To build a set of headphones prepped to go against some of today's tough competitors, Master & Dynamic took inspiration from the past. More specifically, from vintage microphones and leather-bound speaker cabinets that were the norm way back in the day.
The Master & Dynamic MH40, while quite pricey at $399 (£319, about AU$509), is the result of a masterful fusion of old-school appeal and new-age performance. The premium build materials and inviting sound quality are each excellent in their own right, but the heavy focus on novelty over value means that you aren't getting much in the way of features for the price. That said, if money isn't an issue, there's a lot to enjoy here.
There aren't many over-ear headphones that demand as much attention as the Master & Dynamic MH40. With cowhide and lambskin making up just a few of the premium build materials, I felt the gazes of many while I wore the MH40 out and about. You can't blame the onlookers: these cans look awesome.
The headband of the MH40 is soft, but sturdy and wrapped on all sides with cowhide leather. To toughen up these headphones, a few stainless steel rods run through the headband to ensure that the MH40 can handle the surprisingly tough strain of everyday use.
If you thought that things were looking good already, just wait until you see the ear cups. Moving down the steel rods, the cups attach to the headband with a sliding socket mechanism, which seems fragile, but only adjusts once effort to adjust them is intended.
There are four levels of size adjustments, and the MH40 should fit most heads. My noggin is the perfect stress test for headphones, as it is large and always requires extra accommodation. My cranium pushed these headphones to their limit, but even so, I was always comfortable.
The design of the ear cups charmingly resembles a vintage stage microphone. Not only does each cup have an ovular design, the slick aluminum detailing and mesh covering their backs is a constant reminder of Master & Dynamic's inspiration, rooted deep in technology and culture that fueled the music world of decades past.
The other design touches don't steal the show as much, but deserve some praise all the same. Particularly, the cups, which offer a gorgeous combo of cowhide, lambskin and aluminum covering the device. This is a big chunk of what you're paying for, after all.
Typically, wired headphones aren't stocked with oodles of features. The MH40 is no different, saving most of the functionality for its cable. However, there is a mute button located on the right ear cup. It doesn't pause your music, but it will cut off the sound in case you don't have time to jumble for the pause button on the cable.
Each ear cup has a 3.5mm input on its bottom, leaving the decision up to you as to which side you want to plug in the included cable for listening. In the box, Master & Dynamic has included a 1.2m braided cable complete with mic and iOS-compatible inline controls, as well as a longer 2m braided cable that doesn't have the inline goodies. This extra cable is perfect for sharing music through the unused 3.5mm port. You'll also find a tote to carry the MH40 in. It isn't a tough case, but protects against potential nicks and dings during transport.
If you bought these based on their design alone, you're clearly serious about high fashion when it comes to your tech. The Master & Dynamic MH40 buck the "all walk and no talk" trend of boutique tech, with stunning looks and, wouldn't you know it, they also sound fantastic.
As I made clear earlier, my head's size pushed these over-ear headphones to their limits, yet they still remained quite comfortable. The thoughtful placement of plush in the headband and around the ear cups helped the MH40 rest on my head and around my ears for hours at a time without an issue.
Inline controls featured on the braided cable are a swell addition that helps to beef up the fairly bare feature offering of the MH40, but it's only compatible with iOS devices. The functionality on my HTC One M7 is stripped back, only allowing me to pause.
The real "meat and potatoes" of any set of headphones, regardless of their flashy looks, is audio performance. And the Master & Dynamic MH40 waste no time in communicating that their audio game is a crowd-pleaser, for the most part.
The sound signature isn't warm with humming lows, as one would expect from over-ear headphones, but the performance on the whole is plenty rich. Sound is offered up with an explosive response that I rarely hear in headphones. The bass is present, but timid. The crystal-clear mids and highs are the real focus of the MH40, coming through with vibrant detail.
A $399 (£319, about AU$509) asking price is a lot of cash to throw on a set of headphones, but so long as you're down to invest, there are some wonderful options out there. The Master & Dynamic MH40 is one of them. But I can't help but note that you don't need to spend this much to get a set of headphones that match, and in some cases, exceed its solid build quality, performance and value.
For $299 (£265, AU$399), the Bose QuietComfort 25 offers comparable sound and build quality in an over-ear form factor, yet easily one-ups the MH40 with a handy noise cancellation feature.
For $100 less than the cost of the MH40, you could also nab the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 on-ear headphones. These don't have noise cancellation, but you'll find plenty of lambskin and sound quality that exudes much more richness.
The design of the MH40 is a love letter to the tech of yesteryear. But that just isn't enough to justify a high asking price, especially when the market is full of much better values.