The MJ2 came to me by way of an industry recommendation to try out their new line of “Electrostatz” headphones recently launched under the Mitchell & Johnson brand for $499.99 and sporting some interesting designs cue using a healthy mix of wood and steel.
For those not familiar with the name technically Mitchell & Johnson invested into the original designer of the MJ2, Verisonix and previously the MJ2 was known as the N501. I am not quite sure if anything has changed other than the branding given the specs and contents look largely the same but for sure the M&J network will give this unique headphone a much bigger platform and distributing network opportunity for more people to hear it.
What Is The Pitch?
Old School, New School
And hear it they should because of the hybrid technology it uses which will give you a taste of that electrostatic sound without the need for an electrostatic amp. How is that possible without an amp? Well, technically the MJ2 is what they call an electret headphone. This is old school new school technology in many ways because AKG tried it with their AK340 many years ago but since dropped the concept and only recently, with the Enigma Dharma headphone, have we seen the return of this concept.
An electret driver pretty much operates on the same principle as an electrostatic driver except rather than receive a charge via an amp the electret driver is permanently charged using a special diaphragm that can store and utilize this charge in everyday use. Built in tiny step-up transformers is the key to allowing electrets work from normal voltage amps typically used by dynamic and planar headphones and break free from the electrostatic amp setup.
In years gone by electret headphones were seen as the poor man’s stats and to be truthful quite a few of them failed to make the mark quality wise as well as requiring fairly powerful amps. What is interesting in the MJ2 pitch is that this particular headphone has been deemed to be of high enough quality to have attained the Japan Audio Society’s seal of approval, hence the “Hi-Res” audio sticker you will see on the front of the box.
The MJ2 is also pitched to the mobile user, more so than the Dharma. It is closed, foldable and quite compact and its ratings make it fairly easy to drive. For those who want a taste of what stats can do or a high-quality electret then the MJ2’s mid-fi price point and general all round mobility may well place it in an entirely unique position in the market today.
The hybrid MJ2 is a closed large supraaural headphone designed for portable and home use. It contains a single electret driver and a more traditional 40mm dynamic driver in each cup. It is a dual cup detachable build with an inward folding mechanism that enables the MJ2 to fold nice and neat into a small carry case although they are not designed to swivel or to fold flat.
The cups are carved out of an attractive and light colored and rectangular shaped cherry wood enclosure. The grain is actually very well done, nothing too asymmetrical or knot-riven with smooth cornering and a healthy dose of protective lacquer. It is unlikely you will see these cups split even in humid conditions. The Mitchell & Johnson logo is elegantly etched right into the wood on the front of the cups. Despite the cups having a fairly thick looking physical appearance they are fairly light in the hand also adding to the portability appeal of this headphone.
The MJ2 gimbals are made from a lightweight metal alloy held firmly in place with 4 tiny screws (2 a side) and flow into a headband design very similar to that of the Oppo PM series with its uniband structure, simple leatherette covering and lightweight padding underneath the leatherette materials. The gimbal movement is fluid and thankfully creak free given this is one of the major selling points being able to fold the MJ2.
The headband itself is not 100% rigid, there is a degree of flex there to comfortable fit and shape around different head sizes. The headband is adjustable on notched sliders either side. Though there is not a huge amount of bite in the notches but I can’t see them accidentally sliding during use; they seem to stay fairly well in place.
Comfort & Fit
The MJ2 uses a leatherette rectangular shaped set of pads which are reasonably soft and comfortable as well as giving a good seal around the ear. They do sit more on your ear hence I would classify them as supraaural in design. They are not quite as isolating as Oppo’s PM series pads nor are they as deep as MrSpeakers lambskin pads but they are superior to Meze’s 99 Classic MK1 one pads which are thinner and not quite as comfortable. The passive isolation on the pads though is pretty good for a decent closed on-ear headphone system.
Comfort wise the clamp is good, not overly cooked or too loose. Pressure distribution is not 100% even though this may depend on your head shape and size. For my head, there is a small amount of dominant downward pressure over sideways clamping pressure which has the effect of that “about to slide down” feeling on the cups. There is a single pressure point on the top of the headband that is fairly focused for me also rather than spread over the scalp.
Or should I say cable? From what I gather the N501 (previous edition under Verisonix) did come with 2 cables; one short and one long. Now the feedback was not so hot on the long one and it seems to have been dropped from the MJ2 package. If anything, this makes the MJ2 almost 100% for portability since the short one is, well, rather short.
It is though a well-made cable with a high-quality woven cloth finish, rock solid strain relief and a tank like y-split. The terminations are a 3.5mm stereo gold plated straight plug at one end and a dual entry 3.5mm TRS jack system for attaching to the Mj2 at the base of the cups.
The cables are bi-directional, there are no l/r labels on the connectors, just pop them in any way you like and it will take the signal in the right manner. That is a boon for late-night low-lit conditions and saves a lot of time fiddling to find which is which. The cups themselves are clearly labeled left and right so you will not mix that up when putting them on.
Accessories & Packaging
The physical presentation is well thought out, attractive and professional looking. You do not get the Mj2 wrapped in a mix of crude plastic and cardboard.
Opening up the fairly a sturdy box you get presented with a compact semi-stiffened zipper case holding the headphones themselves on top of a presentation satin cloth bed. Inside you receive the detachable short nylon cable, a gold plated quarter jack adapter as well as an additional airline adapter as a further nod to the portability scenarios for the MJ2.
Shy of a second cable or some sort of fold out headphone stand (MrSpeakers Alpha Dogs style) most of the bases for a headphone package is covered.
Tonality & Presentation
Apart from a minor lift in the low-end throwing over a very tiny element of warmth the MJ2 has a neutral and tight presentation. It is also an incredibly controlled and quick-paced presentation as you would expect from that charged little electret driver.
If you are coming from a purely electrostatic driver experience there are some similarities particularly in the level of mid to treble detail and that lovely sparkle that’s incredibly sibilant free. The top end extension is outstanding yet never strikes me as overly forward or harsh. Vocals are neutral but controlled and accurate sounding and imaging is really pin point even if the staging is not the most expansive.
It is that effortless presentation and clarity that always gets me with stats presentations. You get the detail, you get the incredible articulation but it never feels forced and “driven”. Those looking for a ‘whoosh of air’ or a heavy emphasis on the fundamentals may find the tonal presentation of the MJ2 to lack a little in terms of power and weight. The dynamic driver does seem to be tuned in keeping with the rest of the FR so it is not too heavy handed and stays fairly coherent allowing the mids to treble to shine.
Bass on the MJ2 has a touch of warmth to it around 100hZ but otherwise, it is relatively polite in terms of weight and presence. The 40mm driver is nicely balanced though offering neither a long decay or sharp attack so I wouldn’t consider it lean or edgy sounding. This is not a headphone for heavy-handed power driven rock and beats based EDM though. It will give you sub-terranean reach nor the impact required so you may find the signature is missing a bit of power as a result of that relatively flat response curve.
However, the small amount of bass elevation does ensure the signature is relatively full-sounding with just enough boost in the fundamentals for instruments to sound natural and accurate. As such it stays relatively tight and coherent sounding, pleasingly musical with good separation and control. What you lose in power you gain in speed and the dynamic driver seems to have been picked and tuned to get as much articulation out of it as possible.
Mids on the MJ2 remain neutral but quick, detailed and impressively controlled right throughout. Imaging is most impressive and whilst I wouldn’t describe it as the most spacious being more center-focused it does handle spatial cues incredibly well.
To paint a metaphor, it is like professional tap dancer operating on a few square foot of space; you won’t see the feet go everywhere, things can get very complex but you can pick out each tap succinctly and clearly. So long as the music is not badly compressed the transient response of the MJ2 relative to the energy of the tracks being played are excellent and very close to an ideal electrostatic speaker.
Particular mention must go to the excellent levels of micro detail and resolution from the MJ2’s instrumental reproduction in tandem with the transient response and imaging. All of which provides for an immersive experience that is above par for a closed headphone.
Vocals, whilst neutral and not that far forward have superb control for both male and female vocals with decent space to breathe. They do not have the thickest sound but they come across as accurate and most importantly not a sibilant tone to be seen anywhere between 1 – 4k.
The secret sauce so to speak and the kind of treble that I do wish could be replicated across other driver technology. It’s not bright, fairly neutral actually, but is so very well extended, articulate and with a finely balanced attack and decay that makes it fantastic listening experience. It is a taste of what a full blown electrostatic experience can offer over and above dynamic and planar technology.
All too often I get an artificially boosted treble response designed to convince you off a clarity and level of detail that is not always there. Not so with the Mj2. It really doesn’t sound bright at all despite the outstanding clarity and tempo of its treble signature. There is no real need to roll off this driver either so you will get that hi-fi sparkle and plenty of precision in percussion attacks and synth waves. What you do not get is any hint of grain, peakiness or an edgy metallic sheen on leading edges. The balance is just excellent for my tastes.
Page 2: Matching & Comparisons