Affordable. Can be used in wired, passive mode.
Not enough high-mid definition. Sounds different through audio cable.
- Bottom Line
The Mpow M3's most alluring feature is its price, but there are better-balanced Bluetooth headphones available for roughly the same amount.
Mpow's M3 Bluetooth headphones boast a familiar-looking design (think: Beats) and easy-to-operate on-ear controls for just $39.99. From an audio standpoint, they would benefit from more high-mid presence. They also have a different sound signature when you use the included cable instead of streaming via Bluetooth, which shouldn't happen. While the price is quite appealing, you don't have to spend much more to get better audio performance.
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As mentioned, the design of the M3 brings Beats to mind. The circumaural (over-ear) headphones fold down at hinges above the ear, the headband features a glossy coating (available in black, red, black-and-gray, or green), and the earpads and underside of the headband are generously cushioned.
On the right earcup's outer panel, there's a central multifunction button that controls playback, call management, and power/pairing. To the left and right of this are dedicated track navigation buttons, and above and below, volume up and down buttons, that work independently of, not in conjunction with, your mobile device's master volume levels.
The left earcup houses a connection for the included audio cable (which lacks an inline remote), allowing the headphones to be used in passive mode. Normally we'd be annoyed by the lack of an inline remote for the audio cable, but the fact there's a cable included at all is a plus in this price range. The right earcup houses the micro USB connection for the included charging cable. The headphones also ship with a drawstring velour-covered protective pouch.
The mic offers average intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could understand every word we recorded, but there were plenty of audio artifacts, making the recording sound fuzzy or distorted at times. This is, however, typical of most Bluetooth headphone mics.
Mpow rates the M3's battery life at roughly 13 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels. Charging time is about four hours.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the headphones deliver powerful low frequency response, and at top, unwise levels on both the M3 and our sound source, the iPhone 6s, the drivers did not distort. At more moderate listening levels, the lows still pack some punch, but there's a solid high frequency presence, as well, to balance things out somewhat.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track without much in the way of deep bass, gives us a better sense of the M3's sound signature. The drums on this track can sound unnaturally heavy and thunderous on bass-forward headphones; through the M3, the drums sound less bass heavy, and more natural or flat. Callahan's baritone vocals, however, seem to receive quite a bit of low-mid presence, almost pushing them into muddy territory. Thankfully, the M3 has some decent high-mid and high frequency presence, lending the vocals a little bit of treble edge and keeping the guitar's strums from disappearing in the mix. However, things are not as crisp or bright as they could be—the electric bass and the vocals have the most power, while the high-mids and highs seem to play a supporting role.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop gets less high-mid presence than we typically expect, and thus its attack is somewhat dulled. The loop's sustain, however, gets a beefed up presence in the lows, as do Callahan's vocals, so we can tell that the M3 tends to boost the lows and low-mids, while the sub-bass range gets less sculpting. The sub-bass synth hits on this track are less powerful than they are on heavily boosted headphones, and sound almost relegated to the background. It's all about the thump of the drum loop here—while the vocals are delivered cleanly and clearly, again, more high-mid presence would have gone a long way.
On orchestral mixes, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the lows and low-mids are boosted to a level that brings the lower register instrumentation forward in the mix. While the higher register brass, strings, and vocals still have a pleasant edge to them, they're missing the crispness that we typically hear on this track.
When listening with the included cable, the sub-bass response intensifies dramatically—to the point that the drums that sound flat on the Callahan track are suddenly thunderous. The high-mids aren't boosted however, so you're left with a fairly unbalanced frequency response. A dramatic change in sound signature like this shouldn't happen when you change input methods.
The Mpow M3 headphones are affordable and stream Bluetooth audio without issue. You also get passive listening using the included audio cable, which is a good deal for $40, even if the sound signature changes. We're not in love with the audio performance, however—better sound signatures can be found in the same general price range. Consider the House of Marley Rebel BT and Creative Sound Blaster Jam, or the pricier JBL E45BT and Skullcandy Grind Wireless. They're all Bluetooth models with plenty of boosting and sculpting, but most offer a bit more clarity in the high-mids in addition to the boosted lows.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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