Hello again and welcome to another edition of the Bus Ride Impression! For today’s edition, I am pretty much a lucky guy having been granted an opportunity to try the Master & Dynamic MH40. This can has been in my radar for quite some time now and to be honest it has caught my fancy given the feedback I have been reading about it on top of how it looks. Pardon me, but while the aesthetics did catch my attention, I have been interested as to how it sounds. I believe that the MH40 is one of the underappreciated brands in the market that deserves some attention thus my interest.
Lo and behold, upon getting my hands on one (thanks Pete for the loaner), my suspicions has been allayed; it does sound fantastic as it looks. I therefore think that it is about time the local market pay attention to one of these babies given how well they sound especially if it meets your preference. I would say that this should be part of a personal audio enthusiast’s collection given how well it works with a few of the sources that I tried it with.
Let’s get on with the review and find out how well it does.
I may have said a lot about how nice the MH40 looks. True, as it is indeed such a looker, with a bit of industrial-steampunk feel going on with it. I particularly liked how Master & Dynamic went for the leather-metal combination on the looks to make it really look sleek and stylish as well as robust. It gives you that look of making it pristine looking while new and making it look classier while it ages. Perhaps Master & Dynamic indeed knew what they were doing when they went for the design.
Master & Dynamic decided to go for two terminals, one each per cup. I guess this allows the user his preference where to attach the nicely etched plugs in. I just wonder the possibilities of mods for this; perhaps something can be done to turn it into dual mono plugs to allow balanced connection. But then again, I may be getting ahead of myself on this.
I liked how M&D paid attention to small details of the can: It did try to squeeze in the brand in most of the parts, even those that are found in the nooks and crannies of the can. The adjustment gauge on the headband rod also look really snazzy, with the number indicators peeking at a small window which adds even more flair to the looks. Gimbals are somewhat reminiscent on how a Grado typically does with their cans, but the one in the MH40 does look much more durable given the design and build. Don’t be deceived by the seemingly open design as it really is closed-back.
Leather headband looks really nice too, and as nice as it looks, it does have some level of pliability which allows a not so tight yet not so loose fitting.
Perhaps the only gripe I have with the MH40 is the weight. As it is, it weighs around 360g, of which is something that may not be within the comfort level of some people. I personally don’t mind, but this has got to be one of the heaviest that I have tried given the size to weight proportions. It is not LCD Series-heavy, but heavy nevertheless.
Overall, I really liked the design, and I think that weight sacrifice comes with the design and material compromise. Again, for me I don’t mind, I can listen to the MH40 for more than an hour without really complaining about sore neck, although I might if I go beyond that.
Upon trying the MH40, I kind of felt something missing, perhaps something that was not too satisfactory for me. It did sound really good, but there is an element that I seem to look for. Then I checked on the FR graph:
*photo credits to InnerFidelity.
I already had some inkling on what that thing was upon seeing the FR graph, but upon closer listening I realized it, the mid range seemed a bit congested. It was not as if it was really bad, but I just felt that certain crowdiness somewhere towards the upper mids. It kind of lacked that sense of space some mid centric users may find a little bit disconcerting. However, to compensate for that, the bass seems to have a healthy dose but not to the point of being muddy. In spite of the lush bass, it still felt tight enough not to bleed over the mids. Highs seems to roll off gently, not abruptly, although I would have been happier with a bit more sparkle.
I am trying different sources for the test, in this case, I will be using my Hifiman HM-901S, Astell & Kern AK100 paired with Glove Audio A1 and my Aune M1S connected through balanced line out to an Alo MK3B+ for good measure and to see which one synergizes the best with the MH40.
Supernova (Liz Phair, Whip-Smart)
Bass is indeed heavy with the MH40 especially when paired with AK100+Glove. Seems that the depth is really desirable for the low end, with lower mids presenting a precise tune, not being overshadowed by the bass. Guitar solo felt a bit recessed though but is still crystal. True enough, the vocals seems to be a bit congested and seems to be blending in a bit too much with the guitar riffs. Highs are somewhat clean though, but can use a bit more of a bump. I would say the AK100+Glove pair isn’t really the best for the MH40, but it would probably depend on the person using it. If you are the dark-warm type of listener, you will immensely enjoy it, but in my case, I kind of miss that spacey feel on the upper frequencies.
Dance The Night Away (Santana feat. Pat Monahan, Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time)
This one is better with the AK100+Glove pair. I guess it was the mastering that spelled the difference, as this somehow is presented with so much clarity compared the previous track. The harmony across the frequencies is significantly better, allowing one a better listening experience through the smoother blend of the instruments. The congestion is still heard in the upper mids, but is definitely forgivable given how the track is supposed to sound like, harmonious, fast and riotous. I will give the MH40 a great score through this track, and so with the other tracks in the album.
Bohemian Rhapsody (Panic! At The Disco, Suicide Squad: The Album)
Now this is even better. While the pairing of AK100+Glove did a lot of justice with the MH40, the pairing of Aune M1S and Alo MK3B+ did even better. Perhaps the most glaring difference with this pair for MH40 is the soundstage. You can definitely feel the sound engulfing you from all directions, and the spacing between instruments are truly fascinating. With the M1S+MK3B+, it is also noticeable how the congestion seems to be eased up a bit, allowing more space on the mid ranges. I particularly liked the guitar solo using this setup, the weight is just right how I wanted it: pushy, edgy yet clearly defined.
Fireflies (Lights & Motion, Chronicle)
The emphasis on each instrument seems to be incredible with the MH40 paired with M1S and MK3B+. Piano doesn’t seem too crisp but is not too soft, yet is quite pronounced amidst the beat of the bass guitar. The harmony of the track is quite enchanting and should be a great track to calm your nerves. Guitars seems to pose more as an accompaniment, yet is still clearly discernible. The said congestion on the mids seems to be a bit more obvious here, but is not really much of an issue given the slew of instruments harmonizing quite well with each other.
Good Enough (Sarah McLachlan, Fumbling Towards Ecstacy)
The warmth of the MH40 is pretty much emphasized with the use of Hifiman HM-901S as the source. It offered an immaculate tone for the low end frequencies, delivering a tight mid bass off the track while allowing the vocals to be pretty prominent. There is a slight hint of sparkle which leaves the sound more than desirable presumably with the general users. Piano is toned just right, not too crisp nor soft. Soundstage is still quite very good with imaging posing to be just realistically right. So far, instrument placement is just right; depth, width and height are all teeming with accuracy.
Spiderwebs (No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom)
I simply loved the track with the MH40 paired with the HM-901S. As expected off the signature of the MH40, the ska track offered what the MH40 does best, bountiful but quality bass, coming off from sub-bass to mid-bass. Great thing is that the highs are not left out as it does justice with a good amount of extension. Mids shows a bit of rigidity but plays well enough at least from my POV. Vocals are great, although was not as fast as I hope for, albeit not really too slow. If you are the type of person who likes bass and would want to enjoy the MH40, this genre should be part of your playlist.
A quick note though, the MH40 offers good seal once you placed it right over your ears, but you might want to make sure you got it placed right. I had a few instances wherein there is a very small amount of leak if not positioned properly.
At around $400, I was a bit short-sold on how the MH40 delivered. Don’t get me wrong, I would want to have one, although that slight congestion on the mids plus the lush bass isn’t exactly that I would primarily look for in a pair of cans. Yet then again. The MH40 is a desirable headphone one would want to have especially if you are more into casual listening. I noticed too that it may not play at its best if you try to play fast tracks on the MH40 as you might feel the resolution slightly unsatisfactory. Other than that, the MH40 is a great pair of cans, something would want to have in his or her collection. Mind, I haven’t tried the MH40 in a balanced set up, so I still see a lot of promise for it.
Would I buy one? Given my current headphone line up, I would, but it is not exactly something I would recommend as the primary cans unless the signature suits you. It is one of those want-to-have and not exactly the need-to-have kind of headphones, but having one will be a great thing.