Many of you might not have heard of Master & Dynamic, and that's probably because they're a relatively new company out of New York. They emerged last year with a few headphone designs and some lofty promises. Compared to names like AKG, Bose, Sennheiser, HiFiMan and yes, Beats, it's understandable to think "Who are these guys?" What they are is a company determined to build not only good-looking headphones, nor just headphones that sound brilliant but also headphones that are built to last. One of their promises for the MH40 is that they're built to "last decades". If you're interested in a pair of well-made, great-sounding and good-looking headphones that are built to last, then you should keep reading.
If you've already gone ahead and checked the price tag for the MH40s, you'll know that these aren't cheap at $399, but if you were hoping for a review in which the reviewer laments their price tag and tells you they're overpriced and you're much better off going somewhere else, you'll be disappointed. Instead, this is a review that drives hope the point that these days, you really do get what you pay for.
Design and Build
Right out of the box, you can tell that these were built-by-hand and that when Master & Dynamic say they built these out of premium materials, they meant it. The headband is coated in calf skin leather, the earpads are lamb skin leather and there's more to decorate the outer ear cups, too. Anything that looks metal is metal and the whole set feels solid and sturdily made. This does mean that this are a little heavy, but after a little while that weight helps these to stay on your head and it's reassuring, too.
As for the looks of the MH40, these are a set of cans that evoke images of oldschool radio engineers. I head that a lot from a number of people who I showed these to and "oldschool" is an adjective I heard a lot. I've spent a few weeks with these and wearing them out in public definitely gets me some looks, but it's more of a "Oh, those are interesting" rather than "Oh look, another pair of headphones try to be Beats that aren't Beats" or worse still "Are those Beats or just counterfeit cans?" The MH40s do stand out, that much is obvious, but they do so in a classy and mature manner.
In the box you're given a sort of hockey puck container that – you guessed it – is finished in lambskin leather, designed to hold the two cables and the 6.3mm full-size adapter (which fits on to the cable very nicely, it must be said). There are two cables provided; one 1.25m cable with remote and mic and another at 2.0m with no mic inline as well as the aforementioned 6.3mm adapter. There's also a very nice canvas carrying case that's nice and thick and feels well-made. There's a magnetic flap that helps keep the bag closed and there's also a little pouch in there to keep cables in while on the move. There's even a thick booklet with all sorts of info on troubleshooting, repair and more included in the box.
For this sort of money, you'd expect a comfy pair of headphones, right? Well, I'm sad to say that these aren't as comfortable as I'd like. The 360g weight does make these feel a little heavy on your head (but this makes them secure enough to bop along to Metallica's Black Album) and the small ear pads aren't exactly suited for someone with my size of melon. Still, I can wear these for a few hours straight without wanting to rip them off my head and the headband is excellent, I very rarely notice it's there at all. Final word on wearing these guys is that you do know you're wearing a pair of headphones, you feel that pressure on your ears, but it's not painful and over time you do get used to it.
There are two things about the MH40 that make these more than a comfortable wear, but a comfortable listen; the mute button and the ability to attach the cable to either side. The mute button is an odd inclusion, but if you're someone that has their phone in their pocket or bag buried, then this mute button kills all sound and let's you hear what's being said. As for the detachable cable on either side? This is a great feature. I religiously put my phone in my right pocket, wallet in the left, and yet many manufacturers put the cable to the left ear (my AKG K550s included) and it's annoying having a cable go across you when on the move; with the MH40 there's no such issue.
On to the most important part of the review and I have to say these sound fantastic. For those interested, they're a 45mm, dynamic and closed driver design with a 32 Ohm impedance. Are they precise and exact in their presentation? Nope. Instead, what they are is an incredibly warm, and rich pair of headphones. Master & Dynamic make no bone about this either, in their refreshingly honest and to the point literature they clearly state these are designed to be warm and rich, with full-bodied bass, and that's exactly how these sound. I took a bunch of notes listening to Damien Rice (My Favorite Faded Fantasy), CHVRCHES (The Bones of What You Believe), Metallica (The Black Album and Death Magnetic), Fall Out Boy (Folie a Deux), Royal Blood (Royal Blood) and a bit of everything, really. Throughout my listening over these last few weeks, I found these to be a warm and kicking pair of headphones. The best way I can describe it is that it's like putting a HiFi system from the 80s or 90s on your head (but with much better style and none of that crackling business). That said, these are exceptionally clear; I can hear every note of some of my favorite tracks, they're just reproduced with a definite hump towards the lower-end.
Bass heads will love these, classical music lovers will adore the warm tones here and those looking for something like a reference headphone with that bass kick they miss will find a lot to love here as well. On songs like Gabrielle Aplin's 'Human' vocals are soft and delicate, yet also full-bodied. Royal Blood's 'Out of the Black' is a real treat and those crunchy riffs mix in well with the drums to get your head and feet moving. It's hard to describe, but this is the first pair of headphones I've used that sound fantastic while also being very warm. Usually that warm, and rich tone comes with a compromise, but there's none to be had here. It's clear, it's deep, it's warm, it's bassy, it just sounds great.
We're called Android Headlines for a reason, and all of the above commentary is from listening to an Xperia Z2 and Nexus 9 with no amplification. For a lot of my listening I even turned off equalization settings and I didn't use any mods or anything like that. I listened to both Google Play Music and Tidal, with the lossless files from Tidal sounding much, much better. Having said that, I did use these with a FiiO E11K portable amp as well as FiiO E09K desktop amp and really, the results were much the same. Separation between instruments and focals were better with the E09K, but I never felt like I needed to have the amp to make the most of these cans, not once.
The MH40s are a pair of headphones that cost $399, the ultimate question should be then, are they worth that much? My answer would be yes. These aren't a pair of headphones I'd use all day at my desk, as Master & Dynamic would like though. They're described as a "Modern thinking cap" and their creators want you to use them while writing and designing, but they're too good for that. Instead, these are one of the best travel headphones you could possibly buy. Sure, they don't have active noise cancellation, but they sound so good that you'll forget you eve needed such a thing. For $399 you get what you pay for, which is a pair of headphones that are designed to last, and last. I'm confident these would do just that, they are after all built using excellent components and the parts have been designed to be easily replaced. They also sound good enough to justify that price tag, they're certainly not reference quality, but they're not designed to be. Instead, these are an excellent treat to your ears on a long flight, after a long day of work or at your desk while trying to focus with your favorite tracks.
I've gone on long enough, if you want a pair, you can purchase from Amazon below and if you want more info, I implore you to take a look at the Master & Dynamic website is refreshingly honest and full of info for potential buyers.