Master & Dynamic MW65 review: A high-end wireless noise-canceling headphone with a distinct design and smooth sound
New York-based Master & Dynamic made a name for itself by making distinctly styled headphones that featured premium materials and very good sound. The company's latest wireless model, the MW65 ANC, is its first to feature active noise-canceling, and it's arguably its best headphone to date. However, at $499 it costs more than other excellent -- and already pretty expensive -- noise-canceling headphones such as the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. And there's just not a really compelling reason to buy it versus those models.
But let's forget about the price for a minute and talk about what's good about the headphone. For starters, they definitely look and feel like a premium headphone, with leather trim, folding hinges and nicely padded swanky lambskin covered earcups. And thanks to the use of anodized aluminum instead of stainless steel, the 250-gram MW65 is significantly lighter than the 351-gram MW60 and more comfortable to wear as result.
Like the MW60, I found this headphone a touch too large and it barely fit my head, so this may not work for people with smaller heads. But they were an excellent fit for my colleague Ty Pendelbury, who has a more sizable skull (he also commented that they felt lighter than previous Master & Dynamic headphones he'd tried).
I would have preferred if it had Bluetooth 5.0 instead of Bluetooth 4.2, but I didn't have any issues with wireless connectivity. Walking the streets of New York, I experienced minimal Bluetooth hiccups or interference -- the connection was mostly rock solid with an iPhone X and a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus.
I also didn't have any issues making calls. There's no sidetone feature, which allows you to hear your voice in the headphones so you don't end up talking too loud (a $500 headphone should have this feature), but callers said they could hear me well, and the headphone is equipped with two beamforming noise-reduction mic arrays that are used for muffling ambient sound while listening to music and reducing background noise when making calls.
Master & Dynamic describes its sound signature as "rich, warm sound that captures the detail of well-recorded music." I think that's actually a very accurate description of the sound. The MW65 is a very pleasant headphone to listen to. Not necessarily incredibly exciting or dynamic, but it's well-balanced and smooth. It's a headphone you can listen to for a while without getting listening fatigue.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 has more energy in the bass and a little more pizzazz to it, which makes it better for hip hop and EDM (electronic dance music). I also thought the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9i, which also lists for $500 but can be had for less online, had more powerful bass and more sizzle to its sound. But the H9i has some presence boost in the treble that makes it sound a little bright. While you can adjust the EQ with that headphone via a companion app there's no Master & Dynamic companion app. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- companion apps can often complicate matters.
There are two levels of noise-canceling. At the highest level, it's not quite as strong as Sony's or Bose's noise-canceling, but I thought it worked well and was closer than I thought it would me. I was walking on the subway platform listening to music and barely heard the train pull up on the track alongside me (I was a bit surprised to see it there).
The only small issue I had with the headphone was that it seemed a little more susceptible to wind than other premium noise-canceling headphones I've tested. I'd be walking along and even a light breeze seemed amplified -- I could clearly hear it. It was almost as if the headphones didn't see aerodynamic enough, but I'm not sure that was it.
Battery life seemed good. They're rated at 24 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels, and I used them for four days without having to recharge. It's also worth noting that they charge via USB-C -- that's good -- and have a quick-charge feature that gives you several hours of juice with just 15 minutes of charging (we're still confirming quick-charge numbers).
I liked the included canvas carrying pouch, which is swankier than I'm making it sound, and I'd be remiss not to note that like the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II, there's a dedicated button to launch Google Assistant for all your voice-assistant needs.
In the end, the MW65 is a challenge to rate. It's an excellent headphone, I'm just not sure it's worth $500. It sounds quite good -- very smooth, as I said -- but it's not so exceptional that I can say that it's superior to something like the Sony WH-1000MX3, which arguably sounds a little better.
Ultimately what you're paying the extra money for is the design and it's certainly a differentiation, particularly now that the headphone is lighter. For those who've followed Master & Dynamic and maybe already own a pair of their headphones, the MW65 is a nice upgrade. I just wish it cost a little less.