Master & Dynamic MH40 Wireless (2nd gen) review: A novel mix of sound and design
But is that enough for a set of $399 headphones?
When it comes to headphone design, Master & Dynamic has carved out a niche. The company’s signature look of metal and leather, immediately set it apart from the competition when the wired MH40 debuted in 2014. M&D followed up with a wireless version in 2019, giving its non-ANC (active noise canceling) over-ear headphones a modern update. Now the company is back with a second-generation wireless model, touting improvements to audio, battery and more. The third iteration of the MH40 is undoubtedly an improvement on the last, but are the company’s design chops enough to overcome the lack of features compared to similarly priced alternatives?
One element that has always set Master & Dynamic apart from the competition is its design. From those first MH40 headphones, the company has relied on aluminum construction instead of plastic for several products. What’s more, it blends the metal with other premium materials like canvas and leather. For the second-generation MH40 Wireless, the company has stayed true to its roots, right down to the vintage, aviator-inspired look.
Alongside the aluminum body, a coated canvas-wrapped headband is color matched to removable lambskin leather ear pads. With all of those high-end materials, the MH40 weighs 280 grams – 30 grams more than Sony’s WH-1000XM5. Still, the extra heft isn’t a burden, these feel lightweight, comfy, and the cushiony ear pads keep you from feeling the outer rim of the ear cups.
Like the previous version, the on-board controls reside on the right ear cup. A three-button array is positioned near the headband hinge, giving you controls for calls, music, voice assistant and volume (including a mute button). The dual-function power/pairing button sits on the outer edge alongside the USB-C port and a multi-color pairing/battery life indicator. I’ll always advocate for physical controls over a touch panel, mostly because they’re more reliable. That’s certainly the case here, as I was easily able to execute multiple presses on the center button for skipping tracks.
Software and features
The M&D Connect app is the companion software for the MH40. Here, battery level is the most prominently displayed item, along with a note if your headphones are up to date firmware-wise. A tap on the gear icon reveals options for sound, controls and “about device.” Inside the sound menu, Master & Dynamic gives you four EQ presets: bass boost, bass cut, podcast (mids and vocals) and audiophile (mids and highs). By default, there’s no equalizer setting selected and the app will remember which one you picked so you don’t have to select it each time you activate the so-called E-Preset EQ. You can also enable Sidetone on the sound menu, allowing you to hear some of your own voice during calls. This comes in handy as it keeps you from feeling the need to speak loudly to hear yourself through the passive noise isolation.
While Sidetone is a nice feature, you can only activate it in the app, which means before a call (or more likely, during the first few seconds of one) you’ll have to swipe over to the sound menu to turn it on. I realize the MH40 doesn’t have ANC so there’s not a dedicated button that selects a noise-canceling mode. But perhaps there could be an option to reassign the long press on the center button, from summoning a voice assistant, to triggering Sidetone.
On the controls menu, the app gives you the option of renaming the device from M&D MH40W and changing the automatic shut-off timer from the default 30 minutes (one hour, three hours and never are the other options). From this screen you can also trigger a factory reset.
After testing several Master & Dynamics’ products over the years, it’s clear the company has a knack for warm, natural sound that’s devoid of any heavy-handed tuning. Across genres, there’s no over-reliance on bombastic bass or painfully brilliant highs. That continues on the second-gen MH40 Wireless where there’s ample low-end tone when a track demands it, like Mike Shinoda’s remix of Deftones’ “Passenger.” But the bass is a complement to everything else, and the default EQ works well across the sonic spectrum.
Master & Dynamic swapped out the drivers on the previous version for 40mm titanium units that it says produce “clearer highs and richer lows.” Indeed, the treble is punchy throughout a range of musical styles, and the bass can be as thick and thumping as a song requires. Other headphones may offer low boom, but it blends better with the mids and highs on the MH40, making the even the deepest bass on RTJ4 more pleasant to listen to.
There’s great attention to detail in the sound profile of the MH40 too, and again, it’s apparent across different types of music. However, this is most evident with genres like bluegrass and jazz – multi-instrumental arrangements with interwoven sections emphasizing different players at different times. It’s not quite on the level of what Bowers & Wilkins manages with its latest headphones, which are some of the best-sounding I’ve reviewed. But Master & Dynamic does a solid job with the subtle nuances of sound, from pick noise on a mandolin to the percussive thumps of an upright bass.
When it comes to calls, the new MH40 offers a better overall experience than its predecessor, but there’s still room for improvement. The new microphone setup does a solid job with constant background noise. It doesn’t pick up things like white noise machines and clothes dryers. The headphones aren’t great with louder distractions and it picks those up in greater detail if you’ve got Sidetone active.
Master & Dynamic promises up to 30 hours of battery life on the new MH40. That’s up from 18 hours on the first wireless version of the headphones, but it's not any longer than most ANC models. Audio-Technica's best non-ANC model lasts up to 50 hours, for example. There’s also a quick-charge feature that will give you up to six hours of use in 15 minutes. During my testing, I managed to hit the stated time before having to plug them in, but I didn’t go beyond. That’s doing a mix of music, podcasts and calls (with Sidetone) at around 75 percent volume and leaving the headphones off overnight a few times.
In terms of non-ANC headphones, one of my favorite options is Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50xBT2. Like the MH40, this is a second-generation model with notable improvements over the M50xBT. Multi-point Bluetooth pairing, built-in Alexa and a low latency mode were added on top of the company’s blend of warm audio tone with a really comfy set of cans. Plus, they’re currently on sale for $179 – $20 less than the original price and less than half of what you’ll pay for the new MH40.
If you’re looking for noise canceling headphones, Master & Dynamic sells the MW75 with a more modern design than the company’s other over- and on-ear products. Adaptive ANC is powered by a set of four microphones and there are three noise-canceling modes to choose from. The MW75 is also equipped with wear detection to help you extend that 28-hour listening time (with ANC on). However, these headphones are a whopping $599, only surpassed by Bowers & Wilkins’ Px8 for the most expensive headphones I’ve tested recently.
For the best wireless headphones currently available, you’ll want to consider Sony’s WH-1000XM5. Simply put, no other company comes close to what Sony offers on its flagship set in terms of mixing features, sound quality and ANC performance. While they’re pricey at $398, you get more for that investment. Plus, we’ve seen the M5 on sale for as low as $279.
What features are you willing to give up for headphones with standout looks and good sound? That’s really what you have to consider with the MH40. There’s no denying this second-gen model is an upgrade from the first wireless version. All of the things the company says it improved hold true, from the sound quality to the battery life and microphone performance. Had the company done so without boosting the price, I could make a strong argument for the new MH40. But at $399, there are flagship noise-canceling headphones from other companies that simply offer too much when compared to M&D’s latest. Unless, of course, the main thing that matters to you is a deft hand with product design.