Venerable music company Marshall has been offering an extensive lineup of pretty good headphones for the past couple of years, but one thing that has been conspicuously missing from the company’s offerings compared to many competitors is Active Noise Cancellation. Marshall has just changed that with its Mid ANC — the company’s first headphone with Active Noise Cancellation, which is essentially an updated version of its Mid Bluetooth model differentiated primarily by the addition of Active Noise Cancellation.
If you’re familiar with Marshall’s other headphones, Mid ANC doesn’t offer many surprises. The same iconic Marshall branding can be seen here, and it’s packed with the same basic accessories — a 3.5mm audio cable and USB to micro USB charging cable — as Marshall’s other recent Bluetooth headphones. However, Mid ANC does offer the bonus of a rather cool storage and travel case, that features the same classic faux-leather Marshall exterior look and a red velvet interior with a fold-down magnetic flap. It’s a little boxy and perhaps not ideal for travel, but we have to give Marshall some points for style here.
Mid ANC also features a few other subtle but important improvements over its predecessor, including brass-plated Marshall branding on the ear cups versus the older silver look, and a significantly improved headband. When we look at Marshall’s Monitor Black last year, we found the headband stiff enough to detract from the experience, making the Monitor Black uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. This has been addressed on the Mid ANC, which provided a considerably more flexible headband, and a also eliminates the inner vinyl lining in favor of a softer felt material, which also adds a bit of class to the design, although in the process Marshall has also emblazoned the logo in gold on the inside of the headband, as opposed to the more subtle embossing found on the previous Mid Bluetooth. We personally liked it, but your tastes may vary. Either way, however, it’s not something that’s going to be visible when the headphones are actually being worn.
Mid ANC uses Marshall’s standard control scheme — a four-way joystick-style button on the left earcup provides track and volume controls by moving it up, down, left, or right, and can be pressed to access power, play/pause, answer/end for phone calls, and Siri activation controls. Marshall has also subtly improved this as well compared to last year’s Monitor Black, where we found it more difficult to determine which way we were moving the button. A new switch on the right earcup is used to toggle the Mid ANC’s headline feature, Active Noise Cancellation, on or off, and works pretty straightforwardly. The right side also includes the micro USB charging port and a 3.5mm audio jack that, as with prior Marshall Bluetooth headphones, can be used as either an input or an output jack — in the latter case allowing you to share your Bluetooth audio with a friend by having them plug right in. Marshall promises the usual 30+ hours of Bluetooth listening time from the Mid ANC, but that drops to 20 if you’re using them with ANC on. It’s also worth mentioning that like Marshall’s other wireless headphones, there’s no automatic power-off option, so you’ll want to ensure that you turn them off manually by holding down the control button when you’re done using them.
If you’ve heard Marshall’s Mid Bluetooth, you’ll find the sound signature of Mid ANC to be virtually identical; it’s basically a V-shaped sound signature, but not as extreme as many headphones we’ve heard. Marshall has done a good job here of contouring the sound, boosting the bass and treble without sacrificing too much of the mid-range, and the bass itself is definitely a lot more refined than you’ll hear from many competitors such as Beats, producing a warm sound that’s comfortable rather than overpowering. It’s basically Marshall’s classic sound, which lends itself strongly toward rock genres and guitar riffs.
While the Active Noise Cancellation is the Mid ANC’s marquee feature, this was possibly the most underwhelming aspect of Marshall’s newest headphones. ANC works reasonably well, but it’s not as pronounced as you might expect, with Marshall making it clear that they’ve tuned it to filter out ambient noise while still ensuring you remain aware of the important noises in your surroundings, like car horns, particularly in an urban environment. In practice, this means that it will dull the rumble of traffic, subway trains, jet engines, and even moderate wind — although to be fair, Marshall’s ear cup design does this pretty well passively too — but we found that the noise cancelling mics couldn’t handle everything that an urban environment can throw at them; high winds resulted in distortion to the point where it was almost better just to leave ANC off, and we had some similarly odd distortion on a bumpy bus ride that left us wondering exactly what the ANC mics were trying to compensate for. Of course, all ANC suffers from some of these issues, and we think that Marshall has taken a more conservative approach here. In short, the ANC is a nice feature to have in some environments, but we found ourselves leaving it off about as often as we had it on. The good news, however, is that ANC didn’t dampen the actual audio quality in any noticeable way, so as long as you’re not in a situation where it causes a problem with distortion, and you’re not trying to stretch battery life to the max, it’s harmless enough to leave it on most of the time.
If you’re a fan of Marshall’s headphones and classic sound signature but have been bemoaning the lack of noise cancellation, the company’s new Mid ANC is definitely worth considering, but keep in mind that Marshall’s implementation of ANC doesn’t go quite as far in providing the kind of acoustic isolation that you’ll find on higher-end Bose or Sony models, but considering the price tag it does a pretty good job. Whether this kind of ANC is worth the $70 price premium over the otherwise-identical-sounding Mid Bluetooth is going to depend on how much ambient noise is for each user, but it’s worth adding that the price jump isn’t just about ANC — Marshall’s Mid ANC does a good job of addressing some of the other problems with earlier models, resulting in a more comfortable fit and more usable controls, and these improvements alone really do help justify the jump to the Mid ANC as well.
Company and Price
Model: Mid ANC