Over the years, I’ve owned a few Master & Dynamic headphones, but have never tried their IEMs, nor have I tried any of their wireless models, so I walked into this review not really knowing that to expect. The Master & Dynamic MW08 Active Noise Cancelling True Wireless Earphones are a very interesting product in a very crowded segment with some highly regarded models from Sony, Bose, and Sennheiser.
This is not a category where one wants to be the 4th choice.
Every headphone brand has a “house” sound to a certain degree and that is very true of Master & Dynamic. However, that sonic signature can get tossed out of the window when moving between wired and wireless or over-ear and in-ear monitors.
Like most Master & Dynamic products, the MW08 are marketed as a premium headphone; the $299 price tag reflects that and puts them in direct competition with the B&W P15, Sennheiser Momentum TWS 2, Bose QuietComfort, Apple AirPods Pro, and the new Sony WF-1000XM4.
Everything about the Master & Dynamic MW08 exude luxury. The packaging is tasteful and understated and the contents inside have a level of fit and finish that befits a luxury brand.
The earpieces have a scratch-resistant ceramic finish with no plastic to be found and the face can be ordered in a multitude of color finishes; including Black Ceramic, White Ceramic, Blue Ceramic, and Brown Ceramic with Stainless Steel Charging Cases.
The charging case shell is stainless steel with either a high polish mirror finish in bright stainless, or a matte black powder coat. A velvet carry bag is also provided to protect the charging case from scratches and fingerprints.
Having used more than a few true wireless earbuds, I was surprised by the heft of the case, which is not just the weight of the shell but also the larger than average battery pack hidden inside.
The Master & Dynamic MW08 are their 4th generation true wireless earbuds and the progression from the previous generation is quite obvious. The first model did not offer ANC (MW07) and only showed up in the MW07+ and a subsequent sports-oriented model; the MW07 Go.
Master & Dynamic have stuck with the MW07 designation for a number of years so the launch of the brand new MW08 Series was met with a lot of interest from headphone community.
Does the new MW08 offer a significant improvement over the previous models?
All of the Master & Dynamic models share a distinct design aesthetic with a similar external shape but the MW08 are smaller than the previous generation and fit my ear a bit more comfortably as the underside seems to have been tweaked too.
While the MW08 may appear large in the product photographs and the materials make it sound heavy; it rests comfortably in the ear and once twisted into place maintains a firm grip.
I had no trouble using them at the gym; their IPX5 rating offers good sweat and moisture resistance. One of my usual tests is to wear earbuds from full charge to cut-off to see if one can wear them a full charge cycle without undue fatigue or discomfort.
For most wireless earbuds, this means I have to wear them for about 8-10 hours. The MW08 managed to go eleven (11) hours meaning not only is this one of the best in-ears I have ever tested for battery life, but that the fatigue test was extended well beyond the norm and they still get a passing grade even after nearly 12 hours of straight wear. Very impressive to say the least.
The case provides another 30 hours of use time with charging from cut-off to a 50% charge happening within 15 minutes and time to full charge being roughly 45 minutes. My personal pair took more like 20 minutes and 60 minutes to reach those marks, but that is still commendable performance. The case itself recharges from cut-off to full in a little over an hour in my tests when used with a 2.1A capable charging device.
There have been plenty of models that passed the fatigue test when only physical attributes were considered but failed it when musical fatigue was added to the equation. I am happy to report that here again, the MW08 does extremely well.
Its 11mm Beryllium diaphragm dynamic driver is well tuned with good energy and a slightly warm signature that makes extended listening quite comfortable with no stridency and was among the best I’ve tried to date in this class.
One thing to know is that Master & Dynamic tends to tune more to the later half of their name than the first as dynamics are front and center here but those looking for a ruler flat studio headphone will find M&D products to be slightly too energetic for that use.
I’ve enjoyed M&D products before for their intended use, casual listening, and the MW08 is no different. It was designed for music listening on the go, in the office, or while exercising and those looking for a studio-grade earphone in terms of tonal balance should look elsewhere.
I used my normal review playlist which can be found here which admittedly has a disproportionate mix of rock and blues rock but does give a glimpse into what a headphone is capable of delivering.
The MW08 handled both well with good timbre and energy; Ian Anderson’s flute never sounded harsh, and Janis’ voice was delivered with the expected energy but without any additional sibilance.
The midrange is not as forward sounding but strings and guitar still have good detail and presence. This allowed vocals to cut through the mix along with percussion that had just enough airiness and impact without getting lost in the background.
The MW08 deliver a relatively wide and deep sounding soundstage; the Cowboy Junkies “So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Grieg’s “Mountain King” demonstrated surprising depth which was unexpected.
Small closed-back designs often simply lack the air movement to reproduce the soundstage well, but the MW08 somehow finds a way to recreate the room size with the cathedral’s spatial cues being well reproduced.
In addition to talking about the sound quality we need to talk about the sound processing modes on the MW08 as they do have an in impact on the sound as well. The MW08 provides two noise cancelling modes as well as an ambient mode.
There are two ANC modes for the MW08 earbuds; an “All Day” mode for use in office buildings or areas where you just want to reduce background noise, and another called “Max” ANC that utilizes more intensive processing at the expense of larger changes to the sonic signature and a more significant drain on the battery.
The ANC modes can be turned on by holding the buttons down on the left earpiece, but it is much easier mode using the connect app. Switching modes does result in the pausing of the sound so A/B testing gets interrupted during each change.
I found that the ANC did work to reduce noise but was not as effective as some competing models which may be partially due to the shape of the earphone as passive isolation is only average with noise cancelation turned off.
The “Max” mode was only required in extremely loud environments, but I couldn’t tell much of a difference in quieter areas, so it is certainly better to preserve battery life and use the all day setting.
Like the ANC modes, ambient can be turned on/off at the earpiece by pressing and holding the left buttons, but to switching is quicker and easier on the app. The two ambient modes are interesting and do offer different results.
As expected, “Voice” allows vocals from outside to pass but tries to cut out other outside noises while awareness is more of a pass-through that allows you to hear traffic sounds. The nice thing about the ambient modes is they don’t boost outside noises like some other models do.
The other features on the app include a firmware update check and install function, the ability to set an auto-off timer for those who sleep with their in-ears, and the ability to enable or disable in-ear detection.
When enabled, in-ear detection pauses the music when either earpiece is removed. Unfortunately, there is no equalizer in the connect app, but maybe a future update will rectify that.
I found pairing was straight forward; connectivity was good as long as the source was kept within 10-15 feet of the earpieces. The MW08 support AAC and Bluetooth aptX so I tested with both an Apple iPhone, and with an Android phone. Function was good with both and sound quality of phone calls was quite good with no complaints from anyone I spoke regarding microphone quality and no issues on my end hearing the person or controlling the call.
Overall, the MW08 is a compelling package with exceptional build quality, good sound, functional ANC and ambient modes, and easy updates via the app should the need arise.
Battery life is among the best available and its sonic signature is also at the top of the class.
The ANC has improved from the previous generation of Master & Dynamic wireless earbuds but it is still probably the biggest limiting factor as the MW08 are still a small step behind the Bose and Apple offerings.
The good news is that the MW08 are strong evidence that they are closing that gap, and a firmware update may be able to close it entirely at some future date.
I’d buy the Master & Dynamic MW08 wireless earbuds for the sound quality alone, but the comfort, battery life and usability definitely place it near the top of the category. If Master & Dynamic can make the ANC more effective, Sony and Bose have a real fight on their hands.
Where to buy: $299 at Amazon
For more information: Master & Dynamic MW08