Mitchell & Johnson
GL2 and MJ2 Headphones
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.
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