Review: Marshall’s Motif ANC Earbuds Offer Robust Sound and a Great Fit (And They’re on Sale)

Aesthetically and sonically sound, these noise-cancelling earbuds don’t always connect

Marshall’s Motif ANC Earbuds on a multicolored background
Marshall/Getty Images

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Besides the brand’s heritage, Marshall’s biggest strength when it comes to personal audio is their style.

As we’ve noted before, their speakers and headphones are based — both in aesthetics and sound — on the brand’s iconic guitar amps. So their headphones are crafted from black vinyl, solid metal hinges and brass details. Very retro, but also timelessly cool — and the brains and features have stayed in the present.

Things get a little dicier when it comes to earbuds. Obviously, they’re small — while Marshall’s buds feature a similar black/brass colorway and an “M” cursive logo, from a distance you may not notice how these are any different from any other stubby black earbuds.

So we thought they’d have to really make up for their lack of obvious aesthetic appeal via sound. But if you spend a few weeks with the legacy brand’s Motif ANC earbuds — and some time with the minimalist Minor III buds — you’ll start to notice what connects these small ear speakers to Marshall’s more prominent audio gear. 

We spent some time with both in our office, on a plane, in a subway and even during some workouts. Our thoughts below on the Motif ANC, which is the more premium edition and one most likely to appeal to you sonically and aesthetically. 

Setting up: Don’t do what I did and ignore the Marshall app. Sure, you’ll easily be able to connect to your device via Bluetooth, but your sound options and controls will be severely limited, at least when you first start.

It took a bit to download the recent version of the app and some new firmware, and then get a stable connection to the earbuds (you’ll want to keep the Motif case open and press the Bluetooth button on front until you see a blue light). After a day or so of issues, we had a fairly consistent connection — and that app is going to be important.

The specs:

The Motif arrives with the earbuds, a wireless charging case, three sizes of eartips, a USB-C charging cable and a quick start guide.

  • Weight: 0.15 oz (earbud), 1.39 oz (case)
  • Playing time: 4.5 hours per charge with ANC, 20 hours with case (6 and 26 if you’re not using active noise cancellation)
  • Water resistance: IPX5 (earbuds), IPX4 (case) 
  • Bluetooth: 5.2, range of 10m

What works:

  • Surprisingly, these were some of the best fitting earbuds we’ve ever used. They never felt loose and even stayed in during workouts.
  • The app’s Equaliser provided a lot of options, and you can work between three presets on the earbuds if you don’t want to keep going back to your phone. When you find a setting you like, you’ll get a punchy, expansive and very clear sound. Easily some of the best-sounding earbuds we’ve used.

What kind of works:

  • Again, it’s hard to notice, but the scratch-proof case and the stem of the earbuds feel rugged like the skin of a Marshall speaker. Many earbuds feel plastic-y; these have a nice tactile sensation.
  • The active noise cancellation will never get to a level of Bose; we still heard enough while in ANC mode that we might not recommend this for flying. But the sound in this mode itself is robust; it might be the first earbuds where I’d say I prefer the audio in noise-cancellation mode rather than the standard setting (which also sounds great). 
  • You can customize the touch controls on the app, which is nice if you really want the left and right buds to correspond to a specific action.
Marshall Motif ANC earbuds, close up
A close-up look at the Marshall Motif ANC earbuds

What needs work:

  • Limited sample size, but our attempt at using the Motif during calls failed; the people we were speaking with thought the connection sounded weak.
  • The “touch-sensitive” earbud controls were hit or miss depending on what we were trying to do. After two weeks, I never settled on exactly where to press, for how long and with what pressure. 
  • Transparency mode technically works — you’ll definitely hear everyone and everything around you — but it so diluted the quality of the audio and overall volume enough that it wasn’t a pleasant listening experience. Music sounded airy and distant. You’ll be fine and no bus is going to hit you if you simply keep the enhanced audio option to “off.”
  • I’ve mentioned this before on Marshall products, but while the app allows you to adjust noise cancellation and transparency between 0-100% (in ten percent increments), I didn’t notice much difference except in the absolute extremes (like 10 vs. 100%)
  • The battery levels of the earbuds felt a bit random (e.g. one earbud was suddenly at 0%. I took it out, put it in the case and reinserted, and it was at 95%, while the other stayed at 100%.) As well, the app didn’t always want to connect without some fidding; as I’m typing this, the Equaliser itself just stopped loading. A software update may very well fix these inconveniences.

Note: The Minor III is pretty aesthetically similar to the Motif, but the overall experience is minimalist. No ANC, no app integration. Basically, you’re getting a bare bones set of black earbuds that’ll get you up to 25 hours of listening time (for a more modest price, at $120). If the frustrations we had with the app are making you hesitant, this is a strong earbuds option that requires little thought; it’s a nice grab-and-go option. 

What others are saying:

3.5/5. Marshall’s earbuds have some crucial flaws, in particular on the comfort side of things, that hold them back and make alternative choices a good chunk more attractive at this price. — Pocket-lint

4/5. — The Marshall Motif A.N.C. does a fine job of blending hallmark sound with modern features, granted it could benefit from longer playtimes. — Laptop

Amongst the latest from Klipsch, Anker, and even Apple that I’ve tried this year, there’s nothing that has quite the same balance across the soundstage as the Marshall Motif ANC. — 9to5Toys

What we’re saying: When the app worked and connected properly — and we were listening to music in noise-cancelling mode — the Motif was an excellent-sounding option for both podcasts and music. We do wish both the app and touch controls were more seamless. 

Where to buy: Though it goes in and out of stock quickly, you can find the Motif earbuds for $200 at Marshall’s site, but they’re currently discounted to $180.

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