Master & Dynamic for those of you who may still find the name unfamiliar is a new up-and-coming company offering really unique, high-end headphones to shrewd audio enthusiast around the world. This obscure company set its sights way up high on notable names such as Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen with its ambitious plan to engineer insanely good, natural sounding headphones – masterfully crafted from posh materials and designed to (hopefully) last decades. Although the company has two different, thoughtfully designed in-ear offerings and a pair of on-ear headphones geared for portability, today we're going to be taking a close look at the MH40 – Master & Dynamic's flagship over-ear headphones that were inspired by greatness. If you're hungry for tremendously special over-ear headphones and don't mind spending as much as $400 to own a pair of your own, you won't want to miss our in-depth review of the MH40 including Master & Dynamic's minimalist Headphone Stand down below!
Oh you did just read that correctly. $400 is the asking price, but if you think about it that really isn't blown out of proportion. There are cheap headphones, affordably priced headphones, and then there are high-end headphones that are obviously going to cost more than $300 such as the awfully popular Bowers & Wilkins P7, Bang & Olufsen H6, and Parrot Zik 2.0 to name a few. But unlike the Zik 2.0's wireless and touch-sensitive technology built-into it, the MH40, H6 and P7 over-ear headphones all share a common thread, and that is delivering unadulterated pristine audio quality and luxurious gratification. The MH40 don't offer any technologically advanced bells and whistles like active noise-cancelling, battery powered DSP or wireless Bluetooth features. Instead, you'll be getting one of the most impressively designed and unique looking headphones we've ever reviewed. Ah yes, and they also sound pretty good too. But more on that later. First, comes the experiencing of unboxing a $400 pair of headphones.
Let me tell you a little about the unboxing experience of having the pleasure of unpacking a pair of MH40s. Much like a fine bottle of wine, the packaging Master & Dynamic crafted for its headphones is second to none. The white descriptive sleeve slides off to reveal a black box with a smooth, almost rubbery finish. Opening the flap reveals a thick foam tray with the headphones neatly tucked inside with a what looks like a genuine leather jewelry-like box bang in the middle containing the included detachable audio cables and a gold-plated 6.3mm adapter. Aww, you shouldn’t have. You’ll be subjected to so much charm out of the box that you may even forget that $400 price tag.
Two sets of detachable, fabric-woven audio cables are included: a relatively short 1.25m cable with an in-line 3-button remote and mic good for when you’re on the go or need to remotely control your music – as well as use the MH40 as a stereo headset for making calls, as well as a longer 2m cable, identically made out of this wonderful tangle-free woven nylon fabric finished off using gold-plated 3.5mm connectors that are both slim and durably machined out of metal. Personally, I don't like these types of woven cables simply for the fact that they're not really more durable than standard rubbery cables. They seem to always fray at certain high-stress points. At least we know they're easily replaceable.
The headphone tray pulls out to reveal yet another surprise layer of included goodies, this time it’s a thick canvas pouch with a magnetic closure tab lined with a soft protective liner to keep your headphones safely protected. This is one of the most well made fabric headphone carrying pouches we’ve ever seen included with high-end headphones. I’m thoroughly amazed by the incredible work that Master & Dynamic put into the making of their products so far. Last but not least is a user manual booklet, yes a booklet - also very well packed.
The pouch features a smaller interior compartment where you can keep your audio cables and adapter, separately from the headphones as to not cause any cosmetic damage from the metal cable connector.
Master & Dynamic’s MH40 are a cut above most over-ear headphones
You know when you sometimes ask yourself if whatever you bought was worth the money, in this case the MH40 are truly worthy of their arguably costly price tag. The build quality and materials used to construct the MH40 are all absolutely brilliant. They actually feel like a $400 pair of headphones. Forget about the Bowers & Wilkins P7, or the Harman Kardon NC, because these are far more impressively made. The MH40 are right up there with the build quality and precision of the $400 BeoPlay H6 by Bang & Olufsen, however, they aren’t as light. The MH40 have this special technical look and feel to them without hiding the fact that they’re also very retro looking. I love how you can see all the different parts moving, the visible rivets on the ear cups and that beautifully made headband adjustment leading to that racing-inspired, streamlined stainless steel headband which is lightly padded and covered in a luxurious cowhide leather that smells fantastic.
High-tension hardware like the height adjustment ear cup posts, hinges and ear cup arms are all made out of strong stainless steel. There’s literally no plastic used anywhere, at least not visibly. Even when removing the ear pads I found that the entire driver plate and grille are also made from aluminum. Nothing you see and touch is synthetic. Which is also why the MH40 feel this incredibly well made and uber premium. These are officially high-grade headphones.
I’m blown away by the amount of detail and quality
And then you’ve got the MH40’s signature ear cup styling. A combination of a thin leather inlay covering the face of the solid metal ear cups along with this very retro-looking circular microphone grille made from a thick wire mesh you just don’t get to see being used on headphones these days. Well, apart from Philips’ Fidelio series that is. Definitely a distinct design element for the Master & Dynamic brand and its design language. Each ear cup enclosures are beautifully forged out of solid aluminum and finished to a very refined, Apple-like smooth texture that screams of high-quality. You really need to hold one of these in person to truly appreciate the level of quality that oozes off of these.
That being said, the MH40 are a heavy compared to plastic made headphones, more so towards the bottom where those large and very accommodating ear cups are. So just keep that in mind before you choose a pair. You may want to consider the smaller MH30 headphones instead if you dislike hefty headphones. And to be perfectly honest I could have done without that leather inlay on the sides. For that reason I do think that the MH30 are arguably the best looking headphones from Master & Dynamic. Of course, styling is subjective and you may have the exact opposite opinion on the MH40 than I do. I will say that I'm actually starting to warm up to the MH40's strong vintagy aesthetics having used them for nearly a month now. When I first picked up the MH40 they reminded me a lot of the Harman Kardon NC in that the two share this highly industrial look and feel with their all-metal construction and sharp design cues.
Suffice it to say the MH30 are built to the same high level of quality, it’s just that they’re smaller being that they are on-ear headphones. Both models are available in three different color schemes – a gorgeous silver metal with rustic brown leather, black metal with black leather, and in this beautiful gunmetal with black leather we have here.
I really love the way the headband arms were designed with such precision in the form of these dainty, yet durable stainless steel posts that attach the ear cups to the headband instead of very wide hinges that we traditionally see on over-ear headphones. I can see a lot of inspiration was taken from other high-end headphones such as the Bowers & Wilkins P7, Philips Fidelio L2 and Grado, and yet the MH40 remain very unique in their own way.
I can't stress enough how much I'm digging the vintage racing seat look this the leather headband has. It's excellently finished and its low profile reduces the overall bulk of the headphones themselves when worn.
What’s also impressively made is Master & Dynamic’s Headphone Stand, which is made entirely out of superbly finished stainless steel that's available in black or silver. The round and fairly slim base plate is one of the heaviest out of all the headphone stands we’ve come across, and that’s a good thing. You really want your headphone stand to serve as a steady and firm platform for hanging your headphone on. And that’s exactly what this is. It’s probably the nicest, elegantly designed and most minimalist headphone stand I’ve ever used. The slim L-shaped neck is as simplistic as it gets in terms of design without having to sacrifice form for function, and tall enough at 11-inches in height to accommodate virtually every type of headphone out there.
The round tip where you hang your headphones on is knurled to give the otherwise smooth electroplated steel some anti-slip grip without harming the padding of the headband. This makes other stands like the HeadStand by Just Mobile look over-engineered and…well, unnecessary. I don’t mind that there’s no dedicated cable management because I honestly never bother putting it to use in the first place. If I really want to organized my headphone cable I can simply put into a loop and hang it right beside the headphones. It works just as effectively.
I should mention that even the base of the Master & Dynamic’s Headphone Stand, which does have an anti-slip layer of rubber underneath, features this knurled edging around the circumference. It’s a subtle touch of detailing, and I do appreciate it as opposed to a plain finish. Other than that there’s really not much to it. It’s an essential headphone accessory for your desk. Hang your headphones proudly on this very well made headphone stand, be that your Master & Dynamic headphones or any other headphone make. It’s available in silver and black for $59. If that’s a little out of your budget, we can highly recommend a more discrete alternative called the Anchor, a headphone hanger you can mount underneath your desk to save some space. Because after all, headphone stands like this do take up a bit of space.
The MH40 are impressively comfortable to wear, even for extending periods of time. Extraordinarily comfortable even. And that simply isn’t something we can say about every pair of headphones that we test. The MH40 are about as comfortable as headphones come. As comfortable to wear as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, which means they can be worn for hours on end without any discomfort. Huge props to Master & Dynamic for taking everything into account, including comfort. Because the MH40 are among the few headphones I’ve used that feature such accommodating and deep elongated cups that give your ears room to breathe yet feel like they’re being hugged by the plump isolating ear pads. Despite their airy microphone-inspired ear cup grille, the MH40 are still very much closed headphones. Meaning they don’t have an opening in the ear cup housing behind the drivers to let air in and noise out. So when you put these on you do get a great amount of passive noise-isolation with very little audio leakage.
Thanks to extra-thick and very soft true memory foam padding covered in velvety leather courtesy of a lamb or two, the ear pads are nice and high creating a deep opening that doesn’t put pressure on them. As soon as you put these on, the MH40 do a pretty great job isolating you from the outside world and transport you to another. The experience of wearing these is highly pleasurable to say the least. Fortunately the MH40 don’t have excessive clamping from the headband, which attributes to the high level of comfort they provide. The ear cups are attached to spring-loaded arms that keep them from moving around on their own while still allowing them to easily adjust automatically when worn. They can also rotate thanks to stainless steel hinges for an even greater degree of comfort and personal fit.
What’s more is that these ear pads are user replaceable and have magnets that hold them securely just like the B&W P7 headphones, which is always a good thing when it comes to ear pads.
To adjust the headband to fit your size, simply push down on top of the headband post with your thumb to slide the ear cup down and set your desired height using the numbered graph etched onto the side of the post. And if you need to readjust, you can also pull the side of headband away from the ear cup to shorten the length. I noticed that I had to almost extend the headband adjustment all the way out in order to comfortable fit my head, which isn’t really that big. So you may find these to be a bit too small if you have a big head. In comparison, the Bowers & Wilkins P7 still gave me plenty of additional room to adjust the headband even further, so there’s definitely a limited headband sizing caveat to the MH40. These are probably one of the few over-ear headphones we tested with such a short height adjustment selection, but they do fit me perfectly.
On one of the included detachable audio cables you'll an in-line 3-button remote, which you can use to control your volume, music and even calls. It's designed to fully work with all iOS devices, and like any other 3-button remote you can use it to play/pause, answer or end a call, skip forwards and backwards. This particular cable is shorter than the one without the built-in remote at 1.25m in length compared to 2m – so it's better suited for portable usage. The buttons are flush with the cylindrical shape of the remote so they're very hard to find with touch. I never seem to properly press a button I'd like to press right away without accidentally trying to push on the hard plastic on the side or back of the remote. Very frustrating indeed.
The interesting thing about the microphone is that it’s separated from the 3-button remote in order for it to be much closer to your mouth while the remote can sit lower down at a more convenient reach. Alas, the quality of the microphone pick-up is still relatively poor compared to the microphone built-into the 3-button remote of the Bowers & Wilkins P7 headphones, which sounds much clearer and brighter in comparison. If you really want a high quality microphone to use with your MH40, Master & Dynamic also offers an optional adjustable boom microphone attachment that you can connect into one of the two audio inputs on the MH40 that’s designed to replace the stock headset cable with superior audio quality and clarity – as well as added features like voice isolation technology and unidirectional recording. And that’s a little disappointing knowing that Master & Dynamic could have put a better microphone into the included headset cable that ships with the MH40 and MH30 headphones instead of offering a supposedly better optional microphone for $129. We don’t have a Boom Mic to test, but we expect it to outperform all in-line microphones that come standard with many headphones including the P7.
Need to quickly mute your audio whilst wearing the MH40? You can do so instinctively by pressing the mute button on the right side of the ear cup. Like the headphones themselves, the button is also very mechanical in its design and functions very deliberately with a rather long actuation, but offers an assuring clicky feedback when pressed.
If that wasn’t awesome enough, the MH40 have dual audio inputs allowing you to plug in your audio cable from either the right or left side of the headphones. Not only that but each of these 3.5mm audio connection ports support both audio-in and audio-in, meaning that you can share your music by letting someone else plug in their headphones to one side of yours. Perfect for those rare occasions where you and a buddy are on a flight and one of you forgot to bring their iPod, tablet or smartphone with them.
We should also note that the aforementioned 3.5mm audio plugs have a slim metal construction that will be able to fit into pretty much all protective iPhone cases. Thanks to their knurled texturing that is reminiscent of guitar cable plugs, you can easily pull the plug. Other than that, it also looks very cool.
The MH40 can fold into a flat orientation to help reduce their bulk when stored into the included carry pouch.
When it comes to sound quality, I’m surprised to find that Master & Dynamic accurately detailed and marketed the MH40 in that they produce a warm and dynamically rich sound using a pair of custom tuned 45mm neodymium drivers in order to best compliment a wide range of musical genres. The MH40 are indeed very rich, warm and have a well balanced sound signature.
Highs are clean, well controlled and not overly bright. Vocals sound hearty while the midrange is as crystal clear as the highs and keeps a warm vibe with a decent amount detail and presence. Again, I wasn’t blown away by the MH40’s audio prowess having heard all sorts of headphones near this price range. They’re very reserved when it comes to laying down bass. The low-end sadly isn’t deep and resonating like I expected it to sound being that Master & Dynamic was going for a very warm and rich tonal sound. Unfortunately, bass isn’t the MH40’s forte. So if that’s something you were hoping to get with these headphones, you’ll be disappointed with their audio performance. That said, I do think that the bass sounds laid back, clean and tight.
Master & Dynamic aren’t risking their up-and-coming name for the sake of artificial or exciting audio quality using unbalanced driver tuning characteristics. It’s quite clear that they want to be known as a high-end headphone maker, one which audiophiles will approve of. The MH40 sound a lot like the BeoPlay H6, though maybe not as bright which can actually be a good thing depending on your audio preference. I personally prefer the MH40’s sound signature. Alas, I can’t say that I’m digging how the MH40 sound all too much given the lack of a low-end presence. I’m sure if you hook them up to an amp and add a boost of bass then they’ll spring back into life and deliver a more energetic sound that isn’t as neutral.
We thought you’d like to know how the MH40 stack up when compared to similarly priced headphones like the Bowers & Wilkins P7. These are also over-ear headphones priced at $400 that share a similar premium build quality and comfort with the MH40, but are a bit lighter in weight due to the fact that the MH40 have much more metal in their construction despite having a much slimmer headband. Even so, I find that the MH40 are a bit more comfortable to wear thanks to their softer memory foam padding and streamlined headband. In our testing, we found that the P7 produced slightly brighter mid and high tones with noticeably deeper lows and punchier mid bass. That being said, overall the two come really close to one another in terms of audio performance. The MH40 are warmer and fuller sounding despite not having as much bass emphasis as the P7.
It would be really tough to decide on a favorite sounding pair from comparing the two together extensively. At the end of the day, they both sound terrific and surprisingly neither of them really offer a better sound performance compared to one of our most favorite pairs of headphones – the Audio Technica ATH-M50x. Another thing we noticed was that although the MH40 are easily driven using something as portable as an iPhone, the M50x are even more easier to drive and as a result sound significantly louder on lower volume settings. The tradeoff of course being that the M50x aren’t very pretty to look at and aren’t nearly as premiumly made as the MH40 or the P7 for that matter. So in that regard, you’ll be hard pressed to find better sounding headphones that have the same amazing build quality and materials as the Master & Dynamic MH40.
Brilliantly designed, exceptionally comfortable headphones that sound as good as they are made
Master & Dynamic's MH40 hit all four of our requirements bang on when it comes to headphones – design, build quality, comfort and sound quality. If you want to treat yourself to an amazing headphone experience, the MH40 are the way to do it. But be prepared to pay the price. The MH40 arguably don't sound better than a $200 pair of headphones, but you have to also consider that the MH40 are beautifully made. They’re not plastic headphones with synthetic leather ear pads. So while we don't think they sound any better than the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, they are significantly more stylish and do have a more impressive build quality. Whether that justifies the cost or not if for you to decide. From the outstanding, solid aluminum and stainless steel build quality to premium materials like lambskin leather ear pads and cowhide leather headband – there’s undoubtedly a lot to like and appreciate. You may not fall in love with their aesthetic design, but you will love the fantastic attention to detail, not to mention audio quality.
If you consider yourself a purist and your standards for headphones are simply way too high and you actually do like the look of the MH40, we don't see a reason why you shouldn't pick up a pair because you'll be very pleased with what they've got to offer. Unless of course your audio preference is partial towards a deeper and colorful sound signature. And if we had to point out some flaws, we'd like to see Master & Dynamic add a few extra height adjustment settings as well as improve the design of the MH40's headset remote with raised buttons that would be easily recognisable to the touch. That, and a touch more bass could do no harm. Other than that we can't find much if any bad things to say about the MH40. They're beautifully unique, impressively made out of quality materials and are magnificently comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. And if you're looking for a solid desk stand for your headphones, look no further than Master & Dynamic's Headphone Stand.