When we first laid eyes on fledgling audio brand Master & Dynamic’s sterling MW50 wireless on-ear headphones, we knew we had to get our hands on them. Cut from glittering slabs of aluminum, and layered in heaps of soft leather, the headphones look fit for a limousine ride on your way to a board meeting in Lower Manhattan. In other words, they’re classy as hell.
Of course, while the MW50 are blessed with all the aesthetic sensibilities of a banner pair of premium headphones, making something that looks and sounds good is no small feat — especially for an upstart. Luckily, the MW50 absolutely deliver, offering gorgeous sound on par with their dashing good looks to create a grand experience for all your senses.
The Manhattan reference above is fitting, as the three-year-old audio brand is headquartered in The Big Apple, where its engineers design the cans from scratch. Master & Dynamic claims its headphones are “designed for decades of use,” and at $450, their priced that way too.
While we obviously can’t vouch for such bold reliability claims, it’s clear right out of the box that these headphones are as solidly built as just about anything in their class. Crafted from stainless steel and aluminum, the band feels extremely robust. The extending arms glide smoothly against brute-force tension for size adjustment, while the earpieces rotate effortlessly on the horizontal access for a secure fit.
The premium cowhide oozes luxury, matched by buttery soft lambskin earpads.
Even the on-board controls feel well-constructed, including a sturdy power/pairing switch on the left earpiece and a triplet of tactile silver keys on the right side to control play/pause, volume, song skip, and calling. Also on the right side is the Class-C USB port, which allows for rapid charging when the 16-hour battery runs dry.
While fast charging is great, we would have liked to see a playback time of 20+ hours at this price point to put the MW50 on par with flagship wireless cans from the likes of Sennheiser, Bose, Sony and others. On the flipside, the MW50 offer an extended Bluetooth range of around 100 feet — around triple the standard of 33 feet — thanks to a special aluminum antenna.
The earpieces take design cues from other premium headphones — including the likes of Bowers & Wilkins — with magnetically removable pads. Pop one off and you’ll find a sparkling chrome guard beneath reminiscent of a Dobro resonator, covering a 40mm beryllium driver.
When it comes to comfort, the premium cowhide on the band oozes luxury, matched by buttery soft lambskin on the earpads below to make the MW50 among the most comfortable on-ear cans we’ve put on — wireless or otherwise. We could have used just a tad more padding on the top, which can wear just a bit after hours of playback, but the marshmallow-soft pads more than make up for it.
Accessories in the package include a pair of cloth-stitched cables for charging and plugging in to a source directly, as well as a carrying pouch, and even a carrying case for the cables, though we would have loved to see a hard case in the package.
The instant comfort we experienced with MW50’s fit was almost perfectly mirrored in the sound. The upper register is sparkly and well-detailed, echoing the sparkling sheen of the mesh screens on the earpieces’ exteriors, while a warm and ruddy midrange allows you to settle into the sound like a premium leather lounge chair. The balanced blend results in a comfy, well supported sound signature with plenty of detail to spare.
The warm and detailed sound allows you to settle into the MW50 like a premium leather lounge chair.
We loved the MW50’s welcoming sound signature from the get-go, but it was the headphones’ remarkably expansive soundstage that continuously surprised us as we meandered through a wide collection of tracks — especially impressive for on-ear headphones, which don’t have the luxury of surrounding your ears with an acoustic chamber.
Instruments are stretched out in an almost hemispheric expanse, tossed widely out to the sides in sparser moments as if beaming back sound from space, yet glittering with accuracy and clarity. Thanks to that supreme precision and wide spacing, we were even tricked a few times when songs slipped in samples, which occasionally sounded as though someone (or something) was creeping up behind us, forcing us to rewind the track to be sure.
The MW50’s mix of vast stereo spacing and keen precision also pays off when things get more complex. A live cut of Bela Fleck’s Stomping Grounds is a prime example of both features, as the track’s austere intro is increasingly compounded by the swirling sounds of Fleck’s wonder band, from Sam Bush’s wire-strutting mandolin to Victor Wooten’s impossibly nimble bass runs. The MW50 makes easy work of the instrumental mélange, allowing each instrument to plant its flag in the mix with style.
Bass response is also impressive for on-ear cans, offering thundering authority down low, and a boost of midbass that brings some real energy to hip-hop and rock tracks. That powerful punch winds its way subtly into the rich middle register, which itself slides into the sparkly treble to create an overall blend that’s at the same time balanced and quite diverse. Very occasionally, the bass can get a tad boomy, but it happened so rarely we hesitate to even mention it.
Instruments are stretched out in an almost hemispheric expanse, tossed widely out to the sides.
For giggles, we plugged the MW50 into our Antelope Zodiac DAC/amp to pit them against our best on-ear cans, Audeze’s Sine planar magnetic headphones. We were pleased to discover the MW50 held up relatively well in comparison, even though the Sine cost a bit more even without wireless connection. While both headphones offer balanced and accessible sound, the MW50 are a bit warmer and bassier, while the Sine are more precise and detailed. The biggest difference was in instrumental separation where, talented as they are, the MW50 couldn’t quite hold up, smearing the instruments and crowding the soundstage slightly in comparison.
Still, we’re surprised the MW50 could stand their ground against such a mighty challenger, securing their place as some of the best-performing wireless cans we’ve heard.
While Master & Dynamic may be new to the game, the company has already proven it belongs in the very competitive premium headphone space. The price may be steep, but the MW50 bring style, quality, comfort, and sterling sound to the wireless segment, adding in the longest Bluetooth range you can buy as a bonus. If you’re looking for a quality wireless experience on all levels, and you’ve got the cash, we recommend grabbing a pair of MW50s today.Our Take
While Master & Dynamic may be new to the game, the company has already proven it belongs in the very competitive premium headphone space. While the price may be steep, the MW50 bring style, quality, comfort, and sterling sound to the wireless segment, adding in the longest Bluetooth range you can buy as a bonus.
How long will it last?
Master & Dynamic’s claim about “decades” of use seems a bit bold, and there’s always some reticence involved with a newer company. On the other hand, that could very well make the fledgling brand that much more eager to offer high quality, and these headphones feel extremely sturdy and built to last for years to come.
What are the alternatives?
Alternative wireless options in the premium space include the Bowers & Wilkins P7 wireless over-ear, as well as the more affordable P5 wireless on-ear. Both choices offer a similar premium aesthetic, but B&W has gone a bit heavy on the bass boost in recent years for our taste, and we like the balanced sound the MW50 offer.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re looking for a premium wireless experience on all levels, and you’ve got the cash, we recommend grabbing a pair of MW50s today.