(Pocket-lint) - Marshall's over-ear and on-ear headphones have been hugely impressive in recent years, marrying its great trademark sound profile with punky style and super battery life to cater to a range of budgets.
The Motif ANC earbuds offer up an experience that looks a lot like "AirPods Pro, but Punk", with active noise-cancelling (ANC) tech added so you can rock out without the perils of the outside world. But is it a case of style over substance?
- Available in black only
- Weight per earbud: 4.25g / Charging case: 39.5g
For its headphones and speakers Marshall's design language is long-established, with a look and feel that's instantly recognisable and revered - and rightly so. The brand has a sense of retro style that works really well, but that doesn't hold these 'buds back when it comes to modern features.
Bringing that sort of heritage to a newer area like earbuds is a challenge, so opinions will be divided on how well the Motif ANC meets that challenge. Sadly just not big fans. Essentially you get a case that's almost identical in dimensions to Apple's AirPods Pro charging case, except finished in a textured faux-leather patina.
That classic white Marshall logo is there to brand it, as is the "Est. 1962" detail inside. The earbuds themselves have a white Marshall "M" on them, otherwise it's very much all black all the way, which is fine.
However, each earbud's stem features an almost spiky bobbled finish on its plastic that we find nearly inexplicable. In the right light and photography it looks punkish and cool - fair play. However, in the wearing, it makes for a scratchy experience taking the earbuds in and out, and we frequently found it grazing against our ears while we moved around, something that's a big no-no.
We also found that finding a seal in our ear was a little more challenging than we're used to with other earbuds.
While we don't love how the Motif ANC look in our ears, that's personal preference - and others will disagree. This comfort issue, however, we suspect will be more of a universal issue. It could be resolved by a smoother finish next time out.
- 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response
- Active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency modes
While that might not be the brightest note, the Motif ANC does at least win back a good chunk of credit when it comes to how it actually sounds in use.
Marshall's headphones typically have a really rich stage and that's broadly the case here, too. There's a nice warmth that makes the most out of a range of genres - but is probably most at home with rock'n'roll of all varieties.
You get really solid mids and a decent oomph to bass, while the high notes are impressively discernible as well, making for a pretty impressive impression overall.
That's augmented by the presence of active noise cancellation (ANC), which drowns out a solid proportion of the surrounding noise as you move around. It's great for public transport, as always, although this is not the most potent example we've tested.
You'll get a chunk more isolation from it, no doubt, but comparing it to the likes of Apple's or Klipsch's in-ear efforts left us slightly underwhelmed. There's no harm here, of course - it would take pretty bad implementation of ANC to make it anything other than a welcome addition.
Microphone performance is similarly fine, with decent pick-up and clarity, although it once again won't stand up to the competition of AirPods Pro, which is still the leader in this field.
- 4.5-hour battery life with ANC, 6 without
- Three full charges in case
- EQ controls in app
With ANC under its belt, Marshall doesn't have to pack in too many more surprises with the Motif ANC, and that's largely how things pan out. It doesn't pack in too many left-field options like gesture controls, although there is in-ear detection. That said, the ear detection works so sporadically (generally failing to unpause music when we put the earbud back in) that we ended up turning it off.
You do get touch controls on each earbud which you can customise to a degree, and they work decently, although they can be a tiny bit laggy at times.
You can also use Marshall's app to customise your equaliser settings, which is handy and something that a surprising number of even premium earbuds don't guarantee at present. It lets you tune your sound as you like, although we think the default settings are more than capable.
Battery life is sadly a little underwhelming, with four-and-a-half hours of playback on a charge if you're using ANC, which isn't exactly a day-long time. It raises to six hours without ANC, which is more respectable, and you get plenty of extra charges in the case. Still, we'd hope for longer figures in this regard.
The earbuds themselves are IPX5-rated, which is a solid level of waterproofing that makes them fine for exercising and rinsing in water, while the case gets an IPX4 rating that means splashes should be fine. It's a good level of durability that'll make for a less stressful time with them.
Marshall's looks are sometimes divisive, never more so than with the Motif ANC earbuds, but it's less how these look and more how they feel that's disappointing.
On the upside, the sound profile is very solid, and there are plenty of features to impress from touch controls to a customisable app.
However, mediocre battery life and a fit that simply didn't get any more comfortable as time went on means that these 'buds won't stick around as one of the better earbuds we've tested.
Apple AirPods Pro
A couple of years on from their release, it's fair to say the AirPods Pro has made its mark, not least in inspiring countless clones and imitators, of which the Motif ANC is arguably one more. The AirPods Pro's price has come down dramatically in seasonal sales, though, to make for a genuinely affordable option at times, and we think it's a better option for most people than Marshall's less comfortable effort.