It might be the first name in luxury but you’re certainly not considering Mercedes to provide music while you catch an afternoon siesta on a hammock in the Maldives. Until now.
Extending their lifestyle design approach beyond cars is common for automobile brands but Mercedes is going beyond mere merchandising. Thankfully, they’ve partnered with some of the best audio brands in the world when it comes to providing sonic purity that blends with their design ethos of sensual purity. Their high-end cars get sound by German make Burmester and amongst the best sounding cars on the road, but for their first Bluetooth Wireless ANC headphones, they turned to Foster Electric which has an illustrious history of making speaker drivers. Audiophiles swore by Fostex headphones, long before Bluetooth or ANC became integral acronyms of our lives, so when I received the large box containing Mercedes headphones, I was instantly relieved that this wasn’t just a marketing gimmick.
Form follows automotive function
There is a lot of Mercedes-Benz DNA in this design and understandably so. A premium car brand that spends billions on creating a brand image has every right to impose its design philosophy on every product that wears its logo. And in true Mercedes fashion, chrome tristar logos on both the L/R earcups ensure there is no mistaking these headphones for anything else. Designed by the Mercedes-Benz team, they have an organic, flowing design to them that tries to pretend it’s a single-piece unit throughout. Of course, the headband adjusts for size with proper clicked indents so you can adjust individual left and right earcups precisely, but when collapsed, it does emulate a car’s surface with gently curved shapes, matt aluminium trim on the borders of the ear cups and a piano black finish that looks expensive alright. An illuminated ring behind each ear cup lights up briefly when you power them on, adding to the drama and bringing some element of ambient light design to headphones as well.
It’s all very tastefully done but the artificial leather, while extremely soft to the touch and well-padded, does cause sweating around the ears after a while. This has to do more with our tropical weather than the design itself, but if you are considering these to be on your head for extended periods of time, it might be worth trying before buying if possible. But it’s evident that these are meant to be used indoors so heat shouldn’t be much of a problem. If you still insist on using them outdoors, they do come with hybrid noise cancelling that adds a light active circuit but relies heavily on the passive seal the thick ear pads offer as well. There’s also pseudo-surround sound, marked as 3D on the headset control and a Transparency mode for times you need to be aware of your surroundings. Build quality is generally OK, with slight creaking from the plastics around the headband but it isn’t much of a concern. With USB-C charging and a claimed battery life of 18hrs, the Mercedes headphones should last for flight duration all the way to Sindelfingen, if needed.
Sounds like an AMG!
Interestingly, the first word that comes to mind when you put on the Mercedes headphones and play Wicked Game by Rhye is “luxurious”. There is genuine depth to the soundstage and the tonal balance is rich, lush and just leans a tad towards the warmer side, which bodes well for extended periods of listening. But, this is all with ANC on. The moment you turn ANC off, it behaves like a completely different headphone altogether, with a weaker sound that lacks in body and depth. It’s like Mercedes wants you to use them only with ANC on all the time and it’s not such a bad thing after all since it isn’t the aggressive kinds like on the specialised ANC headphones and you can get by with using ANC indoors too without cutting off too much of the ambience around you. Though, this will have an effect on battery life, if you plan on maximising it till its claimed upper limit. The overzealous Transparency mode, on the other hand, takes things to the other extreme and attenuates the music signal so much that all you end up hearing is your surroundings and hardly any music, especially in noisier environs. 3D surround mode works well on certain kinds of music by adding meaningful spaciousness to the sound but its efficacy will depend on the genre of music you’re listening to.
Classical and Jazz vocals benefit the most from it but rap and rock as expected, get robbed of some of their punch and impact. Overall, as long as you keep ANC on and 3D off, it serves well for most music with a sound that is worthy of its price tag. Call quality is on par with others in the price range and doesn’t spring any surprises. A 3.5mm jack ensure that even after the battery has discharged during your layover en route to Germany, you can keep going. I didn’t need to charge it during a week of on/off use so it’s safe to say that you will get about 15-20hrs, depending on ANC on/off, volume levels etc.
The Mercedes-Benz Wireless headphones are truly a premium product in their sound and feel. Problem is, it starts feeling expensive when compared to the best of the breed, which include the Sony, Shure, Sennheiser and Bose options. Some of them are cheaper and others more versatile, while the Mercedes headphones clearly feel like they’re first aimed at brand fanboys and then at those looking for fine gifting options. They provide a comforting sound with a comfortable fit and the chrome tristar logo will certainly turn heads just like their cars, but it’s hard to imagine a premium headphone without an app to fine-tune settings, or without wear-detection to pause music when you take them off. It’s a brand extension that is great for Mercedes fans and one that won’t disappoint its loyalists, as long as they don’t go looking for value.