After being impressed by Marshall’s Stanmore AirPlay speaker earlier this year, the firm asked me if I’d be interested in trying its latest headphones, the Marshall Mid ANC. This is an update to the earlier Mid model with the addition of active noise cancellation.
Ironically, it’s the new feature – the active noise cancellation – that I think is the least-impressive one. But that’s not to say I think that the headphones themselves are unimpressive; far from it …
Look & feel
These headphones are unmistakably Marshall. They have the same black design with gold lettering the company uses for everything, and they also share the retro look of the speakers. They includes coiled cables emerging from the headband to the ear-cups, looking somewhat reminiscent of guitar cables.
The design is exactly what you’d expect: basic, old-fashioned, no-nonsense. There’s an anodized metal headband lined on the outside with a leather-like microfibre and on the inside with felt. Both black, of course. The microfibre earcups are deliciously soft and comfy.
They don’t have the same luxurious leather feel you associate with high-end audio brands. They feel more basic, and they don’t have the same heft to them as my usual brands. But they still look and feel like the real deal, and their relative lightweight nature makes them very comfortable to wear.
There are only two controls, of which more in a moment. The bottom of the right cup has a microUSB socket for charging, and a dual-purpose 3.5mm headphone socket – more on that later too.
My head is on the large side (size 58), so I find most headphone bands need to be stretched somewhat before they are comfortable, and that’s true with these too. But once that was done, they were very comfortable.
The earcups fold under the headband to form a pretty compact unit when it comes to storing them in a bag. They don’t have the same clever twist mechanism as my much-loved B&W P5 Wireless, but they don’t take up too much room.
Marshall supplies a double-ended 3.5mm cable with the headphones, and you can use this in two ways. If you’re connecting to something with a headphone jack, then you can use the cable to turn your wireless headphones into wired ones.
But you can also use the cable to share your music. When the headphones are streaming music via Bluetooth, then the headphone socket acts as output rather than input. Use the cable to plug into another pair of headphones with a 3.5mm socket and they can listen to the music alongside you. Or, if their headphones don’t have a socket, they can plug their 3.5mm jack into your socket.
This is a really neat feature. Again, I’d love to see this more widely supported by headphone manufacturers.
The controls are to me the single best feature of these headphones. The right cup has only a two-position switch, for the noise-cancelling feature. The red dot is off, the gold dot is on.
The left cup has what looks like a single button, in gold, but this disguises a really fantastic piece of design. It’s actually a combo button and mini joystick that allows a single control to do everything:
- press and hold to power on and off
- press when on to connect to a previously paired device
- press longer to pair
- press briefly to pause/play/answer call
- flick up to increase volume
- flick down to decrease volume
- flick right for next track
- flick left for previous track
If that sounds complicated, it’s actually beautifully easy in real-life use. I love, love, love this control, and wish all headphones worked the same way.
My only complaint about the controls is that they aren’t where my fingers expected them to be – they are set further back and down than most headphone controls.
One thing that always impresses me about Marshall products is the consistency of the sound. There is a signature Marshall sound – with both bass and treble boosted, somewhat at the expense of mid-tones. You get it with the company’s stage kit. You get it with the speaker I reviewed. And you get it with these headphones.
As I mentioned last time, my tastes generally run to very neutral sound – think B&O and B&W. But I do find the Marshall sound a fun one: it works really well for the type of music the company is all about – rock. I wouldn’t use these headphones to listen to a ballad or a classical track, but put on a rock track, and they sound great.
There’s plenty of volume, and no distortion when maxed-out. If you choose a Marshall product, you know exactly what you’re getting, and you won’t be disappointed here.
Active noise cancellation
The passive noise cancellation is really good – the earcups block out a surprising amount of sound. Flicking on the active noise cancellation (ANC) switch is an interesting experience …
If you’ve ever used Bose QuietComfort headphones, you’ll know how miraculous the noise-cancellation is. The outside world simply disappears.
Marshall takes a very different approach. While Bose designed its headphones with plane journeys in mind, where you want to block out as much noise as possible, Marshall says its headphones are designed for urban use. Where you want to block enough external sound to enjoy the music, but you still want to hear some sounds, like a car horn.
Personally, I found this the least-impressive aspect of the headphones. The ANC is great at dealing with low-frequency sounds, like the rumbling of traffic. But not that great at blocking higher frequencies. I’m perfectly willing to believe that was a deliberate decision on the company’s part – the company is too good at this stuff to get it wrong – but I did find that the difference between ANC on and off was less marked than I’d expected.
But, to be honest, the passive cancellation is so good that this isn’t a huge deal.
Marshall claims 20 hours with ANC on, 30 with it off. I’m writing this review after just a couple of days’ use, totalling about five hours, so I can’t comment on this yet – will update when I can.
One thing to note, though, is that the headphones don’t seem to have an auto-power-down time-out: I used them in the early evening yesterday, and then this morning noticed I had no sound from my Mac because it had reconnected to them. That would obviously dramatically reduce battery-life unless you get into the habit of switching them off after use.
Pricing & conclusions
The headphones cost $269. That’s a $70 premium over the official price of the non-ANC model, but you can do much better on Amazon. Personally, given my experience of it, I’d opt for the non-ANC version – but your ears may vary, so I’d definitely recommend taking the ANC model for a spin.
If you do want the active noise cancellation, these are a great pair of headphones. They’re lightweight, comfortable, deliver that signature Marshall sound – and the all-in-one joystick control is how all headphones should work.
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