Montblanc, arguably best known for its writing instruments and its timepieces, has long branched out into other products lines such as leather goods. Some technological gadgets were derived from the core offerings such as connected watches and augmented paper, but three years ago, the maison ventured into a whole new category with the release of its MB 01 over-the-ear headphones. Those remain in the catalogue, with very minor updates to the colourways, and also an app that was not available initially at launch to tweak the settings and the sound profile. Now, Montblanc has turned their attention to the incredibly competitive sector of in-ear headphones with the release of the MTB 03.
It’s considerably more common to see people using in-ear headphones, or earbuds, rather than over-the-ear models, given their portability and relative discretion, and every major audio specialist has a number of options for their customers. So it’s interesting that Montblanc has chosen to join the fray in what is a highly competitive environment. We’ve seen some luxury brands collaborate with established audio companies to offer branded editions, but it seems that Montblanc has chosen a different route; the design of the MTB 03 is somewhat reminiscent of the ink bottles that traditionalists may prefer for their writing instruments. While the Montblanc snow cap logo is prominent on each earbud and their charging case, the name itself is only very discretely visible on the contour of the earbuds.
The first impression in hand is certainly qualitative, with an excellent build to the case which feels metallic, with the heft that you’d expect. This may be a slight drawback though as it does make it relatively heavy compared with some of the more mainstream competition, but it feels as though it’s a deliberate choice to give it a more luxurious feel. Surprisingly for a metal construction, the case does feature magnetic charging in addition to today’s standard USB-C port, and it will hold up to a 12-hour charge in addition to the earbud’s internal 6 hour battery. A quick charge feature means that 15 minutes’ charging will give you approximately 100 minutes of listening time, which may vary depending on whether you activate the noise cancelling feature or not.
In ear, I found the MTB 03 to be surprisingly comfortable, especially when listening for an extended period of time. Their design relies almost entirely on the fit of the rubber inserts within your ear canal, with the edge of the earbud only providing a little pressure to keep them in place. These fit statements are highly subjective; it seems that ear morphology is still one of the biggest mysteries to even the most experienced engineer, it’s simply impossible to do a one-size-fits-all approach. To account for this variability, Montblanc supplies a number of different sized eartips in the box, in XS, S, M and L, so there should be room for adaptability.
The pairing procedure is straightforward out of the box, you simply open the case and look for the MTB 03 to appear in the Bluetooth listing on your device. However, an unusual feature is that there is no pairing button on the case itself, should you want to pair the earbuds to another device. It took a little digging in the manual, which is very minimalist as it relies almost entirely on pictograms, to figure out that the pairing command is activated on the earbuds themselves by placing a finger on each earbuds simultaneously for seven seconds. The other commands are quite standard, with single, double or triple taps required for play / pause, forward or back respectively, and they’re duplicated on each earbud (some earbuds may differentiate commands given either on the left or right). The only ones that do require a specific side are the noise cancelling command, which is a two second press on the left, and the mute during a call command, which is a two second press on the right. There is, however, no sound confirmation that I detected on any of the commands, but the design of the earbuds means that it’s quite clear where you need to tap in order for the command to register. The timing when multiple taps are required does need to be deliberate though; tap twice too fast and the second tap might not register, pausing your music instead of skipping to the next track.
Montblanc partnered with well-known sound engineer Axel Grell, who spent some three decades tailoring the sound profiles at Sennheiser, one of the leading names in the audio industry, before venturing out on his own in 2019. As such, the sound profile on the MTB 03 comes across as being rather neutral, and not overly digitally processed. It may appeal to some audio purists, but it does make you very aware of the quality of the source file from which you’re playing music. Some older digital files that have not been updated or remastered for a Bluetooth connection as opposed to wired may sound a little flat. The MTB 03 don’t try to compensate for that with digital processing, which may bring you to think they sound flat if you only listen to a couple of tracks. The sound can be tailored through the Montblanc app though, although I found it best to leave it on the default profile.
The one aspect that I must admit I found a little lacking was the noise cancelling, perhaps because we’ve seen some other earbuds on the market that are seemingly able to enclose you in a soundproof cocoon. That might be by design though, as some of the more enthusiastically noise cancelling earbuds can have an impact on the sound quality as well. Although the MTB 03 do an adequate job, certain constant sounds and conversations came come through.
All in all, the Montblanc MTB 03 do tick a lot of boxes that some of the audio specialists took years to perfect, such as the ability to use each earbud independently, a balanced sound profile, a pocketable case with magnetic charging, a useful, straightforward app, and, at least for me, a comfortable fit. It’s perhaps the latter that will be its best selling point, in addition to the Montblanc style that will appeal to the maison’s loyal clientele.