Most popular pairs of headphones in 2023 are designed for everyday, every-scenario usage in mind. They're made to be used on the move, so get equipped with elements like noise cancelling to block out noisy commute sounds, and are usually foldable to make them easy to carry with you.
Some headphones - however - are a little bit different. For Master & Dynamic - and its MH40 cans in particular - the aim is to deliver headphones with that vintage, leather-wrapped look, staying true to the design ethos of its very first pair of headphones: the original wired MH40. Its second wireless version of the iconic over-ears seeks to fix and improve some of the weaknesses of the first generation, making a pair of at-home, casual-listening headphones with a great look and modern connectivity options.
Master & Dynamic/Pocket-lint
Master & Dynamic MH40 Wireless (V2)
The latest MH40 Wireless headphones keep the old school looks, but add to it with aptX Adaptive support, long battery life and digital USB-C wired audio.
- Iconic design with high-end materials
- Comfortable to wear for long periods
- Great battery life
- Versatile connection options
- No ANC or on-ear/head detection
- Sounds leaks
- No Spatial Audio support
- Sound quality could be better
Vintage aviator looks
- Leather-coated headband and cans
- Five colourways to choose from
- Metal grille and accents
For those familiar with the MH40 design, you'll know exactly what to expect from Master & Dynamic with the latest pair. This is the Master & Dynamic aesthetic. The look you imagine when you see or hear the brand's name. It's the vintage aviator style that started the story for the New York brand. Unlike its most recent MW75 headphones, the brand hasn't reimagined or modernised them, it's stuck with tradition.
That means there's no glass, or seamless lines and curves. It's that classic, almost steampunk look with exposed stitching along the leather-coated headband, and a distinctive metal grille on the outside of each can. In fact, the mechanisms and materials used almost have that look of being made in someone's shed, but with the precision of a craftsman who spent hours hand-stitching the leather, punching the hole in it to feed the cable to the drivers and bolting the cans on.
It's a great look and one that's only enhanced by the tan-brown leather of the unit we were testing. For those who want a bit more of a modern finish, the company has other colours too, including navy, white, black and gunmetal grey.
The MH40's strength isn't just about aesthetics though, they're a lightweight pair of headphones that are comfortable to wear for long periods. That's not something we were fully expecting to experience, given how minimal the padding is on the super thin headband.
It works though, we think because the band doesn't have an extreme curve, and isn't designed to grip with a vice-like fitting. It's flexible enough that it sits easily, gives your head a little room to breathe, and the soft, cushioned ear cups mean the all-round feel is comfort. It does mean that if you move your head a lot, the headphones might shift a little, but it serves as a reminder that we think they're designed primarily for mostly still, at-home, leisure listening.
You can - of course - adjust them. And here - again - we're reminded of Master & Dynamic's almost steampunkish vibes, because the cups are attached to what can only be described as pistons. They slide smoothly up and down to adjust the fit and are completely exposed, externally. Rather usefully, the pistons are numbered down the side so that you can ensure both cups are at exactly the same position.
They can be a little hard to move once they're on your head, but - in some ways - that's exactly what you want. If they were too easy to move, they'd never remain in your desired position, and that would be much more frustrating.
Another nice touch is the padded ear cups. As well as being supremely comfortable, they're detachable. They use strong magnets to keep them attached to the headphones, with a couple of holes that fit over protruding nubbins to ensure they don't rotate or shift position while being worn. It means - when it comes time to replace them when they're worn - it should be easy enough to pick up a pair of new ear cups rather than need all-new headphones.
As for controls, it's all old-school here too. There's no touch-sensitive panel anywhere, just a trio of physical buttons on outside of the right earcup. The middle button juts out further than the other two, so it's easy enough to find it to play or pause tracks, and then the buttons on either side are for volume. They can be a little fiddly being so small, but they're simple enough to use.
Improved feature set
- Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity - aptX Adaptive - Google Fast Pair support
- 24-bit audio - digital cabled audio over USB-C
- 30 hours of music listening
Despite the old-school styling, the MH40 Wireless are equipped with many modern wireless technologies, to ensure you can connect them to your smartphone and get great performance. Both Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive are onboard, so with most modern Android phones you'll get a solid, lag-free connection. In our testing, they performed flawlessly in that regard.
Watching videos, the audio and video were nicely in sync without any noticeable delay or lag using the headphones wirelessly. Support for Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive also means support for relatively high bitrate audio, so you can listen to high-resolution 'CD quality' sound. It's not completely lossless like LDAC or similar tech, but, it does mean you get a good amount of detail and clarity in audio.
Nothing beats a cabled connection for detail and latency and - thankfully - you're catered for here as well. The second-gen MH40 Wireless ships with two cables: USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to 3.5mm jack. We tested ours over USB-C with the Honor Magic VS, and wirelessly with a few different Android phones (from Samsung, Xiaomi and Google), and found it performed reliably with every device, using Tidal as our streaming service.
There's also the benefit of Google Fast Pair support, and that means once you've paired them with an Android phone it'll be saved to your Google account and made available to any other Android devices you have, and you won't have to go through the pairing process again. Your Android device will detect the headphones are available and then deliver a pop-up window on screen. Just hit connect, and you're done.
Battery life is solid too. M&D states that you'll get about 30 hours of music playback time from a full battery. To put that into context, if you listen to them for two hours a day, you'll get just over two weeks of use before needing to plug them in to charge.
Arguably the only thing missing from a features standpoint is head/on-ear detection. There are no sensors anywhere on the headphones for determining when you put them on or take them off, so you don't get any auto-pausing or auto-resuming. That side of things is very much a manual process, and we might have expected more at this price.
- 40mm custom titanium driver
- No ANC - not fully open back either
Master & Dynamic's sound profile can often be described as, well, dynamic. With big, low bass and lots of punch at the high end, you typically get quite an exciting sound. To an extent, that same profile exists on the MH40, but not to the same level. Things are a little more muted here, but you do still get plenty of low, controlled bass and pronounced high-end frequencies with impact. We'd still go with 'warm' as our main feeling listening to the MH40 Wireless - a retro sound to go with the retro looks.
Vocals are nice and pronounced, as is the bass. And for the most part, the bass is detailed too, so on the tracks where there's some more pronounced picking of individual strings, you get the texture as well as the weight.
Given the price of the headphones, however, we'd like to hear sound that's a little crisper and cleaner. It's not fuzzy by any means, but the impact from the bass and treble isn't backed up with the kind of clarity that elevates the super subtle elements in the background.
It's also a little flat in terms of stereo separation and spatial audio, and we don't hear that wide soundstage we'd like from high-end headphones. We never got the sense that sound mixed wide to the left and right was pushed all that far away from us with the MH40, and so it felt a little crammed and close in.
The main thing that works against the headphones at this price it is the lack of noise cancelling. It means - if you're in an environment that's not silent - you'll need to crank up the volume to quite high volumes to hear your music over what's happening around you. Whether that's working at home with kids making noise, or walking near a busy road.
The problem is, they also don't isolate the sound from the headphones that well, and it leaks audibly through the headphones to your environment at volume. It means that taking the MH40 on a commute, or on public transport of any kind, is a bit of a no go, unless you want to be that annoying person playing music that everyone else in the carriage can hear.
Despite all of our nit-picking, they're an enjoyable, exciting listen that give you plenty of oomph, thanks to the impact from the treble, vocals and bass. It's only a hair short of being great sounding, but we'd mark it overall as 'good'.
In our minds there's one main reason to buy the Master & Dynamic MH40: the look. That strong, vintage-inspired design is a big draw. They'll make just as good a desk decoration - or deskoration - as they do an everyday pair of headphones.
The lack of noise cancellation and audible sound leakage makes them terrible for commuting or travelling, but if you want a pair of great-looking headphones to use at home or work that are comfortable to wear for long periods, look no further.
We suspect the biggest stumbling point with the MH40 will be the price. With a price tag sitting around the $400 mark in the US (€449 in Europe), they're priced higher than some of the top-selling wireless headphones on the market, and its feature-set isn't anywhere near as full.