Marshall Motif ANC review: Wireless earbuds…until you stop

The Marshall Motif ANC design is unique inside and out.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

In the world of wireless earbuds, Apple’s AirPods Pro hold the highest ratings. To compete, manufacturers often look at two paths: settling on a smaller market share through innovation and unique value propositions, and/or relying on brand identity to scale up a new product.

The Marshall Motif ANC earbuds cover a bit of both. Music lovers and rock fans can learn about the British music company Marshall Amplification. Famous for its leather-wrapped speakers and sound systems, with the Marshall name confidently on the front lines, the company’s latest entry into the true wireless earbuds market is aimed at satisfying listeners who crave its proven acoustic signature with unparalleled design.

At $199, the Motif ANC is priced competitively against the Apple AirPods Pro and other high-end earphones. But for a premium, it should look as good as it looks.

Like

  • Balanced sound right out of the box
  • Lightweight design that is comfortable on the ears
  • The companion app is very useful
  • Wireless charging

You do not like

  • Medium battery life
  • Mids can seem far
  • Equalizer settings are preset

Design

With true wireless earbuds, there are usually two stories to tell: the design of the case and what the earbuds look like.

At first glance, the Marshall Motif ANC case is bold, adventurous and connected to the brand. It’s covered in durable, all-black polyurethane (plastic) leather, similar to the finish of the Marshall woofers and tweeters. This provides protection from scratching the case and great grip (and character).

In the center of the cap is the iconic “Marshall” branding that, when raised, reveals the “1962” message. The company obviously wants you to know that while Tim Cook was still a young kid, Marshall actually started manufacturing audio products. Jokes aside, you wouldn’t be wrong if you assumed that the Motif ANC Case was an accessory for your Apple AirPods Pro.

In terms of dimensions, the two cases look very similar, as do the in-ear headphones. But unlike its competition, the Motif ANC earbuds have a sleek black finish, with a matrix design on the stems that prevents them from slipping off your ears. The touchpad on the surface of the earbuds can record single clicks, double clicks, and click and hold inputs. More on that later.

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The Motif ANC features an all-black design that pays tribute to Marshall’s leather-covered audio products.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

Weighing in at just 4.25 grams (0.15 ounces), the Motif ANC earbuds are lightweight and fit comfortably in my ears. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these are some of the most form-fitting earbuds I’ve tested, beating AirPods, Galaxy Buds, and Jabra Elites. From hours of listening to Lo-fi to my workout, I have not felt any pain or discomfort when using the earbuds.

To finish off the design elements, the case is IPX4 rated, which means it can take a splash of water from any direction. The earbuds have an IPX5 rating, making them resistant to low-pressure water (such as faucet, toilet, shower, etc.). There’s also a Bluetooth 5.2 pairing button on the front of the case and a USB-C charging port on the bottom.

performance

When testing the Marshall Motif ANC earbuds, I was naturally inclined towards the tunes of Scorpions and Radiohead, rock bands that deliver a complex but harmonious performance.

True to Marshall’s name, Motif ANC has an exceptionally well-balanced sound stage, with highs and lows that bring instrumental playing. During the introduction to “Rock You Like A Hurricane” I could hear and, more importantly, feel the song build up as percussion and guitar rise on the stage. In Radiohead’s “Creep” chorus, the chords of the background guitar are similarly distinguishable from the drums, in contrast to the crowded, unclear melody I’d normally hear with other earbuds. Out of the box, the high frequencies of the Motif ANC are crisp and clear, and the bass provides enough sound to get a vertical wobble.

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The Motif ANC earbuds are some of the most comfortable true wireless earbuds I’ve ever worn.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

Mediums, who are vocals, are great, but not perfect. In some cases, the sounds sound far away and are covered by musical instruments. My solution to this, as with other headphones, is to tweak the equalizer settings within the Marshall Bluetooth app. However, as a default, I think Motif ANC looks excellent and will be enjoyed by audiophiles and non-music lovers alike.

Also: the best bluetooth headphones

As the name suggests, Motif ANC has active noise cancellation, which is the same distraction-free technology found in AirPods Pro. By inverting external sound waves through the built-in microphones, the earbuds are able to block out ambient sounds such as birdsong, rain, and fans. While the majority of wireless earbuds under $100 now offer ANC, there is a noticeable difference between the price points. In the case of the $199 Marshall, passive white noise is almost silent, but very effective. As I strolled down my neighborhood driveway, the ANC did a reliable job of fading out my surroundings and keeping the music front and center.

In more crowded areas that require more auditory awareness, you can tap and hold on either earbud to switch between ANC, Transparency, and Normal modes. Transparency mode is best used when crossing streets or listening to the next stop on the subway. I often find the Transparency modes to be overly aggressive, and amplify the sounds to the point where it feels closer than it actually is. However, Motif ANC does a great job of keeping sounds natural and realistic.

Application and software

Like most companion software, the Marshall Bluetooth app — available on iOS and Android — gives you the ability to tweak your EQ settings, touch controls, ANC levels, and more.

While phones including Samsung and OnePlus have native equalizers, the ability to adjust frequency levels within the Marshall app is a nice plus. However, one of my problems with the software is that you can only choose from a pre-selected list of EQ profiles (Rock, Spoken, Pop, Hip-Hop, Electronic). There is also a default setting “Marshall” that has all the normal frequency levels. To my surprise, I found this to be the best sound.

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The Marshall Bluetooth app allows you to customize the sound and functionality of the earbuds.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

Besides basic features such as changing the functionality of touch inputs, the Marshall app carries some additional settings and quirks that greatly enhance the overall listening experience. One of them is the option to turn off interaction sounds, the beeps and beats that play when you tap or pair the earbuds. While some will find the audio feedback helpful, it was very irritating to my ears and made me groan whenever I interacted with the earbuds.

battery

Marshall rates the earbuds for 20 hours of battery life with the case and 4.5 hours independent. This doesn’t take into account ANC playback which, in my experience, puts a lot of weight on the earbuds’ endurance. While the battery life of the Marshall Motif ANC earbuds isn’t the best on the market, the three to four hours of music playback I got is similar to the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro, and should be enough for commutes, meetings, and workouts.

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Thanks to the charging case, Motif ANC can provide up to 20 hours of music playback.

Jun Wan / ZDNet

When you need to recharge, it takes about three hours for the Motif ANC to charge from 0% to 100%, and even longer if you’re using the wireless connection. The Marshall Bluetooth app also lets you switch between Eco Charging, which limits the earbuds’ charging to 80% to reduce battery degradation. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of ZDNet recently covered this phenomenon but using smartphones, which I highly recommend reading.

minimum

I came to this review with average expectations of Marshall Motif ANC and I finish with amazement. These true wireless earbuds offer all the basics you want from a high-end lineup, including active noise cancellation, excellent fit, comfort, full, rich sound quality, and a companion app that tightens any loose screws. If you can settle for average battery life and an undoubtedly hefty price tag, these earbuds are well worth checking out.

Alternatives to consider

Besides our list of best wireless earbuds, here are some worthy alternatives to Marshall Motif ANC:

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