The Marshall brand has been on a roll lately with its speaker and headphone lineup, with its new Stanmore II Bluetooth Speaker and Kilburn II Portable Speaker, and the introduction of active noise cancellation in its on-ear headphones with this year’s Mid ANC Bluetooth. While we’ve spent more time with Marshall’s on-ear and over-ear models, the company also has a small lineup of in-ear headphones as well, and the company recently updated the flagship model, the 2011 era Minor, with the [Minor II Bluetooth] ($130), a fairly major new iteration that resembles the original more in name and class than anything else.
Like most traditional Bluetooth IEMs, the Minor II consists of two earbuds connected by a short wire, which also contains a pod with the remote control, battery, charging port, and Bluetooth hardware. The earbuds themselves have the classic Marshall accents; there’s no denying that these are a Marshall product, with a golden embossed Marshall logos on the outside of each earbud. As fans of the Marshall brand, we like the look, but we’ll admit that there’s a certain bit of ostentatiousness to it that might not appeal to everyone. The Minor II Bluetooth are otherwise available in black, white, and brown, all of which feature a matching wire and control pod.
The package includes the headphones, the usual instruction manual and paperwork, and a Micro-USB to USB charging cable.
As with most accessories we’re seeing these days, you’ll need to supply your own USB power source to charge up the Minor II Bluetooth, but this is something we can easily let pass for headphones that provide 12 hours of playtime on a single charge, as even the most hardcore listener shouldn’t need to charge them every night, although once again Marshall has neglected to build in a universal automatic power-down, so you’ll want to make sure you turn them off when you’re done with them — the headphones can be magnetically attached back-to-back, and will go into a low-power standby mode in this case, automatically powering down after six hours, but only if you leave them attached for that long — detach them, even for a second or two, and the six-hour timer restarts. Realistically, we recommend powering them off manually to optimize battery life.
The pod features Marshall’s standard control knob, which works in the same way as on the company’s headphones such as the Mid ANC Bluetooth — it’s a four-way joystick-style button that 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 activate Siri. It works well, and it’s a nice touch that Marshall has standardized these controls across its entire headphone lineup. The pod also includes a microphone for calls and Siri commands, which does an acceptable job, but like most headphones isn’t nearly as great at filtering out background noise as the iPhone’s own microphone array. The Micro-USB port is also located on the control pod, and in addition to 12 hours of playtime on a single charge, quick charging capabilities will get you back up and running with two hours of playtime after only 20 minutes of charging, and plugging them in for two hours will get you back to fully capacity.
In terms of audio quality, Minor II Bluetooth packs in a pair of 14.2 millimetre dynamic drivers, that have been custom-tuned to provide some impressive audio.
From the perspective of what the drivers are capable of putting out, these are some of the most balanced IEMs we’ve heard in this price range, with the bass being well-refined and balanced, with unusually good clarity in the lower part of the midrange, while still offering crisp and distinct sound in the mids and highs. The sound signature is largely V-shaped, but rolls off a bit on the ultra-lower end, but ultimately that’s not going to matter because all of this comes with a serious catch — the sound isolation on Minor II Bluetooth is virtually non-existent due to the eartip design.
Rather than go with the replaceable eartips that most IEMs use these days, Marshall chose to use its own “innovative ear-fit system” that uses molded hard plastic ear tips that may or may not make for a comfortable fit depending on your particular ear canals. This is a huge “your mileage may vary” scenario, and while we found the Minor II Bluetooth fit our ears well enough, we can’t say that they were comfortable to wear for long periods of time — after an hour or two of listening, it was time to give our ears a break not because of the audio (which is actually very non-fatiguing in and of itself), but because of the physical fit of the hard plastic. Marshall has also seemingly designed these to be not too isolating on purpose — the company promises that its design offers “just the right amount of noise isolation, while still allowing you to hear your surroundings” — which is fair if it matches up with your particular taste in music, but the lack of isolation means these are probably not going to be your first choice for your daily commute. To be clear, they’re noticeably superior to Apple’s AirPods in that regard, but we don’t think that’s a particularly high bar to set.
Marshall’s Minor II Bluetooth are a study in unfortunate compromises.