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Hands-on with the new Marshall Major III Bluetooth headphones

The third generation of Marshall's popular on-ear wireless headphone features improved sound, a sturdier design and softer ear cups.

Marshall's line of on-ear Major headphones have been the company's most popular model over the years, and now the third generation Major III is about to hit stores in both wired and Bluetooth versions for $80 (£80, $AU100)  and $150 (£130, $AU 200) respectively.

Marshall quietly launched the Major III at an event in New York City the other night and I walked away with a Major III Bluetooth review unit.

The new model carries on the Major II's square-shaped ear cups, but the Major III has a little cleaner, more premium look and a sturdier design. The Major III also has upgraded ear pads that are softer and feature upgraded materials (alas, the foam inside doesn't appear to be memory foam). The new model weighs 181 grams -- or 8 grams more than the previous model.

The Major III Bluetooth (right) has been bulked up a bit and looks more premium.

David Carnoy/CNET

Marshall's nifty multidirectional control knob, which allows you to switch tracks forward and back, adjust volume and answer/end calls is on board. The Major II had a separate power button. That's now integrated into control knob (you hold it down to power on the headphone).

The sound has been upgraded, too. The bass is a little more defined, and there's a bit of presence boost in the treble that makes this a brighter headphone. I liked the sound but preferred the slightly smoother, richer sound of the significantly more expensive Marshall Mid ANC, which I reviewed recently.

You get a headphone cord for those times when you want to listen in wired mode -- say, on a plane -- but no carrying case is included. Battery life is rated at a healthy 30 hours at moderate volume levels. That's very solid for a Bluetooth headphone.

With the impending release of the Major III Bluetooth, the price for the Major II Bluetooth has dropped to $80. In time, this new model should cost less, too -- and perhaps sooner rather than later. Competition in the headphone market is stiff these days, particularly as more people shift to totally wireless headphones like the AirPods.

I'll have a full review of the Marshall Major III Bluetooth after I spend a little more time with them. But my initial take is that a good on-ear wireless headphone has gotten better, particularly from a design standpoint.

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