canceling; they do, however, do an extremely good job of providing noise isolation thanks to the magnetic lambskin-coated ear cushions and rotating ear cups that will adjust to your ears.
In terms of comfort, they are definitely not what the QC35’s (or even my significantly less expensive V-Moda Crossfade LP2’s) offer, but those comparisons are both against over-ear headphones. I point this out because you have to know what you’re getting into with on-ear headphones; by design, they will be less comfortable because they’ll push on your ears, while over-ear headphones will generally not touch your ears at all. That said, as I mentioned before—the rotating ear cups allow for a good tight fit on your ears without too much pressure—and these can be worn with some repositioning for hours without too much wear fatigue.
From a features perspective, the MH30’s are a bit constrained in that they are wired headphones—no noise canceling, no bluetooth; however, both the right and left ear cups have a 3.5MM headphone jack that can provide input OR output. So, if you prefer your wire going into the right cup over the left, you can switch it without reversing the headphones. And, regardless of what cup is receiving the input, the other cup’s jack serves as an output to another set of headphones, allowing for easy sharing of your music to a nearby friend with wired headphones. I really appreciate that Master & Commander innovated here and provided a built-in audio splitter without the need to carry extra adapters.
In terms of competition, let’s call these “entry-level premium on-ear headphones.” As I’ve mentioned already, they outperform the likes of Bose’s QC35’s in terms of frequency balance; they have a more full sound profile than my Sennheiser 598SE’s; and they can equal V-Moda’s Crossfade LP2’s bass output without being as loud. On almost every account they outperform my entire collection of buds and headphones, wired and wireless. If I’m being honest—$300 is a pretty good price to pay for something that can perform at that level. But in order to truly compare these to any other gear, you have to listen to them. After my first encounter with these—I told my wife that “never before have I had come so close to an emotional experience listening to headphones.”
In spite of my opinion of the value the MH30’s offer, these headphones are not for everyone. First and foremost, if you are not in the “on-ear” headphone camp, consider passing. I personally don’t care much for on-ear headphones, but the performance of these have certainly opened my eyes to Master & Dynamics over-ear headphones, although those start at $399 and go up from there. And under normal circumstances, I’d steer anyone away from these who doesn’t have an audiophile’s ear—the folks who can’t really distinguish the difference in audio quality between $50 headphones and $250 headphones—but I really think even those less-discerning ears will appreciate the sound quality of the MH30’s.
For those with less flexibility in their monthly budget, it may be difficult to spend $300 on anything—and there are very few products that I think of as truly being worth saving for. The MH30’s are an exception to that; this is something you want to tuck money away for. They sound amazing, are made with very high quality materials, and are designed to be handed down to others.
So I think it’s pretty clear how I feel about these headphones. These earn “Five Stars” in my eyes with seemingly little effort because every bit of the experience seems carefully planned out by Master & Dynamic. And, I’m looking forward to doing a little of my own money tucking so I can get my hands on some of their over-ear headphones. At the end of the day, the MH30’s provide more than audio playback—they instead focus on providing a user experience that is not something you get with your average pair of headphones.