Master & Dynamic has dabbled in wireless sound before, but big cans like the MW60s aren’t always the most convenient to lug around. People’s needs change when it’s time to pack up our gear and venture out into the world, and that’s why the company recently released a new set of wireless headphones: the on-ear MW50s. At $449, they’re currently the least expensive wireless option in Master & Dynamic’s lineup, but that’s still pretty dear for a pair of wireless headphones. That said, their blend of performance and style might be worth it for some of you.
As always, it seems the company’s choice of materials is largely what drove the price up. Master & Dynamic typically pays as much attention to how its headphones look as to how they sound, and that’s still true: It’s all high-end leather and stainless-steel hinges here. None of that would matter if they didn’t fit well, and the MW50s fortunately sat on my head just fine. More important, the removable lambskin ear cups remained pleasant after hours of use, even though they sit directly on the ear. (What can I say? On-ears have never been my thing.)
Anyway, the priciest pieces can be seen only if you pop off the magnetically attached ear pads: Wedged inside those metal housings is a set of drivers made of beryllium. This metal has historically been tricky to work with, not to mention expensive, but it has been used to great effect in beloved speaker setups like Yamaha’s old-school NS-1000 monitors. That might seem like overkill for headphones you’re meant to toss in a bag, but I’m certainly not complaining.
I spent part of my time testing the MW50s at CES, a veritable hellscape of crowd noise and over-eager pitchmen. Whether I was sitting in our trailer cranking out stories or trying to shoot videos on the show floor, the MW50s consistently impressed me with their crispness and clarity. M&D’s work has always been characterized by a noticeable warmth of sound, and that’s true here as well. Still, the MW50s’ warmth didn’t impress me as much as their balanced sound.
With the MW50s, the M&D team seemed to be chasing highs, mids and lows that feel punchy without outshining each other. Listening to Hey Violet’s “Brand New Moves” is a great example: Most of the song is dominated by an atmospheric bass riff, but Rina Lovelis’ vocals and the electric guitar that come in halfway through the track never feel overshadowed. Ditto for Ronny Jordan’s “The Jackal,” which, in addition to being a great bit of West Wing trivia, has one of my favorite bass lines in jazz. Still, not once does the lively saxophone get lost in that sea of bass and drums. The flip side to that evenhanded approach is that fans of thumpy bass could probably do better elsewhere. Even so, these things sound lovely.
And let’s not forget they can be used sans wires too. The pairing process is exactly what you’d expect: Hold a switch until a light flashes, and connect from the phone. It’s not quite as seamless as pairing a set of AirPods, but it’s as straightforward as headphones without Apple’s W1 chip are going to get. To M&D’s credit, I didn’t notice a dip in quality when ditching the included fabric-wrapped aux cable, and the range is pretty astonishing as well. Most Bluetooth devices I use start to cut out after I move 30 to 35 feet away from them, but the MW50s continued to play my Spotify playlists as I wandered to the other end of our New York office.
Unfortunately, all is not perfect on the wireless front. It would have been nice if the headphones detected when the aux cable was connected and killed the Bluetooth connection; that way, there’d be no gap between plugging the MW50s into a computer and hearing the music play through them. As it stands, I had to remember every time to turn the headphones off before plugging them into my MacBook. Minor, but still irksome.
Call quality was generally more troublesome. About half of the people I called using the MW50s said the sound of my voice floated in and out during our conversations. The headphones were on and I hadn’t been moving in each of those cases, so I’m not sure what’s going on with that. I also wish the battery life lasted as long as M&D claims; it says they’re rated for 16 hours of continuous use, but my headphones died at around the 13-hour mark every time. At least it uses a future-proof USB Type-C cable to charge.
All that said, some people would probably be best off skipping these entirely. Take frequent travelers: The lambskin leather on the ear cups can only do so much to block out the roar of plane engines and other ambient sound. The headphones are comfortable, certainly, but if you’re planning to rack up some major airline mileage this year, you might want to consider a pair of headphones that fit over your ears rather than on them, not to mention ones with active noise cancellation.
If you’re looking for a phenomenal bit of road-warrior gear, or a perfect frequent travel companion, the MW50s fall short. But if you’re mostly interested in hearing great music wirelessly and don’t otherwise need many frills, your search should start here.