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Marshall Minor III
September 15, 2021
Authenticity and heritage are words that get flung around often in marketing circles. Marshall asks us to remember rock’s golden era of huge guitar amp stacks with its new true wireless earbuds, the Marshall Minor III. The Minor III is direct and simple with aptX support, an attractive price, and a single command setting.
Does it do the trick of offering good sound quality, or is this just a beloved label on something Jim Marshall would scrap? We spent a week with the Minor III earbuds to answer this very question.
Editor’s note: this Marshall Minor III review was updated on March 10, 2023, to add the microphone poll results, and the add the Nothing Ear (stick) and Marshall Major IV as alternatives.
What’s it like to use the Marshall Minor III?
Using the Marshall Minor III is super easy. You pop the lid, press and hold the button on the bottom of the case until the light flashes blue to initiate pairing, and finally select it on your device. You don’t get the frills of any apps or ear tips. The box simply contains the charging case, earbuds, and a USB-C charging cable.
Like all Marshall products, the Minor III nods to its guitar amplifier heritage, and its look is sort of polarizing. I can appreciate the grippy, textured case, but unlike the vinyl (often referred to as Tolex) of a Marshall guitar amp, it feels a bit cheap. I don’t feel reminded of the grand history of Marshall, but rather the diluting of it—like a pastiche. The lid feels like it could snap easily after one accidental drop. In contrast, I’ve seen Marshall amps fall down the stairs and still work.
In another reference to Marshall amps, knurled black and brass-colored metal make up the earbud stems. This is presumably meant to evoke the knobs of an amp. In practice, the metal just contributes added weight and if it’s cold outside you feel it transfer to your skin. Here’s the thing, the Minor III buds are light, but they’re otherwise constructed of a cheap plastic that’s best suited to 1980s action figures, and that doesn’t help the already poor fit. You can see, and more importantly feel, the unfinished seams on the housings. Meanwhile, the edges on the battery charging case are literally rough around the edges, too. The nicest finished features are the metal button on the case and the shiny brass on the bottom of the stems.
The Minor III isn’t a harbinger of Marshall’s undoing, because Marshall didn’t create the Minor III. Zound Industries, responsible for Urbanears (among some others), is responsible for the Minor III. It’s unlikely the company that produced beloved amps like the JCM 800 or JTM 45 had a big hand in the design of the Minor III. If you like Urbanears, maybe you’ll like these earphones.
Does the Marshall Minor III fit well?
The Minor III fit leaves a lot of room for improvement. Sure, many companies copy Apple, but the worse sin is copying Apple badly. The AirPods has a notoriously loose fit, which does not suit everyone. With that said, at least the glossy plastic of the AirPods has a good level of finish and tends to stick to warm skin somewhat. The Minor III earbuds sit very precariously at the base of your ear canals. Smiling broadly or tilting my head, I can feel the buds inch out before I press them back in.
The fit and finish is bad.
Because the Minor III uses touch commands basically where the “M” is, it’s easy to accidentally trigger a pause or play command. Without the security of optional ear tips or any kind of wings or stabilizers, your fit relies entirely on how close your anatomy follows Zound Industries’ idea of the average ear.
It seems slightly odd that these earbuds, which fall out when you sit still, have been certified with an IPX4 rating. Sweatproofing is great but it’s a bit pointless if the buds don’t fit. If you hoped to take these buds to the gym, look elsewhere. I guess the upside is that if (or when) your Minor III bud tumbles into a shallow puddle, you don’t have to be as concerned about whether it still works. Though, I’ll quickly point out sweatproof does not equal waterproof.
How do you control the Marshall Minor III?
Because the Minor III is purely a pair-and-go affair, you can’t customize any of the commands. Sometimes that’s nice, as not everyone wants to futz with an app or programming. Pop the Marshall Minor III in your ears, and it’ll auto-play music. Take it out, and it’ll pause.
All commands work just fine on the Minor III. Then again, it’s fairly common to accidentally disconnect a phone call when I mean to simply push the buds back into my ears. An app to disable the touch controls (or frankly, a better fit) could prevent such occurrences. For people who care about voice assistants, the Minor III does not have a voice assistant capability.
How does the Marshall Minor III connect?
It seems Marshall has specifically sought out the Android crowd. Hey, it’s nice to get noticed. The Minor III includes aptX and SBC codecs over the newest Bluetooth 5.2. Interesting is the lack of AAC support for iPhone users, a codec that’s bog-standard these days. iPhone users will have to make do with the lesser SBC performance with their devices. To contrast, Android users get to enjoy the consistent quality from aptX.
Unfortunately, even with Bluetooth 5.2, which ought to supply solid stability, the Minor III begins losing connection around 4.5 meters (15 feet) away from my device, without any walls or obstructions. Such a result is a disappointment compared to some contemporaries. So, keep your device close by.
How long does the battery last on the Marshall Minor III?
In testing with audio set to 75dB(SPL) the Marshall Minor III yields 4 hours, 18 minutes of battery life on a single charge. This figure is on the lower end of average. At this point, power-hungry buds that use active noise cancellation and spatial audio can get better figures. Marshall estimates you get a total of 25 hours of battery, including the case. These figures all depend on how loud you listen to music at, and a myriad of other variables like your device.
You get wireless charging capabilities as well, which is nice. Finally, Marshall adds the convenience of a 15-minute quick charge for 90 minutes of music. A full charge takes two hours.
Does the Marshall Minor III have good isolation?
The Minor III has lackluster isolation. Marshall is aping the AirPods recipe of an open seal fit, so to be fair, it’s not trying to have good isolation. The downside of an unsealed ear means your environment will still reach your eardrums, forcing you to either deal with compromised sound quality, or to crank the volume. Unfortunately, this practice of turning it up over time can contribute to hearing loss. I frequently increase the volume incrementally until I realize it’s too loud to listen safely.
One upside of an open-type fit is that you can stay aware, so if sound quality isn’t as important to you as maintaining awareness of your surroundings that’s a reason to consider this. With that said, plenty of isolating (and noise canceling) earbuds have solved the problem of maintaining awareness while offering an isolating fit by simply adding transparency modes.
Maybe you like an open design because super isolating earbuds give you vertigo. If that’s true, you should just buy AirPods (3rd generation), Sony LinkBuds WF-L900, or Bose Open Sport in that case, because those stay in better than the Minor III. You can also try the wallet-friendly, Urbanista Lisbon, which uses a stabilizer to ensure the unsealed buds stays put. There’s also the Nothing Ear (stick) to consider as well.
How does the Marshall Minor III sound?
Like all open seal earphones, your mileage varies with the Minor III. You’ll probably notice that the quality of sound you hear when the buds just dangle loosely is considerably different from when you hold them in place. The treble frequency response is reasonable, with some under-emphasis. Because sounds below 1kHz are so quiet, the under-emphasis in the highs is not noticeable when compared to the quiet bass notes. Even those who don’t care for bass will miss it here.
Lows, mids, and highs
Listening to One Day by Bjork, the Minor III sounds distinctly treble-focused. Most frequencies are audible, but low frequencies tend to get lost first when a fit is loose. So the song’s prominent bass synth projects quietly without the oomph. The midrange synth is rendered too quietly as well. Meanwhile, Bjork’s vocals cut through loud and clear, as do the drum machine’s hi-hats. In fact, the hi-hats are notably louder than the mids here.
To highlight the difference between a good and a bad fit, I push and hold the buds in place to simulate a better fit. When I hold the buds in place, Bjork’s voice comes through with more detail and the bass is more present. Yes, fit matters a lot.
How’s the mic on the Marshall Minor III?
The Minor III microphones reproduces voices pretty clearly. The flipside of this fairly accurate reproduction is nearly zero noise rejection, especially with street and office noises. With that said, the Minor III does a decent job of capturing your voice, though, as shown in our street noise sample, it can cut out your voice. Surprisingly, the wind rejection is good on the Minor III. It sounds like there isn’t any wind in the example.
As of March 10, 2023, the poll results mostly land between “okay” and “average,” which indicates the mic is one of the better features on the Marshall Minor III.
Marshall Minor III microphone sample (Ideal):
Marshall Minor III microphone sample (Office):
Marshall Minor III microphone sample (Street):
Marshall Minor III microphone sample (Wind):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy Marshall Minor III?
If you have gone to the effort to finish this review, you know to do your research and not just buy into heritage labeling. Okay, maybe you wanted easy earbuds with the better performance of aptX. Pairing with my Android phone and my PC is indeed easy with the Minor III. Commands work, except they can trigger accidentally when adjusting the buds, including phone hang ups. However, what this highlights is that we need all the ingredients to make a good product.
Crucially, the Minor III is missing good sound and a secure fit. All the working touch controls, wireless charging, and aptX compatibility mean zilch if the buds fall out. But, maybe the name—Minor III—really refers to the strict minority that the earbuds fit perfectly. If you can get the buds to stay in and you are alone in a quiet room, they sound honestly, still not great but the treble is good. Still, this depends on whether the drivers are close enough to the ear canal so it may adequately register bass frequencies. It kind of makes you want to give up and put on over-ear headphones, doesn’t it?
What should you get instead of the Marshall Minor III?
Don’t give up on true wireless earbuds just because this headset is a bit of a dud. There are plenty of alternatives. You could try the Jabra Elite 3 instead. For $59 at Amazon you still get aptX compatibility and a much better fit. The sound quality beats the Marshall Minor III too. If you’re okay with a transparency mode, the included app allows you to hear your surroundings without sacrificing a solid fit. Like the Minor III, the Elite 3 feels light but the fit actually seals to your ears. The battery handily beats out the Marshall buds with about a 7-hour run time. It also does not have AAC compatibility.
Those with an iPhone are better served looking at alternatives with AAC codecs. If you like the idea of black AirPods and a comfortable and unobtrusive design (that is still better than the Minor III), you can try the LG TONE Free FP8. For $69 at Amazon, you get active noise canceling, different ear tip choices, and an app with some customization. It’s also very lightweight with a stemmed style. You get a similar battery life as the Minor III, however, that’s with ANC on, which the Minor III does not have. So if you don’t need ANC, the battery will surely last longer with the function off.
Sticking to stemmed designs, you can check out the Denon AH-C830NCW. Like the Minor III, it’s a no-fuss affair in terms of apps, and it uses touch controls. Fortunately, Denon offers different ear tips so you can zero in on your fit. It also sounds a lot better than the Minor III. Landing in a similar price range £139 at Amazon Site, the Denon AH-C830NCW boasts some active noise canceling too. iPhone users will appreciate the AAC inclusion. Availability may be the main obstacle here.
As far as open seal fits go, if you don’t want AirPods, the Nothing Ear (stick) retains some of the same issues as the Minor III, such as a light on bass frequency response, but it works better. It has a good app and a better fit and finish compared to the Minor III, and not too different in price ($64 at Amazon).
If the main draw for you is the Marshall name and style, consider the on-ear headphones, Major IV. It sounds much better, feels vastly more comfortable, and boasts a long battery life and goes for a similar price of $116 at Amazon. Sure, it only uses SBC, but it also has a headphone jack. Like the Minor III it’s a straight forward set of headphones, but better executed.
Frequently asked questions about the Marshall Minor III
No, the Minor III is a finished product. That’s nice because what you see is what you get, but any bugs will stick around, and no new features will get added like with some wireless earbuds with app support.
Because the Minor III has an IPX4 rating, you don’t have to be too careful with moisture when cleaning your buds. With all those textured surfaces, you’ll want a swab and some soapy water to get into the grooves, particularly the knurled metal. Otherwise, follow our guide.