Technology

Master & Dynamic’s MW75 Headphones: Hands-On With the Latest AirPods Max Competitor

Over the years Master & Dynamic has developed a loyal following for its premium priced — and premium built — headphones and earbuds, which tends to start at around $300. On Tuesday it unveiled the MW75, a new set of flagship noise-canceling headphones that will be available for sale on June 28 in four colors. They’re impressive headphones, but they come with a decidedly luxury price tag of $599.

I got a sample of the headphones in the gunmetal color and the first thing I noticed is that they fit my head more comfortably than the earlier MW65 ($499). The 338-gram MW75 are heavier than the MW65 (245 grams), but 48 grams lighter than Apple’s AirPods Max headphones (386 grams). Master & Dynamic says the new headband and ear pad design helps with the weight distribution, and I did get a snugger fit with the MW75. They’re comfortable headphones but not quite as comfortable as Sony’s new $399 WH-1000XM5 (250 grams).

The plush ear pads adhere magnetically and are replaceable. They feature lambskin leather and provide a good seal for passive noise isolation, even without engaging the active noise canceling. They fit around my ears fine, but it’s worth noting the ear pads aren’t terribly spacious on the inside, so those with large ears may run into some issues. By comparison, the ear pads on the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Mark Levinson No. 5909 ($1,000) headphones are larger on the inside.

Master & Dynamic headphones are known for their sturdy construction and the aluminum-clad MW75 certainly feel solid and well built. Alas, metal construction adds weight, but that’s a trade-off some people don’t mind. They’re also great-looking headphones with tempered glass on the ear cups that give them a distinct, high-end appearance. A felted hard-shell travel case is included and has an interior compartment for storing the headphones and USB-C charging cables.

The headphones are available in four colors.

Master & Dynamic

The MW75 have a very solid feature set. The noise canceling has three modes — All Day, Max and Adaptive — and is quite effective with virtually no hiss. It’s not quite as good as the Sony WH-1000XM5, however, which does a better job muffling higher frequency noise. There are also two ambient modes that allow sound in.

As you might expect, there are ear-detection sensors so your music pauses when you take the headphones off and resumes when you put them back on. You get Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and aptX Adaptive audio codecs. (aptX Adaptive allows for near-lossless wireless Bluetooth streaming with certain Android phones and music players if you’re streaming high-resolution music files.) The MW75 has physical control buttons with the volume and track controls on the right ear cup and an ANC /Ambient control button on the left ear cup.

Along with 40mm beryllium drivers, the headphones are equipped with eight microphones, four of them beamforming mics dedicated to voice calling and four dedicated to noise canceling. Battery life is rated at 32 hours with noise canceling off and 28 with it on (the MW65 were rated for up to 24 hours). Unlike the MW65, the MW75 pair with a companion app for iOS and Android that features equalizer settings and firmware upgrades. Multipoint Bluetooth pairing that allows you to pair the headphones with devices simultaneously — such as a computer and smartphone — is on board.

The headphones actually work quite well for making voice calls, with good noise reduction — I tested them in the streets of New York — and good voice pickup. Callers said they could hear me clearly with only faint background noise. The only thing missing is a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice as you’re making calls, so you don’t end up talking too loudly. I think it’s an important feature (and best when it’s adjustable) and hopefully Master & Dynamic will add sidetone with a firmware upgrade.

controls on Master & Dynamic MW75 headphones

The headphones offer both wired and wireless listening.

David Carnoy/CNET

For sound quality, I tested the headphones using an iPhone 13 Pro and a couple of Android smartphones that support aptX Adaptive Bluetooth streaming. I use the Qobuz streaming music service, which offers high-res streaming. I also did some wired listening — yes, you get a slight bump in sound quality using a wire. It’s worth noting that you can use the included USB-C to 3.5mm cable for analog listening or go with the USB-C to USB-C cable for a digital connection that supports playback of hi-res audio files up to 24-bit/ 96kHz.

The MW75 sound excellent, with clean, accurate sound, natural sounding mids and nice treble detail. The bass is tight and punchy with just enough warmth. The MW75 seem well-suited to all types of music genres and I had no trouble wearing the headphones for longer listening sessions. I didn’t experience any listening fatigue or have any comfort issues, though your ears will steam up if you wear the headphones in a hot environment.

I haven’t gotten a chance to do a ton of comparative listening, but I do think they sound slightly better than the Sony WH-1000XM5. The MW75 sound slightly more accurate, with a tad more refined sound that allows you to hear instruments slightly more distinctly in tracks where a lot of instruments are playing at the same time. The width of soundstages are similar — they’re pretty wide and open — but the MW75 just have slightly richer, more nuanced sound.

I also thought they measured up well against Apple’s AirPods Max for sound quality — again, the MW75 came across as the more accurate, natural sounding headphones. The AirPods Max had a little more energy and played a little louder, but the MW75 sounded a bit smoother and a tad more articulate.

I need to spend some more time with them before I deliver a final verdict, but the M75 are certainly Master & Dynamic’s best full-size headphones yet. Needless to say, they’re pricey and most people will be quite satisfied with the $400 Sony WH-1000XM5, which are lighter and more comfortable, and deliver best-in-class voice calling and noise canceling. But the M75’s build quality is hard to beat and they offer top-notch sound for a wireless model, plus strong voice-calling and noise canceling performance. With their support for aptX Adaptive, they have additional appeal for Android users, who can get a touch better sound quality with the right setup. But I was also quite happy streaming music with my iPhone 13 Pro using the AAC codec.

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