Marshall Major III On-Ear Bluetooth Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, May 24, 2019.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Youtube review:

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone_XsMax/Headphone_Marshall_Major3_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Marshall_Major3.jpg

    Sources: iPhone XsMax with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red/DAC-amps.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the Marshall Major III headphone ('Major3' hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (on-ear, closed-back, Bluetooth or wired), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the Major3 (i.e., my objectives and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

    The Major3 is a headphone I passed over when it first came out last year, due to my low expectations having owned previous editions of the Major. The Major3's treble is still a bit uneven, but my EQ settings provide a better, cleaner sound than I could get from the Beats Solo3, even though the Solo3 is physically a high-quality headphone made by Apple's Beats subsidiary.

    Unusual for me is the fact that I haven't EQ'd the bass or midrange of this headphone, since any existing colorations are not significant enough to distort the musical tonality, or tilt the overall frequency balance one way or the other. I compared the end result of my EQ for the Major3 to my EQ of the Pioneer HDJ-X10c, and while the X10c's EQ'd sound seems a little light or thin compared to the Major3 (or conversely the Major3's sound is thicker by comparison), I've concluded that I didn't need to go any further with these "re-tunings", since these observations agree more-or-less with my impression of each headphone's basic personality.

    Summing up, correcting frequency balance issues can greatly improve the soundstage and sense of musical realism in a headphone, but the final test is for clarity and lack of distortion, and faithful tonality. The Major3 sounds right to me - clear and clean, and as hi-fi as is possible in such a small lightweight form factor. Highly recommended, particularly if you have a parametric equalizer.

    I won't waste space on the physical details that a thousand other reviews have listed, so I'll just give my impressions from using the Major3. I rarely use Bluetooth, but it works well, was easy to pair with my iPhone XS-Max, and I didn't experience any interference indoors. Outdoors, particularly in industrial areas or near some power lines and cell towers, you might not be so lucky. For corded listening, I use the v-moda Speakeasy Lightning DAC cable instead of the cable included with the Major3, because it connects directly to my phone without a separate Lightning dongle.

    The Major3's build quality is sparse, but clean and aesthetically pleasing, with no apparent durability issues given reasonably careful handling. The headband has very little padding, but the headphone is so light that heads with thin hair shouldn't have a problem. The earpads are very soft and thick enough that they feel perfectly comfortable on my ears. The earcups have a range of adjustment to fit heads small to quite large, and they pull down far enough that the headphone can be worn around the neck all day with no discomfort.

    The Major3's isolation is moderate - good enough for most uses, but might not be satisfactory for noisy public transportation. The leakage is so low that using the headphone in a quiet office or library should be OK, as long as the volume is kept below ear-blasting levels. Charging is pretty fast - a couple hours at most via Micro-USB. When ordering the Major3, beware of fakes and clones - make certain to order from an authorized dealer who certifies that it's the genuine product. The clones almost always sound much worse than the real thing.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the Major3 compares with each individual track. These tracks were evaluated using EQ settings as I noted above. Note that this EQ is not to "personal taste", but rather to approximate the headphone sound to the sound of live acoustic music.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Major3 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the Major3.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry with the Major3.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The Major3 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the Major3.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Major3 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are bright, crisp, and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Major3 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Major3 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Major3 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Major3 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Major3 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion(Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the Major3 plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The Major3 plays this track extremely well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the Major3. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The Major3 provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the Major3 plays those very well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Major3 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel some of the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2019, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the Major3 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is not heavy, but nonetheless impressive with the Major3.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Major3 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Major3's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is nearly ideal.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Major3 conveys as much of that drama as I could hope for in a small headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the Major3 renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The Major3's reproduction is excellent, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The Major3 delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    And now for phase 2 of my Marshall Major III ('Major3') Bluetooth headphone review. As noted above, I use a minimum amount of EQ with headphones that need it, in an attempt to bring them closer to the sound of live acoustic music**. This doesn't always succeed, either because the equalizer is too limited, or the curve I apply doesn't work for some reason. In the case of the Major3, it worked very well indeed.

    **I'd prefer that my headphones sound truly neutral, with as little EQ modification as possible, but in the end I get there only about half of the time. In the other cases, I either give up or settle for a "warm-neutral" result that's satisfactory for most genres.

    The ultimate test for me is when the headphone has good frequency extension on both ends with no apparent distortion, a tonally accurate midrange that blends well with the bass and treble, and plays equally well with all of my favorite tracks in multiple genres. The Major3 differed significantly from my Pioneer HDJ-X10c on just three of these EDM tracks (Anamanaguchi, Avicii, Fairmont) - slightly better on two of them and not as good on a third track.

    Above & Beyond - We're All We Need (feat. Zoe Johnston): A very nice tight but impactful bass with crystal clear vocals - the Major3 plays this with great ambiance.

    Anamanaguchi - Planet: A complex mix of percussion sounds and hummed vocals. The bells and other high-frequency percussion are highly detailed, the bass line has moderate weight, and the bass detail is surprisingly good.

    Armin van Buuren - J'ai Envie de Toi (Orig Mix feat Gaia): Decent bass impacts, breathy vocals, lots of fun noise - the Major3 plays this perfectly.

    Avicii - Feeling Good: Classic female vocal in movie-theme style - the Major3 brings this to life like few other headphones I've heard.

    Carl Kennedy-Tommy Trash ft Rosie Henshaw - Blackwater (Original Master): Nice strong tight bass impacts, female vocal, rendered delectably by the Major3.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God: Atmospheric tune with vocal sound effects and strong bass line, plus some unique treble percussion sounds. The Major3 brings these unique sounds to life.

    Digitalism - Pogo: A driving beat with a detailed bass synth and great vocals ("There's something in the air...") - the Major3 makes this very enjoyable.

    Dino Lenny-Lino Di Meglio - We Will Make It: Atmospheric tune with mixed vocals - the female vocal is a special treat with the Major3.

    DJ Shadow - Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt: High-pitched tones and strong deep piano chords with a hummed female vocal - ultra-cool with the Major3.

    Fairmont - Poble Sec: Awesome detailed bass impacts with some nifty pingy guitar/synth effects. I discovered this tune at the time I purchased my 3rd v-moda M100 - the Major3 makes this just as enjoyable.

    Giuseppe Ottaviani - Lost for Words (On Air Mix feat Amba Shepherd): Strong bass impacts behind a female voice - a large-scale sweeping sonic image reminiscent of epic adventures in an exotic land. The Major3 is playing on a whole new level here.

    Hecq - Enceladus (With Skyence): Prodigious deep bass and clean at that. This tune's melody is more abstract than most of the others here, but the Major3 makes it a real adventure.

    Katy B - Crying For No Reason (Tom Shorterz Remix): Oh myyyyy, I love Katy B. The vocal mix here is awesome and the bass is solid. This is the Major3 at its best.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch: I first heard this in The September Issue film and soundtrack, as the backdrop for the opening catwalk (watch Andre grinning at 1:51 - all you need to know) - the Major3 plays this amazing tune perfectly.

    Lee and Malinda - Truth Will Set You Free (V-Moda Mix): Lee Kalt is the master, this is the masterpiece. The drum (or tom-tom) hits here have a very realistic skin-tone, the female vocal is seamlessly integrated into the driving beat, and the synth effects also blend well - the Major3 just owns this.

    Markus Schulz - Mainstage: The granddaddy of bass is in this track, and the Major3 plays it smooth and clean.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Continuing with the third set of music samples for my Marshall Major III ('Major3') review, the following are a few of the "odds and ends" I've picked up in the process of reviewing approximately 200 different headphones. The only other headphone that included these sample tracks was the Pioneer HDJ-X10c, so refer to that review for comparison, to see how well the Major3 compares to the Pioneer.

    Note that my EQ curve for the Major3 (linked above or on my website) features a modest bass reduction centered around 60 hz, yet these tracks demonstrate an excellent bass response for this headphone, with very satisfying detail.

    Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Soundtrack to a hand-painted color movie. A terrific variety of sounds that show off the excellent audio qualities of the Major3.

    Muse - Madness: Strong bass impacts with massed vocals around a lead singer. Clearly delineated by the Major3.

    Mylene Farmer - Desenchantee: French vocal over a driving bass beat. Very enjoyable with the Major3.

    Robyn Hitchcock - Autumn Is Your Last Chance: Nicely-recorded acoustic/electric guitar with compelling vocal. Pure class as reproduced by the Major3.

    Samantha James - Amber Sky: Reverberant instrumentation and ethereal vocal. Dreamy stuff that sounds amazing on the Major3.

    Satchmode - Best Intentions: Atmospheric vocals over an excellent bass line. Exquisite reproduction by the Major3.

    Sneaker Pimps - Underground (Nellee Hooper Mix): Slow-paced club music with female vocal and soft but impactful bass. Very pleasant listening with the Major3.

    Soliquid - Shibuya (Paul Keeley Remix): Eight minutes and 50 seconds of heavenly beats and awesome musical synth effects as heard with the Major3.

    Stones and Bones - Love Lockdown: Ibiza 2014 track with a very spacious atmosphere and a bit of contrapuntal vocal. Outstanding on the Major3.

    Susanne Sundfor - Accelerate: High-ambiance noise with decent bass impacts and reverberant vocals. The Major3 makes this track come alive.

    Third Sex - Monster Snack: One of the best of the Goth/RiotGrrrl genre, available on the Free To Fight CD. Somewhat primitive sound with aggressive vocal, but there ya go - as good as it gets with this headphone.

    Three-11 Porter - Surround Me With Your Love: Pleasant male-female vocal mix against a big-ambiance backdrop. Lush presentation by the Major3.

    Visage - Fade To Grey: Atmospheric and reverberant recording supported by a luscious synth line. The Major3 plays this perfectly.

    When Saints Go Machine - Love And Respect: Super-energetic music with reverberant vocal counterpoint. Strong bass impacts delivered cleanly by the Major3.

    Yaz - Situation: Bright pop-EDM music from the past. Played exquisitely by the Major3.
     
  5. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    THE MARSHALL MAJOR III Wired-only version:

    As a kind of final check on the Marshall Major III ('Major3') series, I purchased two new sets of the wired-only version from Marshall direct in the USA, for $50 USD each. Remarkably, where we often see very significant sample-to-sample differences in frequency response etc. for even premium flagship headphones at the various testing sites, I don't find a significant difference between these two wired versions of the Major3 and the Bluetooth** version I purchased previously.

    **Using the Bluetooth version in wired mode, although the Bluetooth sound has the same basic signature despite the lossy codec.

    I used the EQ curve noted at the top of this review for audiophile listening with the DragonFly Red or Oppo HA-2 DACs. While the consistency of the Major3 samples I've purchased from two different sources speaks well of Marshall's quality control, there's not enough money in this product to get the refinements you hear in Beyer Tesla's, Sennheiser HD800's, or the top-end planar headphones. Still, once the best possible EQ is applied, the soundstage and tonalities are so good that to get a better sound from the average $600 headphone, you would need to equalize those to their best neutral sound.

    I played the album "Carmen Gomes Sings The Blues" for my main listening in comparing these three sets of the Major3. The original recording was made in DXD 352.8 plus direct-to-tape analog. I got the 96 khz FLAC version, which was excellent.
     
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