If you’re looking for the best performance from a pair of wireless headphones, including great sound quality, comfort, battery life, and noise cancelling, you’re going to need to ditch the earbuds and invest in something larger. Master & Dynamics’ new MW75 wireless headphones bring all of the above to the table with style, but also come with a price tag steeper than even Apple’s premium AirPods Max.
It might not be as recognisable a headphone brand as Sony, Beats, Apple, or Bose, but since it was founded nine years ago in New York with a focus on premium materials and premium sound, Master & Dynamic has long been high on Gizmodo’s recommendation list — at least for those willing to splurge. The Master & Dynamic MW08 True Wireless Earbuds are still my personal favourite when it comes to buds, but at $US300 ($416) they’re undeniably expensive given what you can now get for under $US100 ($139). The same can be said for the company’s new over-ear MW75 headphones, but do premium materials and performance really justify its $US600 ($833) price tag?
Master & Dynamic MW75
WHAT IS IT?
Wireless headphones made from premium materials like aluminium and lambskin, featuring impressive sound and solid active noise cancellation.
Fantastic sound quality, extremely comfortable ear cups, and lots of buttons make controlling your music through the headphones alone a breeze.
Expensive, and the active noise cancellation doesn't beat Sony or Apple's best offerings.
An Improved Design That Still Delivers a Luxe Experience
Although several light years away from the premium pricing of true audiophile gear, Master & Dynamic’s newest release is first and foremost a luxury product that also happen to deliver one of the best audio experiences now available, which could make its $US600 ($833) price tag slightly easier to justify.
An update to the Master & Dynamic MW65, which debuted back in May of 2019, the MW75 shares a lot of design elements with its predecessor, including the use of aluminium for the ear cups, which makes them both strong and durable but also lightweight. The outside of each ear cup features a raised glass panel with the company’s branding that’s surrounded by an aluminium mesh ring to keep the microphones used for active noise cancellation out of sight.
The head band on the MW65 connects directly to the top of those raised panels on either side, but on the MW75, it now connects to the side of each ear cup through an additional angled arm that follows the curve of the cups. It sets the MW75 apart aesthetically, but also allows the ear cups a little more flex to sit flush against the side of a user’s head. The only thing missing (I seriously can’t find them anywhere) are simple L and R labels so users know which way to wear the headphones. If you’re that worried about the exterior aesthetics, just hide the left and right labels inside the ear cups like Apple did on the AirPods Max.
The MW75’s most premium feature is the use of lambskin covering the padded headband and the thick layer of memory foam on each ear cup (which is much thicker than what Sony and Apple uses). The lambskin, of course, feels fantastic, and I can understand why the company opts for it over synthetic alternatives. Part of Master & Dynamic’s origin story includes one of its founders being inspired by a pair of headphones from the 1940s made from metal and leather that were still in great shape over 60 years later.
Leather lasts if properly cared for, but given we now know the problematic toll that raising livestock takes on the environment, now’s as good a time as any for even premium electronics makers to move away from leather and lambskin. The synthetic leather-like material that Sony uses on its WH-1000XM5 feels just as soft as the MW75’s lambskin, while the knitted material that Apple uses on its AirPods Max offers unparalleled breathability.
Give Me All the Buttons
I will forever be an advocate for companies squeezing as many buttons a onto a pair of headphones as possible. I get that voice assistants are useful, but I’m not going to talk to Siri or Google Assistant while riding public transit, and touch panels often come with a learning curve I’m not willing to dedicate any time to learning.
I want buttons, and the MW75 comes with plenty. On the right ear cup, you’ll find dedicated volume up and down buttons, and in-between them, an elevated button (which is easy to distinguish through touch alone) for controlling track playback with single, double, and triple presses.
On the left ear cup is a power button (which also activates the Bluetooth pairing mode) and a dedicated button for switching between the MW75’s ANC and ambient sound boosting modes, or turning that stuff off altogether.
Excellent Sound With Solid Noise Cancelling
One of the things I like about Master & Dynamic is that it’s not a company just slapping a premium finish on a pair of run-of-the-mill headphones. The new MW75 sounds fantastic, and with a 40-millimetre Beryllium driver in each ear cup (the same size as in the AirPods Max, while the WH-1000XM5 uses smaller 30mm drivers) I actually think they sound better than both Apple and Sony’s premium ANC options. The vocals in Wig Wam’s Do Ya Wanna Taste It (made popular as the theme song to HBO’s Peacemaker) sound clear and crisp through the MW75s, and while it’s a busy song, all the layers, from the driving high-hats to the electric guitar, come through clear and separate.
Where the Master & Dynamic MW75 slightly underperforms is with active noise cancelling. It’s very good at taking a big bite out of the lower bass frequencies of the roar of an aeroplane’s engine as heard from inside the cabin (as simulated through my home theatre setup) but it’s noticeably a step behind the AirPods Max’s ANC capabilities, and even farther behind Sony’s. For whatever reason, Sony has decided that ANC is the one feature its headphones will excel at, as is evident by the impressive WH-1000XM5. Sony’s now cramming eight microphones (plus two processors dedicated to nuking noise) into its flagship ANC headphones, while Master & Dynamic has stuck to just four in its new MW75. The difference is very noticeable, but even moreso given the WH-1000XM5 is $US200 ($278) cheaper.
Make Some Extra Room in Your Carry-On
The best reason to opt for a pricier pair of headphones with active noise cancellation is to drown out the sound of aeroplane engines on a long flight, plus everything else going on inside the cabin.
Although the ear cups on the MW75 can be folded completely flat (with the opening’s face down) they’re actually designed to sit inside the included carrying case in the same orientation they’re worn. That means the MW75’s case is actually one of the bulkiest I’ve ever tested, and unlike the case Sony includes with its WH-1000XM5, it can’t collapse thinner when the headphones are removed.
That makes the Master & Dynamic less appealing for travel, particularly for those striving to pack as light as possible. On the bright side, inside the carrying case, you’ll find a headphone cable, a USB-C charging cable, and even an adaptor for the awkward double headphone jacks found on aeroplane seats for decades.
Worth the Splurge?
Back in 2019, when Sony wasn’t so obsessed with ANC performance and the AirPods Max only existed in an Apple R&D facility, the excellent MW65 was an easy choice for someone looking for excellent sound in a premium package. In 2022, the new MW75 is facing some much stiffer competition.
If you’re looking for the perfect pair of wireless over-ear headphones to make your return to air travel more peaceful and pleasant, the $US400 ($555) Sony WH-1000XM5 is still your best choice, and if you’re all in on the Apple eco-system and prioritise effortless wireless connectivity (plus having easy access to the occasionally useful Siri) the $US550 ($764) AirPods Max is the way to go.
The MW75 outperforms both Sony and Apple when it comes to sound quality, but for $US600 ($833), I was hoping to be blown away by its ANC performance, and I wasn’t. Despite the premium finish, that does make the expensive price tag harder to justify. Unlike the 60+ year old analogue headphones that inspired Master & Dynamic when the company was founded, premium build materials that can last for decades don’t matter as much now when the technology inside a pair of headphones will be potentially outdated in just a few years. (The next evolution of Bluetooth is just around the corner.) For $US600 ($833), the MW75 really needed to best both Sony and Apple on every front, and it unfortunately falls just shy of that target.