Tom's Guide Verdict
The Marshall Mode II wireless earbuds rival the best in this price range for sound quality, but lack active noise cancellation and ruggedness.
Bright and lively sound
Light and comfortable
Case supports wireless charging
No noise cancellation
Not as rugged as competitors
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
The Marshall Mode II is the company’s first pair of true wireless earbuds, and it comes out swinging. Apart from the guitar amps primarily associated with the name, Marshall has garnered a reputation for solid speakers and headphones over the past few years. While its first attempt at AirPods-style wireless buds took some time, the results are impressively refined.
The Mode II impresses with a bright and crisp sound that rivals the Jabra Elite Active 75t, though the Mode II falls short of the very best wireless earbuds when it comes to features. The Marshall earbuds don’t do active noise cancellation and, while water resistant, they aren’t built to withstand the level of abuse that others in the price range can. Keep reading our Marshall Mode II review to find out if its strengths can overcome these weaknesses.
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Marshall Mode II review: Price and availability
The Marshall Mode II costs $179. It is available for preorder on March 4, 2021, and starts shipping on March 18, 2021.
Marshall Mode II review: Design
The Marshall Mode II earbuds look like black buttons and are adorned with a large white M. While not quite as dainty as the Earin A-3 they’re some of the smallest earbuds you’ll see, and are noticeably slimmer than the Jabra Elite Active 75t’s buds. They feel light in your ear, and weigh just 0.17 ounces (compared to 0.19 ounces for the 75t).
While the low weight made them easy on the ears for extended wear, they fit a little more loosely in the ear than I’d have liked. As long as I didn’t move too much, they stayed in place. But when walking, they worked themselves free from a good seal, and while shooting hoops, they fell out.
The Mode II comes with four sizes of tips to adjust the fit, but none made them entirely secure. In addition to the tips, you get a charging case and a USB-C cable for refuelling it.
The case itself mimics the aesthetics of a Marshall amp, with a black tolex pattern. The case is slim and solid — you won’t worry about scuffing it like you do with an AirPods case. The case supports wireless charging — a nice feature that you have to pay more for if you go with AirPods or the Elite Active 75t.
The earbuds offer IPX5 water resistance, meaning you can feel comfortable splashing them with water, but they shouldn’t be submerged. By comparison, the Elite Active 75t buds are waterproof, sweat resistant and dust resistant — that kind of protection would benefit the Mode II.
Marshall Mode II review: Controls and digital assistant
The Mode II uses on-earbud controls. The controls were most responsive when I touched directly on the M and produced a “click” sound with each push.
A single touch on the right earbud pauses, plays or answers a call; a double touch advances to the next track. The left earbud controls transparency mode (single press) and activates your phone’s digital assistant (double press), While it doesn’t have an assistant built in, accessing Siri through the earbuds is nearly as seamless as when using AirPods.
Marshall Mode II review: Audio quality
The Mode II produces sound that rivals the best earbuds in this price range. Vocals sound full and treble tones are crisp and bright — much more so than Apple AirPods. The main weakness in the sound is limited bass, which was surprising because other Marshall speakers and headphones are full of low end.
The horns and cymbals on Black Pumas’s “Fire” sounded bright, and the vocals were full. Similarly, the Weeknd’s voice was warm and resonant on “Blinding Lights,” and the snare popped; however, the menacing keyboard and bass drum lacked oomph. Both these songs benefited from stronger bass on the Elite Active 75t, while maintaining the bright treble and full vocals. Switching the sound mode to “Rock” in the Marshall Bluetooth app improved the bass, but it still wasn’t quite as good as the 75t.
As you would expect from earbuds with the Marshall name, the Mode II earbuds get plenty loud. I stopped turning it up at about 75 percent of the max volume when my eardrums started to cry out in discomfort.
Marshall Mode II review: App and special features
The Marshall Bluetooth app shows you the battery level of each bud and offers a few tweaks you can make to the sound. You can control the transparency level, to determine how much sound to let through when you engage that mode; honestly, though, I couldn’t tell much difference in ambient noise with transparency mode on or off. More significantly, the Mode II lacks active noise cancellation, which is available on the Elite Active 75t.
The standard AirPods don’t have ANC either, but the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro managed to offer decent noise cancellation at an even lower price.
You can choose from 7 sound modes or create your own EQ mix with 5-band equalizer (or “equaliser” as the British brand spells it). It seemed appropriate that I liked Rock mode best with the Marshall earbuds; it boosted the bass a bit.
But the Marshall Bluetooth app is not nearly as robust as Jabra’s Sound+ app, which walks you through a sound test to customize the sound for your ears, among other extras.
Marshall Mode II review: Battery life
Marshall says the Mode II will last 5 hours on a full charge, which is slightly better than AirPods (4.5 hours) and less than the Elite Active 75t (7.5 hours). That number is consistent — and even a little conservative — with what I found. After 3 consecutive hours of use, the pair still had 60% battery left. The case holds enough power for four recharges. As mentioned, the case can be charged over USB-C or with most Qi wireless charging pads.
Marshall Mode II review: Call quality and connectivity
Calls on the Mode II were clear on both ends of the conversation; voices sounded a bit sharp and lacked resonance, but that fit with the overall sound profile of the earbuds.
The Mode II supports Bluetooth 5.1 and reconnected with my phone quickly each time I took the earbuds out of the case. They maintained a good connection up to about 35 feet indoors; after that I started to experience some interruptions.
Marshall Mode II review: Verdict
With the Mode II, Marshall has delivered a compelling alternative for people seeking a set of true wireless earbuds for under $200. It has excellent overall sound and the earbuds are light and comfortable.
But the competition is tough. The Mode II certainly beat Apple AirPods in sound quality and most features, but the Jabra Elite Active 75t remains our pick at this price point. The Elite Active 75t has slightly better sound and eclipse the Mode II in almost all other respects, including ruggedness, battery life and active noise cancellation.
If those features aren’t important to you, and you’re picking your earbuds solely on sound and feel, the Mode II could be the ones to match your ears and style. Everyone else? Stick with Jabra.
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Michael Gowan is a freelance technology journalist covering soundbars, TVs, and wireless speakers of all kinds of shapes and sizes for Tom’s Guide. He has written hundreds of product reviews, focusing on sound quality and value to help shoppers make informed buying decisions. Micheal has written about music and consumer technology for more than 25 years. His work has appeared in publications including CNN, Wired, Men’s Journal, PC World and Macworld. When Michael’s not reviewing speakers, he’s probably listening to one anyway.