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I'm a fan of Marshall speakers, but I didn't expect its earbuds to be this good

Marshall is a name known by many in the music scene, recognizable by its sound. I tested its latest Motif ANC earbuds to see if they live up to the hype.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The Marshall MOTIF earbuds and case.

The Marshall Motif earbuds get the full Marshall treatment with both look and sound.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Marshall Motif A.N.C. earbuds are on sale now for $120 at the Marshall online store.
  • With the help of the Marshall Bluetooth companion app, you'll hear a remarkable sound that beautifully serves just about every genre of music.
  • Without the personalization settings in the app, the Motif earbuds deliver a sound that's too heavy in the mids.

I own a Marshall amp, and although I'm a terrible guitar player, I love the way it sounds. There's just no mistaking the Marshall signature sound, as it's gritty and in your face. It's rock-and-roll, plain and simple. So, when I received a pair of Marshall earbuds to review, you can only imagine how excited I was to test them out.

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Sadly, out of the box, that amazing Marshall sound didn't exactly translate well to earbuds. Instead of that powerhouse rock and roll glory, I was treated to heavy mids and lackluster lows. To get the most out of these earbuds, you'll need to install the Marshall Bluetooth app (for Android or iOS). Once I downloaded the app and customized the EQ settings, I experienced some of the best noise control I've ever heard.

Come with me as I show you how I turned the Marshall Motif II A.N.C earbuds into a pair of earbuds suitable for audiophiles like me.

View at Marshall

The specs

To start, let me lay out the specs for the Marshall Motif A.N.C. earbuds, which are:

  • Driver sensitivity - 106 +/- 1 mW (0.126Vrms) 1 kHz.
  • Driver type - dynamic
  • Driver impedance - 16 Ω
  • Frequency range - 20-20,000 Hz
  • Drivers - 6 mm
  • Battery - 4.5 hours with A.N.C. enabled (6 hours with it disabled), 20 total hours in case.
  • Wireless charging - yes
  • Water resistance - IPX5 in earbuds IPX4 in case
  • Bluetooth range - 30 ft.
  • Controls - touch response for music control A.N.C. activation, receive/end calls, activate transparency mode
  • Cost - $119.99 (down from $199.99)

The Motif earbuds include a Marshall amp-inspired case, USB-C charging cable, user manual, and S, M, and L ear tips.

My experience

The Motif earbuds come with three Noise Control modes: ANC, TRA (transparency mode), and off, a setting with neither TRA nor ANC enabled. With Noise Control off, the Motif A.N.C. earbuds sound a bit hollow. But once you enable either ANC or TRA, these babies go up to that fabled 11. 

You can also adjust the ANC level, which makes the Motif earbuds even more customizable. Once I had these earbuds set to my liking, I found that rock music rocked a bit harder, metal was a bit more head-banging, classical was more dynamic, and every other genre was way more enjoyable. 

The Marshall Bluetooth app in action.

Consider this app a must-have for the Motif earbuds.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

As I said, I love the Marshall sound in a guitar amp. For earbuds, it was a bit harsh on the ears. That was easily overcome with a bit of custom EQ. With a bit of bass bump, treble increase, and midrange drop, the Motif earbuds came to life. I ran them through my usual tests, with rock, prog, metal, classical, Broadway, and choral music. 

I was actually surprised at how good choral music was lifted from the earbuds to sound as if the singers were standing around me. Songs like Pink Martini's In Stiller Nacht were gorgeous, with each voice clear and rich. My favorite Christmas song, Lully, Lulla, Lullay, by VOCES8, was resonant and full.

Even the "Godzilla Minus One" original score took me right back to the theatre, where I was watching one of the best films I've seen in a long time. Naoki Sato's music was simultaneously chilling and beautiful.

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Switching over to a bit of prog, I opted to go with Rush's Analog Kid and couldn't help but dance about my office at hearing Geddy Lee's bass sound exactly as he intended it. This song, in particular, was killer with the Motif earbuds.

Every song I threw at the Marshall earbuds made it clear these buds are worth every penny. Are they the greatest earbuds I've ever used? No. That title still belongs to the Denon PerL Pro earbuds. But the Marshall Motif are currently half the price of the Denons. So, if you want amazing sound but can't afford a nearly $400 pair of earbuds, the Marshall Motif will not disappoint. 

ZDNET buying advice

One thing to keep in mind is this: If you prefer the sound of overly produced and heavy-handed bass (such as what you'll hear from Beats headphones), these are not for you. The Marshall Motif earbuds strive to reproduce the music as closely as the artist intended, and in turn, deliver a rich and smooth blend of voices and frequencies. 

Yes, you can punch up one of the five EQ bands, but the Motif earbuds aren't going to sound like they have a tiny, attached subwoofer. Like the Denon PerL Pro, the Marshall Motif earbuds' sound is more refined than your average buds.

That doesn't mean they can't rock, because they certainly can.

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