After the major letdown that was the $129 Minor III, Marshall seems poised to bounce back with the all-new Motif A.N.C. This release brings Marshall into new territory, wireless ANC earbuds, an ever-growing market where only a handful of heritage audio brands have managed to stake their claim.
- Our expert picks for the best wireless earbuds, per budget and style
- Check out our Apple AirPods Pro review
- …and our Sony WF-1000XM4 review
The Motif A.N.C. packages faithful Marshall sound, impressive active noise cancellation, and a handful of modern features into an attractive nostalgic design. It’s also relatively affordable at $199. Certain drawbacks such as iffy touch controls and low battery life may have you questioning the upgrade. Nonetheless, music lovers who want high-quality sound over a silent backdrop will find the Motif A.N.C. suitable for the job, as well as one of the best wireless earbuds available.
Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: Availability and price
The $199 Marshall Motif A.N.C. can be purchased exclusively from Marshall. It’s sold in one color: Black. Inside the box are a wireless charging case, USB-C charging cable, three sets of different-sized ear tips, and a quick start guide.
These buds have a higher MSRP than other sub-luxury ANC models like the Beats Studio Buds ($149) and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 ($149), but are priced lower than category leaders like the AirPods Pro ($249) and Sony WF-1000XM4 ($279). Other notable rivals to consider are the Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro ($169) and LG Tone Free FP8 ($149), two less-expensive options with legit ANC and hi-fi audio.
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Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: Design and comfort
The Motif A.N.C. embodies the brand aesthetic to a T. It features a minimalist design that pays homage to Marshall’s iconic loudspeakers, highlighted by an all-black exterior covered in coarse-textured plastic, ridged stems, and a signature white logo. This is a sleek and edgier look than the AirPods Pro’s smooth-plastic vanilla appearance. The Minor III looks more premium; the gold accent at the bottom adds extra flair.
Construction is decent with the rugged shell built to survive scuffs and scratches, as well as falls from high distances. The IPX5 certification means the buds will also stave off light splashes and sweat; the product FAQ page says you can rinse them in water.
The charging case offers a nice mix of fashion and function. Details like the white script logo and established imprint are chic, while the leatherette covering gives the case distinction. I love the pairing button on the front, which is a clear nod to the company’s proprietary multi-directional control knob that was featured on past releases like the Major IV wireless headphones. Marshall even made it IPX4 water-resistant.
Materials can often affect comfort, as is the case on these buds. The plastic feels stiff around the inner part of the ear and the rigid stems tend to press up against the earlobe and cause irritation. I wouldn’t recommend wearing the Motif A.N.C. for more than an hour or so. At least you get a dependable fit with the ear tips creating a tight seal around the canal and locking the buds in place to prevent slippage.
Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: Controls and digital assistant
Touch controls and on-ear detection make up the Motif A.N.C.’s control scheme. Single/multi-tap and long-hold gestures execute different tasks, including playback, call management, digital assistance, and listening mode/EQ activation. There is no way to customize the entire control scheme, but you can swap out the custom actions: voice assistance, EQ, or noise control.
The touch sensors weren’t very reliable and required several taps to perform commands. There were times when the left bud wouldn’t register taps at all, leading me to the app where I disabled and enabled the controls to get it working again.
Motion detection for auto-pause/play and digital assistance helped pick up the functional slack, always operating at high levels. Google Assistant, Siri, and Bixby responded both quickly and accurately to verbal inquiries, thanks to Marshall’s intelligible mic array that demonstrated excellent speech recognition.
Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: Audio quality
Overall, the sound on the Motif A.N.C. is well-rounded. It’s still bass-heavy, as you would expect from any Marshall product, but your ears are still being fed solid mids and crisp highs. There’s also the option to personalize sound via the Equaliser (this is how Marshall spells it) in the app, which is loaded with six different EQs. These consist of Rock, Spoken, Pop, Hip-Hop, Electronic, and Marshall. The majority account for contemporary music genres, leaving very little representation for orchestral genres like Classical or Jazz. Luckily, the Marshall EQ fills that void and is the most balanced of the group. It is also the default EQ.
To test the Motif A.N.C.’s wide frequency range, I pulled up genre-fusion tracks like Buckshot LeFonque’s “Breakfast @ Denny’s (Uptown Version),” which masterfully blends Hip-Hop and Jazz. The jazzy horn breaks were vibrant, and the funky double bass and drums remained prominent throughout the entire recording. It’s results like these that guaranteed me the Motif A.N.C. would deliver a smooth listening experience, no matter what I threw at it.
Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin' but a "G" Thang” served up punchy lows and crisp, striking synths that emanated P-Funk vibes. Bringing it back to Jazz, Ahmad Jamal’s “Dolphin Dance” put me in a state of relaxation with a serene piano play that was clean sounding, though the bass was looser than I would have liked.
As for the EQs, they don’t really bring much to the table. That’s not to say they don’t sound good, but only true audiophiles will detect the minor enhancements in audio performance when switching from one to the other. Pop was sufficient for boy band anthems like *NSYNC’s “It’s Gonna Be Me,” slightly elevating the lows and mids. Turning on Hip-Hop didn’t increase the bass much on bangers like Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.” The same went for Rock and Electronic when blasting Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: Active noise cancellation
Marshall’s noise-cancelling technology is as satisfying as its sound quality. Ten levels of ANC can be adjusted in the companion app; each level is represented in 10% internals to reach 100% ANC. You’ll immediately hear the difference in noise reduction when dropping down each level, but keeping it at max, which is also the default, gets you surprisingly good results.
I was shocked by how well the Motif A.N.C.’s mics silenced low- and mid-frequencies. Sounds like AC humming and the rumbling from our washing machine went unnoticed, along with any loud chatter in my vicinity. The buds mostly came in handy when working in the living room while the missus caught up on the latest season of You and participated in a few FaceTime sessions. The Motif A.N.C. also minimizes high frequencies better than most sub-$200 models. Don’t expect Bose-like neuralization, but specific noises like baby cries, bird chirps, and whistles, despite being audible, won’t pull you away from music.
Transparency Mode operates the same as ANC, allowing users to control how much noise the mics pick up by setting the buds at a preferred level/percentage. It’s adequate to hear outdoor fracas and other significant noises like an ambulance siren or smoke detector. The mics don’t pick up low voices or whispers very well, so if you’re trying to converse with someone, ask them to speak loudly.
Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: App and special features
The Marshall app isn’t loaded with features like the Sony Headphones Connect app, but there is enough to enhance the user experience. I already touched on key features, including adjustable ANC/Transparency, EQ, and control customization. As for what’s left, well, it’s very little.
There are three sound profiles. One is reserved for the Marshall EQ and the others will save whatever other EQ you assign them. What’s cool is that you can activate and cycle through each profile directly on the buds. Just go to the control settings and assign the feature to the custom action on either bud.
Eco charging is the other major feature, but it’s unavailable as of launch. It’s basically a battery management setting that stops the buds from recharging when at 80% of their full capacity. You’re probably asking why anyone would want that and not achieve 100%? Good question. While it essentially means a slight reduction in playtime, it prolongs the lifetime of the battery, getting you more total playtime in the long run.
A music player, battery level indicators for each bud, toggle controls for each listening mode, and a Forget Device setting that removes the product from the app.
Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: Battery life and charging case
Knowing Marshall set out to compete with the AirPods Pro makes the Motif A.N.C.’s battery life more disappointing. You only get 4.5 hours of ANC playtime, the same as Apple’s flagship buds. Disabling the feature extends usage to 6 hours. However, volume, streaming, and other features decrease these playtimes by about 30 minutes.
A full charge generated 2 days of moderate use (2 hours daily), which is much shorter than what other models provide. A few names that come to mind are the LG Tone Free FP8 (6 to 10 hours), Sony WH-1000XM4 (8 to 12 hours), and Master & Dynamic MW08 Sport (10 to 12 hours).
The charging case holds between 20 to 26 hours, depending on how you use the buds. A 15-minute quick charge nets you 1 hour of listening time. Wireless charging also comes as part of the package if you want to recharge the buds cable-free by placing it on top of a Qi-enabled power pad.
Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: Call quality and connectivity
As a calling headset, the Motif A.N.C. is a letdown. Voices on the opposite end can be uncomfortably loud at times, and several callers informed me that I sounded low and muffled. The mics pick up lots of ambient noise, especially wind. I even had a few people say that I sounded choppy during video chats. Call quality was decent indoors, though there were still issues with muffling.
Connectivity is a high point with Bluetooth 5.2 at the helm. The range is advertised at 32 feet (10 meters), but it’s actually longer, peaking at 40 feet when using the buds in open spaces. Pairing is a breeze, especially with Android devices, which makes the most of one-touch Google Fast Pair. There is no multipoint technology to pair the buds with two devices simultaneously, but the auto-connect functionality is on-point and makes swapping between audio sources a breeze.
Marshall Motif A.N.C. review: Verdict
The Minor III had me questioning Marshall’s position in the true wireless market, but the Motif A.N.C. convinced me that they must remain in the conversation. Sound and noise cancellation are what make these buds worth the consideration, giving the music a detailed and lively presence that can be enjoyed peacefully in most environments. Brand loyalists will also appreciate the retro aesthetics and extra features (e.g., Bluetooth 5.2, EQ, wireless charging).
What they won’t be fond of are the short battery life and finicky touch controls. Yet despite its flaws, the Motif A.N.C. is a significant improvement from its less expensive sibling and serves proudly as Marshall’s flagship wireless earbuds.