Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Marshall Minor III

Marshall continue to sell their stuff to people like me who wallow in the name, history and nostalgia of what the firm were (and maybe still are) about. Very often their gear is about design and style - and in my experience generally come up trumps with performance into the deal. I couldn't resist the new Minor III earbuds!

What pushed me over the edge, apart from all the above, was the fact that Marshall have adopted Qi Wireless Charging for the case, USB-C if you want to use a cable and they're not in-ear-canal buds (which I hate). They are much more like the older Apple earphones which 'sit' at the entrance to the ear. What could go wrong!

In the dinky box you get the cutest little charging case with designer 'vinyl' on the outside, a USB-C to USB-A charging cable and a little pamphlet to get you going. The case has got the iconic 'Marshall' name in white across the front, a USB-C port on the bottom alongside a pairing button and lift-back top-end in the usual way. There's a small LED on the front of the case which glows between red, yellow and green depending on charge - obviously green when fully done.

Hooking up to my Pixel 5 here invokes Google Fast Pair which means that you really don't have to do anything, rendering the Pairing button on the case redundant. In the phone's Bluetooth settings, you get an instant readout (with pictures of the Marshall gear) of charge in left, right and case. Switching to the Sony Xperia 10 Mk. III everything switches over via my Google account as if by magic. If you don't have access to this system, then yes, press that button on the case, the LED goes blue and you can pair in the manual way.

The buds are supposed to last for about 5 hours, which seems to be about right in testing here, the case holds another 20 hours of charge, so in total, heading out for the day you get 25 hours of playback before needing to charge up again. You can do this with any old USB-C cable, though the one in the box is a nice 'knurled' Marshall designed one. If you're all depleted, the case with earbuds inside takes about 2 hours to charge up again, though the buds will be done in an hour and a half. If you're in a hurry, 15 minutes will get you an hour and a half of use.

The buds are really well made but they are quite fat and big because of this. There seems to be a plastic used which is really solid and thick. They're not going to break, but if you have small ears you might struggle with the size. I have big ears, so I'm fine - though one did pop out once during my learning period of how to lodge them in my ears. All this solid design allows for IPX4 rating for sweat and (some) water resistance for using in downpours! The case also has an IPX3 rating for splashes.

The buds themselves are very light and sit with stalks-down in the box in the usual way for charging or storing. They really are cute little things, styled like AirPods with an inch-long stalk, again with that knurled design, for style and grip when handling them. There's a big 'M' on the top-edge and gold coloured base, accented in the classic Marshall way. They really do look very smart. Incidentally, there's only one colour. You guessed it. Black! They sit very snugly in the box, certainly survive inversion and the magnet holding the lid closed is very secure.

One bud works without the other, but they're not smart enough to switch both stereo channels into the one in the ear like AirPods and Huawei units do in my experience - for this, switch your source device to force mono. If you take one out of your ear pause is executed. Put it back, and it starts again. The touch controls allow for single-tap, double-tap and triple-tap. First for play/pause (or answer/end call), second for skip-forward (or reject call) and third to skip-back tracks. This works either side the same. You can also 'slide' instead of 'tap' and actually this seems to work better for me. There's no volume controls via gestures, sadly.

Bluetooth 5.2 has been rolled out with the Minor III unit, so pretty much up to date supporting the latest SBC and AptX codecs etc. AptX fired up with the Xperia straight away by default on detection. The range seems good on tests here supporting the general 30 feet standard, only falling away outside of that, depending on interfering equipment or walls of course, as usual.

What you don't get here is any Noise Cancelling tech. Probably a good decision, given that they're not in-canal buds or sealed over-ear headphones anyway - and I'd trade that for battery life. I've tested this equation with other headphones and earphones and once you get past the 'wow' factor of how it works, I think most would go for battery. Unless of course you're specifically needing the feature for a noisy environment.

What you also don't get here is any integration with smart assistants - so no Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant. This does seem like an odd omission in 2021 when everyone but everyone seems to be doing this, particularly at this price-point. I've tested phone calls here and this works really well with the above gestures and with good call quality. Very clear voice reception and transmission reported the other end and sounding clean and sharp this end too.

Marshall audio gear, as we know, is usually very much bass-orientated for rock, which I find frankly a little over the top (and which stopped me using the Monitor headphones). I find too much bass overpowering, but get the head-bangin' thing which younger people will no doubt love, thumping and pulsating, much like me when I was 16! Maybe because these are not in-ear-canal earbuds but sit outside more, they are not so bass-driven. If you push them down further into the ear they become more so, but I'm very happy with them sat out!

This could all be adjusted of course, if Marshall had made available their App for more than the meagre half-dozen devices which it supports, making the user rely on equalisation from inside other music apps. It also rules out any firmware updates OTA going forward. I'm not sure if this is something that could be added later, but it feels like the user is out of a limb to some degree. What you get out of the retail package is what you get. Done.

Fortunately, even taking into account the above, the rest of the audio experience is very pleasing with great quality sound, too loud for my ears with test gear here, well balanced tone (for me) with a broad soundstage for stereo. More adjusted for mid-tones but listening to a range of music here, including rock, jazz, solo piano and classical, I can't complain.

I love the sound of the piano and tuning into Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata with these buds makes me feel like I'm sat right by the piano, maybe without the deeper bass of placing my head actually on the piano! Switching over from the Pixel 5 to Sony Xperia and the sound is even better, more rounded and clean, as if they were Sony's own!

These are a terrific pair of earbuds which sound great. They are focused on sound quality rather than fancy additions, explaining the lack of support for digital assistants and apps - these are for people who want to hear the sound as it was recorded to a large degree. I love the USB-C charging, the Qi Wireless charging, the Marshall iconic design, style and looks. The battery life is really not bad and using with Android devices it hooks up well with power information on the phone screen.

On the face of it, they might seem overpriced on release at £119. You can get an awful lot more features from the average set of buds out there for less money from the likes of Xiaomi, Redmi and even independent makers like Anker/Soundcore, so it's really a case of whether or not you might value the sound-orientated experience over the bells and whistles of others. Very highly recommended for those with big ears like me!

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