Marshall Minor II Bluetooth Earphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jul 6, 2019.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Youtube review:

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone_XsMax/Headphone_Marshall_Minor2_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Marshall_Minor2.jpg

    Sources: iPhone XsMax, iPad Pro 11-inch, iPod 7g, MacBook 12-inch.

    Review note: My first impressions of the sound of the Marshall Minor2 pod-style earphone ('Minor2' hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other earphones, particularly those that resemble its design (Pod-style outer-ear open-back Bluetooth), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the Minor2 (i.e., my objectives and how I use the earphone) only after covering all of the technical issues.

    The basic tonality of the Minor2 impressed me as extremely smooth but very bright in my early listening after a dozen hours of burn-in time. Later on I concluded that, as with other earphones (and unlike most headphones), I hear in-ear models as quite bright in the treble region. My judgements are based not on hearing per se, nor on personal taste, but on direct comparison to many other premium earphones and headphones, and the sound of live acoustic music.

    The clarity, impact, and tonality of the Minor2 is very impressive**, and the price is a bargain in my view with just a day's listening. Audiophile earphones like the Sennheiser IE800 and IE80, the higher-end Shures, and various RHA's are likely tuned about the same as the Minor2, but since the Minor2's pod-style design doesn't enter the ear canals, some users may experience weak bass and strong treble as a result. I hear a bass that's good down to 60 hz, but drops off rapidly below that, and a very strong treble as explained above.

    **Given a good fit. There are adjustments on the earpieces to get the best fit, but a few users report that they can't quite get there.

    Note that most reviewers today fail to distinguish between outer-ear "earbuds", outer-ear pod-type earphones, and inner-ear (ear-canal) types (a.k.a. IEM's). Earbuds have the small round earpieces like Apple's original iPod earphones, which have essentially no bass at all. Apple introduced the pod-type outer-ear Earpods a few years ago, which lack hi-fi tuning, but have a real bass response. Apple's Airpods are basically the same as the Earpods, but wireless. IEM's have eartips that seal into the ear canals.

    Assuming that pod-style earphones can be tuned (or equalized) for hi-fi sound, what would be the advantages of IEM's? Unless the pod-type earphones have ANC (noise canceling), the isolation is generally much greater with IEM's. In my case using EQ, lack of isolation outdoors is limiting, but on the plus side I don't have to deal with earwax issues. Audiophile reviewers will undoubtedly shun (or even actively oppose) pod-type earphones, since most users of these pod-types will not experience an audiophile tuning (frequency response) without EQ, and few of those will have access to a proper EQ.

    I won't spend more time on the Minor2's sound for now, for these reasons:
    1) The music tracks listed below, which were included in my tests of the Minor2, feature a wide range of music tonalities that highlight any sonic weaknesses in the earphone.
    2) The sound is much better than I expected, and far better than competing brands (i.e. Airpods) that I've tried.
    3) I'm not reviewing any advanced DSP etc. features, since audiophile neutrality is my only objective.

    The Minor2 earpieces are connected by a short slender cable that also contains the control box and battery. This cable and box weigh almost nothing, and it's placed behind the neck when wearing the earphone. Once the earpieces are in the ears, users will not notice the tiny cable or control box, unless a user chooses to operate the tiny joystick for volume control or skipping tracks. In very warm outdoor environments, I'd recommend checking the earpieces every so often and wiping off any sweat, so it doesn't get into the drivers. The Minor2 is alleged to have a modicum of passive isolation, but I don't hear a significant reduction in ambient noise. The Minor2 comes with a Micro-USB to USB-A charging cable, but there is no protective carry case included.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the earphones 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 Minor2 compares with each individual track. These tracks were evaluated with and without the EQ setting noted above (or at my website under Photos/Audioforge). Note that whatever EQ I use is not to "personal taste", but rather to approximate the earphone 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 great detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Minor2 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 perfectly by the Minor2.

    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 Minor2.

    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 Minor2 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 Minor2.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Minor2 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 Minor2 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 earphones, but the Minor2 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Minor2 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 Minor2 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 Minor2 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 a bit of the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a fair deep-bass response. Overall, the Minor2 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 Minor2 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 well with the Minor2. This is a great recording for evaluating whether an earphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many earphones 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 earphones. The Minor2 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 Minor2 plays those extremely 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 an earphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Minor2 plays this with just 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 Minor2 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 very subtle with the Minor2.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Minor2 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any earphone.

    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 Minor2's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is pretty good.

    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 Minor2 conveys a little of that experience. 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 Minor2 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 Minor2'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 modest but work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The Minor2 delivers the impacts with fair 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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    Continuing my review with a few additional music samples, the following are some of the "odds and ends" I've picked up in the process of reviewing headphones. The sound of most of these tracks is good enough to complement any decent earphone, but they show off the Minor2's sonic qualities as well as anything I've heard. Some of these may be hard to find, particularly in the exact mix/remix listed here.

    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 Minor2.

    Muse - Madness: Strong detailed bass line with mass vocals. Clearly delineated by the Minor2.

    Mylene Farmer - Desenchantee: French vocal over a driving bass beat. Very enjoyable with the Minor2.

    Robyn Hitchcock - Autumn Is Your Last Chance: Acoustic/electric guitar with compelling vocal. Pure class as reproduced by the Minor2.

    Samantha James - Amber Sky: Reverberant instrumentation and ethereal vocal. Dreamy stuff that sounds amazing on the Minor2.

    Satchmode - Best Intentions: Atmospheric vocals over a detailed tight bass line. Exquisite reproduction by the Minor2.

    Sneaker Pimps - Underground (Nellee Hooper Mix): Slow-paced club music with female vocal and subtle but effective bass impacts. The bass in this track will be fully appreciated only in a quiet listening spot.

    Soliquid - Shibuya (Paul Keeley Remix): Eight minutes and 50 seconds of heavenly beats and awesome musical synth effects as heard with the Minor2.

    Stones and Bones - Love Lockdown: Ibiza 2014 track with a very spacious atmosphere, good bass impacts, and a bit of contrapuntal vocal. Outstanding on the Minor2.

    Susanne Sundfor - Accelerate: High-ambiance noise with subtle bass impacts and reverberant vocals. The Minor2 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 earphone.

    Three-11 Porter - Surround Me With Your Love: Pleasant male-female vocal mix against a big-ambiance backdrop. Lush presentation by the Minor2.

    Visage - Fade To Grey: Atmospheric and reverberant recording supported by a luscious synth line. The Minor2 plays this perfectly.

    When Saints Go Machine - Love And Respect: Super-energetic music with reverberant vocal counterpoint. Strong bass impacts delivered cleanly by the Minor2.

    Yaz - Situation: Bright pop-EDM music from the past with a nicely detailed bass line. Played exquisitely by the Minor2.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    And now for phase 3 of my Marshall Minor II ('Minor2') Bluetooth earphone review. As noted above, I use a minimum amount of EQ with earphones 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 this case it worked well, but be aware that a user's experience can vary greatly with pod-style earphones like the Minor2.

    **I'd prefer that my earphones 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 earphone 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 Minor2 does very well for me in this regard - all the more amazing given that it's designed to be a pod-type Bluetooth earphone.

    Above & Beyond - We're All We Need (feat. Zoe Johnston): A very nice tight but impactful bass with crystal clear vocals - the Minor2 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 average weight, and the bass detail is excellent.

    Armin van Buuren - J'ai Envie de Toi (Orig Mix feat Gaia): Good bass impacts, breathy vocals, lots of fun noise - the Minor2 plays this perfectly.

    Avicii - Feeling Good: Classic female vocal in movie-theme style - the Minor2 brings this to life like few other earphones I've heard.

    Carl Kennedy-Tommy Trash ft Rosie Henshaw - Blackwater (Original Master): Nice strong tight bass impacts, female vocal, rendered delectably by the Minor2.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God: Atmospheric tune with vocal sound effects and strong bass line, plus some unique treble percussion sounds. The Minor2 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 Minor2 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 Minor2.

    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 Minor2.

    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 Minor2 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 Minor2 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 Minor2 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 Minor2 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 Minor2 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 Minor2 just owns this.

    Markus Schulz - Mainstage: The granddaddy of bass is in this track, and the Minor2 plays it smooth and clean.
     
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