Silly money: here's what $650 headphones sound like

Silly money: here's what $650 headphones sound like

On March 13, the Montblanc MB01 wireless headphones were launched. However, with Sony, Samsung, and Apple in the headphone business, Montblanc faces strong competition. The company is mainly known for its famous and expensive pens, but I wanted to find out whether the manufacturer is also ready for the audio market.

Rating

Good

  • A noble and distinguished design
  • Precise and warm sound
  • Effective active noise reduction

Bad

  • Brown color and matt silicone coating
  • Average battery life
  • No dedicated app
  • High price

Montblanc MB01 release date and price

The headphones have an ultra-premium design. A very neat appearance, solid materials, and nice styling. However, the technical specifications of the Montblanc MB01 are hard to justify the outrageously high price of €595 (around $650). It is exactly this price positioning that, in my opinion, casts a bad light on the actually good parts of the headphones.

All in all the headphones are not bad. The sound is precise, the sound signature is as warm as I like it and the active noise reduction works. But for around six-hundred-and-fifty bucks, the Montblanc MB01 makes technical concessions that I find unacceptable for this price. Especially when you consider that these are no better than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the popular Sony WH-1000XM3 or the Sennheiser Momentum 3, which are available for half the money.

Luxury design within added bling

At first glance, the white version of the headphones reminded me of a concept I would expect from ex-Apple designer Jony Ive. The white Montblanc MB01 come very close to what I could imagine for the first Apple over-ear headphones.

The black and silver version also succeeds well in presenting themselves in a classy way without really distracting from the materials. Why do I say this? Well, because despite its noble look, they're still made of aluminum and plastic.

For my test, the specimen provided was the brown/gold version. A design that is known from many fine leather goods. But here the manufacturer is in complete contradiction to the elegant and stylish approaches of the first two Montblanc MB01 color variants.

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The design of the Montblanc headphones is a matter of taste. / © NextPit

I am exaggerating a little, it's true - but the color combination was much too much 'bling-bling' for my taste. It reminds me of the incredibly flashy look of some Skullcandy headphones, which may have been super-fashionable once, but are definitely too flashy now.

It's surprising how quickly the color selection can ruin a design that is otherwise really beautiful and clean. The headphones are not blessed with a proper hard case for storage either. Instead, you get a banal cloth bag that doesn't do justice to the price in any way.

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Not a storage case for the Montblanc MB01, but an ordinary cloth bag. / © NextPit

But apart from the color problems, the padding and headband are made of genuine leather. It is not vegan, but comfortable - even if the earpieces and ear pads press a little too hard on my head and ears.

The rest of the headphones are made of matte silicone and it is exactly this that we urgently need to talk about at this point. It feels like chewing gum - at least it seems just as sticky to me and catches a lot of dust. This quickly turns the surface into a feather duster and I found removing all the lint from the Montblanc MB01 a chore.

The plastic hinges are quite flexible, and the arch-shaped ear hinges have a shiny metallic coating that makes them stand out from the rest of the frame. Here, the manufacturer has also included the white star representing the six glaciers of Mont Blanc. The design is enough to give the headphones a real seal of quality, and identity.

The Montblanc MB01 in white and black is a piece of jewelry with a truly noble design, but a serious look. However, I personally don't think much of the color choice of brown and gold.

Ergonomic keys, but no companion app

To my great delight, all the control buttons are located on the right earphone. On the front are the buttons for the Google Assistant, active noise cancellation, volume control, and the on/off button.

On the other hand, the play/pause call button on the outside of the headphones is a bit strange. You can feel it, but there is no pressure point. In addition, the headphones are equipped with sensors that automatically stop the sound when you take them off.

The controls are therefore quite ergonomic. However, an app for customizing the EQ was missing at the time of our test. Contrary to Montblanc's announcement in its press release, the application is still in development and will probably not arrive until April.

So in the meantime, we'll have to make do without equalizers, tweakable ANC settings, and possible firmware updates.

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All controls are located on the outside of the headphones. / © NextPit

It's difficult to hear your $650

Just to be clear, the Montblanc MB01 offer very good audio reproduction. The headphones use a Qualcomm QCC5124 chip , which enables a wireless connection via Bluetooth 5.0. Furthermore, the headphones are compatible with SBC, AAC and - as you would expect from Qualcomm - aptX codecs. However, the Montblanc MB01 do not stand out from other high-end wireless headsets such as those from Bose, Sony, or Sennheiser. And the competition only cost half price. This is a problem that I have to keep coming back to.

The sound signature comes from Alex Rosson, a well-known sound engineer who has created his own brand of hi-fi equipment: RAD-0. I admit I didn't know him before, but the audiophiles among us seem to have ripped his €3,000 hi-fi headphones right out of his hand. Either way, despite the exorbitant price, the Montblanc MB01 are not hi-fi headphones. Rather, they is designed to listen to tracks on Spotify, but not music in the FLAC format. To test it anyway, I borrowed a friend's Tidal subscription.

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The sound of the Montblanc MB01 comes from 40mm drivers. / © NextPit

The result is not overwhelming, but still really very good. The sound scene is generally well reproduced and the headphones can easily go down to the low frequencies. Their response time ranges from 10 to 20,000 Hz - bear in mind that the human ear can only really hear frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz.

The bass is present, clean and dynamic. It sounds full without being too obtrusive and drowning out the rest of the music. Nevertheless, it is powerful enough to make you 'groove' - just the way it should be. The sound signature is warm overall. And to say it more concrete and less exaggerated: voices are best reproduced by headphones.

Here voices are very clear and precise, the instruments are easy to hear and do not mix with each other in sound. In addition, the high frequencies are reproduced a bit more attenuated. The Montblanc MB01 produce a very clean and high-quality sound.

Another positive aspect is that the microphones are quite powerful. Compared to the Bose 700, which promises active noise reduction for our voices (that didn't work at all), voices are surprisingly clear with the Montblanc MB01. Really everyone I talked to online in the last two weeks said that they could understand me "better than before" (with my Sony WF 1000XM3 headphones).

Effective noise reduction that fatigues an already weak battery

In line with the new standard for high-end wireless headphones, the Montblanc MB01 also feature active noise cancellation (ANC). However, it is not possible to adjust the intensity, which is due to the fact that Montblanc currently does not offer any applications for its headphones. But insulation is very good. The software manages to reduce the hum or other noises - such as footsteps or keyboard noise.

Before our editorial team decided to work from home, I was able to test the headphones on the subway. Here the active noise reduction was efficient. Besides the isolation of noise, you can also activate a mode that amplifies them, so that traffic, for example, can be heard better.

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The Montblanc headphones are more of a fashion accessory than a tech gadget. / © NextPit

Montblanc has installed a 730 mAH battery in the headphones. According to the manufacturer, the headset is supposed to play music for 20 hours despite the active noise suppression being switched on. It's a runtime that is rather in the lower average range when compared to current headphones. The Jabra Elite 85h, for example, reach 36 hours.

I have used the headphones with and without noise reduction. For three to four hours a day, I used the ANC for music, plus one to two hours in the evening without ANC for video games. I had to recharge the headphones every evening. This was partly because the headphones had the unfortunate habit of switching off only ten minutes after the battery warning (at around 25 percent). A firmware problem that can certainly be fixed ... as soon as the app for it is available.

The headset takes two hours to fully recharge via USB-C. Thanks to the supplied 3.5mm to USB-C cable, the headphones can be used with a smartphone without battery.

Final verdict

The Montblanc MB01 are good high-end headphones that scream 'premium' thanks to their sound and design. In addition, the product has a real identity with its 'seal of approval' logo. However, I would not recommend a purchase because of the high price.

Because at that price of around $650, I as a customer am not prepared to make any concessions. So what I expect is a proprietary HD audio codec like the Sony LDAC, not 20 hours but 30 hours battery life, an app, and I want a high-quality storage option that really offers protection. In short, I expect good value for that kind of money.

I've mentioned it before and I like to repeat myself: these are very good headphones. But they are neither better nor worse than the Sony WH-1000XM3, the Bose 700 or the Sennheiser Momentum headphones, which are all half the price. If Montblanc had held back a little bit here and didn't want to be the most expensive hat in the ring, the Montblanc MB01 could have climbed the ranks of many best headphones lists. But as things stand, I prefer the competitors.

Montblanc MB01 - where to buy?

Those who still want to buy the Montblanc MB01 can buy them in the official shop of the brand. Unfortunately, they are not available on Amazon yet.

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