There’s this wonderful little niche where good audio meets excellent consumer design. Add a tinge of luxury to this mix and you arrive at a rarefied stratosphere where brands like Bang & Olufsen and Bowers & Wilkins reside. A fair number have tried to break into this niche, each with varying degrees of success. Enter Master and Dynamic. If you aren’t already familiar with M&D from their MH40, here’s an introduction.
Master and Dynamic is a premium audio company that operates straight out of the Big Apple. According to M&D, headphones are “modern thinking caps” –tools that help focus, inspire, and transport one’s mind. Using fine materials (I really stress the term fine) and featuring excellent build quality, it’s no wonder that M&D claims that its headphones are designed for decades of use. SQ wise, Master and Dynamic’s products are generally tuned for a warm, rich sound that play well with many genres. Today, we’ll be taking a look at M&D’s latest entry into the headphone market, the Bluetooth MW60.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was provided by Master & Dynamic for the purposes of the review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of Master & Dynamic. All media rights are reserved.
The MW60 comes in a nicely sized box with a high-quality matte image of the product printed on the front. No outlandish claims or pseudo-professional technical gibberish to be found. It’s a subtle, if not somewhat understated package that hits all the markers when it comes to good industrial design. Pulling the tab uncovers a black cardboard box, which opens to reveal a foam cutout with the headphones and a leather cable box inside. Within the cable box are the 1.25m and micro USB charging cables. Both are well built and have an excellent feel in the hand. It’s interesting to see that M&D dropped the MH40 cable in favor of something slightly more minimalistic. I am in support of this change, as the MH40’s full metal jack was a little bulky considering the strain relief it was given (to put this in perspective, both the MH40 and MW60 jacks have the same strain relief). There’s a little bit of memory, but regular use will eventually solve that. Besides, this is a Bluetooth headphone! The micro USB charging cable is of respectable length and build, and I’m glad that the M&D didn’t skimp in this department. Considering the amount of electronics already crowding my messy desk, it’s a relief to be able to charge the MW60 at an arm’s length away from the rest of this 21st century mess.
Pulling out the foam shell uncovers the extensive M&D literature as well as a canvas headphone pouch and canvas cord case. In my previous review, I did dock the MH40’s leather cable box for not being a particular practical way of carrying headphone accessories. With the inclusion of the canvas cord case, this minor annoyance is effectively solved. What isn’t so great is the weak threading on the headphone pouch’s side tabs. The right side of mine effectively ripped, which definitely isn’t something that should be present on such an expensive product. In addition, the headphone case should really be a hard case considering how expensive the MW60 is. This feeds into another problem, which I’ll talk a little more about below. Overall, an excellent package with some quibbles that should eventually be sorted out.
The MW60 brings back a refreshed (and stunning) M&D look. Compared side by side with the MH40, it looks like M&D has progressed from an inspired 1800s steam-punk design to an elegant 1920s art deco one. The MW60 headband has been elongated lengthwise and shortened width wise, lending itself to reduced clamping force and an overall better fit than the MH40. This does make the MW60 a little less secure, but then again, at $549 USD, you probably don’t want to be doing any headbanging with these. Overall, a happy problem and a compromise that I’m willing to make. The folding steel hinges feel solid and secure, and can support the weight of the rather heavy earcups admirably. The yoke is also solid, but there should have been more play with the swivel of the earcups. When at rest, the MW60 earcups sit at an angle against each other at their maximum degree of turn –I would probably feel more comfortable if they could rest parallel to each other, much in the same way a folded ATH-M50X does. This design feature also means that the MW60 earcups can no longer fold flat.
The oval earcups of the MH40 make a return in the MW60. The earcups are somewhat small, and those with slightly larger ears may find this to be slight challenge. However, the lambskin earpads are fantastically comfortable though and memory foam inside them makes long listening sessions a joy. They are magnetically attached, and pop off to reveal a newly designed driver grill. One thing I did notice though was that I needed some time to adjust the headphones to get a good seal, as the reduced clamping force meant that my earlobes were at times able to open up a small gap in the seal at the bottom of the earcups. A little bit of fiddling eventually solved the problem.
The buttons on the MW60 earcups are tactile and wonderfully made. No cheap plastic clicking mechanisms –these were made with daily use in mind and it clearly shows. On the left earcup are the power/ Bluetooth controls, as well as the exposed aluminum antenna and the omni-directional microphone. Below that is the 3.5mm port. On the right earcup are the volume control and play buttons, as well as the charging port.
For portable use, the entire headphone folds nicely into a convenient little package. However, the sharp edge of the folding hinge does press itself into the bottom of the earpad when the headphone is compacted with pressure. This is compounded by the fact that the carrying case is soft. It would also have been nice for the folding mechanism to hold a little tighter with more of a locking “click”.
I’ll start by assessing the Bluetooth capabilities of the MW60, as it’s probably the most important aspect of this headphone. The MW60 features Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX high quality audio. Without getting mired in technical debate and discussion, aptX is essentially a compression algorithm that is more efficient than the traditional Low Complexity Subband Coding (SBC) used on most Bluetooth sets. It reduces the bits per sample in a manner that still maintains fairly good audio quality. There are indeed forms of Aptx out there that allow for close* to lossless transmission (i.e. aptX Lossless), but these aren’t installed on the MW60. Now, there’s been much debate (and heated, I might add) over whether aptX is a good codec, etc. and I myself cannot claim to be an expert on this issue. However, I will say this, the MW60 in Bluetooth mode sounds excellent, and the differences between the wired and wireless modes are marginal. After some testing, I do feel that certain sections of bass are slightly less controlled while wireless and that a bit of the upper end is lost, but it’s a minor issue if convenience is your main concern. The truly tangible stuff comes in the form of the occasional stutter and the range of the MW60. M&D promises 4 x industry average signal range, which is somewhat vague. Okay –so what is industry average? One reviewer has stated that it should be around 33 ft/ 10m, putting the maximum range at around 130 ft/ 40m. While connected to my computer (which incidentally has the “industry average” range of 30ft), I had no problems with the MW60. I didn’t really have a source that was capable of transmitting at 130ft, but I’m fairly certain that the MW60 can operate at longer ranges provided that there are no walls between it and the source. Speaking of walls, quality degrades fairly quickly from room to room, especially if you walls are concrete. Overall, for practical day-to-day use, the Bluetooth onboard the MW60 is impressive and leaves little to be desired.
The MW60 definitely sounds different from the MH40. It’s still warm, but certain key aspects of the SQ have changed. The subbass extension and quantity is definitely weaker on the MW60, and some of the ethereal goodness on tracks like Orinoco Flow (Enya) is missing. On the positive side, the midbass has been thinned nicely and is now more responsive than before. The MH40 did have the tendency to be a bit slow in the midbass section and the MW60’s articulateness in this regard quickly becomes apparent with a bit of comparative listening. I’d say that the transition to the mids is now in a very good place, and the bleed that was existent on the MH40 is for the most part, gone.
With the reduction in the bass, the mids on the MW60 have moved forward and are more present than on the MH40. This is a good thing, as the MH40’s mids did at times sound recessed and overshadowed by the excellent bass department. The listening experience here is still rich and lush. There’s very little peakiness or sibilance in the upper mids, and it all sounds very natural. It’s a wonderfully smooth experience that makes tracks like Samba de Maria Luiza (Antonio Carlos Jobim) a continued joy to listen to.
The treble on the MW60 is clear and sparkly, and really extends nicely into regions where the MH40 did at times encounter difficulty. Rest assured, they definitely aren’t tinny or screechy by any standard. The MW60 has a good-sized sound stage that is deeper and higher than it is wide. It’s a definite improvement over that of the MH40. While not as expansive as something like the Beyerdynamic T70 or any open-back headphones, it is comfortably placed and quite airy. Naturally, instrument separation and imaging on the MW60 are both quite good. Now, let’s talk about amping the MW60. I know this defeats the purpose of having Bluetooth headphones, but the MW60 does really gain a lot from getting amped properly. The bass becomes fuller and even better controlled than the MH40, and the mids do sound much lusher. And all this happens while still maintaining the beautiful treble performance! Try listening to Ella, Elle L’a (France Gall) amped and you’ll get a better sense of what I mean.
The MW60 is without a doubt one of the best entries available in today’s Bluetooth market. Though it does have some quirky design features that do require some refinement, the noteworthy Bluetooth performance and excellent SQ of the MW60 make it a compelling pair of cans. If you’re looking for a Bluetooth headphone that sounds as good as it looks, than the MW60 might just be the one you’re looking for.