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Marshall Headphones' original Major was a likable on-ear model, but not a great one. Now we get the Major II, which looks similar to the original Major, but this new model is significantly improved, with a better design and sound that makes it a good value at its online price of $100 (£99, about AU $160).
For starters, the earcups have a more rounded design, and the hinges and headband are more flexible, and the headphones just fit your head better and are more comfortable to wear.
The double-ended coil cord has an inline one-button remote and microphone for cell phone calls -- it works with Android and iOS smartphones -- and that cord is now detachable. It also has a more durable L-plug instead of the original's straight plug. I had a little trouble getting the plug to fit in the jack of an iPhone that was covered by a tougher case, so be aware that it's not compatible with all smartphone cases.
On the headphones themselves, the dual 3.5mm jacks allow you to choose which side you prefer to wear your cable on, or you can have a friend plug in and share your music.
Marshall says Major II's vinyl finish is more durable, and while I can't tell how it will hold up over time, the new model does look and feel a little swankier and sturdier than the original Major and is closer in build quality to the special-edition Major 50 FX that we also liked.
The Major II headphones also sound better than the first model, with improved bass response and increased detail. They're fairly warm and forgiving; they work well with a variety of music, but maintain a decent amount of clarity. You sometimes get a little too much bass push in sub-$100 headphones, which leads to some muddiness, but overall these headphones are pretty well balanced and sound as good as more expensive headphones we've tested.
We compared the Major II with the Beyerdynamic DTX 350p , a $70 on-ear model we rated highly. The Major II was a bit more open and natural-sounding than the DTX 350p, which features slightly more prominent, articulate bass.
On big productions like Beck's "Golden Age," the Marshalls were more dynamically alive than the Beyerdynamics and on the next track, "Paper Tiger,'" Beck's voice sounded more intimate over the Marshalls. But the Beyerdynamics did bring out the bass line out a little better.
On a really bass-heavy track like The Beta Band's "Life," the Beyerdynamic's bass-forward nature put the low-end ahead of the vocals and percussion, which became lost in the background. The more even-handed Major II restrained the bass enough to bring the other instruments out of the background.
Compared with the now-discontinued Major FX 50 , if the Major II were a key lime pie, it would have a thicker graham cracker layer of bass while the Major FX 50, which has a little more sparkle in the high end, would have the tangier topping.
That said, both are based on the same recipe and -- to switch metaphors -- the Major II headphones can stand proud as the new flagship on-ear headphones from the company, and they even cost a little less than FX 50 model as it's phased out.
With an improved design and performance, the Marshall Major II headphones are a nice upgrade over the original model and one of the better pairs of on-ear headphones for the money.