(Cybertech) – The true wireless earphones market is getting pretty saturated these days. That means it’s becoming harder and harder for any audio company to stand out. So how does one make a pair that people will notice and care about?
Master & Dynamic’s approach for the past couple of years has been to build a pair of ‘buds that doesn’t look like the rest, while also delivering a very different, dynamic sound from the drivers. With the MW08 that continues, but the experience is a little more refined.
What came before?
Master & Dynamic launched into the true wireless market with the MW07, before following it up with the ANC-equipped MW07 Plus and sport-focused MW07 Go.
: MW07 PlusMW07 Plus
The non-Go editions were recognisable by their use of marbled acrylic. They looked like they were designed to match tortoiseshell sunglasses, but with the latest MW08 that has changed for more premium materials.
Master & Dynamic has also enhanced the MW08’s active noise-cancelling (ANC), sound quality and battery life, promising to be far better than any of the previous models.
- Ceramic design
- 9g weight per bud
- IPX5 water resistance
- Colour options: Black, blue, white, brown
With the MW08 it’s clear there’s a focus on design. You can’t go wrong with ceramic. It’s lovely, shiny and extremely durable.
These ‘buds are among the nicest looking we’ve tested. They’re also a little smaller than the MW07 Plus, which makes them more compact and less of an attention seeker when placed in the ears. That’s not to say they don’t still retain that M&D flavour. The shape is still that unique half-circle-half-square design – it’s just more restrained this time around.
The internal design has been tweaked too, allowing each ‘buds design to be more ergonomic than before – and so better fitting inside the ear canal. They feel secure and comfy, without the need for use any in-ear fins or grips to keep them from falling out. These ‘buds are precision designed to comfortably fit inside the ear and just stays there.
Granted, we didn’t feel the fit was so secure that we’d risk wearing these ‘buds during a run or workout, but for most instances we can’t imagine them falling out and getting lost. It’s a nice, neat, compact shape.
Open the case and show them to someone for the first time and they may just invoke comparisons to cufflinks. There’s a precision and polished look. It’s more restrained than previous models, but the quality is easy to see.
The ceramic plate is built on top of an aluminium frame – which also acts as the external antenna for strong wireless performance – and the buds sit neatly in their stainless steel case when stowed away.
This case is one of the only elements that’s changed drastically from the previous versions. There’s still a polished steel option, but you also get matte black and polished dark grey ‘graphite’ options. Which one you get depends on which colour ‘buds you want: black, blue, white, brown.
More importantly, Master & Dynamic switched the lid to a new position, making it smaller, but more durable-feeling at the same time. By comparison, the large flip-open lid on the old cases feels quite flimsy now. The new case feels sturdier, while retaining its very portable size, and comes with a little carry pouch too – which you will probably need to use if you buy the polished steel version.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the tried-and-tested physical button layout. One earbud features the volume up/down buttons; the other features the multi-purpose key. That makes it simple to adjust the volume level and simple to play/pause. We prefer it to most touch-sensitive alternatives, which often trigger too easily when you want them to.
Battery life, noise cancelling, app controls
- Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) and ambient modes
- 12 hours playtime outside case (42 hours total)
- In-ear detection/auto pause
- Free M&D app for control
- Bluetooth 5.2 + aptX
So the design is sublime, so that usually means you compromise on performance somehow, right? Well, no, not this time.
Master & Dynamic’s latest pair of tether-free ‘buds has market-leading battery life. The manufacturer claims up to 12 hours of music playback from a fully charged pair (or 10 hours with the ANC switched on). In real-world use, you’re unlikely to get exactly those figures – we’ve been getting close but a little under – but there’s no battery anxiety here.
You can listen to music for three hours straight and barely even touch the battery. During testing we did this on a few consecutive days and didn’t manage to run out of battery, or need to plug the case in to charge it.
If you commute to work – or will be in the near future – this will comfortably get you through a work week without much trouble. With the battery in the case and battery in the ‘buds you can get up to 42 hours total, which is quite frankly astonishing.
Combine that battery performance with strong wireless performance and good quality calls and you have a set of ‘buds that’s not just pretty and well-made, but will keep up with the challenges of daily life.
In all of our testing there’s only one area that we think needs improving: the ANC. The manufacturer’s take on noise-cancelling doesn’t quite perform as well as, say, the Apple AirPods Pro or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. That said, M&D’s implementation does make a clear difference, handily cutting out most of the noise around you – it’s just less ‘strong’ than those rivals.
We found it worked well to cut out the noise of chatter around us while listening, but walking alongside busy roads, it still let in the sound of tyres rumbling over the asphalt, for example. Granted, it made such sounds quieter, but we could still hear them. And this was with the maximum level of ANC activated.
One feature that works well is the auto-pause – which activates when the ‘buds are removed from the ears. As soon as you take one earbud out, it automatically pauses whatever you’re listening to, thanks to an optical sensor on board. Sadly, it doesn’t then automatically resume when you reinsert the ‘bud, but pressing the play/pause button once resolves that.
This is controlled in the all-new M&D Connect app, which lets you see battery level and adjust noise cancelling/ambient sound. This is also where you see if there are any firmware updates available. Sadly, there’s no equalisation (EQ) adjustment because – like any other company that has its own idea of what great sound is – it has already set that for you and doesn’t allow you to deviate from that.
There’s an unmistakeable quality about Master & Dynamic’s sound and – as the company name suggests – it’s dynamic. M&D doesn’t go for that studio clean and flat approach, or airy, breathy quality. Instead, you get lots of bass, lots of clarity and punch from the high-end, without losing the subtle details in a mix.
The end result is a sound that makes you want to get up and groove along to the bass and drums in any soundtrack. It’ll makes you want to go and listen to all your favourite songs again. It might even make you appreciate songs you didn’t think you liked before.
Saying ‘lots of bass’ often conjures up the picture of big, boomy sound that dominates the audio. In this instance, however, that’s not what it’s like at all. It’s well controlled and shaped bass that forms a big part of the sound profile, but without detracting from the impact of the vocals.
Listening to the MW08 and we often felt like the higher-frequency percussive sounds – like shakers, tambourines and hi-hats – cut through the mix somehow and form a big part of the sound. This can sometimes lead to a little sibilance on high impact sounds like forcefully annunciated Ts, Ps, and Ses in vocals, but it’s not as bad as it was in previous MW-series ‘buds.
This sound seems a bit more balanced than the company’s older ‘buds – probably because of the new 11mm drivers. These new drivers also seem incredibly responsive. Short, staccato notes are punchy and tight, whether they be pizzicato strings in an orchestral piece or just finger clicking in the background.
The other great quality of the sound is that it has a sense of space. It feels almost like being surrounded by the sound, rather than having it pumped directly into your ears from a few millimetres away. The soundstage is impressively wide, and combined with the dynamic properties of M&D’s audio it makes for an unmissable experience.
A really good example to hear all these elements is the orchestral version of Space by Biffy Clyro. There’s those clear lead vocals, and the prominent piano leading the instruments. But despite that piano, you still can clearly hear the plucked cello and bass strings in the background, while it all retains that real feel of being recorded in a big wide open space. Bowed strings then perfectly swell and drop in crescendos in the chorus, while the subtle percussion beats on somewhere in the distance. It’s sublime.
While call quality isn’t the foremost function of the MW08, they’re well-equipped with a six-mic array and offer clear calls even in slightly windy conditions. The external mics can filter out wind tearing noises, so there’s nothing to detract from any of that listening experience.
In a market full of plastic buds, the Master & Dynamic MW08 feel really special. The combination of ceramic, aluminium and a stainless steel case make them unlike anything else on the market.
We’ve long appreciated M&D’s unique take on sound too. It’s high-impact and exciting. It was never technically perfect, but it’s always a great fun listen. We’re glad that with the MW08 the company has retained what makes it M&D, but also focused on improving areas that make this a truly excellent product.
The 12 hour battery life is market-leading, while the ANC performance is decent enough – although not quite incredible. Plus, now the company has an app for controlling features.
The M&D MW08 is the MW series’ coming of age – and it makes pretty much every other pair of wireless earbuds seem boring by comparison.
Bose QC Earbuds
Bose’s flagship ‘buds are fantastic, although physically large. Sound has that typical spacious and breathy Bose quality with great detail and lift in the mids giving a full and balanced sound. The noise-cancelling is stronger than the M&D too.
Grado’s approach to the true wireless in-ears market is very focused and measured. There’s no ANC here, but you do get truly stellar sound quality and the passive noise isolation is strong enough you might not even miss the ANC anyway.
Writing by Cam Bunton. Editing by Mike Lowe.