You can’t destroy these headphones

I hate buying anything cheap. There’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling when you open something and know it’s not long for this world. I’m also hard on my gear, which led me to buy these bulletproof headphones from an obscure company called German Maestro.

But to talk about these headphones, I first have to talk about another pair of headphones: the Sony MDR-7506 (and its discontinued sibling, the Sony MDR-V6).

I edit a lot of videos and do voiceover work. And if you’ve done video work, you’ve almost certainly used a pair of Sony MDRs. They are iconic. You can spot the blue or red tape and coiled cable through an assembly. When you go to film school, you basically get a pair of MDRs like a service rifle, and not without good reason.

The Sony MDR-7506s are industry standard, fantastic value, and I hate them.
Picture by Amazon

First and foremost, they are cheap. They are usually around $80 if you pay attention to sales. Their near ubiquity on movie sets means you can get these phones for a great price, making them one of the best deals for people who need headphones for work. Then, these are closed headphones, perfectly isolated, which make it possible to identify the imperfections of the mix. There’s a reason you see guys monitoring audio on film sets and video shoots wearing them. Third, they’re pretty “flat,” and without getting too technical and pedantic, they don’t try to dress up what you hear to please you. These are not bass-heavy Beats. These are to get the job done. Finally, they are built quite well for the cost. They fold up and are durable, which is why you can throw them in a Porta Brace bag and not worry about them getting messed up.

For what they do, the MDRs are fine. But they are not perfect.

For one thing, they have a far too long, unremovable phone cord that might be fine in a studio but is comical if you’re trying to listen to music on your phone. I hate this cable with every fiber of my being. In principle, I’m a big believer that all headphone cables should be removable, as cables can take tons of abuse. But what really pushes me into the wall is that I hate the coiled cable style. I find it clings too easily to too many things, and every time there is a crease, it drives me up the wall.

The second thing is that the foam pads on the MDRs just suck. It’s not just a matter of comfort; they are just very bad pads. I almost always upgrade my headphone earpads to Dekoni or Brainwavz earpads, but you’ll almost certainly need to replace those earpads sooner than you think, especially if you’re using them in a ruthless production setting.

A pair of Sony MDR-7506s with badly deteriorated ear pads.

The foam on these things sucks so much, man. I’ve seen this and worse happen so many times over the years.
Photo: Alex Parkin, The Verge

Well, I just don’t like the way they sound. The sound of the headphones enters into very subjective territory, but the MDRs are, at best, good and, at worst, too harsh for me. They were work headphones, but there was something about the treble that made my skin crawl as I listened to people talk. It’s unfair to ask more from the MDRs for the price, but in the end I just wanted something slightly nicer: a pro version of the MDRs with nicer foam, better cord options and less fatiguing sound. . At the time (November 2020), this was not offered in America.

It led me down a long and winding road, trying to find a pair of headphones that ticked all the same markers: flat, indestructible, closed, better cable. When you get into the upper echelons of audiophile perversion, most of your headphone options outside of IEMs are open or semi-open. I’ve researched some of the most respected studio headphones. Many people I know swear by the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros, and while they are indeed a studio staple, durable and have some of the most comfortable earpads of any headphone in its line, they weren’t what I would call flat, and I couldn’t get used to the way they sounded. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x also met many of my needs, but I didn’t like the sound and they didn’t feel special or particularly durable. A friend of mine swears by the Sennheiser HD 300 Pros, and I would believe him, but unfortunately I never got to test them. Sony also has another obscure but highly respected non-folding big brother to the MDR-7506s called the MDR-CD900ST which has a flat cable, as well as an even higher end model called the Sony MDR-M1ST which has a detachable cable, but the former was not available outside of Japan until fairly recently and the latter has yet to be imported.

Eventually my response came in the form of a 76-page thread on the Head-fi forums from 2009 to 2019 by a user named Acix titled “German Maestro GMP 8.35 D monitor in the studio…serious about audio, INDEED! !” I had never heard of the German Maestro (formerly MB Quart), but from the jump I was intrigued. The headphones felt industrial. Solid. Efficient. In a word, they looked German. “Man, I prefer function (sic) over form, but these have got to be the ugliest phones I’ve seen,” said user Bones2010. To me they were beautiful.

A close-up photo of the German Maestro's industrial logo.

“Serious about audio, INDEED!!”
Photo by Christopher Person/The Verge

Many reviews were glowing, with the words “indestructible” frequently mentioned. Someone dropped an image of a pair of black leather boots stepping on it. Another thread mentioned that they were frequently used in music store listening stations. People seemed to like their balanced, detailed sound and the fact that they were very sensitive and therefore didn’t need a powerful headphone amp to listen to them. In discussions and elsewhere, reviewers compared them favorably to the Sennheiser HD25-1s, only better and with a slightly darker tone. Tight. Control. A user mentioned that they were better in all respects for their MDRs, which is exactly what I wanted price-wise.

As the thread progressed over several years, people started to get creative. Some didn’t like the stock pads and replaced them with lush pads from the aforementioned DT770s as well as Brainwavez HM5s. Others drilled holes in it and made modifications to the original cable. Eventually, German Maestro released a version with a detachable cable and an extra pair of pads called The GMP 8.35 Mobile, specifically because of requests from autistic customers. It’s refreshing to hear a company take comments like that.

Oh thank goodness a detachable cable. That's all I ask.

Oh thank goodness a detachable cable. That’s all I ask.
Photo by Christopher Person/The Verge

The phones seemed to tick every box, but purchasing them proved a little tricky. Other than a version, no one in the US stocked them, so I had to order them directly from the manufacturer and pay in Euros. I patiently waited, and when they arrived they were exactly what I needed them to be.

I was immediately struck by their robustness. The plastic was thick, but it didn’t weigh the phones down. Everything made today seems cheap and flimsy. They felt like they belonged to another era, lifted back in time where products were measured in decades not years. These were the helmet equivalents of the English-made Doc Martens. I could throw this stuff against a brick wall, run a bike over it, rip it out of a dog’s teeth, and it’d probably be fine.

They sounded like they looked: “controlled,” as one forum user put it. I don’t want to get into the weeds of audiophile testing too much because that’s really not the point of this blog (although I’d happily lend my pair to Crinacle or the folks at Audio Science Review for further testing). They were clear and flat, with tons of detail but not very flashy. The bass was there, but not intrusive like I had found at Beyerdynamics. If something was wrong with my mix, I could hear it immediately, like listening to a pair of Yamaha NS10s. I ended up preferring the velor pads, which changed the sound slightly, but lately I’ve wanted to try other options. They’re not the best headphones I’ve ever heard, but within the parameters of what I need they are second to none.

Of course, they weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people I showed them found them a bit uncomfortable. Others didn’t like the sound. When I showed them to Alex Parkin on the video team (an MDR-certified user with a well-worn pair who also despises the coiled cable), I could sense his trepidation. “I would definitely need to get used to it,” he said.

Built like a tank.

Built like a tank.
Photo by Christopher Person/The Verge

But even people who couldn’t accept the sound agreed that they were sturdy, efficient and had fantastic isolation. The Maestros are ideal studio headphones made by a small, obscure company that really seems to care about the product they make. Is it worth importing? Personally I have no regrets.

In the corner of my desk, I have two headphones hanging from a hook: a pair of Hifimans and my Maestros.

The Hifimans are big and airy, with comfortable Dekoni pads that I replaced. These are my easy listening headphones. They’re big and flimsy, they never left my desk, and I still had to order a replacement headband from the manufacturer.

My Maestros are seated next to them. These are my sensitive and rugged “work headphones,” meant for durability and focus like a Herman Miller chair. Every time I take them, I feel a sense of joy. I think of that discussion forum that lasted a decade, with new people spinning, discovering, loving and sometimes really hating these cans. I own them and I know there’s a very good chance they’ll still work for decades to come, maybe even after I’m dead and buried, and how rare it really is to buy equipment designed for you survive.

. destroy headphones

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