Master & Dynamic MW65 Headphone Review – Technology Meets Tradition

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Sound –

Tonality –

The MW65 offers Master And Dynamic’s signature dark, smooth and warm signature. However, this is a slightly more balanced incarnation with a more linear low-end and a vocal boost that brings vocals to the fore. As such, it sounds markedly more engaging than prior M&D headphones with greater clarity and less low-end bloat.

Of note, there is a marked difference in sound quality when toggling between the ANC high and off mode, the headphones sound flatter and less dynamic, bass extension takes a hit as does control and definition, vocals have a slightly nasal character and treble becomes slightly less composed, sounding slightly more brittle. Nonetheless, a loss of sound quality with ANC can be expected given that the drivers have to work a lot harder. This remains a great sonic performer among premium ANC headphones, and the ability to toggle this setting to achieve greater fidelity in quiet environments is very welcome. For the sake of fairness, comments below will be with ANC disabled with additional notes specific to ANC mode high.

Bass –

Lows show the most delineation between ANC settings, however, subjectively, listening with ANC high is ideal as the reduction of background noise permits greater perception of bass and bass detail that may otherwise be drowned out. Regardless, lows extend well in all settings. Compared to high-quality wired competitors, there is a small amount of roll-off, delivering a softer slam at the very bottom, however, ample rumble remains. Mid-bass steals the focus, being modestly emphasized to deliver warm, impactful lows. As such, its notes are full, yet the MW65’s emphasis is subjectively very tasteful, avoiding excessive emphasis and avoiding tubbiness even if there is some bloat. Upper-bass falls off smoothly into the lower-midrange to retain vocal clarity and cleanliness. Control and detail retrieval are among the best for an ANC headphone.

Of course, a well-driven wired headphone like the Oppo PM3 will handily outperform the MW65. Still, considering its fair mid-bass emphasis, the MW65’s low-notes are defined and well-textured. There is a respectable amount of detail retrieval within the lows and the headphones effectively keep up with complex tracks without descending into muddiness. Notes are punchy and decay naturally. In addition, lows are immediately more controlled and detailed when ANC is turned off. They have more separation and a touch more extension as well. This provides a great option for listening on the go and at home, bass certainly doesn’t overwhelm as it can on other consumer-orientated headphones and the option to trade noise cancelling for additional performance is an enticing option for those looking to use the MW65 in multiple use cases.

Mids –

Vocal clarity is an immediate strength of this headphone, reflecting stark contrast to the majority of competitors that aim for a warmer, more relaxed presentation in order to combat fatigue. Not here, the MW65 is clean in tone with excellent bass/midrange separation and plenty of extension. Lower-mids are well-present, providing well-bodied notes, while the centre midrange has a hearty bump, imbuing additional vocal presence and clarity. The 4-KHz region is a touch attenuation, providing density and smoothness. As the headphone does emphasize the centre midrange, vocals do sit slightly in front of instruments, however, they are nicely in line with the bass, achieving reasonable balance overall.

When delving deeper into timbre and accuracy, the MW65 isn’t particularly linear due to its dip in the upper-bass and centre midrange emphasis, which sounds to me just a touch peaky perhaps at 2-KHz. Nonetheless, it is a well-layered and tonally accurate sound. Mids are a touch warm, imbued from its emphasized bass and despite its upper-bass dip. Meanwhile, though vocals are clear and clean, their slight peakiness does manifest clearly under critical listening. That said, it isn’t so apparent with the thinner mastering style of modern pop, and they remain preferable to me in comparison to the warmer, more veiled WH-1000MX3 and the thinner Bose QC25. As the treble is smooth and dark, sibilance is a non-issue, so though the midrange is clear, it isn’t fatiguing in the slightest.

Highs –

Where competitors often roll the treble off, almost in its entirety, the MW65 retains ample insight, crispness and detail. Treble remains on the darker side with less presence than either bass or mids, however, a 7-KHz peak does much to inject energy and detail presence that is missing on the majority of competitors. The MW65 remains a smoother headphone overall, a by-product of its 5-6KHz dip . As such, the headphones possess a smooth foreground presentation that lacks hard edge and aggressive attack, while retaining crisp instrumentation and plenty of detail presence on behalf of that small middle-treble emphasis. Moreover, it does so without sounding bright in the slightest, there is some air and adequate headroom to avoid congestion which is a rarity among ANC headphones.

Treble falls off above 7-KHz, providing a clean, dark background canvas upon which foreground details can achieve focus. There is a touch of upper-treble emphasis but extension and resolution aren’t high enough to redeem any real micro-detail or sparkle. Still, both technical qualities are above average, especially with ANC off where the headphones have noticeably greater detail retrieval.  Their upper-treble bump also provides a hint of additional detail presence in the background that grant this headphone a sense of space and nuance that, again, is rare for a wireless, ANC model. Though certainly not analytical or energetic in its voicing, the MW65 strikes a nice balance between long-term listenability and engagement and enough detail retrieval to flatter any genre.

Soundstage –

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The MW65 provides a well-rounded soundstage and it is reasonably sized. It expands in size and separation, in particular, is markedly improved with ANC off, sounding more coherent and controlled. However, even with ANC on high, separation is laudable due to its well-metered tuning. Vocals project nicely from ample depth and they are strongly centred. Meanwhile, instruments lie to the side where the headphones are able to expand just beyond the head. As is expected from a headphone with forward vocals and a darker background, there is clear delineation between layers and the headphones separate nicely indeed, especially the midrange and between the three core frequency bands. This makes small details easier to pinpoint, though bass, due to its enlarged notes, can sound a touch congested at times.

Driveability –

Of course, the sound does vary between ANC modes, however, even with ANC off, the headphone is still being driven off its internal circuitry. Curious to how it would scale from a wired connection to my JDS Atom/Kardas Tone Board combo, I jacked the headphone in using the included 3.5mm cable. Unsurprisingly, the headphones received a healthy dose of sound improvement, however, I was very surprised at just how well they scaled; similar to my impressions with the MH40 that thrived from power. The MW65 achieved more balance throughout and bass was considerably more controlled with a cleaner, mellower mid-bass. Mids remained similar with a slight increase in resolution. However, highs were noticeably more detailed and extended, benefitting soundstage expansion and further enhancing separation. Of note, the headphones can be run from a wired source in conjunction with ANC if the headphones are switched on, however, this did not bear the same benefits as the headphones seem to process the wired input through the internal circuitry, spoiling any quality benefits. The headphones perform best from a quality wired source with electronics turned off. They’re still a touch dark and vocals slightly peaky, however, quality wise, they perform as well as a nice midrange wired headphone.

Comparisons –

Bose QC25 ($250): Admittedly not Bose’s newest, however, the QC25 is a staple in the ANC headphone world and its noise cancelling remains one of the best on the market. In terms of noise cancelling alone, the Q25 retains an edge of the MW65, its noise cancelling is more effective throughout the spectrum, however, the MW65 doesn’t produce any sense of pressure where this is a known quality of the QC25’s ANC. In addition, the QC25 is slightly more comfortable as it has deeper cups and an even lighter albeit primarily plastic design. The QC25 also folds down smaller where the MW65 only folds flat. The MW65 on the other hand will age considerably better, with its fully aluminium and real leather design, its pads won’t flake like the Bose and its headband also has a smooth slider that offers finer adjustment than the QC25’s stepped mechanism.

Sonically, the MW65 widens its reign. The QC25 has a similar low-end profile to the MW65, however, above that, it represents a significantly less refined listen. The QC25 has less sub-bass extension and an almost identical amount of mid bass emphasis. As it has almost no sub-bass, the Bose’s mid-bass sounds a touch more defined and cleaner than the MW65. The QC25 compensates by adding a touch more upper-bass that grants it a similarly full presentation to the MW65, however, it does so at the cost of a less transparent tone, leaning more towards warmth. The Bose also has an emphasized vocal range with good clarity and its tone is equally clean. That said, the Bose sounds substantially less natural through the midrange, having a sharper lower-midrange dip due to its upper-bass emphasis and achieving its clarity through upper-midrange rather than centre midrange emphasis. So though it is clear, it also sounds thin and hollow where the MW65 sounds considerably more accurately bodied and simply more natural.

The Bose is also a touch more sibilant as it emphasizes the upper-midrange in order to achieve this clarity, this is also the reason why it doesn’t sound as smooth and natural, the MW65 is simply denser and more coherent. Up top, there is no comparison, the MW65 kicks the pants off the Bose. The Bose has a very isolated treble bump, however, it sounds heavily rolled off by comparison. The MW65 retrieves hugely more detail and its highs are more balanced with the rest of its sound where the Bose sounds brittle and distant within the highs. The MW65 has a lot more headroom and a real soundstage with defined layers where the Bose sounds one-dimensional and flat due to its lack of extension and background detail. The MW65 is the considerably more balanced, nuanced and engaging listen, as its midrange is smoother and denser, I find it no more fatiguing, in fact, significantly more pleasant to listen to than the Bose.

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Sony WH-1000XM3 ($350): The Sony is more feature laden, its ANC is more advanced and blocks noticeably more sound, especially through the midrange (such as voices). It has a sleeker design with a lower-profile headband and folds for storage on top. The Sony also has touch controls and an easily activated aware mode that enables the listener to hear their surroundings. They also have a slight edge with battery life rated at 30hrs vs 24hrs. The Master and Dynamics by comparison have significantly better build quality and they do so while weighing 10g less. They have more palpable physical controls and a wider headband. Its earpads are deeper for those with wider ears. The headband adjustment also has unlimited positions where the Sony is limited to set intervals.

The MW65 immediately provides the more balanced, detailed sound. The MW65 has similar bass quantity and tuning with a fair amount of mid-bass warmth, however, it is has less upper-bass and its tone is cleaner as a result. The MW65 is also more controlled, having immediately greater separation and definition, it is more extended, dynamic and cleaner making the Sony sound woolly by comparison. Regardless, I don’t find myself having a huge problem with the Sony’s bass, rather, it is the midrange that I find to present biggest issue. Namely, vocals are recessed and overly boxy sounding, a by-product of a lack of bass/midrange separation that I attribute to an excess of lower-midrange.

Meanwhile, vocals are quite veiled as they have warmth that permeates from the bass in addition to extra body from the lower-midrange and upper-bass without an upper-midrange or treble emphasis to lift its tone and clarity. The result is rather muffled vocals and a lack of openness and depth. The MW65 has no such issues. It has ample separation between its bass and midrange, leaving vocals with a touch of warmth but also some space to breathe. Note size is more accurate and clarity is substantially higher on the MW65. The midrange is more linear and its timbre is a lot more natural. Separation is higher on the MW65 and it is a more layered sound overall. The highs tell a similar story.

However, it isn’t excessive nor is it peaky. Lower-treble has nice attack yet it is reinforced by ample body and texture. The Sony sounds dull and smoothed off, a fairly common tuning for ANC headphones as highs can fatigue during extended listening. Nonetheless, the MW65 is hardly a bright earphone, it has a dark background but simply has more going on in the foreground with more abundant detail, more energy and greater headroom. Perhaps the aspect that ties it all together, the MW65 has a much more open soundstage, it has significantly greater width where the Sony has almost no soundstage at all to my ears. The MW65 has superior separation which makes it easier to pinpoint details in its already more detailed image. So although the MW65 may not demolish wired headphones in its price class, it is without a doubt among the best wireless ANC headphone on the market.

Master & Dynamic MW60 ($299): Master and Dynamic’s original wired headphone that resembles the lauded MH40 more in terms of build and design than the MW65 at the cost of being almost 50% heavier. Its finely machined stainless steel frame and blend of premium cow and lambskin leather makes it thoroughly sumptuous, feeling more substantial than the MW65. It isn’t as sleek with wider hangers and deeper pads. It becomes more compact with folding hinges and sports the same smooth headband sliders. It isn’t nearly as comfortable as the lighter MW65, especially as its headband is thinner, which can form hotspots during longer listening.  The MW60 has no noise cancelling, it blocks substantially less ambient noise even though it is closed with a solid seal. Finally, the MW60 uses micro-USB as opposed to USB-C on the MW65 and it has a shorter 16hr battery life.

Sonically, the 45mm neodymium drivers in the MW60 can’t match the clarity and control of the 40mm beryllium drivers in the MW65, especially given the MW60’s more V-shaped signature. The MW60 has a warmer sound with more bass emphasis, especially with regards to sub-bass that is a touch more extended and more emphasized. The MW60 also has more mid-bass, sounding warmer and fuller but also a touch more congested as a result. Still, the MW60 has dynamics, rumble and impact that the MW65 can’t match. Both demonstrate higher driver control, the MW65 is cleaner though the MW60 does well considering its even fuller low-end, being more aggressively textured if more bloated. Both taper off in the upper-bass to maintain midrange transparency. Here, we can see some clear delineations, the MW60 being more vocally recessed and typical V, the MW65 implementing a vocal boost in order to enable greater balance.

The MW65 is cleaner through the midrange where the MW60 is warmer with less clarity. The MW65 sounds more accurate here, being more transparent while maintaining smoothness. The MW60 sounds a touch less refined, it has less vocal presence and it is noticeably warmer with more upper-midrange emphasis to compensate, as such, it doesn’t sound quite as coherent. Highs have also been revised, the MW60 is more linear in the highs, the MW65 is more energetic with greater crispness and openness. The MW60 has more body and a touch more detail when scrutinized, however as the MW65 is actually a touch brighter, this is not always apparent. The MW65 also sports more headroom though both extend similarly. The MW60 has a slight edge in terms of high-end linearity and detail retrieval, the MW65 resolved background detail better and has more detail presence. The MW60 has a slightly larger stage, an impression reinforced by its less forward treble and midrange. The MW65 has more defined layers and imaging is sharper.

Verdict –

Gone are the days when general listeners could spend pennies on wired headsets to accompany their commutes, the death of the headphone jack has ensured that wireless products rise to unprecedented prominence. And within this market, ANC headphones have remained immensely popular as smaller form factors remain immature. The MW65 slots comfortably into the highest echelons of this sector, a wireless headphone with incredible build quality that stands firm against the rigours of daily life, and effective ANC that quietens if not quite silences the hectic whirr of suburban life. A suite of premium accessories keeps your investment protected during transit while providing ample connectivity for frequent flyers, even when the 20hrs of battery life have been depleted.

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In addition, the MW65 delivers boggling sound quality of an ANC headset, with reasonable balance invigorated with a mild bass emphasis and considerably more resolving power than leading competitors. The MW65 delivers a rich low-end while retaining clean, clear vocals and a crisp high-end that doesn’t fatigue. By implementing high-quality beryllium drivers and offering multiple levels of noise cancellation in addition to the option to bypass its internal electronics entirely, M&D ensure versatile sound quality that flatter on the go and scales up with high-quality home equipment. This is an immensely well-rounded headphone, a traditional approach to a new, bustling form factor with a sound that is as natural as is its construction.

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Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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