Bottom line: The Marshall Mode II sounds fantastic and has a fair amount of customization, making them a pretty good pair of truly wireless headphones if you're in the market for some new ones.
Compact wireless charging
Lackluster Transparency mode
Subpar Bluetooth range
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When you hear Marshall, you likely think of guitar amps, bass pre-amps, or other musical equipment. After all, the British company got its start in the 60s trying to make amps for guitarists that were loud and "crunchy" sounding, but recently, Marshall has been dipping its toes in the consumer headphones market, with some success.
We reviewed the Marshall Monitor II ANC and liked them a fair amount. While Marshall's headphone lineup is small, it was missing something in the truly wireless earbuds space until now.
The Marshall Mode II is a brand new offering from the company and its first set of truly wireless earbuds. When I got the opportunity to review them, I was super intrigued to see what the company had come up with, especially in a space with so much competition. Is this competition for standard AirPods or more in the category of AirPods Pro?
Great sound and customization
Marshall Mode II Review: What I like
Much like a kid excited in a candy store, I ripped open the packaging to my Marshall Mode II's, put them in my ears, and blasted one of my favorite tunes. I was immediately impressed by the soundscape.
Overall, the earbuds sound very balanced. The bass is definitely tuned up a little bit, but not so much that it overpowers the mids or highs. The higher tones also don't sound distorted at high volumes, which means cranking your music up to 11 isn't going to be a problem. If you want a comparison, I would say that the Marshall Mode II sounds a bit better than your standard AirPods. Of course, some of that is likely attributed to the fantastic sound isolation you can achieve with the Marshall Mode II.
These buds don't have active noise cancelation (ANC), but thanks to their compact in-ear design, the sound isolation the Marshall Mode II achieves is amazing. It's pretty easy to tune out a fair amount of noise by throwing these earbuds in your ears and turning up the volume. If you're walking outside by a highway, you'll still hear the buzz of traffic but significantly reduced. However, if you're wearing them inside your office, I doubt you'd be able to hear your coworkers making noise in the background. Plus, all of this sound isolation comes comfortably because Marshall ships the Mode II's with four different sizes of ear tips. I did have to switch the tips to a slightly larger size, but I haven't had any problems leaving the earbuds in for hours once I did.
I'm also pretty in love with just how tiny and compact this case. It's much more compact than other wireless earbud cases I have used. It easily fits in a coin pocket in a pair of jeans, meaning finding somewhere to carry the charging case shouldn't be a problem for anyone. Plus, the case can be charged via USB-C or wireless Qi charging.
Lastly, let's talk about the style of the Marshall Mode II. Obviously, style is very subjective, but so many headphones look the same that I feel Marshall deserves some credit for sticking to their aesthetic. From the textured rubber-like material covering the charging case to the gold pairing button on the inside of the case, these earbuds match Marshall's signature look and feel. You may like that, or you may not — however, I think they added some unique touches. When you pair the headphones and you put them in your ear, you'll hear what sounds like a little guitar string, and when you activate the touch controls (which are pretty responsive in my testing), you'll hear a little muted guitar noise. Small things like that are just fun additions.
Transparent Transparency Mode
Marshall Mode II Review: What I don't like
I was excited to hear that Marshall included a Transparency Mode in these headphones — typically a feature you only get in the best noise-canceling headphones — because the sound isolation is excellent, so I can totally see the need to hear your surrounding when you have the Mode II's in your ears. Unfortunately, the Transparency Mode is pretty disappointing.
In my testing, the Transparency Mode was very temperamental. Sometimes it was tough to tell if it was on. Even though the earbuds make a noise in your ear when you activate Transparency Mode, it didn't seem to change anything. Other times, it made my music seem really thin and distant. And, believe it or not, sometimes it seemed to work how it's supposed to. Very odd. This could be a firmware issue, maybe, but at the very least, if transparency mode is something you care deeply about, I would pass on the Marshall Mode II.
I was happy to hear that Bluetooth 5.1 is what the Marshall Mode II's run on because, typically, that means better audio quality and much fewer hiccups in the connection. While I found the audio quality great and the connection pretty stable most of the time, the Marshall Mode II's seem to struggle with distance. If my iPhone was on my computer desk in the living room, and I walked down the hall to my bedroom, I would usually experience connection issues. Being indoors and with walls in the way is not the best test, but most other Bluetooth headphones I have owned have never had that problem.
The Marshall Mode II's are in an interesting place. If they truly want to be in the conversation with the best true wireless earbuds, they have some serious competition.
They have an IPX4 rating, much like the AirPods Pro, meaning you can get a little sweaty while wearing them, but the AirPods Pro has ANC, all the Apple-specific features, and a way better transparency mode. While they are about $80 cheaper, I'm not sure the AirPods Pro and the Marshall Mode II's are direct competition.
The Marshall Mode II's match up against the standard AirPods a little better. I believe the Marshall Mode II's have a better sound, and because of the Marshall app, you can also adjust the EQ to your liking, giving you more customization. Plus, with the compact in-ear design and the different silicone tips included, you can probably get these headphones to fit your ears much better.
Marshall Mode II Review: Should you buy
You should buy this if ...
You want customizable sound
The Marshall Mode II definitely has a signature soundstage. It's pretty balanced, but it definitely has some tuned-up bass and a bit of a "crunch" sound. It's great for lots of music styles — like rock, pop, electronic — but it could be slightly problematic for some softer music styles. The Marshall app does a great job of letting you adjust the EQ to your liking.
You want earbuds with good sound isolation
Not everyone needs ANC on their headphones, but good sound isolation is always a good thing. The Marshall Mode II has this in spades. They sound great and control sound bleeding really well because the different size tips let you find the right fit for your ears.
You like Marshall's style
If you like the way Marshall products look or feel like owning a pair of earbuds that look distinct, I can't think of a better pair than the Marshall Mode II. At the end of the day, functionality usually beats out style, but you can't deny that these earbuds don't have a unique flair.
You should not buy this if ...
You want a good Transparency Mode
I can't recommend these headphones to anyone looking for a good Transparency Mode, because in my experience, the Marshall Mode II's don't handle it very well. It works in a pinch most of the time, but if you want a reliable, consistent Transparency Mode, you'll need to look elsewhere.
These are a great pair of earbuds if you're in the market for a new pair and want something that has style and flair. They don't have ANC, and the Transparency Mode isn't anything to write home about. However, the sound is fantastic, and the customization is greatly appreciated.
The Marshall Mode II's are a pretty good pair of truly wireless earbuds. They have a distinct style, which you may or may not appreciate, but their overall performance is pretty great.
If you're looking for a pair of wireless earbuds that sound great, offer a little bit of water-resistance, and have EQ customization, the Marshall Mode II likely won't disappoint you.
It has some drawbacks, like the Transparency Mode being lackluster, and the Bluetooth range might be an issue if you often decided to drift from music source, but none of the problems are so bad that they are deal-breakers.
The battery life is pretty standard. The earbuds last five hours on their own, and the charging case holds about 20 hours worth of charge in it, for a total battery life of about 25 hours. That's pretty standard for the truly wireless earbuds market — a few models get more, but plently get less.
Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.