Montblanc is a compelling and evocative brand, no two ways about it. But almost all of its credibility stems from its 100-plus years of acknowledged expertise where (inevitably luxurious) pens, watches, cufflinks and the like are concerned. Electronics? Not so much.
But back in 2020 the company launched its MB 01 wireless over-ear headphones. They cost £525 in the UK, which back then was a lot of money for any of the best headphones products (even more than now, given how interest rates are going). However, they turned out to be a serious proposition, rather than simply the work of dilettantes that many of us had expected.
And now Montblanc is back with a true wireless in-ear proposition, the MTB 03. Can (expensive) lightning strike twice? Or should the company have stuck to its ever-expanding leather goods portfolio?
Montblanc MTB 03: Price & Availability
The Montblanc MTB 03 true wireless in-ear headphones are on sale now, and in the United Kingdom they cost a not-inconsiderable £345. On its American website, Montblanc is quoting a price of $395. In Australia, meanwhile, the asking price is AU$640.
So no, not cheap. There are similarly pricey true wireless alternatives around, certainly - the PI7 S2 by Bowers & Wilkins spring to mind. But those are the product of a venerable and celebrated hi-fi company, whereas the MTB 03 come from a brand far more readily associated with exotic fountain pens. So what exactly do the MTB 03 offer, beyond some cachet in the Business Class lounge?
Montblanc MTB 03 review: Features & What's New?
The Montblanc MTB 03 use Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connection to your source player. There’s compatibility with SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive codecs, there’s multipoint connectivity (for more than one device connection at once), and there’s a stable 10 metres of wireless range.
Sound is delivered by a 7mm beryllium full-range dynamic driver - one in each earbud, obviously. The earbuds themselves are IPX4-rated, and so should prove resilient enough to be usable in all realistic environments. And thanks to battery life of six hours from the earbuds (plus another three full charges stored in the case), the MTB 03 are ready to last around the clock before they need charging via the USB-C input on the rear of the case.
There are three mics in each earbud, taking care of telephony, voice-assistant interaction and active noise-cancellation (ANC) - the last of which can be on, off or give a boost to external sounds. When that boost is on it can be set to ‘sports’, ‘office’ or ‘travel’ in an effort to adapt to your circumstances.
Montblanc MTB 03 review: Performance
They may be rather more specific about the sort of music they like (or, more accurately, don’t like) than many true wireless earbuds, but if you pander to the Montblanc MTB 03 just a little they’re capable of very impressive sound indeed.
Rather like the customers Montblanc is targeting here, the MTB 03 enjoy opulence and tastefulness much more than they do coarseness or incivility. So if you play to their strengths with some expensively and painstakingly recorded music, they are a very pleasant listen indeed.
They’re certainly a full-range proposition. Low-frequency extension is considerable: the MTB 03 can identify and deliver the deepest of deep bass notes without alarms, maintaining their shape and keeping the attack of bass sounds straight-edged and controlled. There’s fine rhythmic expression in evidence as a result, and though the Montblanc hit implacably hard when required they are no sort of blunt instrument. Low-frequency detail and insight is never in doubt.
It’s a similar story throughout the rest of the frequency range, in fact. Detail levels are high across the board, and in the midrange the MTB 03 are able to invest vocalists with all the character and attitude they need to properly express themselves. The tonal balance is unarguably on the ‘lush’ side of neutral no matter how you fiddle with the EQ settings, it’s true - but it’s not so overcooked that it becomes unconvincing or unrealistic.
The top of the frequency range attacks with polite determination - the MTB 03 aren’t about to shred your hearing with treble presence, but by the same token they’re not so rolled off at the top-end that the bite and shine of a recording is lost. There’s sufficient drive and brilliance to those recordings that demand it, but it never threatens to get out of hand no matter the volume level you’re listening at.
The Montblanc maintain their character at all volume levels, in fact, and their impressive powers of soundstaging don’t suffer at high output levels either. The stage they create is fairly broad but, even more importantly, tightly unified at the same time. Even though every element in even the most complex recordings gets a bit of breathing space, they are all presented as a portion of a whole rather than as discreet occurrences. This sort of timing and coherence is by no means a given, even from brands with a great deal more pedigree where true wireless earbuds are concerned than Montblanc.
The impressive powers of detail retrieval translate to a fine facility with identifying and contextualising harmonic variation in smaller-scale recording; the simple amount of ‘grunt’ the MTB 03 seem able to handle means dynamic headroom is considerable. When the orchestra transitions from ‘hushed contemplation’ to ‘full-force shock and awe’ you’ll know all about it.
Just as surely as the Montblanc have a number of strengths, though, they have a weakness or two. Most obviously, they’re not fans of music that is (whether by accident or design) cheap-sounding and/or overtly aggressive. Their stance of congenial luxuriousness doesn’t really translate to this sort of content, and the attempts the MTB 03 make to impose themselves on recordings like this are far from successful. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a prospective Montblanc MTB 03 customer may listen to a steady diet of The Stooges or similar - but no good can come of it.
The ANC isn’t quite as successful as the sound reproduction either, it has to be said. It’s effective up to a point, but it’s really nowhere near bestowing the blanket of silence the likes of Bose can cover you with. The MTB 03 might look and sound the part when you’re in the Business Class lounge, but once you’re on board the aircraft it drones just as much in First as it does in Economy. And if you’re hoping to banish that drone, the MTB 03 aren’t quite up to the task.
Montblanc MTB 03 review: Design & Usability
Montblanc is far from the first company to have run into the true wireless in-ear headphones drawback - how do you make a product that by its very nature needs to be small, light and functional seem overtly premium?
Well, if you’re Montblanc you go with what you know. Which means premium materials, a sky-high standard of build and finish, and enough branding to let the discerning know what’s what. Oh, and getting in renowned sonic savant Axel Grell to ensure the MTB 03 have some authentic credibility in the audio community.
The aluminium charging case is a tidy 84.5g (perhaps even slightly less if you take Montblanc up on its offer of free personalisation - you can have as many as 13 letters engraved, free of charge, on the front of the case. And in a choice of three fonts, naturally). The earbuds themselves are built from that secret resin formula Montblanc uses for its range of pens, and are equally small, and weigh in at a trim 6g each. Between the choice of four sizes of eartip and some carefully ergonomic design they’re easy to wear for hours at a time.
The familiar, and confident, six-pointed star on each earbud indicates the capacitive touch surface. They’re responsive and reliable - so powering on or off, initiating Bluetooth pairing, ending/answering/rejecting calls, playing and pausing, cycling through your three ANC options, and summoning your source player’s native voice assistant is simple. There’s no touch-control to deal with volume, though, which is always a bit of a weird omission.
There’s also an extremely good-looking but rather brief control app that’s free for iOS and Android. ‘MB Sound’ gives an indication of battery life, allows you turn ‘auto power’ on or off (powering down the earbuds if they’ve been out of Bluetooth range for 15 minutes), lets you do the same for ‘proximity sensor’ (pausing music if you take the earbuds out of your ears). It’s where you can check for firmware updates, select from 12 EQ presets or create your own using a five-band equaliser. This is where you select your preferred ‘sound mode’ too - ANC has three settings, ‘live’ mode (which other brands call ‘transparency’ or ‘ambient sound’) has three settings too, and ‘off’ turns out to be called ‘standard’ mode. It’s no ‘Sony Headphones Connect’ - it doesn’t even have playback or volume controls - but it’s appropriately up-market in its design.
Montblanc MTB 03 review: Verdict
It doesn’t do to prejudge. The idea that a purveyor of luxury accessories should be able to conjure a deeply competitive pair of true-wireless in-ear headphones seemingly out of thin air should, by rights, be ridiculous - but here we are. The Montblanc MTB 03 have plenty going for them, both in terms of the sound they make and their premium nature simply as an item. Yes, they’re overpriced in absolute terms - but that’s to miss the point somewhat. And besides, it seems unlikely that Montblanc customers will care.
If you want to spend as much as possible on a pair of true wireless earbuds, give the PI7 S2 by Bowers & Wilkins a spin. They’re as unremarkable as the Montblanc when it comes to battery life, they’re nothing special where ANC is concerned… and they sound eloquent, entertaining and endlessly listenable. If ANC is as important as audio quality for you, though, check out the QuietComfort Earbuds II by Bose - their powers of noise-cancellation are unrivalled (and they sound very decent too).