Mitchell & John­son

GL2 and MJ2 Head­phones

NOVO - - REVIEW - by Kevin Rak

When NOVO’s Ed­i­tor-in-Chief asked if I was in­ter­ested in re­view­ing Mitchell & John­son’s hy­brid elec­tro-static GL2 and MJ2 stereo head­phones, I as­sumed the ques­tion was rhetor­i­cal. I couldn’t think of any rea­son, or sit­u­a­tion where I would not want to don a pair of high-end head­phones, lis­ten to my favourite al­bums and then write about my find­ings.

Haven’t heard of Mitchell & John­son pre­vi­ously? Don’t worry, nei­ther had I un­til re­cently. Mitchell & John­son is a rel­a­tively young Lon­don, UK based hifi com­pany that was launched in 2012. Dur­ing the last five years, its en­gi­neers have been busy at work de­sign­ing a full port­fo­lio of hifi prod­ucts, in­clud­ing head­phones, am­pli­fiers, CD play­ers, net­work play­ers and tuners.

DE­SIGN & FEA­TURES

Both pairs of th­ese Bri­tish de­signed head­phones came el­e­gantly pack­aged, al­beit with some­what dif­fer­ent op­tions and ma­te­ri­als. The GL2 ($499 US) comes with a sleek look­ing black soft mi­cro-suede pouch with the phones pre­sented on a bed of black satin. The MJ2 ($299 US) comes with a tasteful and ro­bust car­ry­ing case. Both sets come with gold plated 6.35mm and 3.5mm jacks, plus an “air­line” adapter. The de­ci­sion to in­clude th­ese adapters meant I was able to use the head­phones with my iPhone, Mi­cromega CD player, as well as my Naim equip­ment through a Naim Head­Line head­phone amp. This ver­sa­til­ity greatly in­creases the value quo­tient as the phones can eas­ily live in both the mo­bile por­ta­ble con­sumer mar­ket as well as the high-end home au­dio mar­ket. Both pairs also carry the Hi-Res Au­dio logo, put forth by the Ja­pan Au­dio So­ci­ety (JAS) and the Con­sumer Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion (CTA). This logo ap­pears on all man­ner of gear deemed to sup­port the au­dio stan­dards agreed upon by this al­liance.

The GL2 and MJ2 are both very hand­some units. The GL2 has a more mod­ern, life­style tech-look to it, with equal mea­sure of gen­uine wal­nut and qual­ity me­tal al­loy. The GL2’s oval shaped cups nicely in­cor­po­rate both ma­te­ri­als. Su­per-soft leatherette is used on both units, and is ex­tremely com­fort­able on the ears. The MJ2 cups are carved out of cherry wood, which gives the enclosure a very at­trac­tive old-school look. Ad­di­tion­ally, the MJ2s are rec­tan­gu­lar in shape and in­cor­po­rate the com­pany’s name and logo beau­ti­fully etched into the wooden enclosure. The MJ2’s also have a cool in­ward fold­ing mech­a­nism so they can be folded down to a com­pact foot­print to fit into its sup­plied car­ry­ing case.

Both sets come with a qual­ity wo­ven, cloth­like ca­ble. The MJ2 has two ter­mi­na­tions, one on each cup, where the GL2 has one ter­mi­nal lo­cated only on its left cup. The tex­tured ca­ble on both pairs helps to re­duce the propen­sity of mi­cro phon­ics, which may not be much of a worry while ly­ing on the couch, but once out and about, mi­cro phon­ics can have a greater neg­a­tive im­pact. Thank­fully, this was not an is­sue with ei­ther pair.

The great thing about us­ing head­phones, es­pe­cially at home, is you’re mak­ing a com­mit­ment to just sit and lis­ten. The MJ2s are the most com­fort­able head­phones I have ever worn. The com­bi­na­tion of a tighter seal, qual­ity ma­te­ri­als, soft­ness and light­weight worked re­ally well for me. I tended to like the rec­tan­gu­lar cups on the MJ2 a lit­tle

more. The GL2’s were not far off, but the MJ2’s seemed to fit my rec­tan­gu­lar nog­gin per­fectly. Quite frankly, I just loved wear­ing them.

Thanks to Mitchell & John­son, elec­tro­static head­phone tech­nol­ogy is now easy to use. By uti­liz­ing their pro­pri­etary hy­brid tech­nol­ogy, es­sen­tially a com­bi­na­tion of a tra­di­tional 40mm dy­namic driver and an elec­tro-static driver, there is no re­quire­ment for ex­ter­nal charg­ing, or the need for spe­cial­ized amps. Their unique di­aphragm stores the charge from the stan­dard driver. This is a very ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive ap­proach to pair­ing dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies and get­ting them to work in per­fect uni­son.

Af­ter about 50 burn-in hours, the dy­namic range nicely opened up on both mod­els and I be­gan my lis­ten­ing ses­sions. Prior to burn-in, the MJ2 seemed a bit more con­strained, but uli­mately opened up to greater pa­ram­e­ters than the GL2.

PER­FOR­MANCE

For ref­er­ence, I lis­tened to many dif­fer­ent records with equal time on both pairs to pro­vide a good cross-sec­tion of dy­namic range ca­pa­bil­i­ties, imag­ing, sound­stage and stereo sep­a­ra­tion. Th­ese in­cluded: Steely Dan “Aja”, The Clash “Lon­don Call­ing”, Roger Wa­ters “Amused to Death”, Frank Zappa “One Size Fits All” and Pat Metheny “Pat Metheny Group”.

Dur­ing my tests I found that the MJ2 por­trayed a fuller sound, as you’d ex­pect from its slightly greater dy­namic range. The GL2 on the other hand of­fered a slightly brighter char­ac­ter.

The ini­tial at­tack and sub­se­quent de­cay was quick and tight for both, but with tighter bass re­sponse on the MJ2. This was per­haps due to a tighter seal on the ears and greater low-end ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Cer­tain styles of mu­sic are not re­ally con­ducive to us­ing elec­tro­static, or in

this case, hy­brid Elec­trostatz tech­nol­ogy. Gen­res such as elec­tronic dance mu­sic or ag­gres­sive me­tal, of­ten re­quire more of a punchy and ag­gres­sive pre­sen­ta­tion. A day be­fore pen­ning this re­view, I had down­loaded the lat­est of­fer­ing from The War On Drugs. Their pre­vi­ous record “Lost In The Dream” from 2014 was one of my favourite records, so af­ter a three-year wait, I was re­ally ex­cited to hear the new al­bum, en­ti­tled “A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing”, es­pe­cially on both pairs of head­phones.

There’s a lot go­ing on in this record­ing, with many lay­ers of in­stru­ments. Both pairs pre­sented the record­ing with re­mark­able rhythm and pace. They fo­cused in on the many tex­tures of sounds while sup­port­ing the clar­ity of each of the in­di­vid­ual in­stru­ments, with­out adding any col­or­ing. Through­out the fre­quency re­sponse curve, the sound was smooth and very neu­tral. This nat­u­ral and neu­tral sonic sig­na­ture re­pro­duced the midrange fre­quen­cies per­fectly.

The sev­enth track, Think­ing Of A Place, be­gins with a wash of old-school synths and af­ter a few bars, the rest of the band kicks in. It was a treat to sit back and lis­ten to the dy­namic range and de­tail in ac­tion.

With that said, head­phones and “Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd are the au­dio equiv­a­lent to milk and cook­ies, if not bor­der­ing on the cliché. The track Money evoked the sen­sa­tion of sit­ting in the stu­dio lis­ten­ing to the band’s fi­nal mix. The unique 7/4 time sig­na­ture bass line sounded tight and ar­tic­u­late and made me pay close at­ten­tion, as if I was hear­ing it for the first time. The highs were sparkly and the sound­stage felt close, with the in­stru­ments and vo­cals well po­si­tioned. Con­tex­tu­ally speak­ing, the track Money brought to mind that at this price-point, many other com­pet­i­tive brands, would sim­ply not keep up. The lows and mids, were pre­sented in an ar­tic­u­late, co­her­ent and warm fash­ion. How­ever, I would have pre­ferred a lit­tle more punch at times. Cru­cially, there were sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in sound be­tween the three mu­sic sources I used, which is pre­cisely what you would ex­pect head­phones of this sonic cal­iber to re­veal. When it came to the higher reg­is­ters, I ac­tu­ally en­joyed the GL2 model a touch more. De­spite a slightly nar­rower fre­quency re­sponse, 12 – 45,000Hz for the GL2, and 6 – 50,000Hz for the ML2s, the GL2s sounded a lit­tle brighter and more en­joy­able to me.

Next up was Ra­dio­head’s “Kid A” and the de­tails on this record were just amaz­ing. The many elec­tron­i­cally pro­duced sounds sim­ply came to life through the head­phones. I like us­ing this record as a ref­er­ence al­bum be­cause it’s very dy­namic, in terms of speed and vol­ume - it has some very ag­gres­sive, then very quiet pas­sages. This record can eas­ily high­light any gear’s short­com­ings. The only thing the head­phones were miss­ing at times was a pow­er­ful bot­tomend. The de­tail was spot on and the stereo sep­a­ra­tion was great.

If you ask any mu­si­cian, pro­ducer or au­dio gear man­u­fac­turer, the great­est and most pro­found de­sired re­sponse is to get the lis­tener to suc­cumb to the mu­sic, pure and sim­ple. That emo­tional re­sponse through mu­sic, or as a re­sult of mu­sic, has long in­trigued me and kept me firmly planted as a lover of mu­sic. Many con­sumer elec­tron­ics com­pa­nies talk about cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive and en­joy­able end-user ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter all the math and science is crunched, specs and ma­te­ri­als worked out, the user ei­ther de­vel­ops a con­nec­tion to the gear, or they don’t. Typ­i­cally, that feel­ing can be summed up, in au­dio terms, as mu­si­cal­ity. Es­sen­tially when all your gear mag­i­cally dis­ap­pears and you be­come one with the mu­sic, that’s mu­si­cal­ity. Clearly, that oc­curred with me with both of th­ese Mitchell & John­son head­phones.

I re­ally en­joyed my time with both pairs but gen­er­ally grav­i­tated to­ward the MJ2s. How­ever, tak­ing ev­ery­thing into ac­count, es­pe­cially cost, the GL2 of­fers a greater value. Well-done Mitchell & John­son!

Mitchell & John­son MJ2 Head­phones

Mitchell & John­son GL2 Head­phones

Mitchell & John­son MJ2 Head­phones

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