Meze 99 Neo: The Meze isn’t quite as solid as the MH40 nor as streamlined, but it is more comfortable during home listening due to a well-implemented suspension headband and larger, ultra-plush earpads. In listening, the MH40 is a little more balanced while the 99 Neo is bassier and slightly darker but also more linear and even in its tuning. As a result, the Meze is slightly more detailed and textured but sounds very full. The Meze is notably warmer with more bloat and a looser low-end though it is well-defined throughout, due to its linearity. The MH40 is tighter with greater sub-bass focus and a cleaner bass tone in general.
The M&D is also noticeably more balanced with regards to midrange tuning where the 99 Neo is a little more recessed. As such, the MH40 sounds clearer and more present to both male and female vocals, it is slightly less coloured but still warm and smooth int he grand scheme of things. In terms of treble, the MH40 has a little more air while the 99 Neo has more energy to its lower treble and can sound crisper and more detailed as a result. Both stage very well, the MH40 sounds deeper and more coherent while the 99 neo is a little wider but some elements sound overly distant. The 99 neo images better but separation suffers due to its thicker sound.
Bowers and Wilkins P7: The P7 is perhaps most comparable, as it is similarly sculpted and has a matching leather/metal construction. The P7 feels softer in the hand, using purely lambskin leather, though it is also more prone to dents and scuffs than the hardier MH40. Both are heavy and wear on the top of the head over time with similarly poor headband design. Sonically, the MH40 is more balanced and subtle in its approach while the P7 is more V-shaped, utilising greater high-frequency presence to offset its powerful bass. The P7 focusses on great sub-bass slam with cleaner mid and upper-bass creating a slightly thin but very clear midrange.
The MH40 has a similarly clean mid-bass presentation but its upper bass is more pronounced, spilling more into the lower mids. Upper mids are similarly forward but even clearer on the P7 at the cost of sounding slightly more unnatural. Treble has a lot more energy and air on the P7, it extends further and retains quite a lot of detail and texture. It can fatigue but as a result, the P7 has perhaps the grandest stage I’ve heard from a portable despite its closed nature. Imaging is similar on both, perhaps slightly better on the more revealing P7 and separation also goes to the B&W due to its incredibly vivid sound.
Oppo PM3: The Oppo has the cleanest, most understated design and an excellent build that matches its western competitors. It is also one of the most comfortable of the bunch despite being one of the heaviest due to a well-padded headband, perfect clamp force and plush albeit shallow earpads. What makes the PM3 rather unique is its use of planar magnetic drivers that theoretically deliver superior transience to dynamic drivers; it was the first portable headphone to do so but a few competitors have since popped up. That said, the Oppo remains one of my favourites on account of its incredibly balanced, realistic sound that demonstrates refinement beyond its asking price.
Immediately, the PM3 is leaner and more defined than the MH40, it is more detailed throughout and almost neutral in tone besides a small sub and mid-bass lift that grants its midrange with sligthly greater body. The MH40 is warmer and fuller yet, mids sound less natural but smoother while the PM3 is more transparent with considerably greater resolution. The PM3 has a similarly relaxed high-end though it has a more linear mid/treble transition that retrieves more detail. Neither extend particularly well and neither excel with air and shimmer. The MH40 has a noticeably larger stage than the more intimate, slightly drier PM3 at the cost of imaging precision that the quicker, more linear Oppo excels with.
From perusal of their marketing material, Master & Dynamic’s prime selling point is undoubtedly design. The MH40 is a stunning headphone regardless of gender or age, with an industrial feel and intricate look offered in copious colour schemes all with their own unique charm. The headphones have also worn incredibly well during my months of testing which reflects well upon their ultimate longevity, a grossly understated factor integral to an expensive luxury product. They are also an ergonomically pleasing if not flawless headphone, with a thin headband suiting portable over lengthier stationary use. That said, during such usage, their breathable yet well-sealing pads create a far more agreeable experience than the majority of competitors.
However, the MH40 is more than just a fashion statement and its sonic expression is far more profound than its superficial luxury may lead buyers to believe. This is a headphone that thrives on the duality of its voicing; a headphone that is concurrently smooth and lush, clear and layered. Its higher-frequencies carry plenty of nuance, a surprising amount at times despite its mellow tone, set to defined rumble and physical bass impact. This only improves with an energetic source that invigorates their laid-back tuning to provide more balance and immediacy. Of course, headphones like the purpose-built PM3 offers more detail and intricacy through their more balanced and linear tuning though few headphones engage quite like MH40 while retaining such balance and long-term listenability.
Verdict – 8/10, Where some manufacturers design the headphones around the sound, M&D tune their sound around the headphone, producing a charming and rather unique listening experience. They do lack that last iota of refinement and linearity but make up for it through class-leading design and construction. Despite some headband comfort niggles, the MH40 is an impressively well-rounded portable headphone.