The Musical Fidelity MF-200 is the second pair of on-ear headphones we’ve tried from Musical Fidelity, one of the UK’s premier hi-fi brands.
After we were disappointed with the original MF-100 we were hoping for a big upgrade in this second-generation model. However, a lot of the original issues still remain.
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We like their basic approach to sound, which is the antithesis of the Beats style, but they’re not all that comfortable and the Musical Fidelity MF-200 lack the smooth or refined finish to their sound that makes headphones easy to get on with. At £229 they are not among our favourites.
The Musical Fidelity MF200 are unusual-looking headphones, just like their predecessors. You might expect something classy and understated from a very grown-up brand such as this – something a bit Bowers & Wilkins.
However, the MF200 style is chunky and industrial, much like the Musical Fidelity MF-100. There are notches cut into the outer soft plastic parts of the cups that make them look a little like giant tyre treads. It’s more Yorkie bar than Cadbury Flake.
There’s nothing wrong with this muscular style if it’s what you’re into, but we’re not sure it fits with a self-proclaimed hi-fi headphone.
There are a few parts of the design we think are rather faulty, though. The array of different materials in the Musical Fidelity MF-200’s construction gives them something of a patchwork quilt feel. It ranges from the good, high-quality synthetic leather headband, to the bad, bin liner-type material that holds the pads onto the cups. We’re also not big fans of the blue and red band that wraps around the cups.
It’s the sort of move Chinese SoundMagic might make; a bit naff. But we find it harder to forgive in the MF-200 because while SoundMagic makes predominantly good-value headphones, the Musical Fidelity MF-200 are a ‘prestige’ model.
A bit more consistency and simplicity would go a long way here.
Maybe we’ve been talking nonsense so far, though. Maybe you think the Musical Fidelity MF-200 look stunning. Fair enough.
However, their comfort is a more pressing, less subjective issue. Like the MF-100, the Musical Fidelity MF-200 have a pretty firm headband that, initially at least, feels horrible. Their clamping force is too strong and the pressure distribution is uneven. On first impression they’re the least comfortable headphones we’ve reviewed in the last 12 months.
And it does put you off wearing them. Despite a fairly poor headband design, though, Musical Fidelity hasn’t totally managed to ruin the comfort properties of the excellent materials that go into the Musical Fidelity MF-200 pads.
Alcantara on top of memory foam is pretty much the perfect combo for long-term listening sessions. So while many on-ear headphones start to get uncomfortable after a while, the Musical Fidelity MF-200 are a rare example of on-ear headphones that get more comfortable. But what a starting point.
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Not familiar with Alcantara and memory foam? They’re modern man-made equivalents to suede and foam, and work perfectly with headphones in our experience. There are also synthetic leather pads, which you can switch over yourself.
One other element to note is that the metal skeleton of the headband is likely to ease up after a few months use. But headphones should not be designed with this in mind, and after weeks of use out set is still pretty stiff. It's good for portable grip, but just isn't very comfortable.
Other elements of the Musical Fidelity MF-200 are geared for portable use too, such as the 1.2m cable and single-button remote, designed for maximum phone compatibility rather than just for the iPhone crowd. Still, there are other areas to improve.
First, noise isolation is quite poor. You can get away with wearing them on public transport, but they don’t really block out the world very well. This may be down to the decision to add extra ports to open up the sound, giving these closed-back headphones some of the characteristics of an open pair.
The cable isn't removable either, which some won’t like in a pair as expensive as the Musical Fidelity MF-200.
Musical Fidellity makes claims about the MF-200 sound that align with what you’d expect from a hi-fi brand. It says you’ll get a flat, accurate, low-distortion sound, positioning these headphones as totally different from the bassy headphones that are currently very popular.
Sure enough, the bass is rather nice. It’s less anaemic than you might expect from a headphone that aims for accuracy, with enough power to sound fun, while still making the Beats Solo 2 sound hopelessly over-bassy in a direct comparison.
The frequency balance initially appears fairly good, providing the building blocks of a very good hi-fi sound.
If it sounds like we’re holding back on the praise, it’s because for all the commendable elements to the Musical Fidelity MF-200’s basic tuning, they don’t sound all that nice. They are prone to sibilance and there’s a fundamental lack of smoothness and refinement that they would need to really succeed in their aims of offering a portable hi-fi headphone.
Some material also exposes fairly poor integration between mid-range and treble, which can cause a sort of treble fizzing in female vocals.
Too often the Musical Fidelity MF-200 come across as harsh or crude in their presentation. It’s generally in the treble and upper-mid-range that this crops up. The treble is simply not nearly as well-integrated and coherent as the bass. It makes us wonder if Musical Fidelity has only done half the job of tuning these headphones, much in the way it squanders the benefit of its high-end ear pads with its headband design.
Having let them bed in for dozens of hours, the MF-200 do calm down a bit. But nowhere near enough. They may aim for sophistication, but fall a way short.
There’s no shortage of portable headphones, especially if you have £230 to spend. With the three Musical Fidelity models we’ve reviewed since the company entered the market, we’re yet to see a reason to pick its heapdhones over those of more experienced rivals. It just doesn’t have the chops yet.
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You can now get either of the first-generation Sennheiser Momentum for under £200 and while they don’t aim for neutrality quite as much as the MF-200, they are much more successful in every aspect. And if you want accuracy and don’t need portability, the classic AKG Q701 are now available for £200. In the hi-fi stakes they decimate the MF-200.
Problematic design, sound and looks; the MF200 aren’t the full package.