Marshall Major On-Ear Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Dec 4, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Marshall Major are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the Major (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    First impressions (after 8 hours burn-in): I've had 2 of the Marshall Monitor series headphones, which were excellent in physical quality, and I've read a number of reviews of the Marshall Major that describe less-than-stellar build quality. Some of the Marshall Major reviews included frequency response graphs that showed very irregular curves, which presumably should be flat from the low bass at least to 1 khz or so. As a result of those reviews I've avoided this headphone, which I haven't had the opportunity to see in person or listen to. When I did get a chance to open the box in the Apple store and take a brief listen, I could see that the build quality was very good, in addition to having some nice cosmetic touches with the gold trim etc. The treble was weak which is common with lower-price headphones, but I use the Audioforge equalizer for iOS, which fixes up that problem extremely well for all of my music genres. Lesson learned: See it and hear it before dismissing it.

    Summary of sound: The Major's lower bass is a bit weak, so for my use I added a 6 db bass boost centered at 40 hz. That boost does not make the bass more than mildly warm, so bass lovers might want to look elsewhere. The midrange has a recess of approximately 6 db around 1.5 khz, followed by a peak around 2 khz, followed by a very deep recess of 14-16 db in the upper treble. I say this not as an absolute, but in comparison to the average signatures of the best 20 or more headphones I've reviewed in the past couple of years. As a rule, trying to correct such a steep recess with EQ (especially with a $99 USD headphone) does not make that headphone into an audiophile model, for several reasons. One of those reasons is that such extreme EQ usually produces many narrow but deep recesses and peaks adjacent to the EQ slider frequencies. Another reason is due to the basic physical quality of the headphone, which is not assumed to be audiophile quality at the $99 price point.

    In spite of those caveats, the EQ curve I developed (one of 54 posted on my dalethorn website) makes the sound quality very hi-fi, although even with the large treble boost I applied, the Major's resulting treble response is in the lower range of the 20-plus best headphones that I've reviewed. For the average user who is limited to $99 and who won't use an equalizer, it might not matter anyway - the sound they intend to purchase may satisfy them indefinitely, or get them by until such time as they upgrade to a higher priced headphone. On the other hand, for users who are very hi-fi conscious but have to live on a tight budget, the good news may be extremely good. Note here that conventional EQ will probably not change the Major sound into hi-fi sound, but Audioforge is not conventional - its design encourages fixing the resonance peaks and recess areas first, then fixing up the overall balance last, which reduces distortions that are common with conventional EQ.

    Soundstage is tricky to describe since it's dependent to a large extent on the amount and quality of treble that the headphone presents, not to mention the recording itself. I'll just say that the Major can sound amazingly good in that respect, depending on how you EQ for an ideal treble balance. In my case, it's as good as the last half-dozen $200 headphones I've reviewed. One very demanding track I use in evaluating a headphone is David Chesky and Wonjung Kim's "Girl From Guatemala", and the strong treble percussion starting at 3 minutes in is delineated very well by the Major. Another track that's a stress test for treble is 'Time' from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and the Major plays that very cleanly too. While these treble details are not as good as what can be obtained with a $500 headphone such as the Shure SRH1540, I don't hear any problems that would diminish the hi-fi experience I get with the EQ'd Major.

    Isolation is below average with the Major compared to the average closed-back headphone, yet on my walks within 500 feet of a busy freeway, it hasn't been a problem. Very fine sonic details will be obscured in very noisy areas, so you can't expect the best listening experience in those environments. The Leakage is higher than average, but not nearly as bad as open-back headphones. Suffice it to say that playing the Major in a public library or a very quiet office at audiophile volume levels isn't feasible. The impedance of 32 ohms suggests high efficiency, and the Major is very efficient. I don't feel a need for more volume than an iPod or iPhone can supply, but in most cases I recommend a good quality headphone amp to get the best sound. The iPhone6-plus I use has equal or better sound quality than my $100 amps such as the FiiO E07k, but older iPhones and iPods will sound better with those amps, using the i-device's LOD port.

    The Major is a combination of metal and plastic, and Marshall uses excellent pleather earpad covers that make the headphone very comfortable, despite the strong headband clamp. The headband padding is good, but the Major's light weight combined with the secure headband clamp means that pressure on top of the head is unlikely to be felt by most users. The headband sliders that adjust for different head sizes go 1/2 inch larger on each side compared to my average-size head, and one inch smaller on each side. That's a great range of adjustment for such a small on-ear headphone. The cable is single-sided and not detachable, but the thickness is good for a small headphone - in fact, the cable is twice as thick as my $300 Beyer T51p's cable, and that Beyer cable failed after just 2 months of use, so I have pretty good confidence in the Major's cable. The termination is a gold-plated miniplug, and the sleeve ahead of the plug is also gold plated. Topping it off is a metal spring strain relief ahead of the sleeve.

    The excellent 4 ft. cable has a 6-inch coiled section just below the Apple control box (which also has a microphone), and that coil can stretch out to about 45 inches long, making the actual maximum cable length about 7-1/2 feet. What's great about the coil is how compact it is and how little it weighs, in spite of it being a very sturdy cable. Summing things up, for Apple i-device users the Major could be the bargain of the year, since those users have access to Audioforge and other similar apps and can achieve a very high level of sound quality. The sound quality, the build quality, and the Marshall design asthetic combine to make the Major my current favorite portable headphone.

    The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the Major** plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the Major compares with each individual track.

    **These comments are valid only with the EQ applied as described above.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Marshall Major review part 2 - Music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Major plays this very 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 perfectly by the Major.

    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 a little of the weight they carry with the Major.

    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 Major plays this music 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 extremely well by the Major.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Major 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 crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Major 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 Major renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Major 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 is clearly recognizable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Major reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are normally very extended and detailed, but the Major needs some treble boost to get the full upper-harmonics effect.

    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 Major 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 should have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a solid deep-bass response, but they're a bit light with the Major. Still, the Major 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 Major plays this track perfectly.

    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 well with the Major. 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 Major provides fair detail. 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 Major does those fairly 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 Major plays this well in terms of detail, but the fundamental tone is light.

    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 2014, 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 Major is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    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 fairly subtle with the Major.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Major 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 Major reproduces that sound effect almost perfectly.

    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 Major conveys as much of that experience as is possible with an on-ear portable headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and detailed, and the Major renders the tones and transients very 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 Major's reproduction is near-perfect, 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 Major delivers the impacts with good weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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