As much as I love the Bluetooth headphones in my collection that cost over $300, not many of them actually feel like they’re worth that much in hand. With scratchy plastics and matte surfaces to hide cheap materials, they’re always a little disappointing. If you want something that feels like it’s well made, you must spend an extra $200 in most cases.
Not so with the Master & Dynamic MH40s. These headphones feel every bit as stunning as their $399 price should make them out to be, with incredible materials and excellent build quality. They also happen to sound quite good too, as they rapidly become my go-to headset for when I’m sitting away from my music source where a cable can’t reach or speakers would disturb those around me.
Master & Dynamic MH40w 2023: Price and availability
The Master & Dynamic MH40w are available exclusively from the Master & Dynamic website (opens in new tab), where you’ll pay $399. That’s a lot for a pair of headphones, especially when they don’t come with noise canceling (we’ll get to that later). However, when you get them in hand, you start to understand the price.
They’re available in some great colors as well. There’s the brown that we reviewed, a Navy Blue with silver metal accents, a Silver and gray, a Black with Silver metal accents, and a Black with Black metal accents. They all look amazing in person.
Master & Dynamic MH40w 2023: What I liked
These things feel weighty and premium in hand. Not much has changed since the previous version of the MH40w, but that doesn’t stop them from being an incredible piece of art. There’s that gorgeous coated canvas headband, the metal earcups with a matte aluminum finish, and then the Lambskin leather pads. They feel every bit that they’re worth that impressive price tag.
One of my favorite parts of the build is the adjustment in the earcups. There’s a metal post with numbers on it that slides smoothly up and down, staying in place remarkably well. It’s much better than those chintzy clicky options and adds to that premium feel that exudes from the rest of the cans. It’s great.
It makes them very comfortable over long periods as well. I’ve worn them over the course of many a workday now, and they’ve never become uncomfortable. The clamping force is solid without making them feel tight, and the lambskin memory foam-filled pads are soft and gentle. The band is thin and doesn’t have much padding, but it gently rests on top of your head so you don’t feel it quite as much.
You get some nice stuff in the box, too. There’s the expected charging cable and USB-C to 3.5mm jack connector. A carrying bag that snaps shut with a satisfying ‘click’ is also included, and it highlights something about these headphones that’s worth noting – they’re not after the same market as those that come with a hard case.
Yes, you are paying $399 for headphones without noise canceling, which feels a little steep. That’s not the purpose I think that Master & Dynamic is aiming for, however. These don’t feel like headphones that are really supposed to leave the house or at least join you on bus and train journeys. Where headphones with noise canceling come with a hard case because you’re supposed to be taking them everywhere, these come with a bag because the furthest they are supposed to go is from the lounge to the bedroom or office. There is a focus here not on features and portability but on sound quality, which is evident from the moment you pop them on.
The sound profile is remarkably delicate and restrained, something that you don’t find in any of the main noise-canceling brands. There’s great sub-bass extension, but the mid-bass doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the ensemble. To some, this would sound like they aren’t bassy enough, as if they aren’t shaking the internals of your head around. But that’s part of the point – they’re not going to, and they are all the better for it. You’ll spot moments of music you’ve never thought about before, as the mids and highs are given more space to breathe.
Space is in fact the operative word here. In this iterative update of the MH40w, Master & Dynamic say that it upgraded the 40mm drivers to titanium custom models. The idea here is that it widens the soundstage, improving instrument separation. Both are indeed excellent.
In Orville Peck’s gender-bent cover of Bobby Gentry’s fancy, the MH40w come into their own. Peck sits in the center of the mix, his voice cracking as he sings “here’s your one chance…”. The synths at the start of the track dance around the earcups, as the lap guitar slides off to one side. The banjo occasionally comes from behind you as a guitar picks to the left. You are stood before Peck and his ensemble in an empty bar, as the music echoes around you. It’s not as wide as a pair of open-back headphones, but they do a remarkable job for a pair of closed-back Bluetooth cans.
If you want something a little bassier, you’ll not be disappointed unless you like your skull smashed. Dr. Dre’s The Witness is every bit as groovy and attitude-laden as it should be. The bassline cruises through the background, without being overwhelming. It’s not the most I’ve heard from bass in the track, but it is controlled and tight. It also means that there’s no room to hide for the highs. Some headphones use the lower frequencies to hide uncomfortable sibilance, or those emphasized ‘S’ sounds that can be uncomfortable to listen to at high volumes. There is no such problem here, as the highs are delicate and clean. Not that the track is, however, as Dre himself comes over calm, and controlled. They’re not going to ‘wow’ hip hop fans, but they’re going to do a great job for near enough everyone else.
Finally, Heilung’s live version of Krigsgladr gives any headphones a run for their money. The track builds as the rhythms add to one another, the slow hum and drone of horns creating a miasma that hangs over you from all directions. The crowd shuffles, slowly further drowned out as each new element joins the show. The bell sounds ring, and the bone drums beat as feet crash into the floor. Franz’s bizarre singing joins the mix and the wall of sound is as impenetrable as it is warm and inviting. The MH40w build the soundscape beautifully, articulating the nuances with incredible accuracy. The chanting starts, and you’re uncomfortable as the multiple voices surround you, the headphones putting you in the center of the ritual. Heilung is almost a religious experience at the best of times, and the MH40w do a remarkable job of doing it justice.
Moving on from sound, and a little more about the headphones themselves. There are no touch controls here, to the point that I celebrated when I pulled them out of the box. The controls that are here are simple and clicky to use. The power button is a one touch to turn on and off, Which is refreshing in a world where you have to press and hold buttons to get anything done. The volume and play buttons are small yet pronounced enough to find easily, albeit with a certain amount of cheapness to their plastic finish. I generally prefer physical controls, so it’s nice to have them on a headset that feels this good.
Battery life is fine, especially considering you’re unlikely to leave the house with them. M&D claims that you’ll get around 30 hours, which is more than the previous version of the headphones. It’s a good amount of battery life, too, but it is a little diminished when compared to headphones from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser which can last up to 60 hours. I’ve not had any problems with the battery life, and my listening experience tells me I’m getting around 28 hours with medium volume.
Master & Dynamic MH40w 2023: What I didn’t like
As much as these aren’t headphones that will be leaving the house, I’d like it if that pouch that came in the box were a sturdier carrying case – especially when you’re spending so much on a pair. I’m not super confident in tossing them in a holiday bag, and even putting them in a drawer is a bit less comforting than it should be. They can’t fold either, the earcups only pivot flat. Fitting them in the bag is a bit of a pain, as you try to put them in without catching on anything.
They are also definitely an iterative update rather than a full relaunch. Put these beside the old version and they look identical to them, with no real way to tell them apart. If you’ve got the old MH40w, then there really is no reason to upgrade. Unless you’re a collector or something, or you really want to hear the upgrade in sound quality.
The biggest issue is the price – they are worth it, but it is still lofty. The build and sound quality are both excellent, but if you look at the price and compare it to a pair of headphones that are $50 less and come with noise canceling, then you will be understandably confused. Even if you are the target audience, wanting a pair of headphones that sound good without noise canceling, you still might have to look twice at that price.
Master & Dynamic MH40w 2023: Competition
In terms of premium Bluetooth headphones that don’t have noise canceling, there’s not much out there that tries to be like the MH40w. Instead, the only other options that come close are the noise-canceling competitors.
The Sony WH-1000XM5, for example, are close in price, at around $399. They don’t sound even remotely as good, with a massive focus on the lower frequencies, and they feel like plastic toys when you put them next to the MH40w. They do, however, feature noise canceling, so that might sway you over to the plasticky Sony’s.
The AirPods Max are also a competitor, although you’ll pay $150 extra for similar build quality and noise canceling. If you’re paying that much and want headphones like these, then M&Ds own MW75 might be something to consider instead.
Master & Dynamic MH40w 2023: Should you buy these?
You should buy these if:
- You don’t need noise canceling
- You want headphones that feel like they’re worth $400
- You hate touch controls
You shouldn’t buy these if:
- You need noise-canceling
- You want more bass
- You want to wear them out and about
Master & Dynamic MH40w 2023: Verdict
The Master & Dynamic MH40w are some seriously impressive sounding and feeling headphones. They are super well-built, and they look incredible in hand. They’re comfy, and they sound excellent as well. They are every bit worth their lofty price tag.
But lofty that price tag is, and it might make the lack of noise canceling sting for some potential buyers. Their target audience is narrow, but if you’re amongst its ranks, the MH40w might be just what you’ve been looking for.