I hate buying something cheap. There’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling when you open something and know it won’t be 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 voice over work. And if you’ve done video work, you’ve almost certainly used a few Sony MDRs. They are iconic. You can see the blue or red stripe and coiled cable of a set. When you go to film school, you basically get some MDRs like a service rifle, and for good reason.
First and foremost, they are cheap. They usually go for about $80 if you look out for sales. Their near-ubiquity on movie sets means you can pick up these phones at a huge discount, making them one of the better deals for people who need headphones to work on. Next, they are closed-back headphones, perfectly isolated, which allow you to detect imperfections in the mix. There’s a reason you see guys monitoring audio on movie sets and video recording them. Third, they are fairly ‘flat’ and without getting too technical and pedantic, they don’t try to dress up what you hear to sound pleasant. They’re not bass-heavy Beats. These are for getting work 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 without worrying about them getting tangled.
For what they do, the MDRs are okay. But they aren’t perfect.
For starters, they have a way too long non-detachable phone cord that might be fine in a studio setting, 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 strongly believe that all headphone cables should be removable as cables can take a lot of abuse. But what really drives me against the wall is that I hate the coiled style of cable. I find it catches on too many things too easily, and every time it kinked it drove me against the wall.
The second is that the foam pads on the MDRs just suck straight up. It’s not just a matter of comfort; they are just really bad pads. I almost always upgrade the pads on my headphones to Dekoni or Brainwavz pads, but you’ll almost certainly need to replace these pads sooner than you think, especially if you’re using them in an unforgiving production context.
Finally, I just don’t like the way they sound. How the sound of headphones gets into very subjective territory, but the MDRs are fine at best and too loud for me at worst. These were work headphones, but there was something about the highs that made my skin itch while listening to people talk. It’s unfair to ask more of the MDRs for the price, but in the end I just wanted something nicer: a pro version of the MDRs with nicer foam, better and removable cable options, and a less fatiguing sound. This was not offered in America at the time (November 2020).
This led me down a long and winding path, looking for a pair of headphones that ticked all the same boxes: flat, indestructible, closed-back, 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, are durable and have some of the most comfortable standard pads of any pair of headphones in their range, they’re not what I’d call flat, and I couldn’t get used to how 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 an obscure but respected non-foldable big brother to the MDR-7506s, the MDR-CD900ST, which has a flat cable, as well as an even more expensive model, the Sony MDR-M1ST, which has a detachable cable. , but the former wasn’t available outside Japan until recently, and the latter you’ve yet to import.
Finally my answer came in the form of a 76 page thread on the Head-fi forums from 2009 to 2019 by a user named Acix titled “The 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 looked industrial. Solid. Efficient. Basically, they looked German. “Man, I’m all for function (sic) above form, but those have to be the ugliest phones I’ve seen,” said user Bones2010. To me, they looked beautiful.
Many of the reviews were glowing, often mentioning the words “indestructible”. Someone dropped the image of a pair of black leather boots stepping on it. Another thread mentioned that they were commonly used in music store listening stations. People seemed to love their balanced, detailed sound and the fact that they were very sensitive, so they didn’t need a powerful headphone amp to listen to. In discussions and elsewhere, reviews compared them favorably to the Sennheiser HD25-1s, but better and with a slightly darker tone. Narrow. checked. One user said they were better in every way with their MDRs, which is exactly what I wanted for the price.
As the thread progressed for several years, people started getting creative. Some disliked the stock pads and replaced them with luscious ones from the aforementioned DT770s and Brainwavez HM5s. Others drilled holes in it and made changes to the standard cable. Eventually, the German Maestro released a version with a removable cable and an extra pair of pads called The GMP 8.35 Mobile, specifically due to requests from customers with autism. It’s refreshing to hear that a company is taking on board such feedback.
The phones seemed to tick every box, but buying them turned out to be a bit tricky. Other than a drop.com release, no one in the United States had them in stock, so I had to order them directly from the manufacturer and pay in euros. I waited patiently and when they arrived they were just what I needed.
I immediately noticed how sturdy they were. The plastic was thick, but it didn’t weigh down the phones. Everything made today feels cheap and flimsy. They felt like they came from a different era, not stuck in time when products were measured in decades, not years. These were the headphone equivalents of the British-made Doc Martens. I could throw these things against a brick wall, ride a bike over them, rip them out of a dog’s teeth, and they’d probably be fine.
They sounded like they looked: “checked,” as one forum user put it. I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds of audiophile testing, because that’s really not the point of this blog (although I’m happy to lend my pair to crinacle or the folks at Audio Science Review for more extensive testing). They were bright and flat, with lots of detail, but not too flashy. The bass was there, but not overbearing as I’d found Beyerdynamics. If something was wrong with my mix, I could hear it right away, like listening to a pair of Yamaha NS10s. In the end, I preferred the velor pads, which slightly changed the sound, but recently I wanted to try other options. They’re not the best headphones I’ve ever heard, but within the parameters of what I need, they’re peerless.
Of course, they weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people I’ve shown them to have found them a bit uncomfortable. Others didn’t like the sound. When I showed them to Alex Parkin from the video team (a certified MDR user with a worn pair who also hates the coiled cable), I sensed his concern. “I would definitely have to get used to this,” he said.
But even people who couldn’t appreciate the sound agreed that they were sturdy, efficient and fantastically insulated. The Maestros are ideal studio headphones made by a small and obscure company that seem to really care about the product they produce. Are they worth importing? Personally, I don’t regret it.
On the corner of my desk, two headphones hang on a hook: a pair of Hi-Fimans and my Maestros.
The Hifimans are big and airy, with comfortable Dekoni pads that I replaced. Those are my easy-listening headphones. They’re big and fragile, they’ve never left my desk, and I’ve still had to order a replacement headband from the manufacturer.
My Maestros are wrong. It’s my “work headset,” sensible and sturdy, designed for durability and concentration, like a Herman Miller chair. Every time I pick them up I feel a sense of joy. I think of that thread forum that went on for a decade, with new people coming in, discovering, loving and sometimes really hating these cans. I hold them and know there’s a very good chance they’ll work for decades, possibly even after I’m dead and buried, and how rare it is to buy a piece of gear made to outlive you .