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Master & Dynamic MW65 Review: $500, and Worth Every Penny

The new wireless MW65 Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones take the excellent sound Master & Dynamic is known for and add active noise-canceling.

Headphone aficionados perk up their ears whenever Master & Dynamic drops a new bit of product onto the internet. The New York company first made a splash five years ago with its MH40 over-ear headphones that it modeled after a mid-20th-century design. They looked sharp and sounded even better, and the company has gone on to release several corded and wireless models (as well as an ultra-dope speaker made of concrete) that earned high marks from us and other publications.

The newest headphone from Master & Dynamic is a wireless model that fits fully over the ears and features active noise-cancelation technology built in. The MW65 ANC, available now, has many of the same visual design touch points seen in the company's previous flagship model, the MW60. Premium leather swaddles the headband and the memory-foam ear pads. The durable aluminum skeleton keeps the weight just under 9 ounces. Inside each ear cup is a 40-millimeter beryllium driver that puts out some truly lovely sound.

Master & Dynamic sent a pair for me to audition, and the biggest surprises in the two weeks I wore them were the wireless performance and the battery life. The antenna is about as clingy as they come, pairing to my iMac and Pixel 3 over Bluetooth immediately, and not dropping the connection until I walk through a door 70 feet away and close it behind me. And the battery is bonkers. M&D quotes a Herculean 24 hours of listening time, and I can confirm that it lasts even longer. I do most of my listening with the active noise-canceling system either off or on the Low mode (more on that later), but even with the ANC electronics firing I can squeeze a week's worth of four-hour sessions out of the battery. When it goes dry, a USB-C cable charges them quickly.

Master & Dynamic

One thing that didn't surprise me is the audio quality. It's excellent, just as you'd expect from the M&D brand given its track record of producing great-sounding headphones. My only note is that MW65s have a "natural" sound profile, meaning they aren't goosed in the bass frequencies the way that Beats or V-Modas (and so many others) are. Just be aware that if you live for drippy, skull-rattling bass, you'll want an EQ app on your phone.

You're Canceled

Headphone designers commonly use two techniques to cancel out unwanted noise. The first is a "feed-forward" design, where a set of microphones lives on the outside of the ear cups and picks up all the ambient noise in your listening environment. Then, the headphones generate a sound wave that's the opposite of that noise. That opposite wave, when played through the headphones, cancels out whatever's going on outside the ear cups. The second common design type is called "feedback," where the mics are placed inside the headphone's ear cups. There, they detect whatever noise sneaks past the leather, metal, and plastic that's cupping your ears, then generate a canceling wave based on that information. (The headphone company Jabra has an in-depth blog post about this.)

If you wear nice headphones that form a good seal around your ears, you'll notice that not much noise makes it into the ear cup. So a feedback noise-canceling system essentially has less noise to cancel. These systems are usually more gentle and don't alter the pure sound of the music as much as feed-forward systems. When tuned correctly, feedback systems are barely noticeable. However, you'd probably still be able to detect when a stronger feed-forward canceling system was switched on, even if you've parked your ears in the front row at a few Slayer shows over the decades.

So which is better? That's a matter of preference, and the good news is that the MW65 has both of these systems. A little button on the left ear cup lets you toggle between three modes: no noise canceling; low noise canceling, with just the feedback system active; and high, with both the feedback and feed-forward systems active. Around the office, I prefer the low setting, which is more than enough to drown out the conversations, phone calls, and hubbub around my desk. I've been kicking on the high only when I venture outside and walk next to city traffic, or when I'm riding the bus. And luckily, I don't need noise canceling at home, so I just leave it switched off when I'm there.

The audio quality of the headphones stays excellent through all three modes, with the low end in particular growing punchier with the canceling activated. But as is common with ANC cans, the higher you go up the canceling ladder, the more it feels like the headphones are scooping the air out of your head. Listening to heavily canceled audio sounds like listening inside a vacuum chamber, and it can get tiring after a couple of hours. But it sure is quiet in there.

Keep the Change

The list of things to love about the MW65 is long: The styling and materials, the low weight, the crazy battery life, the excellent noise-reducing tech, the crisp audio. But the $500 price is about as lovable as a good toe stubbing. I can't remember the last time I spent more than $350 on a pair of headphones, and even that is some gourmet cheese.

But I'll put forward the argument that if you have the money to spend, the MW65 ANC is worth it. The Great Temple of the $500 Headphone is populated by many precious specimens: Electrostatic cans with wooden shells, beastly planar magnetics with vise-like headbands, and austere German open-backs with titanium bones. You'll also find a lot of headphones in this price range to be fussy. They may require a dedicated amplifier or have a nonportable design that's too delicate to throw in a day bag. The MW65 ANC, however, is simple and approachable—a no-nonsense headphone. The compact design works well in all of the places you might listen, and it is sturdy enough to consider taking everywhere.

The only thing I always try to do when testing headphones, which I didn't get to do in my time with the MW65, is take them on a plane trip. I would have gotten a kick out of the fact that my headphones were more expensive than my cross-continent coach ticket. But the silence would have been priceless.

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