On more than one occasion, Montblanc’s first noise-canceling headphones have scared the crap out of me.
Even with noise-canceling on, I usually hear the click-clacking of my dog’s nails on the hardwood or my girlfriend’s voice through the musical fog. Not so with the pen company’s sleek new MB 01 over-ears, which silence the world around you like they’re spewing a firetruck-load of black ink. Now, an unexpected hug or the sudden appearance of a giant drooling head has me leaping out of my chair.
I’ve tried nearly every reputable pair of cans around, and I’ve got to hand it to the newcomer. For sheer sound reduction, the MB 01 are the best noise-canceling headphones I’ve ever tested. They’re not without downsides—most notably, a $595 price tag—but if you’re after a comfortable, isolated, and great-sounding portable listening experience, Montblanc’s new headphones should be high on your list.
Most premium noise-canceling headphones are vanity products.
Beautiful, expensive models from brands like Master & Dynamic, Bang & Olufson, or Bowers & Wilkins are all totally great headphones, but they’ve got something besides ampersands in common: Sony and Bose make better headphones for less. The longtime leaders in noise-canceling have cheaper models with better noise reduction, excellent sound, and a better user experience, and they don’t look half bad, either.
I find myself most impressed by all the things you can only feel on the MB 01. I love how the oversize ear cups grasp my head like two rounded hands, and how the aluminum headphones are light as a feather. You could write a dissertation on the headband alone. It’s so well padded that it’s comfortable to listen to the headphones with a hat on and light enough that it doesn’t weigh on your head.
The designers at Montblanc clearly spent a good amount of time on the appearance itself, too. You get sleek metal-and-leather construction and a beautiful cap-top logo you’d expect from the fat cat pen company. The MB 01 are every bit as pretty as $600 headphones should be, but every bit as forgettable as anyone who can afford them really wants to look while traveling.
There are physical buttons (still better than touch controls in nearly every instance) on the outside of the right ear cup that let you easily turn noise canceling on or off, pull up Google Assistant (when connected to an Android phone), or change the volume. My favorite button is none of those. Instead, I’m partial to a massive one that’s hidden under the center of the right ear cup for playing and pausing music. Given just how quiet the headphones make your surroundings, I pressed it a lot.
The one piece of tech I’m surprised to not see on headphones of this caliber? Head sensing, a feature found in Sony and Bose models that allows music to automatically play when the headphones are on your head and pause when they’re resting around your neck. The 20 hours of included battery life isn’t as high as Sony or Bose either, but it’s more than enough for most people, and quick USB-C charging makes it a nonissue.
I would also like a version where the metallic accents on the headphones are matte instead of shiny metal. Surely even wealthy pen enthusiasts have fingerprints.
Sound in Silence
The MB 01 get as quiet as noise-canceling headphones can go. You won’t hear your HVAC, your lawn-mowing neighbors, or the annoying conversation about politics that’s happening at the coffee shop table next to you—if you’re still going out in public (maybe reconsider!).
They do a lot with that silence. The angled, 40-mm dynamic drivers inside the ear cups got the once over from acclaimed engineer Alex Rosson—who esoteric audio nerds will recognize as the cofounder of headphone brand Audeze. I don’t know what magic fairy dust Rosson has coating his eardrums, but the MB 01 sound amazing.
The headphones are bold and powerful down low, with warm guitar tones and low pianos that ring out a bit thicker than usual, but find themselves balanced by a pleasantly crisp bite in the highs. The MB 01 sound clearer and warmer than Bose’s headphones and are more fun to listen to than the Sony WH-1000XM3 because of an insanely wide sound stage. Like the Sony model, they do AptX HD, for the best possible sound over Bluetooth.
When I’m listening to Sunbathe’s Can’t Be Sure, the vocals feel like they’re reaching out to the corners of my room. That’s especially impressive considering how restricted noise-canceling headphones can feel for bigger, more live, mixes—a downside of the way these types of headphones listen to and isolate the outside world.
Sign Me Up
It doesn’t surprise me that a company with a place in the hand of CEOs, politicians, and industry leaders around the world would want a place near their ears. What surprises me is how well Montblanc has done in getting there on its first try.
Comfortable, stylish, whisper-quiet, and fantastic sounding, the MB 01 are not just a good pair of premium noise-canceling headphones. They are genuinely a Rolls Royce for the ears. And just like cars or pens, you can have them in multiple colors.