Lifestyle, Tech

High Tech — A Review of Montblanc’s New MB01 Smart Headphones

 
High Tech — A Review of Montblanc’s New MB01 Smart Headphones

Montblanc launched its first headphones a few days ago. The noise-cancelling Montblanc headphones dubbed MB 01 Smart Headphones are luxuriously built and fastidiously finished, it is everything that one has come to expect from the world’s maker of fine writing instruments and fine timepieces. Retailing slightly less than US$600, Montblanc’s newest headphones are impeccable and well worth for the experience it brings.

Audacious details, hardly if ever seen on high end headphones elevate Montblanc’s first headphones; place the MB 01 Smart Headphones over your ears and you instantly discern that this is premium sheep leather, not some PU or faux leather that has come to define even the more expensive mainstream headphones on the market. Even worn around the neck, the glossy aluminium for the hinges make the Montblanc Smart Headphones an accessorial companion rather than just a mere transmitter of sound.


“We are always looking at creating products for the luxury business traveller.” — Dr Felix Obschonka, Montblanc’s head of new technology. 




Working with Alex Rosson, co-founder of the audiophile company Audeze, Montblanc’s first headphones pass muster. Audeze are pioneers of planar magnetic headphones and while they’re more expensive than dynamic driver headphones (which form the largest body of audio devices), they also sound the best.

LUXUO road-tested the MB 01 Smart Headphones and discovered that working in consultation with Rosson, the brand has discovered a sweet spot in the beauty and audio clarity ratio — to wit, most Audeze headphones aren’t exactly good-looking but they sound fantastic. Working with well-qualified audio engineers and designers, the Montblanc Smart Headphones are an amazing start for a luxury lifestyle goods company with no prior experience in audio devices: rather than use planar magnetic tech, Montblanc uses the tried and true, sensitive 40 mm neodymium dynamic drivers which deliver a signature sound developed by Rosson and his team.




That said, Montblanc is relatively seasoned when it comes to making other tech devices — smartwatches. It made a giant debut with its connected watch in 2017, and was the first to ship a device with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 in the Summit 2.

So it’s no surprise that the Montblanc “universe” will include something that is very dear to their family of consumers and more importantly, Montblanc’s attention to fine details stemming from core tactile experience in exquisite writing instruments and high horology translates well into their first headphones. Unlike other headphone makers who have pivoted to touch-based controls (which can be error prone and downright annoying to use) like Sony, Montblanc uses actual physical controls and they have done this without sacrificing design.




A play / pause button takes prime position in the centre of the silicone shell of the right ear cup, on the mirror polished midcase — a button to toggle active noise-canceling (ANC) and one to activate Google Assistant, sit adjacent to the volume rocker and the on / off button. The on/off button deserves special mention: for too long have many used headphones and earphones which required them to either recall their last charge or hope that it is compatible with the OS system which would then indicate relative battery charge remaining on their smartphone.

If you’re using something like an iPod or dedicated audiophile Mp3 player, you’re completely out of luck. Where Montblanc acquits itself ably against other established sound players on the market once again is that eye for detail — the on / off button itself includes four soft glowing LED lights which communicate relative battery power in 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% increments include with an audio repeat of charge remaining. It’s beyond useful and saves the user the pain of inaccurate guesstimates. As introverts and those simply hoping to “shut off the world and unwind after a long day at work” will attest, having your bluetooth headphones die mid journey is peerless torture.




Other small details like USB-C charging and multipoint connections where you can have a simultaneous connection to two other devices make the Montblanc Smart Headphones an indispensable companion. During LUXUO’s road-test, the MB01 Headphones were paired to my home desktop and my iPhone. It was especially seamless, coming home late from work without having to disconnect from streaming Spotify on the phone and head right straight to the latest season of Altered Carbon on Netflix streaming from the home computer. Many a times had I inadvertently drawn ire for waking the wife when I had forgotten to re-pair my regular headphones to the computer.

That said, the jury is still out on Montblanc’s decision to include proximity sensors that automatically pause or play music: as my ears tend to get uncomfortably warm after long periods, I tend to re-adjust headphones for comfort. However, I understand the good idea behind the sensors that auto-pause playback, some users prefer to have an interrupted experience and having to reach down and rewind playback 5 seconds can be annoying — however, i’m not fastidious when it comes to my media consumption habits — as long as I’m within earshot, I’m not about to complain about interruptions.




Montblanc’s MB01 over-ear headphones also includes a USB-C-to-3.5mm cable that you can use to plug into devices that still use the traditional headphone jack. Available in three flavours: brown, black, and grey. Black and grey have the same mirror polished aluminium frame (they’re supposed to look like silver but watch lovers would be familiar with the technique that turns a silver surface into a shade closer to piano black), the chocolatey brown model uses a gold-DLC aluminium frame which is beyond sumptuous.


From the foldable hinges, every inch of Montblanc’s first Smart Headphones are executed to an impeccable degree. Even the smart technology that mutes the surroundings the moment you pick up the MB01 Smart Headphones and place them over your ears is the kind of consideration I’ve come to expect from a brand that I personally own products from every category. It’s lifestyle as designed by Montblanc — the MB01 is for tuning in to inspiring soundscapes or tuning out from surrounding noise to relax and focus. If beautiful comfort, incomparable build quality and 20-hour battery life (enough for the longest flights in the world) are important features to have in a trusted companion, the Montblanc Smart headphones are well worth it.

This story first appeared on www.luxuo.com.