Master & Dynamic MW65 Review – Technology Meets Tradition
Class-leading construction quality, Immensely comfortable, Effective yet unobtrusive ANC, Natural sound, Scales well from a quality wired connection
ANC isn’t as effective as class-leaders, Doesn’t fold for storage, Price prohibitive
M&D’s latest headphone is immensely versatile with effective ANC and class-leading sound quality that scales well with high-quality home equipment.
Forged in the bustling streets of New York, Master & Dynamic have made a name for themselves with their timeless styling mated to rich sound tuning. Their identity is equal parts tradition and innovation, pioneering new form factors without the awkward design usually associated with new technology. The MW65 represents the latest evolution of their portable headphone line-up, combining all of the technologies introduced prior into one coherent package. This is the most feature-rich Master & Dynamic headphone yet, introducing a new construction, ANC and a new sound tuning to match. Implementing beryllium drivers and a new lightweight aluminium frame, the MW65 is also M&D’s most comfortable, portable and balanced headphones. The MW65 is Master & Dynamics vision for a world where traditional, non-frills engineering meets cutting edge technology sans superfluous gimmick. This is a focussed and refined product with a higher $499 USD price tag to match. You can read more about the MW65 here and treat yourself to a set here.
I would like to thank Master & Dynamic very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the MW65 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
As usual for Master and Dynamic, the MW65 is accompanied by a wide assortment of supporting accessories. Of note is the leather/canvas carrying pouch that will be colour matched to the colour of the headphone itself in addition to very svelte nylon sheathed USB-C cable and 3.5mm aux cable. M&D also includes a USBC to USB-A adapter for older chargers.
Take one look at Master & Dynamic’s lavish Instagram feed and it’s apparent that buyers can expect flawless industrial design, premium materials and masterfully curated colourways. The company has never ceased to amaze with their build quality and design, and, especially in comparison to the portable ANC headphone market, the MW65 is no exception. That said, this headphone doesn’t present the same impression of flawless quality as their former offerings on behalf of a new focus on portability; being substantially lighter than previous headphones through its adoption of aluminium over stainless steel.
The MW65 still feels like a very premium product in isolation, possessing an all-metal design without a hint of plastic. Premium grain leather adorns its outer surfaces, all hard-wearing and immaculately finished. These weight savings have transformed the fit of the headphone. It hugs the head and stays put like no M&D headphone has before and it feels substantially less cumbersome when on the go. Combined with a wider headband, hotspots are a non-issue during extended listening, an issue that affected prior M&D headphones. It also sports a sleek, lower-profile fit though the hangers do still protrude slightly from the head.
Master and Dynamic’s smooth headband sliders make a return, offering fine adjustment for any head size. The new oval leather earpads remain removable though no longer sporting the magnetic attachment system of the MH40 and MW60. They are also shallower with soft foam internals that hug the ear similar to the Oppo PM3. The lambskin pads are very plush, with memory foam cushion and soft foam on the internal faces, so the headphone doesn’t wear on the outer ear over time. The ANC toggle button lies on the outer face of the left earcup with the power/pairing slider and 3.5mm jack below, while the playback controls are on the right in addition to the USB-C charging port which is a great addition in 2019.
Usability & ANC Performance –
The headphones operate similarly to the MW60 before it, and most other wireless headphones for that matter. The sliding power button is accompanied by a musical chime to denote power, while pushing and holding the slider enters pairing mode. The headphones quickly auto-connect to previously paired devices over a BT4.2 connection with Apt-X for higher quality audio on supported sources. The headphones feature dual microphones for calls, enabling cancellation of ambient noise for the recipient. In use, calls were clear and my voice easily distinguished during calls, however, callers did note that I sounded slightly more muffled than my dedicated Jabra headset.
Master & Dynamic claim 24 hours of battery life with quick charge enabling users to replenish 12 hrs of playback time with just 15 minutes of charge. Even with ANC on high, at low-medium volumes (and the headphones offer excellent maximum volume), the MW65 rewarded me with just over 21hrs of playback time, a great result in my books and plenty for any flight. I am a big fan of the headphone’s traditional control scheme, with 3 standard hardware buttons as opposed to touch/gesture. They simply work better for me and are easier to use when on the go. The play/pause button is also raised higher than the volume buttons, so it is easy to distinguish between them in a hurry.
The headphone’s ANC is fairly non-frills, and is very simple to operate as a result. Perhaps one feature I would like to have seen would be aware mode, perhaps through a long press of the ANC button, however. The MW65 offers three ANC modes, high, low and off, and the user can cycle through using the aforementioned ANC button. All modes affect the sound quality, with ANC high compromising the sound the most and ANC off showcasing the full capability of the driver. Regardless, ANC is effective and, importantly for some, impressively unobtrusive. It doesn’t block as much noise as market leaders from Bose or Sony, especially higher up in the midrange such as voices, however, the headphones cancel the low-frequency drone of commute very effectively, permitting the headphone’s punchy bass notes to shine through.
Furthermore, there is no sense of pressure with ANC on either mode and the sound signature and volume remains the same through all modes so there isn’t any unnatural DSP here as on many wireless headphones. I also noted that there are no loud pops with closing train doors and sudden ambient noises as can be experienced on the more aggressive ANC on Bose’s headphones, however, they do struggle with wind noise. M&D have implemented the ANC low mode for these circumstances specifically, however, I noted the issue on both modes, it is just less apparent on ANC low. With ANC off, the headphones isolate as well as the vast majority of closed-back portable headphones so the addition of a medium strength ANC is an effective addition; producing a headphone that seals users off from their surroundings if not placing them in a vacuum-like void. However, it does so while remaining completely non-fatiguing during long listening sessions.
The MW65 offers Master And Dynamic’s signature dark, smooth and warm signature. However, this is a slightly more balanced incarnation with a more linear low-end and a vocal boost that brings vocals to the fore. As such, it sounds markedly more engaging than prior M&D headphones with greater clarity and less low-end bloat.
Of note, there is a marked difference in sound quality when toggling between the ANC high and off mode, the headphones sound flatter and less dynamic, bass extension takes a hit as does control and definition, vocals have a slightly nasal character and treble becomes slightly less composed, sounding slightly more brittle. Nonetheless, a loss of sound quality with ANC can be expected given that the drivers have to work a lot harder. This remains a great sonic performer among premium ANC headphones, and the ability to toggle this setting to achieve greater fidelity in quiet environments is very welcome. For the sake of fairness, comments below will be with ANC disabled with additional notes specific to ANC mode high.
Lows show the most delineation between ANC settings, however, subjectively, listening with ANC high is ideal as the reduction of background noise permits greater perception of bass and bass detail that may otherwise be drowned out. Regardless, lows extend well in all settings. Compared to high-quality wired competitors, there is a small amount of roll-off, delivering a softer slam at the very bottom, however, ample rumble remains. Mid-bass steals the focus, being modestly emphasized to deliver warm, impactful lows. As such, its notes are full, yet the MW65’s emphasis is subjectively very tasteful, avoiding excessive emphasis and avoiding tubbiness even if there is some bloat. Upper-bass falls off smoothly into the lower-midrange to retain vocal clarity and cleanliness. Control and detail retrieval are among the best for an ANC headphone.
Of course, a well-driven wired headphone like the Oppo PM3 will handily outperform the MW65. Still, considering its fair mid-bass emphasis, the MW65’s low-notes are defined and well-textured. There is a respectable amount of detail retrieval within the lows and the headphones effectively keep up with complex tracks without descending into muddiness. Notes are punchy and decay naturally. In addition, lows are immediately more controlled and detailed when ANC is turned off. They have more separation and a touch more extension as well. This provides a great option for listening on the go and at home, bass certainly doesn’t overwhelm as it can on other consumer-orientated headphones and the option to trade noise cancelling for additional performance is an enticing option for those looking to use the MW65 in multiple use cases.
Vocal clarity is an immediate strength of this headphone, reflecting stark contrast to the majority of competitors that aim for a warmer, more relaxed presentation in order to combat fatigue. Not here, the MW65 is clean in tone with excellent bass/midrange separation and plenty of extension. Lower-mids are well-present, providing well-bodied notes, while the centre midrange has a hearty bump, imbuing additional vocal presence and clarity. The 4-KHz region is a touch attenuation, providing density and smoothness. As the headphone does emphasize the centre midrange, vocals do sit slightly in front of instruments, however, they are nicely in line with the bass, achieving reasonable balance overall.
When delving deeper into timbre and accuracy, the MW65 isn’t particularly linear due to its dip in the upper-bass and centre midrange emphasis, which sounds to me just a touch peaky perhaps at 2-KHz. Nonetheless, it is a well-layered and tonally accurate sound. Mids are a touch warm, imbued from its emphasized bass and despite its upper-bass dip. Meanwhile, though vocals are clear and clean, their slight peakiness does manifest clearly under critical listening. That said, it isn’t so apparent with the thinner mastering style of modern pop, and they remain preferable to me in comparison to the warmer, more veiled WH-1000MX3 and the thinner Bose QC25. As the treble is smooth and dark, sibilance is a non-issue, so though the midrange is clear, it isn’t fatiguing in the slightest.
Where competitors often roll the treble off, almost in its entirety, the MW65 retains ample insight, crispness and detail. Treble remains on the darker side with less presence than either bass or mids, however, a 7-KHz peak does much to inject energy and detail presence that is missing on the majority of competitors. The MW65 remains a smoother headphone overall, a by-product of its 5-6KHz dip . As such, the headphones possess a smooth foreground presentation that lacks hard edge and aggressive attack, while retaining crisp instrumentation and plenty of detail presence on behalf of that small middle-treble emphasis. Moreover, it does so without sounding bright in the slightest, there is some air and adequate headroom to avoid congestion which is a rarity among ANC headphones.
Treble falls off above 7-KHz, providing a clean, dark background canvas upon which foreground details can achieve focus. There is a touch of upper-treble emphasis but extension and resolution aren’t high enough to redeem any real micro-detail or sparkle. Still, both technical qualities are above average, especially with ANC off where the headphones have noticeably greater detail retrieval. Their upper-treble bump also provides a hint of additional detail presence in the background that grant this headphone a sense of space and nuance that, again, is rare for a wireless, ANC model. Though certainly not analytical or energetic in its voicing, the MW65 strikes a nice balance between long-term listenability and engagement and enough detail retrieval to flatter any genre.
The MW65 provides a well-rounded soundstage and it is reasonably sized. It expands in size and separation, in particular, is markedly improved with ANC off, sounding more coherent and controlled. However, even with ANC on high, separation is laudable due to its well-metered tuning. Vocals project nicely from ample depth and they are strongly centred. Meanwhile, instruments lie to the side where the headphones are able to expand just beyond the head. As is expected from a headphone with forward vocals and a darker background, there is clear delineation between layers and the headphones separate nicely indeed, especially the midrange and between the three core frequency bands. This makes small details easier to pinpoint, though bass, due to its enlarged notes, can sound a touch congested at times.
Of course, the sound does vary between ANC modes, however, even with ANC off, the headphone is still being driven off its internal circuitry. Curious to how it would scale from a wired connection to my JDS Atom/Kardas Tone Board combo, I jacked the headphone in using the included 3.5mm cable. Unsurprisingly, the headphones received a healthy dose of sound improvement, however, I was very surprised at just how well they scaled; similar to my impressions with the MH40 that thrived from power. The MW65 achieved more balance throughout and bass was considerably more controlled with a cleaner, mellower mid-bass. Mids remained similar with a slight increase in resolution. However, highs were noticeably more detailed and extended, benefitting soundstage expansion and further enhancing separation. Of note, the headphones can be run from a wired source in conjunction with ANC if the headphones are switched on, however, this did not bear the same benefits as the headphones seem to process the wired input through the internal circuitry, spoiling any quality benefits. The headphones perform best from a quality wired source with electronics turned off. They’re still a touch dark and vocals slightly peaky, however, quality wise, they perform as well as a nice midrange wired headphone.
Bose QC25 ($250): Admittedly not Bose’s newest, however, the QC25 is a staple in the ANC headphone world and its noise cancelling remains one of the best on the market. In terms of noise cancelling alone, the Q25 retains an edge of the MW65, its noise cancelling is more effective throughout the spectrum, however, the MW65 doesn’t produce any sense of pressure where this is a known quality of the QC25’s ANC. In addition, the QC25 is slightly more comfortable as it has deeper cups and an even lighter albeit primarily plastic design. The QC25 also folds down smaller where the MW65 only folds flat. The MW65 on the other hand will age considerably better, with its fully aluminium and real leather design, its pads won’t flake like the Bose and its headband also has a smooth slider that offers finer adjustment than the QC25’s stepped mechanism.
Sonically, the MW65 widens its reign. The QC25 has a similar low-end profile to the MW65, however, above that, it represents a significantly less refined listen. The QC25 has less sub-bass extension and an almost identical amount of mid bass emphasis. As it has almost no sub-bass, the Bose’s mid-bass sounds a touch more defined and cleaner than the MW65. The QC25 compensates by adding a touch more upper-bass that grants it a similarly full presentation to the MW65, however, it does so at the cost of a less transparent tone, leaning more towards warmth. The Bose also has an emphasized vocal range with good clarity and its tone is equally clean. That said, the Bose sounds substantially less natural through the midrange, having a sharper lower-midrange dip due to its upper-bass emphasis and achieving its clarity through upper-midrange rather than centre midrange emphasis. So though it is clear, it also sounds thin and hollow where the MW65 sounds considerably more accurately bodied and simply more natural.
The Bose is also a touch more sibilant as it emphasizes the upper-midrange in order to achieve this clarity, this is also the reason why it doesn’t sound as smooth and natural, the MW65 is simply denser and more coherent. Up top, there is no comparison, the MW65 kicks the pants off the Bose. The Bose has a very isolated treble bump, however, it sounds heavily rolled off by comparison. The MW65 retrieves hugely more detail and its highs are more balanced with the rest of its sound where the Bose sounds brittle and distant within the highs. The MW65 has a lot more headroom and a real soundstage with defined layers where the Bose sounds one-dimensional and flat due to its lack of extension and background detail. The MW65 is the considerably more balanced, nuanced and engaging listen, as its midrange is smoother and denser, I find it no more fatiguing, in fact, significantly more pleasant to listen to than the Bose.
Sony WH-1000XM3 ($350): The Sony is more feature laden, its ANC is more advanced and blocks noticeably more sound, especially through the midrange (such as voices). It has a sleeker design with a lower-profile headband and folds for storage on top. The Sony also has touch controls and an easily activated aware mode that enables the listener to hear their surroundings. They also have a slight edge with battery life rated at 30hrs vs 24hrs. The Master and Dynamics by comparison have significantly better build quality and they do so while weighing 10g less. They have more palpable physical controls and a wider headband. Its earpads are deeper for those with wider ears. The headband adjustment also has unlimited positions where the Sony is limited to set intervals.
The MW65 immediately provides the more balanced, detailed sound. The MW65 has similar bass quantity and tuning with a fair amount of mid-bass warmth, however, it is has less upper-bass and its tone is cleaner as a result. The MW65 is also more controlled, having immediately greater separation and definition, it is more extended, dynamic and cleaner making the Sony sound woolly by comparison. Regardless, I don’t find myself having a huge problem with the Sony’s bass, rather, it is the midrange that I find to present biggest issue. Namely, vocals are recessed and overly boxy sounding, a by-product of a lack of bass/midrange separation that I attribute to an excess of lower-midrange.
Meanwhile, vocals are quite veiled as they have warmth that permeates from the bass in addition to extra body from the lower-midrange and upper-bass without an upper-midrange or treble emphasis to lift its tone and clarity. The result is rather muffled vocals and a lack of openness and depth. The MW65 has no such issues. It has ample separation between its bass and midrange, leaving vocals with a touch of warmth but also some space to breathe. Note size is more accurate and clarity is substantially higher on the MW65. The midrange is more linear and its timbre is a lot more natural. Separation is higher on the MW65 and it is a more layered sound overall. The highs tell a similar story.
However, it isn’t excessive nor is it peaky. Lower-treble has nice attack yet it is reinforced by ample body and texture. The Sony sounds dull and smoothed off, a fairly common tuning for ANC headphones as highs can fatigue during extended listening. Nonetheless, the MW65 is hardly a bright earphone, it has a dark background but simply has more going on in the foreground with more abundant detail, more energy and greater headroom. Perhaps the aspect that ties it all together, the MW65 has a much more open soundstage, it has significantly greater width where the Sony has almost no soundstage at all to my ears. The MW65 has superior separation which makes it easier to pinpoint details in its already more detailed image. So although the MW65 may not demolish wired headphones in its price class, it is without a doubt among the best wireless ANC headphone on the market.
Master & Dynamic MW60 ($299): Master and Dynamic’s original wired headphone that resembles the lauded MH40 more in terms of build and design than the MW65 at the cost of being almost 50% heavier. Its finely machined stainless steel frame and blend of premium cow and lambskin leather makes it thoroughly sumptuous, feeling more substantial than the MW65. It isn’t as sleek with wider hangers and deeper pads. It becomes more compact with folding hinges and sports the same smooth headband sliders. It isn’t nearly as comfortable as the lighter MW65, especially as its headband is thinner, which can form hotspots during longer listening. The MW60 has no noise cancelling, it blocks substantially less ambient noise even though it is closed with a solid seal. Finally, the MW60 uses micro-USB as opposed to USB-C on the MW65 and it has a shorter 16hr battery life.
Sonically, the 45mm neodymium drivers in the MW60 can’t match the clarity and control of the 40mm beryllium drivers in the MW65, especially given the MW60’s more V-shaped signature. The MW60 has a warmer sound with more bass emphasis, especially with regards to sub-bass that is a touch more extended and more emphasized. The MW60 also has more mid-bass, sounding warmer and fuller but also a touch more congested as a result. Still, the MW60 has dynamics, rumble and impact that the MW65 can’t match. Both demonstrate higher driver control, the MW65 is cleaner though the MW60 does well considering its even fuller low-end, being more aggressively textured if more bloated. Both taper off in the upper-bass to maintain midrange transparency. Here, we can see some clear delineations, the MW60 being more vocally recessed and typical V, the MW65 implementing a vocal boost in order to enable greater balance.
The MW65 is cleaner through the midrange where the MW60 is warmer with less clarity. The MW65 sounds more accurate here, being more transparent while maintaining smoothness. The MW60 sounds a touch less refined, it has less vocal presence and it is noticeably warmer with more upper-midrange emphasis to compensate, as such, it doesn’t sound quite as coherent. Highs have also been revised, the MW60 is more linear in the highs, the MW65 is more energetic with greater crispness and openness. The MW60 has more body and a touch more detail when scrutinized, however as the MW65 is actually a touch brighter, this is not always apparent. The MW65 also sports more headroom though both extend similarly. The MW60 has a slight edge in terms of high-end linearity and detail retrieval, the MW65 resolved background detail better and has more detail presence. The MW60 has a slightly larger stage, an impression reinforced by its less forward treble and midrange. The MW65 has more defined layers and imaging is sharper.
Gone are the days when general listeners could spend pennies on wired headsets to accompany their commutes, the death of the headphone jack has ensured that wireless products rise to unprecedented prominence. And within this market, ANC headphones have remained immensely popular as smaller form factors remain immature. The MW65 slots comfortably into the highest echelons of this sector, a wireless headphone with incredible build quality that stands firm against the rigours of daily life, and effective ANC that quietens if not quite silences the hectic whirr of suburban life. A suite of premium accessories keeps your investment protected during transit while providing ample connectivity for frequent flyers, even when the 20hrs of battery life have been depleted.
In addition, the MW65 delivers boggling sound quality of an ANC headset, with reasonable balance invigorated with a mild bass emphasis and considerably more resolving power than leading competitors. The MW65 delivers a rich low-end while retaining clean, clear vocals and a crisp high-end that doesn’t fatigue. By implementing high-quality beryllium drivers and offering multiple levels of noise cancellation in addition to the option to bypass its internal electronics entirely, M&D ensure versatile sound quality that flatter on the go and scales up with high-quality home equipment. This is an immensely well-rounded headphone, a traditional approach to a new, bustling form factor with a sound that is as natural as is its construction.
The MW65 is available from on Amazon (International) for $499 USD at the time of writing. Please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.
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