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Marshall Major 50 FX headphones review: Like little amps for your head

These limited-edition headphones celebrate Marshall's 50th anniversary, but how do they stack up?

Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
4 min read

Celebrity headphones are riding the crest of a wave at present, but the celebrity is often only hovering in the background. Most headphones are not the "Simon Cowell CX70s" or the "Sol by Deadmau5," and this is probably what has kept the genre becoming a second-hand celebrity perfume.


Marshall Major 50 FX headphones

The Good

The <b>Marshall Major 50</b> headphones feature a sturdy build and authentic Marshall details; they fold up neatly and store in a cloth bag; has integrated mic and three button remote; sound is exciting and suits rock music but are also capable of playing other genres.

The Bad

At $170 the headphones may be too rich for some people's blood -- especially given the $50 premium over the standard model; they're not the last word in hi-fi, as they're lacking some finesse; not as comfortable as the Bowers and Wilkins P3.

The Bottom Line

The Marshall Major 50 FX headphones may look a little gaudy, but the company's rock tradition is safe with a premium build and exciting sound.

The Marshall Major 50 FX headphones are designed to celebrate Marshall's 50th anniversary, and here the "celebrity" is Marshall's famous amps, favored by rock legends including Jimi Hendrix, The Who's John Entwistle, Metallica's James Hetfield, or (my pick) Nigel "These go to eleven" Tufnel of Spinal Tap.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The limited-edition headphones are designed to look like Marshall amps with fine details such as a gold trim and a tweed-like grille on the drivers. The earcups are attached by a metal brace that gives the headphones an aviation headset look and are able to be folded inward for easy transportation. The earcups sit on the ear and are constructed of a leatherette material. While they were a little uncomfortable at first, with a quick bend of the "Marshall amp vinyl" headband they became much more wearable.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 4-foot cord is one-sided, though unlike with the Bowers and Wilkins P3 headphones, it's not removable, and it features a three-switch microphone with universal start/stop and volume up/down for iOS devices. It's coiled at one end and can stretch up to twice its length, studio-headphones style.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To assist with portability, the headphones include a heavy cloth bag with a drawstring.

Apart from the cosmetics, the FX moniker also refers to a sonic upgrade on the standard Major headphones. The drivers inside are 40mm and offer a boost in bass response but I would never equate a guitar amp with high fidelity For one, they're open, untuned boxes; second, they lack tweeters, which are the dedicated drivers that output high-frequency sound. But they're made for a different purpose and the Major 50 FXs manage to maintain the Marshall stamp while still sounding like full-range headphones.

Though bass guitarists -- such as the aforementioned John Entwistle -- have used the Marshall amplifiers for bass guitars, they are most often used for normal guitars, and this informs the Major 50 FX's sound.

I used a variety of sources, including an iPod Touch, a Samsung Galaxy S and a HiFiMan EF2 USB DAC. These are most likely to be used "on the road," but PC listening is a possibility, especially as many ultraportable PCs have a combined headphone/mic output now.

Given the amp's history, it goes without saying that the Marshalls are best suited to rock music, but I soon found the bass wasn't overwhelming on non-bass-oriented tracks; these will also replay acoustic or classical music well.

Switch to a bass-heavy track, though, and this changes. Given a copy of David Byrne and St. Vincent's "I am an Ape" to hold onto, the Marshall's bass seemed to linger and push all of the other instruments and voice into a tight space. The headphones lacked the bass attack of the the more articulate (and more expensive) Bowers and Wilkins P5s. Give it a monster bassline, such as "Life" by The Beta Band, and there is still some upper-register articulation available despite the potential heavyhandedness. While a little buried under bass, the glockenspiel part toward the end of the song sounded crisper than on the B&W P5s/P3s and Grado SR60is.

Noise isolation was decent as the earcups closed over my ears and only needed to turn the volume up once on the subway when a particularly noisy train whooshed past. Likewise, using them as a phone headset worked fine with good call quality on both sides.

With the price-comparable Bowers and Wilkins P3s on my head, I found their sound to be pleasant if a little dull, while the Marshalls were involving without being too taxing. With the P3s, "Yet Again" by Grizzly Bear sounded constrained and lacking in high-end detail, while the Marshalls had more air and a sense of space.

But this air can be at the expense of true treble detail. The Marshall's treble could be a little splashy at times, with cymbals sometimes sounding more like tambourines, but this was usually kept in check.

If you're looking for a pair of headphones that scream "ROCK" in an throat-ravaged falsetto -- inside and out -- then the Marshall Major 50 FX are the headphones for you. They're fairly restrained in a rock way: more Angus Young than Brett Michaels, and they have a fun, vibrant sound that would suit fans of most genres of music. With a $120 saving over the Bowers and Wilkins P5 and a more lively sound, these are a very good set of portable headphones for the money.


Marshall Major 50 FX headphones

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 8Value 7