Marshall Mode EQ review

Pick your poison: Marshall’s Mode EQ go from smooth to spunky with the flick of a switch

The Mode EQ are a refreshing new addition to the growing collection of $100 in-ear headphones.
The Mode EQ are a refreshing new addition to the growing collection of $100 in-ear headphones.
The Mode EQ are a refreshing new addition to the growing collection of $100 in-ear headphones.

Highs

  • Powerful, smoky sound
  • Clear, detailed upper register
  • Handy EQ feature
  • Cool aesthetic
  • Comfy fit

Lows

  • Build quality could be more robust
  • Neither EQ mode is perfect

Marshall is a big name in the world of rock, making speaker cabinets and amps with a rugged aesthetic that’s almost as iconic as their sound. It comes as little surprise, then, that the company trods the path of so many marquee companies, licensing its name and rugged good looks to a line of headphones and Bluetooth speakers. But unlike a lot of big names moonlighting in the genre, Marshall’s namesake makes a concerted effort to embody not only the Marshall look, but also a bit of the sound the company spent decades developing.

Fresh evidence of that tradition can be found in the new Marshall Mode EQ in-ear headphones. With a rock-inspired design, golden accents both inside and out, and a novel equalization feature that lets you jump from sparkly to smooth with the flick of a switch, the Mode EQ are a refreshing new addition to the growing collection of $100 in-ear headphones.

Hands on video

Out of the box

The Mode EQ’s unboxing experience doesn’t reward you the same way other $100 headphones will. The earphones are suspended in black construction paper with no accessories to speak of, save a few pair of ear tips.

You won’t find a carrying case or even a quarter-inch jack bouncing around the box, either. In our disappointment, we couldn’t help recalling a phrase from the latest Bond flick, Skyfall, when Q hands Bond only a handgun and a radio: “Not exactly Christmas, is it?”

Still, the Mode EQ offer an attractive design that helps make up for their shortcomings in the accessories column. The embellishments of gold against a matte black base layer are just what Marshall fans expect from the brand, and little touches like a spring-loaded strain relief and diamond-cut fixture at the jack are equal parts glamour and practicality.

Features and design

The Mode EQ’s earpieces are covered in gummy plastic that’s easy to grip, broken up smartly by brass circlets on the exterior, and the familiar Marshall “M” at the end. We like the look, but we wouldn’t mind some aluminum or titanium thrown into the mix for a sturdier feel. The circlets also seem just a bit precarious, as if they might fall out after some wear and tear, though they never budged during our evaluation.

That pervading Marshall logo is also stenciled on the control piece that hangs about a foot below the ear where the dual left and right cables meet. The piece harbors a handy-dandy clip, a golden control key for search, pause/play, and call functions, and a unique switch on the side that accounts for the “EQ” portion of the name.

Sliding the EQ down engages the headphones’ standard sound signature, which offers less coloration in the lows and a lighter, snappier upper register. Reversing the switch engages a boost in the low end, and a thicker, more weighty soundstage overall. The difference in the two signatures is striking, and it can be enjoyable to move between the two, depending on what you’re listening to, or what kind of mood you’re in.

With the control piece already carrying a heavy load, the mic has been relegated to a separate fixture just below the jawline on the left cable.

Comfort

It’s hard to tell if it’s due to the larger sound tubes, or the almost perfectly cylindrical eartips, but the Mode EQ slipped smoothly into our ear canals with very little intrusion, and they stayed put pretty well. The earpieces are comfortable over extended listening sessions, though they don’t offer a whole lot in the way of ambient noise isolation.

Audio performance

Whichever EQ preset you choose, the Mode EQ’s sound signature is pretty heavily colored. There’s a heavy presence down in the sub frequencies, and the lower midrange is thick, with a rich plume that follows along in either iteration of the sound signature, though it’s obviously more accented in the heavier EQ mode. Above that rests a pleasant level of definition and clarity in the upper mids and treble, with just enough flavor to be pretty engaging, especially when rendering acoustic guitar clicks, percussion, and brass.

Bass hits touched down like a leather medicine ball.

There’s a solid quotient of detail on board the Mode EQ for a headphone of their class, which helps them carve out the textures of stringed instruments, percussion, and rock organ with the kind of present, yet ruddy touch that only a good pair of dynamic drivers can deliver. Buzzy instrumentation, such as the overdriven guitars and bass lines from The Black Keys’ Brothers is also given a bit of extra flavor that’s pretty enjoyable. As we touched on earlier, the gold accents of the design really makes a visual impact that is mirrored appropriately by the sound signature itself.

If we had any real quibbles with the Mode EQ, it was that the difference in the two sound signatures sometimes begged for a happy medium. Bass occasionally went a little too far for our ears in both its breadth, and potency with the switch down, yet the sound was sometimes thinner and more dainty than we wanted with the switch raised. Still, we found ourselves rather enjoying the raw power at play with the heavier mode on many tracks. Bass hits touched down like a leather medicine ball, bouncing amiably with a weighty thud. And when it gets to be too much, there’s always the salvation of the lighter touch up above.

Marshall Mode EQ tip
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Mode EQ also proved their worth when it comes to stereo separation. The appreciably wide stereo image avoids the common muck you’ll hear at the sides of the sound stage in cheaper models, clearly delineating instrumental placement, and overall sonic dimension.

Conclusion

Marshall Headphones scores another round, incorporating the legacy of Marshall cabinets and amps into the Mode EQ by crafting a headphone that does justice to its namesake. You’ll have to trade a few accessories for the EQ feature, but from that exchange you’ll get power when you want it, delicacy when you don’t, and a cool punk rock vibe to boot.

Highs

  • Powerful, smoky sound
  • Clear, detailed upper register
  • Handy EQ feature
  • Cool aesthetic
  • Comfy fit

Lows

  • Build quality could be more robust
  • Neither EQ mode is perfect
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