Marshall Major IV headphone review: On-ear sonic sweetness

At first glance, I thought Zound Industries—the company that builds speakers and headphones under license from Marshall Amplification—had to be pulling my leg. The cups on the $150 Marshall Major IV aren’t big enough to fit around a five-year old’s ears, let alone an adult’s.

Then I put them on. I’ll be darned. There’s a method to this “on-ear” versus traditional “over-ear” madness. 

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best headphones, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

In your cups

I’d love to have been in the meeting where the idea for the first “on-ear” headphone was presented. Raised eyebrows aplenty I’m sure. I’m also sure doubts disappeared once the executives being pitched actually tried them. They can be pretty comfortable, and if the first batch sounded anything like the Marshall Major IV, those eyebrows raised once more for entirely different reasons.

So why does on-ear work? The fact is, headphones must make contact with your head at some point, and if they don’t put undue pressure on your outer ears, that can be as good a place as any. That said, it does take a bit of getting used to. At least it did for me—that the Marshall Major IV are on-ear headphones didn’t even register with one tester who commented only on the good sound. 

Additionally, there are tons of headphones out there, and only the very best have ear cup cushions that keep your ears from uncomfortably contacting the rigid inner speaker grills. The manner in which the small cushions on the cups of the Marshall Major IV rest on your ears means you’ll never feel a hard, grating surface.

While the driver cavity centers nicely over your ear canals, the on-ear design does allow a bit more ambient noise into your ears than over-ear designs. Not a lot, but some. I like this, but you might not.

mark iv detail Marshall

The Marshall Major IV on-ear headphones rely on a single multi-function joystick for control. It’s a joy once you’re used to it. Pun intended. 

Inside the tiny cups are high-quality 40mm drivers. How do I know they’re high quality? Because these headphones sound excellent. But you knew that because you saw the Editors’ Choice logo up top. The Marshall Major IV utilize Bluetooth 5.0, and there’s a USB-C port for charging the battery (wireless charging is also supported, although only a USB cable comes in the box). The headphone also has a 3.5mm jack for hardwired use and the accompanying cable is a very nice wound, stretch type—-the best I’ve seen with a headset.

A tiny multi-function joystick is used to power-up and Bluetooth-pair these cans, adjust the volume, select the next/previous track, and invoke your phone’s digital assistant. It also controls your calls.