Master & Dynamic MW09 review: Premium materials, impeccable clarity


Master & Dynamic didn’t get off to a good start with its true wireless earbuds, but the company’s last two efforts were much-improved. After rounding into form with the MW08 Sport, M&D has returned with the MW09 ($349 or $399): earbuds with a familiar design but enhancements to sound quality, active noise cancellation (ANC) and call performance. As always with the company’s audio gear, high-end materials are on display, although the starting price is higher than most of the competition.

Design

Master & Dynamic didn’t make too many changes to its design. The same basic D-shaped housing remains for the outer portion of each bud. The company did add a circular element on the outer panel where its trademark “M” branding resides, but this is purely aesthetic. There’s no additional touch panel or physical button there. Controls are still on the top edge with a volume rocker on the left and a multi-function button for playback and calls on the right. The volume controls also enable/disable ambient sound and ANC with a long press on either end, but it’s just an on/off function that recalls your last preset choice. It doesn’t cycle through all of the MW09’s available options.

Master & Dynamic MW09

One of M&D’s calling cards is its use of premium materials. Usually a mix of leather and metal, but those don’t translate well to earbuds. Like the MW08 Sport, the company opted for a mix of aluminum and sapphire glass with a shiny aluminum charging case. There’s also a Kevlar option for the case, and certain colors are only available with it, but that material will cost you an extra $50. Even with the high-end details, the MW09 is IP54 rated against dust and moisture while the case is IPX4. Master & Dynamic offers more fit options than most headphone companies as well, including five sizes of silicone tips and and two sizes of foam tips in the box.

Software and features

Every setting and customization that’s available on the MW09 is done through the M&D Connect app. The software shows battery life for the earbuds (one number for both) and the case on the main screen after you choose the connected device. A gear icon in the top right gives you access to sound presets, a fully customizable EQ and ambient sound — all of which appear under the Sound menu. Sidetone, the ability to hear your voice on calls, and the option to disable audio prompts are also available here.

Deeper in the Settings menu, Master & Dynamic allows you to disable in-ear detection and set the auto-off timer. There’s an acoustic earbud seal test and the option to manage Bluetooth connections. Multipoint is supported here, and it works well. The company doesn’t overload you with options, and none of them are particularly nifty, but all the basics are covered and there’s a solid degree of customization available. For example, there are three settings each for active noise cancellation and ambient mode, so even with those you aren’t stuck with one default configuration.

Sound quality and noise cancelation

Master & Dynamic MW09 review

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

The one thing I enjoy most about the Master & Dynamic’s consistent tuning is its affinity for balanced, natural sound. They’ve always had great clarity too, so it’s easy to listen to them for long periods of time.

That knack for detail returns on the MW09 and it’s on full display for albums like Chris Stapleton’s Higher. You can hear every bit of texture in the singer’s bluesy rock riffs and things like the subtle decay in the snare drum rattle are easily lost on other earbuds. The MW09 really shines with genres like Stapleton’s country rock, Nickel Creek’s bluegrass and classic jazz. Even more bombastic styles like metal are thick and layered rather than seeming flat and compressed. Drain’s Living Proof, for instance, is just as angry, gritty and loud as it is on a set of over-ear cans. The stock tuning is fine but I personally preferred the Audiophile sound preset, which emphasizes treble and mids.

Master & Dynamic says it “optimized” the microphone and sensor placement of its ANC setup on the MW09, with new adaptive noise-blocking algorithms for improved performance. The company offers three presets — Max ANC, All Day ANC and Adaptive ANC — with two designed for high- and low-noise settings with the third built to automatically adjust to environmental changes. I found the Max option the best at combating distractions overall, but the company has been clear that it impacts battery life. What’s more, all three struggle to keep up at volumes below 50 percent, with things like white noise machines and human voices are ever present below 50 percent.

Call quality and ambient sound

The company touts a new “AI-enhanced” voice setup for calls that employs six microphones and offers wind reduction to keep you sounding your best. Every earbud maker claims to provide pristine performance and almost all of them fall short. The MW09 does a great job cutting down on background noise, but the overall clarity isn’t as natural as M&D brags. It’s fine for casual chats, but you’ll want something better for your voice and video calls at work.

You’ll want to switch to one of the MW09’s three ambient sound modes to keep yourself from getting overly shouty. The company’s app does include the ability to pipe in your voice here via Sidetone, but you don’t get the full effect if you stay in ANC mode. I found the Voice preset the best of the three ambient modes for both calls and keeping tabs on my surroundings, but there’s a more general Natural option as well as an “enhanced” Awareness tuning. M&D’s transparency mode isn’t as natural sounding as on Apple’s AirPods Pro, but it’s above average.

Battery life

Master & Dynamic MW09 review

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Master & Dynamic has extended the battery life on the MW09 by two hours over the MW08 Sport when you have ANC on. With noise cancelation turned off, you’ll get four more hours than that model. That’s 12 and 16 hours compared to 10 and 12 hours. There’s also an additional two hours in the charging case, up to 32 hours as opposed to the MW08 Sport’s 30. Thanks to a quick charge feature, the MW09 can give you two hours of use in just five minutes, hitting 50 percent in 20 minutes.

During my test with the All Day noise canceling setting enabled and volume at around 85 percent, the MW09 only lasted 10 hours. That’s a higher volume level than I’d typically run, but these earbuds are also quieter than most of the competition. You have to listen to them cranked up. M&D says the 12 hour figure is an average of run times in various scenarios and codecs at a volume just over 50 percent. That level just wasn’t loud enough for me. While it’s disappointing to not hit the stated number, 10 hours is still at the top end of most premium earbuds these days. Sony manages eight out of its flagship model while Bose gets six, both are with ANC on.

The competition

Sony’s WF-1000XM5 remain our top pick for best wireless earbuds. You can find better ANC performance from Bose and slightly better sound quality from Sennheiser, but Sony is a close second in both. What gives the 1000XM5 the edge is Sony’s continued ability to put a ton of useful features on its earbuds, the sum of which no other company does. Things like Speak-to-Chat automatic pausing for conversations, automatic sound adjustments based on activity or location and DSEE Extreme upscaling that keeps Sony’s audio chops near the best you can buy. They’re Sony’s most expensive earbuds yet, but they’re still $49 less than the MW09.

Bose’s new QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are also worth a look. They’re cheaper than the MW09 at $299 and support Bose’s unique take on spatial audio that doesn’t require specially-created content. The design is nearly identical to the QuietComfort Earbuds II, but that’s okay since that shape is a lot more comfy than the previous iteration. Plus, the company’s stellar noise-canceling setup is on the QC Ultra model, which is really the star of the show.

Wrap-up

With the MW09, Master & Dynamic makes tweaks to a familiar formula with the most significant changes coming the sound profile and customization options. Ambient sound mode is improved and the convenience of multipoint Bluetooth that works well can’t be overstated. However, ANC performance is just okay and overall call quality is average. Lovers of a more natural sound profile and premium materials will be happy with these, but you can get more for less money elsewhere if those are your primary concerns.

Gallery: Master & Dynamic MW09 review | 12 Photos




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