Master & Dynamic MW08 review
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Master & Dynamic MW08 review Billy Steele/Engadget

Master & Dynamic MW08 review: Small changes make a huge difference

Specific upgrades include a refined design and improved ANC.
Billy Steele
B. Steele|03.25.21

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When a company enters a new product category, there’s a good chance it will struggle with the first device. Experienced headphone makers had some issues with their first true wireless earbuds. Master & Dynamic’s MW07 debuted in 2018, and even for that time, it had woefully short battery life and insufficient Bluetooth range. The company addressed both issues with the MW07 Plus while adding active noise cancellation (ANC) and other features. Now, M&D is back with another flagship model, the MW08 ($299). These earbuds take some design cues from the company’s previous three true wireless products, but a number of seemingly small changes add up to make these best M&D earbuds yet.

Gallery: Master & Dynamic MW08 review | 21 Photos

  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
  • Master & Dynamic MW08 review
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Design

With its latest true wireless earbuds, Master & Dynamic continues to refine its initial design. The company improved its natural, even-tuned trademark sound to create audio quality normally reserved for over-ear headphones. There are some minor gripes, but M&D covers nearly all of the bases for its latest flagship earbuds, which are undoubtedly the company’s best yet.
Billy Steele/Engadget

For its first three sets of true wireless earbuds, Master & Dynamic kept the same D-shaped design for each model. The only slight outlier is the MW07 Sport due to its smaller size and TR90 composite shell. Both the MW07 and MW07 Plus had acetate exteriors in a range of colors and designs. With the MW08, the company further reduced the size, resulting in its smallest earbuds to date. This means the new buds don’t have as much hardware resting outside of your ears, though they do still stick out a bit.

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MW08

Pros

  • Incredible sound quality
  • Improved noise cancellation
  • 12-hour battery life
  • Smaller size

Cons

  • Slightly awkward fit
  • Cumbersome controls
  • No wireless charging

Another key difference is the materials. With the MW08, Master & Dynamic switched to ceramic exterior shells with an aluminum frame. Like the MW07 Go, the new version is one solid color instead of an acetate pattern or swirl — except for the white version, which has a silver outer ring. Those two aesthetic changes create a more refined overall look for the MW08, one that brings the company’s true wireless earbuds more in line with its headphones in terms of design.

With its latest true wireless earbuds, Master & Dynamic continues to refine its initial design. The company improved its natural, even-tuned trademark sound to create audio quality normally reserved for over-ear headphones. There are some minor gripes, but M&D covers nearly all of the bases for its latest flagship earbuds, which are undoubtedly the company’s best yet.
MW08, MW07 Plus and MW07 Go
Billy Steele/Engadget

The machined aluminum ring around the outside of each earbud houses both the antennas and the on-board controls. On the right side, a multi-function button allows you to play/pause (single press), skip tracks (double and triple press) and summon a voice assistant (press and hold). There’s a volume rocker on the left earbud, and long pressing the up button activates ambient sound while the same action on the down control turns ANC on and off. Those two controls will default to the last ambient sound or ANC setting you selected inside of Master & Dynamic’s companion app. The buttons for the on-board controls themselves are slightly smaller, which makes using them cumbersome. They’re tiny, and you have to hold the earbud with your other fingers while you press, which slowed me down a bit.

Like the MW07 Plus, the charging case for the MW08 is still made from shiny stainless steel (and it’s still a fingerprint magnet). The key difference is the accessory now opens on the top edge instead of like a small tin of Altoids. Due to this change, the company had to relocate the USB-C port to the short side on the right. A trio of LEDs still gives you a battery status estimate for both the earbuds and the case individually. There are three colors indicating low, medium and high battery capacity, so you’ll want to consult the app if you need an exact percentage.

Sound quality

With its latest true wireless earbuds, Master & Dynamic continues to refine its initial design. The company improved its natural, even-tuned trademark sound to create audio quality normally reserved for over-ear headphones. There are some minor gripes, but M&D covers nearly all of the bases for its latest flagship earbuds, which are undoubtedly the company’s best yet.
Billy Steele/Engadget

One thing I enjoy about testing Master & Dynamic headphones is the company’s “signature” sound profile. Details are always crisp and clear and the tuning is what I’d describe as natural. Specifically, M&D doesn’t overly tweak things for overbearing bass or painfully tinny treble. The end result is things sound like the album mix rather than what a headphone company thinks will enhance most music. For the MW08, Master & Dynamic tweaked its formula, which includes adding slightly larger, 11mm beryllium-coated drivers.

And the change isn’t a bad thing. The MW08’s wide soundstage gives Gojira’s “Born For One Thing” metal plenty of room to roam — from the chaotic drum fills to staccato guitar riffs and the meandering bass line. There’s an almost tactile texture to the distorted guitars where it’s as if you can feel the details in the grungy noise. Every instrument sounds like it's layered on top of the others, rather than being smashed down to a single sound source before it’s blasted through the earbuds. There’s more low-end tone than on the MW07 Plus, but in a way that doesn’t overpower the mids and treble. Gojria’s prog-metal is bass heavy by default, but the MW08 keeps things appropriately boomy while still offering plenty of depth for everything else to swirl in a sonic storm.

The added bass is restrained when it needs to be, like when I switched to the bluegrass tunes of Nickel Creek. All the great detail of the MW08 comes through from each acoustic instrument, but the upright bass doesn’t overpower. It’s the background foundation that keeps things organized, but its low-end thumping notes don’t outshine the guitar, fiddle or mandolin.

It can be difficult for earbuds to give music the appropriate amount of dimensionality rather than making everything sound compressed. Headphone companies have gotten better at this in recent years, but some still struggle. With the MW08, Master & Dynamic has navigated the sonic minefield, producing a sound profile that’s the best I’ve encountered on a set of true wireless earbuds. There were times I forgot I was wearing earbuds and would have easily been convinced this audio was coming from a set of premium over-ear headphones.

M&D Connect

With its latest true wireless earbuds, Master & Dynamic continues to refine its initial design. The company improved its natural, even-tuned trademark sound to create audio quality normally reserved for over-ear headphones. There are some minor gripes, but M&D covers nearly all of the bases for its latest flagship earbuds, which are undoubtedly the company’s best yet.
Billy Steele/Engadget

Despite having three true wireless models under its belt, Master & Dynamic had yet to offer a companion app for any kind of customization. Alongside the MW08, the company is debuting M&D Connect. The mobile software will be available on both Android and iOS, offering users the ability to change ANC and ambient sound modes, adjust the auto-off timer and disable in-ear detection. The app also keeps tabs on battery level (for the dominant earbud), provides a product guide and facilitates any updates that may be released. Unlike some of the competition, M&D Connect doesn’t have a customizable EQ or any sound presets for you to employ — and it doesn’t plan to add them. It also doesn’t offer the ability to rearrange the on-board controls. I don’t think you’d need to worry with either of those things on the MW08, but that’s just me.

If you already own a set of MW07 Plus earbuds, those are not compatible with M&D Connect. I would assume future Master & Dynamic products will work with the app, but for the time being, the software is exclusive to the MW08.

Noise-cancelling and ambient sound modes

Instead of being limited to only on or off for the active noise cancellation, Master & Dynamic gives you two options: Max ANC and All Day ANC. The company says the former is well-suited for “noisy environments like airplanes or crowded places” while the latter is meant for “less noisy” spots. I’m not taking any flights just yet, but I could tell a difference between the two settings when trying to battle the constant roar of a sound machine at home. The only nuisance here is that you have to use the app to change modes. You can turn ANC on or off on the earbuds, but it activates the last mode you selected on your phone. The on-board control doesn’t cycle through all three options.

Like it did for ANC, M&D offers two options for ambient sound as well. The Voice setting provides “improved awareness of conversations” and Awareness is for more general use. To me, the difference is subtle, but I could tell Voice managed to cut out some background noise while the person speaking remained clear. However, this only really works when music or podcasts are paused. With audio playing, I can’t hear a difference. Again, you can turn ambient sound on or off on the earbuds, but you’re set with the last option you picked in the app.

Battery life

With its latest true wireless earbuds, Master & Dynamic continues to refine its initial design. The company improved its natural, even-tuned trademark sound to create audio quality normally reserved for over-ear headphones. There are some minor gripes, but M&D covers nearly all of the bases for its latest flagship earbuds, which are undoubtedly the company’s best yet.

Master & Dynamic dramatically improved battery life from the MW07 to the MW07+, and it added more listening time for the MW08. The company says you can expect up to 12 hours on the earbuds themselves with another 30 hours provided by the case. That’s with the ANC turned off. With the All Day ANC setting active, I managed just under 11 hours of what I’d consider regular use: music, calls and leaving the earbuds to automatically turn off. With Max ANC, I got just under nine hours of playback, so opting for that setting definitely impacts battery life more. M&D says you should expect around 10 hours of listening time with either ANC setting activated.

If you find yourself in a pinch, the MW08 can charge to 50 percent in 15 minutes. That’s a third of the time it takes to complete a full charge, so it will likely come in handy at some point. The quick-charging abilities also apply to the case itself, which can hit the 50-percent mark in 15 minutes. There’s no wireless charging here, so you’ll have to reach for a USB-C cable to replenish the case.

Call quality

To improve audio quality for calls, Master & Dynamic added a third microphone to each earbud for a total of six across the entire set. What’s more, the company says the mics are “custom tuned” for wind noise protection. Nearly every company that sells true wireless earbuds makes promises about call quality, but the results vary greatly.

Like most true wireless earbuds, voice quality on the MW08 is just slightly better than speaker phone. What’s more, these buds don’t do a great job with background noise, but that’s also par for the course. And while they do handle wind noise better than some of the competition, I’m not sure it’s enough of a difference to influence a buying decision. The MW08 will allow you to take calls without holding your phone, and that’s really the best you can hope for. And you can use either the left or right earbud independently, so you’re not required to put in a specific one if you don’t want to wear both during a call.

The competition

With its latest true wireless earbuds, Master & Dynamic continues to refine its initial design. The company improved its natural, even-tuned trademark sound to create audio quality normally reserved for over-ear headphones. There are some minor gripes, but M&D covers nearly all of the bases for its latest flagship earbuds, which are undoubtedly the company’s best yet.
Billy Steele/Engadget

When you consider design, materials and features, MW08 is clearly a set of premium true wireless earbuds. The $299 price confirms it. This puts Master & Dynamic on the high end of the spectrum with the likes of Sennheiser and others. Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 were the best-sounding earbuds I’ve reviewed until now, even though the company falls short of building a complete package. The MTW2 also offers solid ANC performance and customization, but lacks wireless charging and the battery life maxes out at seven hours. A year after their debut, you can pick these up for $249.95. That’s $50 less than the initial asking price.

The reality is you can find compelling options for less than $250. Even though they’re approaching the two-year mark this summer, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 earbuds are still worth considering. The company added new features to them in 2020 and they’re typically available for $178. I’m also a big fan of Jabra’s Elite 85t. These earbuds are the company’s first to ship with active noise cancellation, and it’s both powerful and adjustable. The size and shape of the buds makes for a comfy fit as well. The Elite 85t aren’t the best-sounding earbuds ever, but the audio quality is solid, making them a great option at $200.

Wrap-up

Many companies would’ve completely redesigned their true wireless earbuds by the time they introduced a fourth model. Master & Dynamic stuck to its lineage, deciding to refine a familiar shape. However, with new materials and smaller size, the company continues to improve. When you combine the design updates with more robust active noise cancellation, ambient sound modes, stellar audio and extended battery life, it’s not hard to argue these are Master & Dynamic’s best earbuds yet. But while the company is making these products better with each iteration, I’ll be interested to see what happens when it decides to introduce something that’s entirely new.

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