My impression with the Marshall headphone was around a month ago, in a brief in-store audition. I thought it was a fun headphone with a good voicing for rock. The overall fit was comfortable, the sound isolation very good, the dimensions are quite compact and can be folded, and the build quality seems quite solid overall. I got a few of the local forum members to go check out the Marshall Major and tell me what they think of it. Most of them returned with quite a positive impression: that the Major was a fun, toe-tapping headphone that works well with the music that they were listening to. Up until that point all the impressions seem fairly positive, so despite failing to obtain a sample from Zound Industries, I pressed on to get a sample for a review, and finally I’ve gotten one, courtesy of www.kantong-kresek.com, and Indonesian headphone retailer. In addition to the Major, I’ve also received the Marshall Minor, and so I decided to make this into a double review.
I realized that the Marshall headphones were manufactured by Zound Industries, an OEM headphone company that manufactures headphones for a lot of different brands, including the Urbanears label. In a way, the Major had a similar timbre to the Urbanears Plattan which retails for $60. I don’t know if the drivers are the same, but the tuning of the Major is clearly ahead and better than the Urbanears Plattan. Even if the drivers were the same (something I haven’t yet confirmed), the difference in housing, damping, and pads can make enough differences in the resulting sound quality that you’re not going to confuse the sound of the two as being the same. And again, in the case of the Urbanears Medis to the Marshall Minor, Zound Industries was wise enough to make the sound different and so to justify the added price on the Marshall Minor. So these Marshalls are clearly more than just a re-badged product.
The Marshall Major can somehow be considered as a baby Sennheiser HD25-1. It has the same forward character that is good for rock. The bass is not too much or overpowering, but it carries the beat very well for most modern alternative, progressive, or hard rock bands. The PRaT factor is definitely happening. All of these for a good $100 less than the Sennheiser, but accordingly I am not going to confuse the Major as a superior headphone than the Senn. Although the Senn’s bass is a little bit punchier, the Major has a little bit more bass body for an overall weightier sound. The overall sound is also a little darker than the Senn, as the mid and upper treble is less prominent on the Major. The upper midrange may be a little too much on some recordings, so in my opinion Zound Industries can still improve the tonal balance a little more. The clarity factor is not quite up to par with the Senn, probably due to the differences in treble presence, but listening to the midrange, I think the resolution of the driver in the Major is better than the old drivers in the HD25-1.
The Major is the kind of headphone that won’t stand up to total scrutiny. The upper mid is one area that I’ve mentioned earlier that would be better had it been lower some 2-3dB. But as with the other portables I’ve reviewed, I don’t think that perfect sound is what portables about. Portables should be fun sounding, lively, toe-tapping, be comfortable to wear, tough build, and with high mobility factor. Previously, the HD25-1 was one of the most recommended portable headphones I’ve seen, but the $199 pricetag in the US (and up to $350 in Asia) is way higher than what most people are willing to pay for a portable. And though the build quality is very tough, it was not foldable, something that happens to be a very important factor for a portable headphone. There were other recommendations, of course, but everything in the ultra portable range (i.e Koss PortaPro or Senn PX100) is not going to give you the isolation and the tight and punchy bass that you get from fully sealed models. Recently I discovered the Audio Technica’s SJ-series headphones, and in a way it was a good product as a whole, but I think it was too “generic” and too mainstream to catch on with the enthusiasts crowd.
So, based on all of that consideration, I think that the Major has totally delivered. It’s foldable and more portable than the HD25-1. It is more comfortable, tougher built, and is more isolating than favorite ultra portables like the V-Jays or the Sennheiser PX100-II. Sure, it’s a rebranded product, but the Marshall design happens to look great in this case (unlike say Skullcandies). Looking at the overall package, I think this would make for a great recommendation for people looking for a portable.
In addition to the Major, Marshall has also released an earbuds companion called the Minor. The most striking thing about this earbuds is the patented EarClick construction that locks the earbuds securely in place. I’ve seen similar concepts designed by Sennheiser in the MX680 Adidas earbuds, but I think that Zound Industries’ EarClick design is easier to mount and feels more comfortable on the ears. It also looks more “normal” than the fins in the Sennheiser MX680 Adidas, but this is just my personal opinion.
Although the sound is an improvement over the Urbanears Medis which shares the same design, I find the sound of the Minor to have an over dominating mids and upper bass, while the lower bass and the treble section is significantly rolled off. I try not to be too critical when reviewing mainstream oriented products like the Minor, but in this case the lack of low bass and treble presence is far too big to ignore. Though earbuds are normally known for their open and airy sound, the Minor sound totally devoid of any air. Instead you are presented with an over dominating midrange that sounds overly thick and muddy, with little impressions of detail. It would be hard for me to turn this one into any recommendations, regardless of your preference. Within the same budget and somehow a similar function, the Sennheiser Adidas PMX-680 is much more recommended.
I’ve had a chance to listen to audition the Urbanears headphones (Plattan and Medis) before doing this review, and honestly they’re tough to recommend. Likewise the Marshall Minor. But I think Marshall (and Zound Industries) has got an interesting product in the Marshall Major. As I’ve said, it’s got all the right components to make a successful portable headphone. The comfort and cool factor is definitely higher than the Audio Technica SJ-series that I reviewed last month. Somewhat, though the technicalities are comparable to the SJ-55, the Major has its own fun presentation that differentiates it from the SJ-55. It also isolates very well, is foldable, and the build quality seems solid enough. The sound quality can’t quite challenge the Sennheiser HD25-1 yet, which is quite surprising I thought, given the age of the drivers on the HD25-1. I think it’s more of an acoustics housing & damping issue though, as the resolution of the drivers in the Marshall Major sound better to my ears than the Sennheiser’s. I think the Major is a solid entry by Marshall to the mainstream market, but it’ll be interesting to see how it performs among the headphone crowd.
Gears used for review:
Headphones: Marshall Major, Minor, Sennheiser HD25-1, Urbanears Plattan, Medis.
Amplifiers: Fostex HP-P1, PA2V2, AMBLabs Mini 3
Source: Ipod Classic, Fostex HP-P1