The 7-mm Beryllium drivers do a standup job here (frequency 20 Hz to 20 kHz), and Alex Grell has tuned them just the right side of neutral. There’s something of the Goldilocks about them, with just the right amount (and by that we mean a fair and appreciated wallop of bass) of low end, and enough in the upper registers to make all digital recordings shine. There are no shocks in store for the listener, just a richly rewarding delivery that’s indulgent and enjoyable.
Some of you might well be thinking, “$400 for some good headphones … I expect nothing short of brilliant for that kind of money.” This is a fair point. Indeed, there are better headphones for a lot less money, but Obschonka counters that headphones are a lifestyle item as much as a tech item these days. In other words, buy a Biro if you need a pen, choose a Montblanc if you’re making a statement.
Quite surprisingly again, given the high price point and typical hyperbole surrounding audio product launches, Alex Grell does not consider the MTB 03 to be audiophile. “It’s a great sounding profile,” he tells WIRED, “but it is not made for the audiophiles. It’s made for people who want to have something to make them feel good.”
He goes on to clarify that “not everyone’s listening to the exact same music, and you cannot produce headphones that everyone enjoys the same way. So we built headphones that we believe our target group will enjoy.”
He’s right, of course, and those of us in the audio game are often far too quick to apply that audiophile tag to all manner of products. The MTB 03 are a very fine pair of headphones, though, and sound gorgeous regardless of whether you’re blasting the Beastie Boys or binging on Bach—and they will almost certainly put a smile on your face while you listen.
I dislike companion headphone apps. They’re often bloated, brand-recognition, price-tag-justifying, data-collection exercises with little merit beyond offering firmware updates. That, or maybe I just don’t like having to get my phone out to change the settings on my headphones.
That said, the Montblanc Sound App is pretty, easy to navigate, and loaded with options, including a comprehensive EQ with sound profiles for most genres, plus audiobooks and podcasts. Each profile can also be tweaked to suit your tastes, and you can also create your own custom profile.
Rumor has it that Montblanc may be offering personalized sound profiles via an app-based hearing test soon through another firmware update (hopefully after the one that will make ours work again), but we’re unable to confirm this right now.
The app is comprehensive and user-friendly, but we can’t help feeling that tweaking Axel Grell’s sound profile choices is like telling 19-time Michelin Star–winning chef Alain Ducasse which end of the knife to hold. Yes, it’s nice to add a little extra hertz here and there for that personal touch, but having tried all the presets with their respective genres, the default just sounds better. Be aware, however, the “audiobook/podcast” option should be ignored.
The Montblanc MTB 03 are high-class, premium-quality headphones. They’re unashamedly expensive, and have been designed ground-up to appeal to executive business-class traveler types and the core Montblanc customer base. In this, the company has succeeded.
They’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time, they telegraph their exclusivity in a stylish, understated way, and, most important of all, they make music sound fantastic.
Yet despite that premium price, they’re not the best. The ANC lacks the real-world muffling of the best in class, and it would be handy if our sample weren’t dogged by dodgy chipsets. The WIRED score here would likely have been an 8, if the MTB 03 hadn’t broken—twice.
However, once teething problems have been sorted, if you’re a loyal fan of the brand and appreciate the exclusivity that the tiny white snowcap emblem represents, you won’t be disappointed.