Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: Marshall matches its ability to make design look cool with audio quality that offers far more flexibility for all musical tastes. Their excellent performance is subdued by middling battery life, which means you'll be putting them back in their case often.
Excellent sound profile
Decent ANC and ambient sound
Nice retro design
Solid app support
Good call quality
Mediocre battery life
EQ needs to be more customizable
A shame there aren't other colors
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The Marshall brand long stood out in the music industry as an amp manufacturer, and since branching out into wireless speakers and headphones, it's tried to find its footing. Much of that centers on matching the company's design heritage with modern tech, and that's one way to describe what the Motif ANC earbuds are all about.
They are the brand's premium wireless earbuds under a partnership with Swedish manufacturer Zound Industries, the same guys who also make Urbanears and Adidas headphones. The Motif ANC are the more feature-rich option than Marshall's less expensive Minor III and clearly the better option of the two.
Marshall Motif ANC: Price and availability
Marshall launched the Motif ANC in September 2021, making them available for $199.99. These are the current flagship earbuds for the company, so price drops probably won't happen until some time has passed. They've been hit with supply issues as well, making their availability somewhat volatile. They also only come in black, and there are no other variants.
Marshall Motif ANC: What's good
As much as I liked how Marshall designed the Minor III, I felt the same way with the Motif ANC. Retro and textured builds aren't always easy to find with wireless earbuds, but they just stand out more when done right. The case looks slick and is small enough to compare to others regarding how pocket-friendly it is. Unfortunately, it isn't flat enough at the bottom to stand up on its own, but that's just me being particular.
Like the Minor III, the Motif ANC use a stem design, though they differ significantly in fit and comfort. Marshall wisely went with silicone ear tips to enable you to find the fit that works best for you. The Minor III use an open-fit design a la the regular AirPods that just don't allow every pair of ears to truly hear what they're capable of producing. Since fit and a tight seal are critical to getting a balanced soundstage, the Motif ANC offers a better chance of getting there.
The results really do speak for themselves. On paper, you would think the 6mm drivers in the Motif ANC are inferior to the 12mm drivers in the Minor III, but that's simply not the case because of how they respectively fit. Not to mention, these earbuds have the advantage of including active noise cancelation (ANC). What impressed me from the outset was how crisp and resonant playback was by default. With a good seal, I could hear the bass, which wasn't overpowering, but clearly audible, in any case.
As I fully expected going in, the default sound works best with genres that do better when the bass isn't rumbling like crazy. Think anything heavy on guitars, strings, horns, or woodwind instruments. These all sounded great without me having to really tweak anything, though I did find a slight imbalance for my tastes. To remedy that, I turned to Marshall's app and equalizer to fine-tune things.
The app offers six EQ presets, though you only have three you can flip through at any given time. The first is Marshall's own sound signature, which you can't change. The other two are up to you, and you can change them anytime you want. Unfortunately, there's no way to customize and create your own, which is the one audio limitation that doesn't make sense for a pair of earbuds at this price.
Yes, the Motif ANC sounded good, even when I did select other presets, but I would've liked being able to establish my own based on what I felt sounded best for my ears. The good news is that you may not need to rely on the EQ as much if you like what Marshall engineered here from the start. Playing around with the tools available may yet yield the audio standard you're looking for.
The app does offer some other bits to work with. Touch controls are already responsive, though you do get some limited choices to customize them. For example, tap either earbud to play or pause music. You can also double-tap to skip a track. Triple-tap to repeat one. Press and hold the left to toggle through ANC and Transparency (ambient mode), where you also have the option to turn both off. If you prefer to only toggle through the two particular modes, you can do that, too. Finally, press and hold the right earbud to cycle through the three EQ presets. The only other option is to use either bud to wake your phone's voice assistant. Under the default layout, though, there's no way to do that unless you give up the noise control or EQ shortcuts.
Phone calls come through nice and clear, with the onboard mics doing a good job keeping voices from drowning out. You can use one of the buds in mono when necessary, and Transparency works fine for hearing and talking to someone without removing either bud. If you do remove either one from your ear, playback immediately pauses. When you put it back and it resumes.
The Bluetooth 5.2 connection held steady during my time testing the Motif ANC. I got used to walking around at home with the phone charging somewhere else, either listening to tunes or chatting during a call.
Marshall Motif ANC: What's not good
I'm noticing a trend whereby some manufacturers are now stating battery life based on what the case can deliver, but that's not the metric that matters most. It's how long the earbuds last per charge, and in that regard, the Motif ANC are mediocre. At up to 4.5 hours per charge with ANC on, they're on the lower end of the totem pole, especially since you're only ever going to come close to that number at 50% volume. Raise it, and four hours is probably your highest ceiling.
ANC is OK, though it won't match the level we've seen from comparable earbuds in the same price and class. I didn't find it bad, mind you, just not exceptional in any way. Transparency is also fine, though there's nothing remarkable about how well it performs, either.
If you keep ANC off, you can go up to six hours, which I suppose is more respectable, but why wouldn't you cancel out noise when you have the chance? The case offers another three charges, which is adequate, and it does support wireless charging as a bonus.
There's not a whole lot of ruggedness going on here, so take that IPX5 rating seriously enough to avoid water. Could you work out wearing these? Sure, but only if you clean and wipe them down each time because they're not necessarily built for sweat.
And lastly, while I realize this is more a matter of subjective taste, I did wonder what these might have looked like with different colors. The design is so nice that a couple of variants would have added some, well, color to Marshall's lineup. It has done it before with speakers, so it will be interesting to see if earbuds get that treatment at some point.
Marshall Motif ANC: Competition
The Motif ANC are certainly not some cheap AirPods clones, but rather a solid pair of earbuds that can compete with others. The thing is, competition is fierce when looking at the full slate that's out there. The best wireless earbuds include several choices that are either the same price or even lower. Others offer better audio quality and customization.
It's hard to pass on the Jabra Elite 7 Pro when they cost the same and do so well in so many ways. While they won't win in a head-to-head on design, the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro are cheaper and sound great, with more custom features coming from Anker's Soundcore app. If sound quality is your main consideration, the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless could be an interesting alternative.
Marshall Motif ANC Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You hate dangling cables
- You care about audio fidelity for specific genres
- You prefer to have ear tips
- You want active noise cancelation
You shouldn't buy this if ...
- You want better battery life
- You want a more custom EQ
- You want more durability
- You can get more for less money
There's no question Marshall isn't lacking on aesthetics with the Motif ANC. They're nice earbuds, and despite not having color options, they fit right in with just anything in any situation. Audio playback is excellent, the fit is comfortable, and app support is reliable. It's just unfortunate that they don't last longer per charge, or at least offer a more custom set of tools in the app. These are fast becoming standard with comparable earbuds, making the choice more difficult.
4 out of 5
You get a good experience with these earbuds, especially where it matters, and while there is a big price difference, the Motif ANC are a better value than the Minor III are. So if you like Marshall for whatever reason and want to plug your ears with its earbuds, your best bet is to go with the Motif ANC.
Marshall Motif ANC
A whole new Motif
Marshall takes its earbuds into a crowded market of tough competitors, yet the Motif ANC hold their own by sounding right and feeling good. You get noise cancelation and ambient modes to drown things out or stay aware, but you will have to do all those good things with below-average battery life.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.