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Master & Dynamic MH30 headphones: Built to last and sound great

With its forged aluminum ear cups, steel headband and real leather padding, the Master & Dynamic MH30's robust build quality is rare at its price.

Let's face it, the majority of headphones in the $300-to-$500 range are mostly made of plastic. Sure, they might have a few metal parts sprinkled here and there, but plastic is the dominant material. Pick up a Master & Dynamic MH30 ($329 US, £259 UK, AU$479 Australia) and you'll feel the difference the forged and beautifully finished aluminum ear cups, real lambskin covered ear pads and headband can make. The MH30 is substantially built, and the two-year warranty is twice as long as what comes with most headphones. I think it's the sort of headphone that might provide 10 or more years of service. Granted, the ear pads and cable probably won't make 10 years, but those parts are user-replaceable. Anybody out there still using their original, mostly plastic Beats headphones?

The Master & Dynamic MH30 headphone Steve Guttenberg/CNET

With the MH30 you get a rugged canvas carry pouch, one cable with an iPhone compatible mic and control, and another plain "straight" cable. The MH30 sports 40mm drivers, and impedance is rated at 32 ohms. This handsome headphone is offered in three color schemes: silver/brown leather, gunmetal (gray)/black leather, and black metal/black leather. The MH30 weighs 9.2 ounces (260 grams).

The MH30 won't light up the ears of listeners craving oodles of high-res detail; it's not that kind of sound. But if you like big and bold, the MH30 will make every tune a little sweeter and richer than you've heard before. Boosted bass may be the current fashion, but what if you're not into bass? I certainly don't like thick, bloated, over-emphasized bass, but I don't like thin or lean sounding headphones either. With avant garde composer's Steve Reich's landmark album, "Music for 18 Musicians" the dense interplay of vibes, piano, xylophone, marimbas were all clearly defined.

The MH30 is a closed-back, on-ear headphone design, but when I first heard it I thought it was an open-back on-ear. That is, it doesn't have the crushed, inside-my-skull sound I get with most on-ears. That's really something.

For most of my listening tests I switched between my iPod Classic and Sony NWZ-A17 music players. The MH30's bass definition on the Thievery Corporation's remix of Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up" was super impressive, Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 on-ear headphones' low-end was looser and out of control. The P5 Series 2 also squished the stereo soundstage inside my skull; the MH30 was more spacious, with a more fleshed-out and natural sounding midrange. The P5 Series 2 had a crisper, more immediate presentation some users might prefer, but I did not. I also found the MH30 was more comfortable and blocked external noise better than the P5 Series 2.

The MH30 headphone folds for compact storage Master & Dynamic

I next pitted the MH30 against one of the best on-ears, the Beyerdynamic T51 p . This one was also leaner in its tonal balance, but more natural than the P5 Series 2, and less full than the MH30. Which one is best? I like them all, even though they each sound different -- the MH30 is fuller and warmer; the T51 p leaner and lighter on its feet. As for soundstage, the MH30 is the clear winner, it's one of the most spacious on-ear headphones I've heard to date.

At home, plugged into my Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amp, the MH30 sounded clearer than it did with portable players. I next compared the larger, over-the-ear Master & Dynamic MH40 with the MH30. The MH40 (US $399) is a more see-through transparent, exciting, and better sounding headphone. To be fair, I always think over-the-ear models sound better than the on-ears from the same company. The MH40 is significantly better overall, but its larger size makes it less portable.