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Marshall Motif ANC review: Big on style, short on customisation

Ben Johnston
16 May 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
180
inc VAT

The Marshall Motif ANC nail the brand’s signature sound and style, but are held back by limited customisation and several niggling issues

Pros 
Perfectly tuned for rock and metal
Stylish speaker-inspired design
Reasonable noise cancellation
Cons 
Not the most comfortable fit
Limited customisation options
Mediocre battery life
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The Marshall Motif ANC are the first pair of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds from a British brand with a storied rock’n’roll history. That legacy is evident in just about every aspect of the Motif, from the way their audio profile is tuned to an aesthetic that calls to mind Marshall’s extensive back catalogue of amplifiers and speakers.

Sound and style are the manufacturer’s bread and butter, and while the Motif excel in these areas, they lack the substance of many similarly priced alternatives. Customisation options are limited compared to their competitors, and battery life also fails to impress.

Whether you deem those shortcomings as compromises worth making will likely come down to your musical tastes. If your library predominantly consists of rock and metal, you’ll be hard-pressed to find earbuds able to deliver those genres with such aplomb. Those of a more eclectic persuasion will still appreciate the sound quality on offer but can find more complete packages elsewhere.

Marshall Motif ANC review: What do you get for the money?

The Motif ANC cost £180, which positions them towards the upper mid-range of the true wireless earbuds market. They operate over Bluetooth 5.2 – the latest version – but codec support is limited to just SBC and AAC.

The earbuds are rated IPX5, meaning that they are protected against jets of water from all directions, while the case is IPX4-rated so has a decent level of water resistance, too. Not all wireless earbuds’ cases possess an IP rating, so it’s refreshing to see one here, and the case itself is one of the most striking around.

Coated in cracked leather and featuring Marshall’s iconic white logo set against a speaker-style mesh, the case evokes the guitar amps Marshall is best known for. At just 39.5g, it’s also supremely pocketable.

The amp-inspired aesthetic extends to the earbuds, too: the ovaline drums bear a white “M” on the outside, marking the location of the touch controls, and the short stems are textured in the style of speaker mesh. This provides a decent amount of grip and makes removing the buds from your ears a breeze. Wear detection is supported, so plucking the Motif from your ears causes the buds to pause whatever is playing and resume again once they’re back in your lugholes.

The Motif’s battery provides roughly six hours of continuous playback, with the charging case pushing the total up to 26 hours. Active noise cancellation (ANC) eats away at this figure, bringing in-ear stamina down to just four-and-a-half hours, with a middling total of 20 hours including the case. Wireless and fast charging are both supported, with the latter producing an hour of playback from 15 minutes on charge.

Active noise cancellation and transparency modes can be swapped between with a long press on either earbud or via an option in the Marshall Bluetooth app. Here, you can also adjust the strength of either listening mode on a ten-point scale and toggle the touch controls on or off. By default, a single tap will play or pause audio, double-taps skip to the next track and triple-taps take you back to the previous track. None of those actions can be customised, although you can choose to have long presses summon your voice assistant or cycle through equaliser profiles rather than sound modes should you wish.

There are five EQ options to choose from – Rock, Spoken, Pop, Hip-Hop and Electronic – all of which are displayed on a five-band equaliser. You can’t adjust the sliders on the equaliser, however, so aren’t able to create your own custom preset or tweak the ones on offer, but the EQs themselves offer a reasonable range of choice.

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Marshall Motif ANC review: What did we like about them?

While EQ personalisation would be welcome, the default Marshall tuning is nothing short of outstanding. The Motif’s dynamic drivers may only be 6mm in size, but these are earbuds that possess real oomph. I rarely felt the need to go any higher than 50% volume such was the power of the sound they delivered.

In keeping with the Marshall rock’n’roll theme, I began testing the Motif by running through a playlist of the Download Festival 2022 lineup. The earbuds more than did justice to the subject material: Marshall’s decades of audio experience have certainly been put to great use here.

The soundstage is broad and no song on the aforementioned playlist illustrated this better than Malevolence’s “Remain Unbeaten”. The thrashing instrumental sections were pleasingly uncluttered, ensuring that every guitar strum and crashing drum was articulated cleanly.

Bass had a suitably resonant thump to it, infusing plenty of energy into Boston Manor’s “Carbon Mono” without ever encroaching on the mid-range. Tracks that featured higher-pitched vocals, such as Skillet’s “The Resistance”, retained detail and fidelity in the upper registers, even when paired with a weighty low end.

While they’re best suited to genres like rock, the Motif sound great no matter what you’re listening to. Taking things in a more orchestral direction, John Williams’ triumphant Star Wars arrangement, “The Throne Room”, was beautifully layered, with the width of the soundstage helping the brass and strings create a grand sense of scale. If your tastes are more mainstream, you’ll want to switch to the Pop EQ. This added greater definition to the various vocal components of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, while ensuring the harmonies remained cohesive.

That excellent audio quality is the Motif’s biggest draw, but they’ve got another headline feature to shout about: active noise cancellation. While it won’t have the best noise-cancelling earbuds on the market quaking in their boots, it proved effective enough to block out a decent chunk of the background din during my commute to and from London. Train announcements and people chatting were still able to make their way into my ears, but the low-end rumble of public transport was attenuated successfully.

The transparency mode also served its purpose capably, filtering in sound to increase my awareness of my environment, be that walking down a bustling Tottenham Court Road or sitting in the office with my Expert colleagues.

Being able to granularly control the level of noise cancellation and transparency is very welcome as it provides more flexibility than simply having one or the other switched on at any given time. The difference between the ten levels of each isn’t huge but having them available allows you to tailor your experience based on the noise-cancelling or transparency requirements of your environment to a certain extent.

Marshall Motif ANC review: What could be improved?

The most glaring issue with the Marshall Motif is their lack of customisation options. The touch controls are fairly rudimentary to begin with, but only allowing the customisation of one command, and offering a limited set of functions to be assigned to it, restricts them even further. With much cheaper options such as the Creative Outlier Pro and the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 including full touch control customisation, the limitations placed upon the Motif are particularly frustrating.

Similarly, not allowing the user to adjust the in-app equaliser feels like an oversight. I found the default Marshall tuning pretty much perfect, but those seeking more comprehensive control over the sound signature will find the Motif’s audio options wanting.

I also had some issues with the Motif’s wear detection. It worked well enough for the most part, but there were several occasions when the left earbud simply refused to acknowledge that it was in my ear and audio would not resume as intended. I tried to remedy this by swapping out the ear tips for one of the other two sizes included, but to no avail.

The opposite proved true of the right earbud and highlighted another minor complaint I have about the buds. The oval housings sat in my ears in such a way that they pushed ever so slightly against the cartilage, which led to some aching after extended use. As a result, I found myself adjusting them frequently and this had a tendency to trigger the automatic pause function. Under normal circumstances I would have disabled wear detection to prevent this, but alas, there’s no option to do so within the Marshall Bluetooth app.

The last couple of niggles aren’t as impactful but are still worth bearing in mind if you’re considering purchasing the Motif ANC. First, given how much the Motif cost, I’d like to see high-resolution codec support. Sound quality is great but would be even better were you able to make use of aptX Adaptive or LDAC.

Finally, while total battery life is passable at 20 hours with ANC on, the in-ear stamina leaves a lot to be desired, so anyone who engages in extended listening sessions may find the Motif ANC dying prematurely. If true wireless staying power is of utmost importance to you, the Creative Outlier Pro offer a highly impressive ten hours of battery life with ANC enabled, and up to 15 hours with it switched off.

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Marshall Motif ANC review: Should you buy them?

That list of issues is a pretty long one for a pair of earbuds costing £180, but the Motif ANC just about redeem themselves with superb sound quality. The Marshall tuning is outstanding, shining brightest when delivering pulsating rock and metal anthems but impressing across other genres, too.

The active noise cancellation works well enough to justify its inclusion, and unimpressive in-ear battery life is offset by a charging case storing enough juice to see you good for around a week of moderate use. If you’re a rocker or a metalhead able to overlook the lack of customisation and various niggling issues, the Marshall Motif ANC might just be for you – they certainly look and sound the part.

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