Master & Dynamic MW08 review: Revel in the sublime sound

Master & Dynamic (M&D) may not enjoy the brand recognition of Sony, Apple, Bose, or Sennheiser, but the boutique audio company based in New York City has produced some truly stellar headphones and earbuds. The latest of these are the $299 MW08, the successor to the excellent MW07 Plus, which will now drop in price to $249. Boasting new materials, better active noise cancellation (ANC), and improved battery life, here’s what you can expect from the MW08.

What’s in the box?

Master & Dynamic MW08
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

First, I want to take a moment to heap praise on the MW08’s box itself. It’s a master class in how to create an elegant package for a high-end product using 100% easily recycled materials. It even has a book-hinge design that stays closed without the use of embedded magnets. This is how all electronics should be shipped.

Inside the highly sustainable box, you’ll find the earbuds, their charging case, a corduroy denim protective carry pouch, four sizes of silicone rubber eartips (in addition to the set that come preinstalled), a USB-C to USB-C charging cable, a USB-C to USB-A adapter (thank you M&D!), and some paper quick-start guides.

Design

Master & Dynamic MW08
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Master & Dynamic puts a lot of effort into the look and feel of its products. The MW07 Plus came in a huge range of 10 colors and finishes (28 if you include M&D’s partnerships with brands like Nike and Leica), most of which possessed a unique pattern, giving them a handmade vibe. The MW08 continues this tradition, but places a higher emphasis on simplicity: They come in four solid-color combinations of earbud and charging case — black ceramic/matte black stainless steel, white ceramic/stainless steel, brown ceramic/stainless steel, and blue ceramic/graphite gray stainless steel.

The black ceramic earbuds we reviewed possess a discreet M&D logo and an ultra-glossy finish that exudes sophistication (despite being a huge fingerprint magnet). Look closely and you’ll see a small black aluminum band encircling the ceramic face that serves as both an antenna and the frame that holds everything together. This design approach was made famous by the iPhone 4.

Though not as light as some other models, the earbuds are very compact, smaller in fact than all other high-end earbuds with the possible exception of Apple’s AirPods Pro. The MW08 keep the same, tiny physical control buttons used on the MW07 Plus, which gives them the look of a touch-based set of earbuds, but with the precision of real buttons.

Their matte-black stainless steel charging case is weighty and robust, with a flip-top lid that snaps open and closed with the authority of a luxury car door. Placing the earbuds back in the case feels like you’re tucking them into a protective vault, not just a carrying case. If I were to pick the best-looking charging case right now, it would be a dead heat between the MW08 and the Klipsch T5 II’s Zippo-inspired design.

Attention to detail is everywhere, from the smoothness of the hinge’s motion to the way the earbuds are angled slightly toward you — making the job of extracting them effortless — to the fact that the only thing that interrupts the steel surface are three indicator LEDs. You won’t find any text or even a logo anywhere on the exterior.

Wireless charging would have been a nice touch, but as far as I know, steel and wireless charging are not happy companions, and M&D would have needed to create a charging “window” of plastic to make this happen.

The earbuds are rated IPX5 — more than enough for dealing with sweat and rain — while the case is rated IPX4, something we’ve only seen on a handful of other products, like the Marshall Mode II.

Comfort, controls, and connections

Master & Dynamic MW08
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Thanks to the MW08’s ergonomic shape and the generous number of silicone eartip sizes in the box, getting a comfortable, secure fit was easy. M&D ditched the rubber wing tips from the MW07 Plus, and this has meant a bit of a trade-off.

The MW08 are more comfortable for longer periods, but they don’t lock into place with quite the same degree of security. As long as you’re not aiming to break any sprinting records, they should stay put just fine.

Even though you can definitely use them while running, I don’t recommend it. Despite their small size, the earbuds are surprisingly weighty at 0.31 ounces each. By way of comparison, the AirPods Pro and the Jabra Elite Active 75t are both 0.19 ounces.

Most of that mass is located on the outer portion of the earbud (that beautiful ceramic and aluminum), where it has the least amount of support. As your feet are pounding the pavement, that weight can be felt with each step, something I found tiring after a while, even though they were still very comfortable overall.

The MW08’s tiny control buttons sit on the top edge of each earbud — a single button on the right and a rocker-style double button on the left. They operate effortlessly, with very little travel and a pleasingly precise click when you press them.

They require that you place your thumb on the bottom edge for leverage, and I found that while jogging this could sometimes jostle the position of the earbud in my ear. But the bigger concern (at least for those who live in wintry conditions for half of the year) is that it can be tricky to operate the buttons with gloves on — something of a surprise given M&D’s NYC headquarters.

Nonetheless, you get everything you need: Volume, play/pause, call answer/end, track skip forward/back, voice assistant access, and ANC/transparency mode.

There’s no way to change these (despite M&D creating its very first smartphone app for these buds), but they’re so intuitive that I wouldn’t change them even if I had the option.

You can use each earbud independently if you want, but only the right earbud can be used for calls.

Each earbud has a wear sensor that enables auto-pause and autoplay when you remove or reinsert them. Reaction time is a bit slow: It can take up to three seconds for the sensors to register a change and then stop/start the music. You can disable this feature within the M&D Connect app.

Sound quality

Master & Dynamic MW08
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

M&D charges a premium price for the MW08, and if the company’s choice of exotic materials and workmanship doesn’t justify the $299 they cost, the sound quality should make you a believer.

Just like the MW07 Plus, the MW08 are a treat for your ears. The term “audiophile quality” gets overused, but if there were ever a set of true wireless earbuds that deserve it, it’s the MW08.

Take one of your favorite tracks — you know, one of those tunes that never gets old no matter how many times you hear it — and the MW08 will breathe fresh life into it. Details hidden at the very end of a note, maybe the slightest click of a piano key or the vibration of a string as it’s plucked or picked, are all rendered audible, and they’ll put a smile on your face.

M&D doesn’t offer any EQ tweaks in the app, but when a sound signature is this good, who cares? The MW08’s performance is a deft balancing act, at once bright and precise through the upper mids and highs, and warm and resonant in the mids and lows. The bass? Oh, there’s plenty of that on tap, but you won’t hear it until it’s called for, and then it cannot be ignored. There’s an open and airy quality to the soundstage, and yet it’s somehow also intimate.

I credit the MW08’s vented design for this achievement. Letting a small amount of air move between the outside world and your inner ear does wonders for openness — not to mention comfort, as it partially alleviates the sucking sensation that some earbuds cause — but it can also introduce unwanted noise.

That’s where the MW08’s noise-canceling comes into play. Without it, you’d need to seek a quiet, controlled environment. But turn it on, and almost any space can be your concert hall.

At the top of the true wireless market, determining the best sound between giants like the Sony WF-1000XM3, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, KEF Mu3, Grado GT220, and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds can be really tough. But I’d argue that the MW08 easily hold their own against these other models, and to my ears, they’re the current leader.

Noise cancellation and transparency

Master & Dynamic MW08
Master & Dynamic MW08
Master & Dynamic MW08
Master & Dynamic MW08

Based on what I just said above, you’re probably expecting that I’ll give M&D kudos for the MW08’s ANC, but it’s not quite that simple.

There are two settings of ANC — “max ANC” and “all-day ANC” — with the latter designed for less intrusive environments.

When it comes to creating a quiet floor for enjoying music indoors, max ANC is really good. But as a tool for concentration, when you want to escape droning sounds like fans, machinery, or an airplane’s engines (not that there has been much call for that lately), it can’t measure up to the AirPods Pro or the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. It also struggles to suppress daily commute sounds like traffic.

There are also two transparency modes (or ambient mode as M&D calls it): Voice and awareness. Think of these as zoom modes — voice enhances nearby sounds like conversations, while awareness tries to bring in sounds from farther away. Both work really well, depending on what you need at the time.

The biggest downside to both ANC and transparency modes is that you have to press and hold on the appropriate left earbud rocker button to activate them, instead of being able to instantly flip from one to the other. The Jabra Elite 85t can do this, and it’s amazing for quick conversations. The other thing I could do without is the sultry female voice that announces these mode changes each time. That gets old really fast.

Battery life

Master & Dynamic MW08
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The MW07 Plus was already an over-the-top performer in terms of battery life, with 10 hours per charge and three more full charges in the case, for a total of 40 hours. M&D claims the MW08 have even more juice: 12 hours per charge and another 30 hours in the case for a total of 42 hours of playing time.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t verify this. In my testing, after eight hours of continuous playback, the M&D Connect app showed 22% battery life remaining, which, if accurate, means that total playing time is closer to 10.4 hours, not 12.

When I reached out to M&D’s reps with these findings, they were surprised and offered to check into it on their end. I’ll update this review with their response once they’ve had a chance to perform their own tests.

What I can confirm is the MW08’s fast-charge capabilities, which are nothing short of insane. Placing the earbuds back in the case for just 15 minutes will charge them to 50% capacity. That’s class-leading by any measure.

Call quality

Master & Dynamic MW08
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Calling on the MW08 is very good. I found that the microphones did an excellent job of keeping my voice sounding natural, without a lot of the compression that can plague other earbuds. In quiet locations, it almost sounded like I was speaking directly into my phone’s mic, which is the holy grail for earbud call quality.

They also did a decent job of canceling out background noises like traffic as I walked through some busy intersections. Some especially loud sounds still managed to drown my voice out, but that’s not surprising — only the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds have proven to be significantly better for calls.

Our take

Beautifully crafted, with superb sound quality and battery life, the MW08 are an excellent choice for those who want to get the most out of their music. Just keep your expectations for noise cancellation in check and you won’t be disappointed.

Is there a better alternative?

I don’t think you’ll find a set of true wireless earbuds that look better, sound better, or last longer than the MW08, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t worthy alternatives, especially if you’re looking to save some money.

The $230

have a very comparable sound quality and I’d argue that they’re very attractive in their own unique way. But their ANC is mediocre, they have a larger and less pocketable charging case, and their call quality wasn’t very impressive.

Sennheiser’s $300

also have top-notch sound and very effective ANC, but they’re bigger and bulkier, and only get about six hours per charge.

If noise-canceling is a top consideration, the $280

are amazing, with sound quality that won’t disappoint. They are, however, considerably bigger and less comfortable than the MW08, and they have the shortest overall battery life of these alternatives.

How long will they last?

Master & Dynamic backs all of its headphones with a two-year warranty. With IPX5 water protection and superb materials and build quality, I expect the MW08 to last for many years.

Should you buy them?

Yes. They have the best overall sound quality of any earbuds we’ve tested, which is reason enough to consider them for your next set of headphones.

Master & Dynamic MW08 review: Revel in the sublime sound

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