Despite costing up to $300 or $400, headphones like Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the Beats Solo Pro, or the Sony WH-1000XM3 don’t feel like they should cost that much. Their sound quality, comfort, and ability to completely zap out ambient sound with noise cancellation aren’t up for debate. But their plastic designs just don’t make for the best first impression.
The inverse can be said of Master & Dynamic’s new MH40 Wireless, a wire-free version of its original over-ear cans. They are among the few $300 headphones that actually look and feel worthy of the investment. The plush leather ear cups and smooth canvas headband help to achieve that effect, but the aluminum detailing found all over the MH40 Wireless drives it home. As a sucker for build quality, these headphones ooze style, but more importantly, the feeling that I got my money’s worth.
That feeling doesn’t extend, at least as fully, to the sound quality of these headphones or their feature set, which is limited. Compared to M&D’s original MH40, and even its new MW07 Plus truly wireless earbuds, the MH40 Wireless’ sound performance is weaker, with too much emphasis placed on high frequencies. I can usually count on this brand to go heavy on mids and highs, without overdoing it on either end. That results in a warm, exciting sound. And while these new wireless headphones are pleasant to listen to in the office (especially since they can maintain a connection to my phone and laptop at the same time), they sound noticeably compromised compared to M&D’s other products.
This could be because the wireless MH40 headphones use 40mm drivers instead of the same 45mm-sized drivers from the wired version. That’s not a huge difference in size, though, so I’m not confident that this is the sole reason behind the change in sound. M&D told me that it strived to make these headphones lighter, so they can be comfortable enough for all-day use.
It achieved that goal by replacing the original’s heavier steel frame with aluminum detailing. And in doing so, this fixes one of my biggest issues with the original MH40s. Their hefty weight meant that more clamping force was necessary to keep them snug on your noggin. These new headphones weigh less, and as a result, are much more comfortable to wear, so the change for the sake of ergonomics is one I can get behind. Certainly, this change is also a cost-cutting measure, and plausibly, it could have made other adjustments to, say, the drivers, ear cups, or other internal hardware in such a way that it impacts sound quality.
It’s not that the MH40 Wireless sound bad, they don’t. It’s just that, based on my experience with Sony’s 2018 flagship wireless headphones, and my colleague Chris Welch’s collective knowledge on more recent competing models, they don’t sound nearly as good as what $300 can get you elsewhere.
As far as executing on the main duties of modern wireless headphones — like playing music, handling phone calls, and using your preferred voice assistant to tell you the weather or the next event on your schedule — the MH40s can handle all of that. But they don’t go much beyond this bare minimum amount of functionality that I’ve come to expect from headphones, even those that are cheaper than this model. These don’t have noise cancellation or a transparency hearing mode, and the navigation buttons are tough to wrangle — and I haven’t gotten better at controlling them yet.
These buttons are splayed behind the cylindrical barrel where the headband latches onto the right ear cup. Buttons should be easy to find, but they blend in on M&D’s wireless headphones a little too well, competing with other design touches that can be easily mistaken for buttons. For instance, the volume up button is too close to the ear cup hinge, which feels like a button. It helps that the volume and multifunction buttons are next to each other, so once you’ve found one, you’ve found them all. But even so, their precarious placement makes them prone to erroneous presses, and it just feels cramped, especially considering that the whole left ear cup goes unused. The right ear cup houses every single button, including the power button (which doubles as the pairing button), a USB-C charging port, and two beam-forming microphones.
M&D claims 16 hours of battery life for the MH40 Wireless. That’s less than most other competing wireless headphones at this price. That’s forgivable, if they meet the claim, but they failed to do that during my week with them. Despite having a power-saving feature that turns them off automatically after 10 minutes of inactivity, they failed to reach the 16-hour mark after each recharge. I’d estimate that I got around 12 hours of combined use each time. On the upside, these headphones charge quickly via USB-C. They can fully charge in about an hour, according to my testing.
If you’re someone who is seeking out the best sound and most complete feature set (why wouldn’t you be?) available in a pair of $300+ headphones, there are other options you should be looking at instead — namely the ones that I listed above: Sony’s WH-1000XM3, the Bose Noise Cancelling 700, or Beats Solo Pro. The way that Master & Dynamic’s wireless MH40 look is their biggest asset, and that’s only worth so much if there isn’t much else going on inside.
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