When a company enters a new product category, there’s a good chance it will struggle with the first device. Experienced headphone makers had with their first true wireless earbuds. Master & Dynamic’s debuted in 2018, and even for that time, it had woefully short battery life and insufficient Bluetooth range. The company addressed both issues with the while adding active noise cancellation (ANC) and other features. Now, M&D is back with another flagship model, (). These earbuds take some design cues from the company’s previous three true wireless products, but a number of seemingly small changes add up to make these best M&D earbuds yet.
Gallery: Master & Dynamic MW08 review | 21 Photos
Gallery: Master & Dynamic MW08 review | 21 Photos
For its first three sets of true wireless earbuds, Master & Dynamic kept the same D-shaped design for each model. The only slight outlier is the MW07 Sport due to its smaller size and TR90 composite shell. Both the MW07 and MW07 Plus had acetate exteriors in a range of colors and designs. With the MW08, the company further reduced the size, resulting in its smallest earbuds to date. This means the new buds don’t have as much hardware resting outside of your ears, though they do still stick out a bit.
- Incredible sound quality
- Improved noise cancellation
- 12-hour battery life
- Smaller size
- Slightly awkward fit
- Cumbersome controls
- No wireless charging
Another key difference is the materials. With the MW08, Master & Dynamic switched to ceramic exterior shells with an aluminum frame. Like the MW07 Sport, the new version is one solid color instead of an acetate pattern or swirl — except for the white version, which has a silver outer ring. Those two aesthetic changes create a more refined overall look for the MW08, one that brings the company’s true wireless earbuds more in line with its headphones in terms of design.
The machined aluminum ring around the outside of each earbud houses both the antennas and the on-board controls. On the right side, a multi-function button allows you to play/pause (single press), skip tracks (double and triple press) and summon a voice assistant (press and hold). There’s a volume rocker on the left earbud, and long pressing the up button activates ambient sound while the same action on the down control turns ANC on and off. Those two controls will default to the last ambient sound or ANC setting you selected inside of Master & Dynamic’s companion app. The buttons for the on-board controls themselves are slightly smaller, which makes using them cumbersome. They’re tiny, and you have to hold the earbud with your other fingers while you press, which slowed me down a bit.
Like the MW07 Plus, the charging case for the MW08 is still made from shiny stainless steel (and it’s still a fingerprint magnet). The key difference is the accessory now opens on the top edge instead of like a small tin of Altoids. Due to this change, the company had to relocate the USB-C port to the short side on the right. A trio of LEDs still gives you a battery status estimate for both the earbuds and the case individually. There are three colors indicating low, medium and high battery capacity, so you’ll want to consult the app if you need an exact percentage.
One thing I enjoy about testing Master & Dynamic headphones is the company’s “signature” sound profile. Details are always crisp and clear and the tuning is what I’d describe as natural. Specifically, M&D doesn’t overly tweak things for overbearing bass or painfully tinny treble. The end result is things sound like the album mix rather than what a headphone company thinks will enhance most music. For the MW08, Master & Dynamic tweaked its formula, which includes adding slightly larger, 11mm beryllium-coated drivers.
And the change isn’t a bad thing. The MW08’s wide soundstage gives Gojira’s “Born For One Thing” metal plenty of room to roam — from the chaotic drum fills to staccato guitar riffs and the meandering bass line. There’s an almost tactile texture to the distorted guitars where it’s as if you can feel the details in the grungy noise. Every instrument sounds like it’s layered on top of the others, rather than being smashed down to a single sound source before it’s blasted through the earbuds. There’s more low-end tone than on the MW07 Plus, but in a way that doesn’t overpower the mids and treble. Gojria’s prog-metal is bass heavy by default, but the MW08 keeps things appropriately boomy while still offering plenty of depth for everything else to swirl in a sonic storm.
The added bass is restrained when it needs to be, like when I switched to the bluegrass tunes of Nickel Creek. All the great detail of the MW08 comes through from each acoustic instrument, but the upright bass doesn’t overpower. It’s the background foundation that keeps things organized, but its low-end thumping notes don’t outshine the guitar, fiddle or mandolin.
It can be difficult for earbuds to give music the appropriate amount of dimensionality rather than making everything sound compressed. Headphone companies have gotten better at this in recent years, but some still struggle. With the MW08, Master & Dynamic has navigated the sonic minefield, producing a sound profile that’s the best I’ve encountered on a set of true wireless earbuds. There were times I forgot I was wearing earbuds and would have easily been convinced this audio was coming from a set of premium over-ear headphones.
Despite having three true wireless models under its belt, Master & Dynamic had yet to offer a companion app for any kind of customization. Alongside the MW08, the company is debuting M&D Connect. The mobile software will be available on both Android and iOS, offering users the ability to change ANC and ambient sound modes, adjust the auto-off timer and disable in-ear detection. The app also keeps tabs on battery level (for the dominant earbud), provides a product guide and facilitates any updates that may be released. Unlike some of the competition, M&D Connect doesn’t have a customizable EQ or any sound presets for you to employ — and it doesn’t plan to add them. It also doesn’t offer the ability to rearrange the on-board controls. I don’t think you’d need to worry with either of those things on the MW08, but that’s just me.
If you already own a set of MW07 Plus earbuds, those are not compatible with M&D Connect. I would assume future Master & Dynamic products will work with the app, but for the time being, the software is exclusive to the MW08.
Noise-cancelling and ambient sound modes
Instead of being limited to only on or off for the active noise cancellation, Master & Dynamic gives you two options: Max ANC and All Day ANC. The company says the former is well-suited for “noisy environments like airplanes or crowded places” while the latter is meant for “less noisy” spots. I’m not taking any flights just yet, but I could tell a difference between the two settings when trying to battle the constant roar of a sound machine at home. The only nuisance here is that you have to use the app to change modes. You can turn ANC on or off on the earbuds, but it activates the last mode you selected on your phone. The on-board control doesn’t cycle through all three options.
Like it did for ANC, M&D offers two options for ambient sound as well. The Voice setting provides “improved awareness of conversations” and Awareness is for more general use. To me, the difference is subtle, but I could tell Voice managed to cut out some background noise while the person speaking remained clear. However, this only really works when music or podcasts are paused. With audio playing, I can’t hear a difference. Again, you can turn ambient sound on or off on the earbuds, but you’re set with the last option you picked in the app.