Master Art of Sounds (MAS, for short) are a Taiwanese company newcomer to the audio stadium who have just introduced their $150 New York on-ear headphone and $80 optional Bluetooth adapter called the Duo. The portable market seems stuck at the moment and absent any proper deals for us to enjoy, so let’s dive right in and see what this headphone is like and hope for a positive outcome.
Design and Build
Ok, well…if any of you know me at all, you should be aware that my biggest pet peeve is bad headband design. This New York model, which I’ll refer to as NY from here on for time’s sake, is of an on-ear design that tacked on a huge headband, at least in comparison to headphones that are very well conforming to the shape of the human head. The large, half circle design is undesirable and makes me look like a satellite dish outside, I refuse to wear it in public. That is, of course, entirely subjective and just my opinion.
Beyond that, the padding on the underside of the headband is very stiff and firm, offering very little in the way of plushness and comfort. Thank the audio deities that the ear pads are fantastic and reminiscent of the Oppo PM-series pads that were perforated, sexy and very soft. The actual build of the unit is very good, offering a solid metal bar in the headband area and fingerprint resistant earcups. No creaking or cheap feeling parts anywhere to be felt on this product.
I am going to beg. I know it won’t matter and not a single company will listen to me. But, I am going to continue begging just as I always do to end the usage of microphone cables on these portable headphones. The terminations of these adapters do not work with standard amplifiers and I am forced to use an absurd combination of adapters just so I can use the NY on a nicer, normal headphone amplifier.
Cell phones and portable music players work fine with these cables, larger amps do not. It is a termination pole thing and I just can’t stand it. Please, start including non-mic enabled cables with a standard 3.5mm terminated cable adapter. PLEASE. I can’t use this headphone on my Airist Heron 5, my Feliks Audio Elise or anything else really that is a full-size headphone amp without stress! This is a terrible idea to not include a normal, standard cable.
If you like the HD650 or any headphone with a moderate heft to the sound signature that is uncommonly thick for a Dynamic Driver, then you’ll really like this headphone’s physical presence factor. This model completely emaciates my ATH ESW9A, which was my go-to portable in the sub $200 tier. The NY has very good bass substance and midrange weight. Clearly, this headphone was tuned with a plentiful low-end at all times…perhaps too much, but more on that in a bit.
For now, the important thing to note is that the headphone feels great in terms of weight carried. Typically, Dynamic Driver headphones don’t carry this much heft to the majority of the experience. As a listener, you can feel the difference when you compare and contrast with a headphone with lesser substance factor: one feels thick, one may be lifeless, thin, emaciated. Undoubtedly, the NY is a headphone intended for musicality and purposely tuned to offer a thick, weighted feeling to the bass and onward into the midrange. Accuracy enthusiasts beware, this headphone is not made for you.
The low end is just a bit bloated and overly pronounced. Sadly, it is not at all well equipped to handle any bass boosting without committing suicide. So long as you leave EQ off on the low end, you’ll be fine and the set is enjoyable enough and plentiful down yonder with regard to quantity. Clarity and texture are the problems, as I’ve found it to portray a one-note type of an experience with bass sounding and feeling too much the same no matter what instrument or track with a bassy focus is playing.
The texture is fairly absent on that front and I’d much rather you opt for a Philips L or X series model instead of this is you want a sub $200 headphone with good bass. Just a small +3dB down below was enough to warp the bass experience for me. Testing beyond +3dB did not go well at all…and I usually keep my personal EQ settings at +5dB at all times.
The Bass end felt like it was huffing and puffing. By that, I mean that the low end is bloomed and unresponsive to very deep bass tracks. Overblown might be a better term to use. However, for tracks that aren’t very bass heavy and that may be more linear, or relatively absent bassy tendency, this model does alright and you’ll not notice.
For Classical needs and maybe even some rock or pop genres, where bass-light experiences are the norm, I might recommend you give this model a try. I realize it is unfair, but swapping quickly between this headphone and my Massdrop HD6xx (HD650) showcases severe bloat and muddiness when the track is moderate to heavy on the bass.
The clarity differential between the two is significant and I am not sure that is okay, even for a $150 closed back being compared to one of the best open backs in the middle tier that has ever been produced. I used the HD650 here as a benchmark, due to the fact that I felt like the presentation and tone in terms of physicality were similar to the MAS NY. I hoped the bass end of the MAS NY would hold up against some of the nicer sub $200 headphones out there now, but it really doesn’t offer as much clarity as I hoped for at $150.
The reason I might recommend it is because the midrange of this headphone is much better than the treble and bass experience, it really sets itself apart from the bass…again, so long as you aren’t using an EQ on the lower ends of the spectrum. Vocals on the NY are pretty good for the price and on “vocal only” tracks with just an artist singing, this headphone showcases a superior clarity and realism factor over my ESW9A.
The truth is that this headphone has issues with the upper midrange, but for the most part, the central areas of the frequency response are good and plenty enjoyable. The upper midrange is a problem. This is one of the most nasal sounding headphones I’ve heard in a while. It isn’t sibilant, it is just odd and very audibly poorly measured in this area between the midrange and the lower reaches of the headphones treble response area.
Overly hazy for this price and in comparison to the excellent treble masters in this tier, at least in my opinion and for this price. My Fidelio L2 from a few years ago sounds superior up top in overall fidelity. Is it fair to judge a good on-ear with a very good over-ear though? I’ll leave that up to you. I simply do not have any on ears that sound that unclear up top. My ESW series and other models are either superior (the ESW11LTD, FIIL on-ear etc) or just don’t have nearly as much treble (ESW10JPN and ESW9A) as the MAS NY.
Comparing directly to the $200US FIIL Wireless on-ear that I reviewed recently, the MAS NY seems less clean and clear, but more pronounced with a higher substance factor. The FIIL feels thinner all around, less heft, less engagement than the NY. Is that a good thing? Well, no. Not really. The FIIL is the more enjoyable of the two and I can’t really say much good about the top end of the MAS NY. It is certainly nowhere near the worst sounding I’ve heard in this price tier, but it leaves much to be desired.
I feel like I am being moderately forgiving on this, but my ears pick up the upper end of this headphone as if we are in a gray area of quality: it is neither very good nor bad. It seems just okay, nothing special and not comparable to other models out there with a very good treble experience in this price tier. I hate to bring it up, but the AKG Tiesto K267 is still offering the best treble in the sub $200 world, at least in my view. This MAS NY doesn’t even come close to the luster, the style, and elegance that the K267 has. Swapping between them as fast as I can on the same track, there is an instant drop off in quality in the MAS NY.
This headphone could very well have the largest and most spacious stage in an on-ear that I am aware of. Dang, that is nice. Effortless, natural in feel and physical setup, plentiful height and width, as well as the depth of field. The realism factor in terms of placement and separation of instruments is excellent. No doubt about it.
Previously, the biggest sounding on-ear I’d ever heard was the ATH ESW11LTD, but this NY MAS destroys that 11LTD with sheer vastness. No, it isn’t as good as a full size, of course, but for an on-ear? This is an excellent choice for anyone who desires big staging qualities in an on-ear. The FIIL Wireless (the full size, not the on-ear) is actually smaller sounding than this MAS NY. Very good sound staging and stage presence here on this headphone!
The Duo Bluetooth Adapter
For an extra $80, you can purchase MAS’s BT dongle and cable, which replaces the stock cable for more portability. I have had nothing but connection and static issues with this dongle. I wish I could say more about its maxed out potential for clarity, I’ve just never been able to hear it without static in the background.
By comparison, the FIIL Wireless and other BT headphones have an internal BT function, which does not require any add-on or extra cable with a box attached to it as this MAS NY does. My experiences are vividly negative with this adapter cable, as I was unable to get a clean sound out of any BT source…which means the adapter cable is problematic. Also…it is cumbersome and floppy as well.
That last part is subjective, I suppose there are lots of users out there who want that type of a cable behind their neck on a portable headphone? I don’t know any, but I am sure they are out there, somewhere.
Oh, boy. Well, this headphone has great midrange, excellent sound staging and build as well. The substance factor and tone is subjectively highly enjoyable for me and it really seems like a solid first attempt from a newbie company. With that said, the bass and treble quality need work. I hope the future brings a new version and I hope this company learns from this headphone and improves drastically down the road.
It is their first run product and it is very evident that they can achieve much more given proper time to retune and fix the problem areas, some tweaks here and there would have increased my overall opinion into a more positive light. For now, I say only opt for this is you want a massive stage in an on-ear, something that is affordable and has an excellent build that can be tossed in a bag often without worrying about damaging it.