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Marshall Mode II - Review 2021

Rock fans rejoice: Marshall’s first true wireless earphones, the $179 Mode II, maintain the company’s iconic guitar amp branding with far less surface area to work with than its typical over-ear headphones and speakers. The earpieces are emblazoned with a script M and the case has a full Marshall logo, bringing the brand’s trademark aesthetic to the wire-free realm. The audio performance is bass-forward, with crisp, bright highs, and a companion app features five-band adjustable EQ to fine-tune the sonics. There are some minor hiccups, like a weak trasparency mode and a mic that sounds like it’s on the moon, but the strong audio performance and overall design mostly outweigh these issues.

Stylish as Ever

The Mode II’s earpieces are among the smallest we’ve tested to date, but they manage to create a secure fit and tight in-canal seal. They ship with four pairs of eartips in different sizes, but no additional fittings or sleeves to aide stability. The black earpieces have a raised script M that acts as a touch-sensitive control panel.

Tapping the M on the left earpiece turns transparency mode on and off, while a double tap summons your device’s voice assistant. Tapping once on the right ear controls playback, a double tap skips forward a track, and three taps navigates back a track. For incoming or in-progress calls, a single tap on either earpiece answers or ends the call. Because the earpieces are so small, adjusting them while they’re in can result in accidentally triggering a touch control. Marshall says you’ll be able to put a lock on the touch panel through the app to prevent this from happening, though it wasn’t available at the time of testing.

When it comes to water resistance, the earpieces are rated IPX5 and the charging case is IPX4. The case’s rating means it can withstand light splashes, but only when closed, as the interior isn’t water resistant. The earpieces can withstand slightly more substantial splashes from any direction, but if you need something fully waterproof, you’ll want to check out models like the IP67-rated Klipsch T5 II True Wireless Sport.

marshall mode ii lifestyle

Like the earpieces, the pill-shaped charging case is one of the smaller models we’ve seen. Its faux-grain leather exterior has a grippable, rubbery surface that makes it easy to flip open and closed without slipping out of your hands. The case has a status LED on the outside, and a button on the interior for the pairing process. The included USB-C-to-USB-A charging cable is long, and connects to a USB-C port on the side of the case.

The earphones are compatible with Bluetooth 5.1, and support AptX and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but not AAC. Internally, the earpieces house 6mm dynamic drivers, delivering a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz.

Marshall estimates battery life to be roughly five hours, and the case holds roughly 20 hours of extra charge, which are fairly average numbers for true wireless earphones. Regardless, your results will vary with your volume levels.

The Marshall Bluetooth app for Android and iOS is easy to connect to, and can aid in pairing your earpieces. (Our first attempt to pair manually, without the app, only worked for one ear, but pairing via the app quickly got both connected.) In addition, it features adjustable EQ with two five-band presets you can tweak and save. There’s also the ability to turn transparent listening mode on and off, and a fader to adjust how strong the ambient mics are.

Unfortunately, the EQ was a bit glitchy in testing. The fader slides don’t seem to correspond in real-time with sonic changes. We also noticed some crackly audio artifacts introduced into the audio when we tweaked the EQ dramatically. This is something that can hopefully be remedied in future updates.

Strong Audio, Weak Mic

On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones deliver powerful low-frequency depth that doesn’t distort at top, unwise listening levels. At more moderate levels, the lows still pack some thump, and seem balanced out enough by the high-mids and highs.

Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Mode II’s general sound signature. The drums on this track can sound overly thunderous on bass-forward in-ears, but they find a sweet spot here—there’s boosting in the lows, for certain, but they sound full and natural. Callahan’s baritone vocals receive an ideal blend of low-mid richness and high-mid treble edge, and the acoustic strums and higher-register percussive hits have some bright snap and pop to them.

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On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchiness, while the vinyl crackle and hiss usually relegated to background status take a step forward in the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with solid depth. We’ve definitely heard more intense subwoofer-like power from in-ears before, but this is closer to an accurate representation of these deep frequencies without sounding deprived of bass. The vocals on this track are delivered with excellent clarity.

Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound bright and clear, with added bass depth pushing the lower-register instrumentation forward in the mix a bit. But the balance between lows and highs here is ideal, and the lows aren’t wildly boosted—the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals retain their prominent, bright place in the mix without any risk of being overshadowed by the lows.

Transparent listening mode isn’t as obvious as it is with some true wireless pairs, to the point that I had to check and make sure it was enabled. Its maximum level in the app doesn’t sound very maximal. Switching between on and off, you can definitely hear the difference, but ambient monitoring modes usually tend to dial up the high-mids and highs a little more. You should still be able to use the mode to have a conversation without removing the earpieces, but hearing your surroundings while music is playing is less of a sure thing.

The mic offers weak intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone, we had trouble hearing the mic’s signal—the first word recorded would always start out loud, but the rest would be squashed down to a nearly inaudible level. Multiple tests after removing and replacing the earpieces produced the same results. The clarity of the mic isn’t an issue—you can hear that the recording is clear enough—but the signal is faint.

A Solid Debut

Marshall is a bit late to the true wireless game, making the Mode II’s hiccups stand out a bit more than they would have, say, a year ago. The good news is, quality audio performance, a secure fit, and a water-resistant design outweigh the issues here. At $180, however, the earphones face some fierce competition. The fully waterproof JBL True Wireless Flash X ($170) and the aforementioned Klipsch T5 II True Wireless Sport ($230) are worth checking out. We’re also fans of the $200 Sennheiser CX 400BT earphones, which sound better than the Mode II but don’t have a water-resistance rating. And if you’re looking for an excellent transparency mode and/or noise cancellation, the $250 Apple AirPods Pro are your best bet.

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