When it comes to headphone design, the popular brands don't venture too far from the prescribed formula. Circular earcups, leather-like padding and a folding frame have become de rigueur for on-ear and over-ear models. Then there's Master & Dynamic. You may not have heard of the company -- I hadn't until a few weeks ago -- but if you're looking for headphones with some serious style, this is an eye-catching option. For me, looks can only go so far; the cans need to sound great, too. I put the company's $399 MH40 over-ear headphones through their paces for a couple of weeks to find out if the beauty was more than skin-deep.
Gallery: Master & Dynamic MH40 headphones | 25 Photos
Gallery: Master & Dynamic MH40 headphones | 25 Photos
What first struck me about the MH40s was how authentic the materials looked. As it turns out, that's because they are. The headband is wrapped in heavy-grain leather with a lambskin underside to keep the top of your head comfy. What's more, the entire headband is wrapped in that same material -- not just the top section. Some visible stitching adds a nice touch too. The components that allow for sizing adjustments at the base of the headband are made out of stainless steel. This not only looks nicer than having a metal band peek out (think: Beats), but also the rod-like construction there is another nice touch. There are even guidelines to help you more precisely adjust both sides without having to guess.
Moving down to the earcups, lambskin makes another appearance inside on the pads. Master & Dynamic says it used that material on the memory foam cushions for breathability and comfort. I tend to wear headphones for hours at a time while working, and I typically start to get a bit hot around the earcups after a half hour or so. That wasn't the case here. The pads are also removable (yay, magnets!), so you can give them a wipe down should the need arise. On the outside, the earcups are framed in aluminum. It's not the plastic stuff that's meant to look like metal, either. It's the real thing, and it looks nice. The shape of the earcups themselves is elliptical instead of circular. Going with that shape over the more popular design is a nice change of pace, and keeps the set compact.
On the outside of the right earcup is a handy mute button. It's the only onboard control, but I found it to be quite useful, especially when my keyboard was just out of reach or I was using my phone to control the music. I found the outside of the earcups to be interesting for another reason, too: Where the headband attaches is another rod-like mechanism that allows the earcups to flex for a better fit. There's also a grille that reminds me of both a speaker and a microphone. It's yet another unique design choice, and it adds a bit of flair beyond the normal flat design I typically encounter in that spot.
All of that talk of premium materials led me to think that the MH40s would be fairly heavy. Nope. Despite the design choices Master & Dynamic made on these headphones, it managed to keep the weight down. Sure, the MH40s are heavier than my go-to B&O H6s, but most cans are. However, even with a bit of added heft, these over-ears never felt bulky or overbearing, and I found that I adjusted to the extra weight rather quickly. After a day or so, I barely noticed it.
I've spent enough time gushing over the design, so let's discuss the other important factor: sound quality. After a couple weeks of listening to the MH40s, I can confidently say the audio matches the dapper design. They sound great. Are they the best I've heard? I won't go that far, but they're pretty darn close. I really like the range of volume on these headphones, as they can get much louder than the H6s I normally use. The sound is clear, although perhaps not the clearest I've heard. Snare hits on Florence and The Machine's "What Kind of Man" are a bit crisper on the H6 (and wireless H8), but the low end is better represented on these Master & Dynamic cans. That said, the MH40s offer more depth in the sound than most of the headphones I've listened to recently and they handle a range of genres well. The combination of depth and volume earns high marks from me.
Master & Dynamic has a few accessories for the MH40s, too. There's a unidirectional boom mic that handles calls and video chats. The $129 mic plugs into the 3.5mm jack on the earcup opposite the regular cable. It keeps your voice clear from any in-office noise that could make it difficult for someone on the other end to hear you well. Oh yeah, it's made out of aluminum, too. You'll want to proudly display this gear on your desk when you're not using it, so the company also offers a $59 metal stand. It's simple and straightforward, but I preferred it to placing the headphones on my desk or hanging them on the edge of my monitor.
At $399, Master & Dynamic's MH40 headphones are priced to compete with premium audio accessories. While the lack of wireless connectivity may be a turnoff for some at this price, the stellar design and great audio quality make them worth the cost of admission. As is typically the case when it comes to audio gear, it comes down to how you listen to music and your personal preferences. If you're happy with $10 earbuds and don't have a desire to experience something that sounds a lot better, I can understand why you'd want to keep your money in your pocket. However, if you do prefer excellent sound over the most affordable option and don't mind splurging a bit to get it, the MH40s are worth a look. In fact, I'm not too eager to get back to my B&O H6s, and it's been a long time since another set of cans has convinced me to leave those on the shelf.