Master & Dynamic is a company building a reputation for classy, premium design and fantastic soul-moving sound in its headphones. But recently it's been planting a foot firmly in modern 21st century technology: in 2018 the company launched its first pair of completely wire-free earphones. This year, it's launching a pair of everyday ANC-equipped on-ear headphones, called the MW65, to compete with Bose, Sony and Beats

With the MW65, it's about taking a design that's worked well and cramming it full of the latest tech, without losing the personality and soul that makes M&D products so gosh-darn loveable. We think it's succeeded and here's why.

Classy style

  • Anodised aluminium build
  • Fine leather coating
  • Cloth bag for travel

If there's one thing you can guarantee in anything made by Master & Dynamic, it's style. The New York-based audio manufacturer doesn't do plain, hum-drum designs. As we saw in the company's first pair of wire-free in-ears, the MW07. So when the M&D told us it had come up with a new pair of active noise-cancelling (ANC) on-ear headphones, we had a hunch we'd love the look of them before we even saw them. And we weren't disappointed.

Where ever you look on the MW65, you're going to see some anodised aluminium and leather. Whether it's the large pill-shaped can exterior, or the headband, the stuff is everywhere. Not one part of what you see on the outside is made from plastic. Not even the trim at the ends of the headband holding the leather coasting in place.

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There's attention to detail too. We love the exterior cover on each of the earcups. The circular caps are covered in a sheet of - you guessed it - aluminium, but with a series of individually machined holes all over it, which is surrounded by a sturdy, chamfered metal ring. This same chamfered metal acts as the main can material too, and padded with a soft, comfortable cushion.

The cans are attached to an aluminium arm that pivots both up, down and sideways, ensuring you get a cushioned, comfortable fit. To adjust, the polished metal shaft moves smoothly inside the headband. There are no individual ridges, or steps for adjusting. Just one smooth, single movement. That not only means you'll get a more precise fit, but also, no annoying clicks when you're getting the headband to the right length.

Once on the head, the MW65 is very comfortable. This is down to a few elements: the slim padded headband covered in leather helps, as do the foam padded cans, but a big part is due to the weight - or rather the lack of it. Master & Dynamic made the MW65 very lightweight, so these cans are no trouble to wear for long periods.

As well as being lightweight, stylish and comfortable, the MW65 is supremely portable. The earcups rotate inwards to give the headphones a slim profile, and then they fit inside a soft cloth pouch with a magnetic closing at the mouth, and a leather pocket at the bottom for your wires.

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Being on-ear rather than over-ear though, it's not a pair you want to wear for really long sessions. Despite being comfortable, generally speaking, the cushions are pushing against the tops of the ear because that's how they're designed, meaning a little discomfort after a couple of hours. But on-ears are typically a little smaller than over-ears.

To wear, and to look at, the MW65 is one of our favourite pairs of headphones to date. There's the right balance between comfort, portability and style that's not present on all ANC-equipped headphones.

Modern tech inside

  • Two-stage ANC (Active Noise Cancellation)
  • Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX (20m range)
  • Up to 24 hours battery life
  • 15min charge (to 50%)

Think of active noise-cancelling and, by now, you'll likely be thinking of the Bose QC35, Beats Studio 3 or Sony WH-1000XM3. It was only a matter of time before Master & Dynamic got involved with its own take though. 

With the MW65, the noise-cancelling is available at two levels: high and low. At the high setting it does a pretty decent job of cutting out that low rumbling train noise or aeroplane engines. It'll cut down the amount of noise you hear in a busy coffee shop too, but doesn't completely envelop you in a blanket of noiseless wonder. Switch to low mode and it cuts out a little less noise. Switch it off completely and you'll hear more of the deep frequencies in the droning around you.

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The only thing we did notice is something we've seen from a couple of other high-end ANC headphones, particularly ones with moving parts like these: sometimes, when walking, there's a sort-of thumping sound in the ears related to feet striking the sound and sending reverberations through the body to the headphones. Adjusting the fit to bit a little more snug helped, as did switching off the ANC. 

To ensure strong connectivity with as little latency as possible, Master & Dynamic has equipped the MW65 with aptX, the technology developed by Qualcomm and that's present in many Android phones. It essentially means you'll get a good signal without drop-outs and no noticeable delay between the phone and the headphones. Even using the MW65 with an iPhone yields a latency-free experience, so there's no annoying split-second delay when watching music videos or any other video for that matter. 

In addition to all that, like the second-generation QC35 from Bose, there's Google Assistant built in. That means you can press-and-hold the middle button to ask it questions, or issue commands, or get it to read out your phone notifications, as long as you have an Android phone with the Google Assistant.

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As for battery life, it's definitely good enough. With a promise of up to 24 hours of play time, that's more than two work-weeks of hour-long commutes. With ANC switched on, you shouldn't expect quite as much as M&D claims, but we had no issues at all with getting through a long busy week, listening to two or three hours per day. 

For the times the battery runs out, there's the cable with a 3.5mm jack on both ends, enabling you to use the headphones passively. Although in this mode, there's less volume than when you're using the wireless method. 

Master sound

  • 40mm Beryllium Drivers
  • 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response

If you've every wondered where the "Dynamic" part of Master & Dynamic comes from, you only need to put a pair of its headphones on your ears. It epitomises everything about the sound. It is so dynamic, to the point where M&D won't let you "ruin" it by offering the option to change the equalisation (EQ). It's either this sound or find a different pair of headphones.

Which is actually fine by us because we love the dynamism. High end notes are clear, hard hitting and sharp, yet sit among a backdrop of awesome, loud bass. If what you're after is sterile, flat, studio headphones, this definitely isn't it. This is a pair to crank up your favourite bass filled tracks, close your eyes, and just get immersed in your favourite sounds.

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We like how versatile that makes these headphones. The clarity at the high end means they're just as happy with the mandolin plucking in the background of Jack Johnson's Sunsets for Somebody, as they are with the mid-range synth in Sigrid's Raw or the bass synth in Beyonce's Love on Top.

One song that particularly highlights the headphone's strengths is called Soothing, by Laura Marling. It starts off with a deep upright double bass, and some floor toms and a couple of electric bass guitars, a subtle rimshot on the snare and a single female lead voice over the top. Over the track, it adds the mid layers, and a string section, and through each addition the headphone keeps the shape and integrity, letting you hear and feel all of it without losing any element to another.

In short, the MW65 lets you enjoy all the elements of a track, and might even give a subtle accent to some of the background fillers that you maybe miss from a less capable pair. Go and re-listen to all of your favourite songs, just in case you missed something, because it'll be worth it.

Verdict

At £449, the Master & Dynamic MW65 is an expensive pair of on-ear headphones. But you get a great look and comfort as a result of design and materials - there's no plastic or artificial leather, it's all aluminium and real hide.

They're great sounding, too, while the ANC is effective. However, the main competition is considerably cheaper: Sony and Bose's big-selling ANC cans cost around £70 less, but their build quality isn't a patch on the M&D, if it's the kind of style you're after.

For this kind of money you expect a pair of headphones that's practically perfect, and for the most part that's true. With some foibles, such as less adaptive ANC and resonation from heavy-footed walking - both of which can happen with other headphones too.

For pure music enjoyment, however, you'll be hard pushed to find anything that sounds as good as the MW65. That's the big selling point: premium sound and premium design. You'll fall in love with your music again.

Alternatives to consider

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Bowers and Wilkins PX

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Bowers and Wilkins, like Master & Dynamic, has a penchant for creating fine-looking audio products from classy materials. The PX is no different, and is easily one of the best pairs of headphones released to the ANC market in recent years. This pair has four different ANC modes, automatically plays and pauses tracks when you put them on, or take them off. And being a couple of years old they're now cheaper than they were at launch.

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Bose QC35 II

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The QC35 is the grandaddy of noise-cancelling headphones. It might not be alone in the market anymore, but even the second-generation pair holds up really well in today's market. As the QuietComfort name suggests, they're supremely comfortable to wear, and cut out a lot of external noise, while being very portable and easy to use. They're really plasticky in terms of build by comparison to the Master & Dynamic though.