The Marshall Motif II are an excellent pair of buds that play metal with some wonderful impact and clarity. They’re comfortable, block out enough noise, and look the part of the classic Marshall bud.
They look wicked
Incredible for heavier music
Lacking in sub-bass
ANC could be better
Touch controls remain a bugbear
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My first practice guitar practice amp was a Marshall. It had the gold trim, the leather-like outer skin, and the bronzed knobs. It sat front and center in my bedroom, plugged into a guitar that was shaped like a battleaxe, Its shimmering surface glinting in the sun. It was, for some time, my pride and joy — I have the softest spot of Marshall gear.
So you can imagine, when I got to try out some of Marshall's coolest tech, I was excited. One of the products I’ve been testing is the new Marshall Motif II, a pair of in-ear buds directly targeted at Apple’s AirPods Pro 2 with a similar feature set, form factor, and, crucially, a lower price.
But will they appeal to anyone but the rock-inclined of us?
Marshall Motif II: Price and availability
You can get the Marshall Motif II from most good retailers, such as Amazon and Best Buy. Stock seems good for the most part as well, with no supply issues as yet. The Marshall website also has them for sale, if you’d rather go straight to the source.
Price-wise, they come in under the AirPods Pro 2 at $199/£179. That is a very tempting price point, especially when you get them in hand.
Marshall Motif II: Build and fit
The Marshall Motif II have a case that’s about as close to the AirPods Pro 2 that you’ll find, apart from the material that’s used to make it. It’s that same smooth, oblong, albeit with a little inflation in all dimensions. That is, in my eyes, a very good thing — it slips into pockets without sticking out or jutting into your leg, and makes for a very nice feeling case in hand. It’s all covered with a kind of leather-feel coating, made to emulate the surface on Marshall amps. It’s got a nice bounce to it, a kind of softness, and it feels great in hand.
The buds themselves are small, black, and they look like more angular verisons of the AirPods. They are a little bigger than Apple’s buds, but the tip options mean that they slip very easily into the ear, and don’t fall out — even with the most rigorous of headbanging. They also feel premium. I really like the knurled stems that serve no practical purpose other than making them easier to take in and out, and I like the little ‘M’ on each bud.
They look more interesting than your standard buds as a result, and really stand out in a lineup when compared to the competition — just as you’d hope something from one of the biggest rock brands on the planet would.
Marshall Motif II: Features
There are the standard specs — 30 hours of battery life in total, 6 hours in each bud, wireless charging for the case, a quick charge option that gives you an hour of life with a quick 10-minute charge. You know, the usual. Those battery life claims in my experience have been accurate, and they’re pretty much par for the course compared to the competition. Turn ANC off, however, and that battery life jumps up to 9 hours, which is pretty stellar.
That ANC is better than you might expect, but just falls a little short of the AirPods Pro 2, the continued iMore noise canceling champion. They’re very good at blocking out the lower frequencies, but could be better at dealing with the higher: Things like voices still come through more than you might like. Play music on the bus, however, and you’ll not hear much of the outside world.
That ANC can be turned on and off with touch controls on the side of the buds, and while I’m not completely convinced, they are better than some. You can customize the long press which turns off noise canceling by default, and then there are other various combinations of taps to skip, play, and pause. Personally, I’d like to see a way to control the volume and change the noise canceling status, but that is not an option — it’s either or, unfortunately.
I’m not completely convinced by them because I still get loads of accidental taps when I adjust them in my ear. They’re better than some, but it’s a little irritating to adjust one only to pause the track, or turn noise cancelling on and off.
Those controls can be played around with in the Marshall Bluetooth app, which works well. There are sound profile options in here if you don’t like the way they come out of the box, as well as controls to adjust the strength of the noise canceling. You can also turn on the transparency mode, another new feature for the Motif II.
It works well too, using the microphones to pump the outside world into your headphones when needed — although it won’t do it automatically as some do. I have it set to change with a long press on the touch panel, switching between ANC and transparency, which seems to work well enough.
Marshall Motif II: Sound quality
The Motif II have an interesting sound signature, and one that’s not completely expected from Marshall. There’s the characteristic mid-range boost for vocals and guitars, but most of the warmth of the profile comes from an enhanced upper bass layer. Sub bass is present, but not overpowering, and the highs are more pronounced than you might expect from a Marshall product.
That means a sound profile that works best, as always for rock and metal, but one that also now excels for jazz and Classical music as well. For drum & bass, however, and other more sub-bass heavy arrangements, they’re not quite as strong. It’s a more colored sound signature than the likes of the AirPods Pro 2, but one that might be more pleasing for more people.
The rip-roaring Heartbreaker from Led Zepplin solidifies the Marshall Motif II as some seriously impressive rock buds, leading the charge with some wicked overdriven guitar. The cymbals sound great thanks to that reliance on the upper-register, and the rest of the kit is well represented by the rest of the signature. The guitar solo is, as you’d hope, a highlight here, with plenty of bite and presence to the screeching guitar.
Kendrick Lamar’s Swimming Pools does the opposite, and highlights some of the weaknesses of the sound signature. The bass doesn’t quite hit as well as you might hope, and the digital hi-hats are piercing and uncomfortable. It feels a little hollow all in, and while not horrific, it’s not particularly special.
Back to something good, however, and you’ll find the Marshalls truly at their strongest. Weirdly, something as unapproachable and lo-fi as extreme metal is a great way to get the best out of them, with Mayhem’s Freezing Moon as furious and off-putting as it should be. The guitars are cold, exacting, and emphasised by the upper-mid bias, while the drums are given a keen edge by the rest of the signature. It’s a great listen, and shows just how much a headphones performance can vary.
Marshall Motif II: Competition
There is a fair amount of competition for the Marshall Motif II. There’s Apple’s AirPods Pro 2, which bring better noise canceling and slightly superior sound for an increased cost. They are smaller as well, if you’ve got really small pockets. Some might also find the less intrusive fit of the AirPods to be superior as well, although your mileage may vary.
The Sony WF-1000XM5 are another option for the discerning listener, although we have yet to test them. Reviews around are good, however, but you’ll find that they cost a great deal more than the Marshalls at $299. Noise-canceling, most notably, will be the key difference here.
In the long run, however, if you’re looking for a pair of earbuds that are going to be at their best playing rock and metal, then you’re not going to find anything with the panache and fun of the Motif II.
Marshall Motif II: Should you buy these?
You should buy these if…
- You're a big listener to rock and metal
- You want some buds that look different
- You don't want AirPods
You shouldn't buy these if…
- You like Rap or bass-heavy tunes
- You want excellent noise canceling
- You want something simple looking
Marshall Motif II: Verdict
I’ve come to love the Marshall Motif II in my testing time. I like the way they look, I like the way they sound, and I like the price point that they sit at. I do wonder if Marshall could have done more in terms of the noise-canceling performance, but then I play some of my favorite death metal, and my complaints melt away into a mire of roared vocals and heavily distorted guitars.
That’s not to say there’s nothing here for the fans of other genres — they’re built well, most music sounds good, and they look pretty cool with their fun-knurled stems. There is only one color option, however. “It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none.”
“None more black.”
Little black buds
The Marshall Motif II might not be the perfect buds for everyone, but for a slim subset they are pretty much spot on. Enjoy metal, rock or other guitar heavy genres? These are your buds.
As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.