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Marshall Mode II review

The Marshall Mode II look and sound awesome, but could benefit from several improvements.

Marshall Mode II review
(Image: © Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

Our Verdict

Great in some areas, flawed in many others, the Marshall Mode II rely on audio and design to do all of the heavy lifting.

For

  • Cool nostalgic design
  • Exceptional audio performance
  • Companion app with sound customization
  • Handsome tiny charging case

Against

  • Disappointing battery life
  • Weak transparency mode
  • Poor touch controls

Marshall’s audio rollout has been consistent over the past year, bringing well-received wireless headphones to market, such as the Marshall Major IV and Monitor II A.N.C. It has taken the company a long time, but they finally made the transition into the true wireless space with the Mode II. Maintaining the attractive retro aesthetic of past Marshall products, as highlighted by the pebbled leather design and signature logo, these wireless earbuds produce some of the finest sound quality in the category. 

However, being fashionably late to the party means establishing a strong presence straight out of the gate. As great as the Mode II look and sound, imperfections like poor touch controls and weak battery life make top competitors (e.g., Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, Klipsch T5 II) in its price class more appealing. But, hey, if you’re a Marshall purist and want elite sound in a nostalgic package, these buds are worth checking out.

Marshall Mode II: Availability and price

The Marshall Mode II is currently available for $179 exclusively from Marshall. These buds are sold in one color: Black. Bundled with the purchase are a wireless charging case, four sets of ear tips in different sizes (S, M, L, XL), and a quick start guide.

Marshall Mode II: Design

The Mode II embodies Marshall’s design ethos of discrete, simple, and stylish. A small detail like the large white M is enough to make these buds distinctive in a crowd of dangling and flashy AirPods wannabes. The exterior is covered in an all-plastic casing with IPX4 water resistance, which is the same IPX rating as the AirPods Pro, though the Mode II’s rubberized finish fends off scratches and scuffs much better. Build quality is solid as well, reassuring you that the buds will not break into pieces when taking hard spills to the concrete.

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

I thought Klipsch had a striking charging case, but Marshall certainly gives its rival a run for its money. The Mode II’s charging case is lightweight (1.23 ounces) and super tiny for portable convenience. The buds are displayed beautifully when docked, and there is a shiny gold-plated button on the top right to enable manual pairing mode, along with a “brand established date” imprint on the inside lid. I also love the textured, leather-like finish that gives the case some premium swagger.

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

You’ll get some decent comfort out of the Mode II. The gel tips aren’t painful on the ears and the sound port doesn’t pierce the concha, unlike some of Marshall’s older earphones (direct your stares at the Minor II). I wore the buds for about 2 hours before experiencing any discomfort. 

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

Effort was required to establish a proper fit, and even when I felt the buds were stabilized on my ears, there was some slippage. Swapping out the tips didn’t help. This won’t be an issue for casual listening, but don’t for one second think that you can take these buds out for a jog.

Marshall Mode II: Controls and digital assistant

When examining the design, I questioned how well the touch controls would work on the Mode II. Well, my intuition was on point because they didn’t work well at all. Multi-tap and hold gestures weren’t responsive. In fact, it seemed like I could only execute the one-tap command (e.g., play/pause, answer/end call), and even then, it worked maybe 30% of the time. Rather than incessantly tapping the buds to stop music, I figured out that sliding my finger across the touch panel was a more effective input method, but that also required several attempts before the buds registered anything.

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

On-ear detection is available and accurate for the most part. Removing one bud puts the Mode II into mono mode, so you can still hear music from one earbud. Taking both out of your ears will automatically pause music. If it were possible, I would have assigned different controls to this function, but, sadly, the Mode II doesn’t offer any control customization at all.

Google Assistant and Siri are accessible, that way you can shout out voice commands and have your native AI bot execute daily tasks like creating calendar invites or voice-to-text messages. Both programs operated fast and answered inquiries as quickly as they received them. I was also impressed with speech recognition; Marshall’s mic array picked up my every syllable to clearly recognize requests. How often you’ll use it depends on whether you can activate the feature because, again, the touch controls aren’t reliable.

Marshall Mode II: Audio quality

If there is one thing Marshall often gets right with every new headphone release, it’s audio. The Mode II definitely shows out, giving you sound that doesn’t just outperform most competitors in the sub-luxury category, but also luxury models like the AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Frequencies are well-balanced, giving you an excellent mix of lows, mids, and highs that make recordings with complex arrangements pleasant to hear.

Listening to Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” put some pep in my dance steps. Marshall’s 6mm drivers gave boom and vibrance to the synth effects, while expanding the soundstage for the King of Pop to flex his vocal range without compromising clarity. The Mode II did a phenomenal job of reproducing subtle parts throughout the track, from the smooth guitar plucks to the skittering hi-hats.

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

Going the hard rock route, I put some Guns N’ Roses into the rotation and was shocked by how crisp Axl Rose’s long screeching howls and Slash’s soaring riffs sounded on “You Could Be Mine.” The Sony WF-1000xM3 and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro come to mind as having shown such sonic prowess, and both of those carry stronger specs, which is a testament to the Mode II’s audio performance. Listeners who enjoy older music genres won’t be disappointed either. Instruments are beautifully represented on Jazz classics like Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil,” which produced a serene blend of drums, horns, and piano play. 

In order to fully enjoy the sound, you need to be in quiet environments because the Mode II doesn’t provide the greatest noise isolation. I could hear my newborn fussing and crying, loudly, and that was with the buds at max volume. One positive is that they don’t leak sound, as my wife mentioned when I was blasting Thriller at my desk as she caught up on Wandavision.

Marshall Mode II: App and special features

The Marshall app isn’t loaded with features like the Anker Soundcore or Sony Headphones Connect apps, but it’s streamlined for audio enhancement, which is all it really needs to be. You’re given an equaliser, Transparency mode, firmware updates, battery level indicators for both buds, and a Find My Buds option.

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

The EQ is pretty extensive compared to other competitors. It provides access to the default EQ, along with two customizable profiles and six preprogrammed presets: Rock, Spoken, Pop, Hip-Hop, Electronic, and Jazz. You can’t go wrong sticking with Marshall’s EQ, but, man, you would be remiss to not try the others, as they’re all exceptionally well-engineered. The extra oomph that Hip-Hop delivers is ideal for urban music, while Electronic is superb at balancing out frequencies on EDM tracks. I feel Spoken is useful for podcasts and dialogue-heavy clips as well, though you may not notice a significant difference compared to Marshall’s EQ.

As far as Marshall’s ambient listening mode goes, it needs work. I love the adjustment slider, which makes it easier to gauge the level of external noises entering the soundscape, and I was able to hear street traffic well. Unfortunately, the feature is useless if you’re trying to have brief conversations without pausing or taking off the buds. I tested Transparency mode a few feet away from my wife and newborn and couldn’t hear one word she was saying. Mind you that this occurred at 100% transparency. Even our baby boy’s tantrums were inaudible. 

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

Active noise cancellation would have been greatly appreciated, especially since Marshall has the technology at its disposal. Knowing the brand’s release strategy, however, it’s almost a given that we’ll see the feature in a third-gen model (cough, the Mode ANC, cough).

Marshall Mode II: Battery life and charging case

Marshall rates battery life at 5 hours on a single charge. Lame. This places the Mode II in the same company as the standard AirPods (5 hours), and when factoring in power drainers (e.g., high volume, Transparency mode), playtime drops to 4.5 hours. What’s worse is that the buds don’t support quick charging; they can charge “to full from empty in 1 hour and 10 minutes.”

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

At least the charging case will help ease your low battery anxiety, holding up to 25 hours when fully charged. Do the math, and that equates to about 5 additional charges. I’m satisfied with this number, especially since it hovers around the same playtime as the AirPods charging case (24 hours). What’s even more satisfying is that this super-tiny case comes with wireless charging, so you can power the buds without being tethered to a power outlet; it will work with any Qi-enabled charging pad.

Marshall Mode II: Call quality and connectivity

In terms of call quality, the Mode II is a step down from Marshall’s previous offerings. I thought the Minor II was serviceable for phone calls, but the Mode II, not so much. My wife complained that my voice sounded hollow when taking her calls inside and muffled when talking outside. The mics picked up a lot of ambient noise, which was distracting during chats. You can use the buds for video conferencing, but any AirPods model or the T5 II is better suited for the job.

Marshall Mode II review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Laptop Magazine)

Bluetooth 5.1 is the wireless protocol of choice on the Mode II, though it is somewhat of a letdown. The buds did maintain a strong connection when within range. Unfortunately, that range was short, as stuttering occurred around the 30-foot mark, a shorter distance compared to other Bluetooth 5.1-enabled models. Another issue was pairing; the buds didn’t always automatically connect to known devices when opening the charging case. Now I see why the pairing button was installed because you’ll be using it most of the time to re-pair. In addition, there were times when only one bud would connect, forcing me to toss the other bud into the charging case and place it back on my ear to achieve stereo sound.

Android users do get the better end of the deal, as the buds support Google Fast Pair, which automatically pops up on your screen to instantly connect the unit to your smartphone.

Marshall Mode II: Verdict

The Mode II stick to the brand’s strengths, which are audio and design, and are flawlessly executed. You’ll enjoy bold, crisp sound that works well with a wide range of genres, plus the inclusion of a customizable EQ with presets means you can personalize how you want to hear all media, not just music. Also, just when you thought Marshall couldn’t make its designs any sleeker or more minimalist, it did, creating some of the hottest-looking buds and arguably the coolest charging case out there.

But the Mode II suffers from performance issues. It’s hard to recommend any pair of wireless earbuds that share the same battery life as the original AirPods and don’t support basic charging features like quick charging. On top of that, the touch controls are really bad and the Transparency mode could have been better engineered.

You can get some value out of the Mode II, mainly if you’re an audiophile who also loves Marshall’s old-school aesthetic. This also means living with the product’s several shortcomings.