I wrote the review of the Master & Dynamic MH40s below while I was in the Impressions phase - as indicated in my first introductory sentence below.
Since writing this piece I've had many listening sessions with my MH40s - and I still LOVE & prefer the gun-metal finish to the wildly popular brown-leather - but that also looks great IMHO. I'm going to include some updates - and hopefully some of the original readers of the review will catch em'.
**I'm not sure if users receive updates because they commented or interacted with the review at some point.
I'll check w/ the good peeps at Head-Fi bout that.**
My updates will be labeled and appear at the END of this initial essay.
I'm admittedly still in the Impressions phase w/ my Master & Dynamic MH40s (gun-metal & black finish) but I felt obligated to, at the very least, get something down here and update it when I've got the MH40s totally broken-in...
Is that Kosher?
I'm just so taken w/ these cans, and haven't been so since my LCD-X & XCs arrived last year! So I thought that might warrant an on-going review (NOT forever obviously, not intending to break ANY Rules or Regulations - I'm gettin' that out in the open NOW
I first heard em' this year in our hotel room during Rocky Mountain Audio Fest /CanJam w/ the then very new-to-all-of-us Cavalli Audio Liquid Crimson hybrid amp! And that sound was glorious -
my MacBook Pro SSD/Amarra Symphony was source
CEntrance DACPort LX (same as DACPort - but just the DAC) for D-to-A
and the Master & Dynamic MH40s - in this kinda seventies brown-style that alot of peeps have. Those are cool - but when I saw the gun-metal & black that was I for me!
They've shattered my expectations - which weren't low, but I didn't consider these high-end reference-quality cans. Didn't have enough time - and they sounded wonderful on the Cavalli Liquid Crimson (a funny, but the right mismatch - if you wanna test your headphones sonic capabilities) But when I heard em on a couple other things (honestly can't remember what others people had w/ them) they just sounded like good, solid headphones, and certainly worth more in musical performance than their MSRP! So I'm psyched my boy Chris Sommovigo had that pair with him in my room at RMAF/Canjam this year!!
So I reached out to the guys there.
They seem really down to Earth and committed BTW. I was psyched when they asked me about something on the cans and I brought up the pads, the lack of a seal sometimes - but you can also use that as a sort-of Free Earth EQ (
What's the result of these down-to-Earth fellas work?
That's the main reason I'm pushing the limit tonight, as I should be watching a documentary w/ my darlin' wifey - but I needed to start sharing my experience with these, and not merely through social media - and I got tons of gear ahead of em in editorial too - I love Head-Fi for alot of reasons - and this is certainly one of them! Bottom-Line:
If my cousin Kenny or my father wanted a headphone that looks and sounds good for $399 - I'd buy both of em' a pair! That will probably mean more than ALL of my meandering prose in this review! So now, I've heard a wide variety of music at low & loud-levels, and I've heard em' on desktop gear and some of my very best portable stuff. My top references are coming NEXT in the follow-up here!! The MH40s are just the straight-dope musically, with a dash of aesthetics for the Wired-set. Their bass and lower-midrange was surprisingly controlled and extended when I got the pads all sorted (sorry, gotta admit to OCD here - not the biggest deal). Recondites new album Iffy is a thumping, hovering synths-spaced-out electronic masterpiece, and the MH40s reproduced it with clarity and attitude. The sound was sharp, but not in a fatiguing way at all. There was no overhang or sluggishness with regard to the transient attack of the 40s too - with varying genres of music; from underground tech-house, courtesy of my friend Damian Lazarus to acoustic singer-songwriters like Martin Sexton, Ani DiFranco, or Badly Drawn Boy. I especially enjoyed their sound when playing full-bodied, textural, experimental electronic music from artists like Art Department, Hecq, Recondite, and classic boundary burning artist like Aphex Twin and Bill Laswell. The 40s are also happy with tubes or solid state - which is nice. They're not picky. Of course - as the ol' skool engineering wisdom tells us:
So you're source, as with any loudspeaker or headphone, has to be whatever best-quality is available at the time! You can't build a million dollar/Impressive stereo reference system based on crap sources! Well, the MH40s are critical enough to tell you about the sonic characteristics of the music, but they also manage to achieve a nice synergy with more systems than at least 50% of the headphones I own. It's a very jolting (positively) experience: Not having to pick certain products to go with other certain products in order to achieve audio Nirvana. Just give me straight-up, well-built, comfortable headphones that do their job - but do it WELL enough to grant me some serenity while imbibing my favorite tunes - and I'm GOOD.
This portable rig built around em' was ill on this mornings hike!
They're light-enough, but also feel rugged. Their mic is decent for cell calls.
So this was almost perfect this morning:
Master & Dynamic MH40s
ALL DHC cables: Comp4 mini-to-mini, Molecule Elite headphone cable
Lehmann Audio Traveler battery-powered headphone amp (CLEAN, powerful, and ran Chris Sommovigos LCD-3s for 30+ hours)
This has been my go-to system for the MH40s - aside of the Liquid Crimson in for review - but since
I don't know that amp real well yet (hence: Reviewing it) and I'm new to the MH40s - I just put em' on the Cavalli for Ear-Candy Sessions...
This desktop rig, below, has given me some amazing sundown-to-sunrise listening experiences:
Master & Dynamics MH40s
Double Helix Cables Molecule Elite
Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies w/ Upgraded Electro Harmonix Gold-tip tubes
Black Cat Silverstar USB cable
MacBook Pro SSD/Amarra Symphony as source
The MH40s are easily driven, but I prefer plenty of headroom: Straight-up power and dynamic clarity, without too much excess electro-crap affecting the signal path. I've been glued to the WA7 Fireflies and MH40s for about 10 days now...
Rockin' Art Department & Seth Troxlers' new EP Cruel Intentions RIGHT NOW (on WA7 Fireflies), as I type this, and the title track is BANGIN'. It's surprising, seriously, the lower-mid and bass the MH40s throw - but it takes some messin' with the earpads to get the seal right - and that's my only gripe thus far. I should say, and this doesn't count in the "Cons" - the low-end could use more heft and velocity - as I know the Art Department EP - and there were deeper ripples to capture and reproduce, no doubt about that. However, given their colorful (NOT-colored) midrange, open/airy highs, and fascinatingly controlled and extended lower-midrange and bass (just not a lot of sub-bass being blown into my ear-drums) the MH40s could be a new headphone Gem (that's been around for awhile I hear actually) if they play their cards right! Thus far they deliver the sonic goods, less any earth-shattering low-end, and are a pleasure to wear and walk-around with.
I think @grizzlybeast was right expressing their leakage concerns (meaning, as they said, if you're on a subway - or ending up sitting close to somebody and crankin' the 40s - the people near you might hear the highs of your music). But, hey, we've all had that done to us right?!?!
Forbes DROOLED over em', and I'm beginning to hear why. I'll be updating this review ASAP!
I want to experience the MH40s on a few more amp/DAC combos AND, IMPORTANT - listen to some vinyl with em'!!
However, as I just got up to take a break and change (I know, who cares...but) I found my original CEntrance DACport in my sock drawer,
so I decided, as I know the SQ of the DACPort very well - why not do another quick system change and see what happens:
This simple rig:
Master & Dynamic MH40s
Double Helix Cables Molecule Elite + adapter (2.5mm TRRS to 1/4")
CEntrance DACport Amp/DAC
Moon Audio Silver Dragon V3 USB cable for DACport
MacBook Pro SSD/Amarra Symphony as source
The synergy of this lil' system worked so well it sounded effortless - From top to bottom - so I threw my latest musical acid test track at the DACport + MH40s: Beacons' "Fault Lines" off their up-coming album. This track is like underground, dirty tech-house - Croydon London-style (the Brooklyn of London), broken-beat, Chicago and acid house all mixed up in this fantastic sonic onslaught of pingin' pads and transient stabs, strange sounds weaving in and out of each other, and a kick that'll have you grabbin' your n____s if you sit too close to a loudspeaker when things kick-off! The gradual build-up of the track - right outta the gate, gets my blood pumpin': A pounding kick-drum is surrounded by percussive and synth-like triggered sounds, then there's an echoey grand sense of space; the thumping continues - but it's becomes part of an electronic chorus via this minimal ping that wraps itself around the massive kick; eventually ascending into the crescendo. I couldn't help but move my damn feet to these seemingly simplistic rhythms the whole time. It's got tasteful dance sensibilities, but it's also a chugger of a track. It's the one you drop at 5:30AM, when the sun is cresting over the horizon: and everybody on the dance-floor is starting to sync up. Beacon manages to capture all these vibes in one track! I can't wait to hear the whole record. Sorry, veered off-track there for a second.
The MH40s sonics were liquid and engrossing during the Beacon track, just so damn addictive and mesmerizing. The same went for Thom Yorke's Tomorrows Modern Boxes (which I reviewed for Positive Feedback HERE). I listened to that album many times in a row I loved the rendering so much with the Master & Dynamic MH40s and Woo WA7 Fireflies combo. That rig sealed the deal for me on the MH40s I think.
And MORE TO COME!
I've been working in the front of the house for a couple weeks (my wifey's sick - so I end up near her in case she needs something - my SS Lab is in the back of the house)
I have some systems set-up on this corner desk - but it's nothin' like the Sonic Satori Personal Audio Lab for putting cans like these through their paces!!
and I look forward to that ASAP!!
Felt I needed to give these an enthusiastic thumbs up thus far, because I can't imagine my opinion is going to change much over the next couple weeks testing period.
If it does, I know these aren't going to end up boring me, that's for sure. I'm enjoying all aspects of the Master & Dynamic MH40s right now!!
Another sunrise MH40s session
To Be Continued...
I have a few more things to share with regard to the MH40s performance as they've broken-in. I've also used them on some other gear in addition to the associated gear list above, to see just how well they play with various Amp/DAC combos and sources!!
I will be tackling this UPDATE ASAP - hopefully this weekend!
I must say this:
I think Master & Dynamic have designed fantastic cans in the MH40s from an industrial-design stand-point, sonically, of course, and comfort, forward-thinking (like the mute button),
it's a great package.
What holds it back the most, or, what held it back the most, musically, for me before I tried other things??
MANY doubters will dismiss this - but I heard/experienced the significant sonic changes - their stock headphone cables!
W/ the stock cable the MH40s aren't bad. They're actually pretty good. But they are capable of SO much MORE!
When I installed various Double Helix Cables, and tried (for giggles - since the MH40 has a 3.5mm input) my Nordost iKable on the cans-
the timbre came ALIVE - space just GREW, and the sense of spaciousness is what I expected from the 40s, but always feel JUST short of!!
SO - more on my experiments SOON!
I know, it sounds CRAZY - but other cables have, in many systems, yielded an immediate impact that's tough NOT to hear! IMO...
Well, to be honest I'm not sure I've drawn any permanent conclusions about the MH40s! Though during the time I've spent with them since I wrote the piece above my love for the cool cans has only grown. I say I probably don't have any permanent conclusions about the Master & Dynamic MH40s because I know, in my gut, that a couple of small adjustments to these headphones could make a World of difference sonically - therefore offering greater and deeper reproductions of my beloved music! I'm NOT tryin' to knock Master & Dynamic AT ALL. Not my honest intent here. I felt obligated to share my thoughts on these small changes because I think they will allow the headphones to perform at a level they were meant to play. It's gotta be tough, for product engineers, to keep from looking back I'm sure. They wanna make leaps forward however, - usually with newer products, right? Well, hopefully somebody from M&D will hear about this
- eh, what am I saying, I'll send these thoughts to Jonathan at Master&Dynamic - he's such a cool guy and his team are equally nice and helpful - and besides, I could be a complete jack __s, therefore no harm no foul! -
And those small adjustments are:
1) Better/different ear-pads. I hate the word better, and I especially hate it when somebody calls a piece of audio kit the "best" blah blah blah. There is NO best - as we all interpret things differently, as we bring our own life experiences to bear when we listen to music, look at paintings, etc. With art, no matter what the medium, we're reacting to something beyond classification - and SO sorry for that deviation/brain-dump. I should've just said "different ear-pads", but I meant to say better as in; I think other ear-pads would aid in delivering the music to our ears in a cleaner, more open and transparent way. What to do to the ear-pads to achieve this? Well, firstly I dig the magnetic attachment of the ear-pads to the MH40s headphone chassis! A nice touch. So why not offer 2, or maybe even 3 different types of ear-pads? I know if these were thicker (listening to my MH40s and new Burson Conductor Virtuoso at this moment) I would, I believe, get better bass response. Thicker and a touch deeper too. Plus - given the current ear-pads are totally flat/level, it doesn't always give me a terrific seal - because of the strange shape of my skull and jaw. However, if they do thick pads like MrSpeakers did on his Alpha Prime, or what Audeze has always provided on their reference LCD-Series headphones - which means in addition to increasing the thickness and depth of the pads, Master & Dynamic made the pads angular, the music would arrive at our inner-ears in a more natural way. Audeze and MrSpeakers figured this out. If they are angled in a way that merely extends our outer-ears angle, I believe this definitely helps the audio signal arrive and appear more natural to our analog ears. I could be wrong... But that's tweak #1.
2) This is gonna attract some venim from the cables are a rip-off crowd but I don't care. I've heard what different headphone cables do to the performance of these cans on revealing systems. After discovering that I could detect changes sonically utilizing other cables, I spent a couple weeks deciding which one I enjoyed the most as part of the system. Because, this much I've always agreed to when it comes to audio cables impacting the sound of a system: All a different cable can really do is: Act like less of a filter, with lower capacitance and inductance - therefore helping the system to reproduce the audio signal in a more accurate way. The cable can also aid in lowering the noise-floor or not. If you play around with different component and cable configurations you'll find that some cables are not as good as others in a system - and that's where system synergy comes in. Now, I'm also not a guy that will ever say something like "the ___ cable sound like ____". Because, IMHO: The cable doesn't have a sound of its own - it's the interface between components - so we're always experiencing the system as a whole. Therefore - we can prefer certain cables in a system, or with a headphone - but not because of ITS sound. It's how does it help reproduce the systems sound? After sayin' all that: It was Double Helix Cables Molecule Elite cable that I thought was the best combo. When I compared that duo to the factory cable, and also included my wifey in that test (she's got great ears, worked in the music biz for many years too) we did some single-blind tests - and, NO BS: Both of us picked the DHC Molecule cable every-time! That's sayin' something - which is why I'm reporting about it here. I haven't picked the same cable every-time even with far more expensive cans and cables! Observations do not discriminate - well, if you set it u properly that is... So I think Master & Dynamic should reach out to Peter at Double Helix and speak about an upgrade path that will blow people away. The cool thing is: That's not one of Peters expensive cables. HIGHLY recommended if you already own a pair of MH40s.
Suggested tweaks/upgrades aside: I enjoy the MH40s every-time I rock em'. Whether that's because I'm headin' out and I wanna use em' with whatever portable rig I'm rockin' at that moment, or, even if I'm using one of my top reference desktop amps - they're just fun to listen to my music on. A big part of that is that they don't discriminate when it comes to all the different genres of music I play. I mean, it all depends on my mood - but I could be bumpin' Afro-Beat one minute, underground tech-house the next, and finish up the listening sesh with a bit of Roberta Flack. There have been many cans that passed through the Sonic Satori Personal Audio Lab and were terrific with classical, jazz, and soft pop music, but fell apart when it came to techno or hip-hop. I don't wanna have to choose certain cans for different styles of music! I want headphones, like terrific loudspeakers, to be able to handle anything I throw their way. The MH40s do that for me, and they play back all the music I like in an excitable, engaging, soulful way. And at their price - that's an amazing accomplishment. I was also psyched to see my peer and fellow Head-Fier @goldendarko felt the same way in his review at DAR this week. NICE one John!!
The MH40s aren't difficult to drive, but they do like headroom. I noticed this when I was using them with my AK240 often. I ended up adding the Lehmann Audio Traveler to the AK240 - as it's such a clean amplifier with an insane amount of power and battery-life! It ran my fellow Audio360.org teammate Chris Sommovigo's Audeze LCD-3s for over 30 hours! Besides, I think the dual-DACs in the AK240 are fine, all it needs is some more power now and then - for my needs. So I was using the AK240/Traveler combo for my LCD-2s, 3s, XCs, and HD800s - also using all DHC cables for that portable rig - and I decided, just for the hell of it - to try my MH40s on that rig. I knew it was overkill, power-wise, but f___ it! The resulting sound was totally beyond my expectations. The midrange was so luscious, but pristine and wide-open as well. The bottom end was extended, givin' me bass that I didn't know the MH40s were capable of! And, the highs were gloriously transparent with no trace of listener fatigue. As a matter of fact, that became one of my all-time favorite portable combos:
So I guess I could safely say that one conclusion is that I kept them for a reason - NOT merely to be able to say:
"I like it so much I bought it". But because I genuinely love everything about the MH40s. I dig their industrial design. Hell - I even love the mute button! I think that's a terrific little feature. It also has a good click to it - the mute button. That's sounds crazy maybe - but I mean it doesn't feel cheap. That's important to me. Most importantly I love how they translate my music, and how easy they are to deal with. S__t, even the headphone bag M&D provides is better than the average can sack. I hope these guys continue to grow.
I can't wait to hear what's up next!