I hate buying something cheap. There’s nothing worse than the sinking feeling when you open something and realize it’s not long for this world. I also have trouble with my gear, which led me to buy these bulletproof headphones from an obscure company called German Maestro.

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

I do a lot of video editing and voice work. If you’ve done any video work, you’ve almost certainly used a pair of Sony MDRs. They are symbolic. You can see the blue or red stripe and the twisted cable through the kit. When you go to film school, you’re given a pair of MDRs as your service rifle for no good reason.

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

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

First of all, they are cheap. They usually go for around $80 if you look on sale. Their ubiquity on movie sets means you can get these phones at a huge discount, making them one of the best deals out there for people who need headphones for work. Then, they’re perfectly isolated closed-back headphones that let you pick out imperfections in the mix. There’s a reason you see kids following the sound on film sets and video shoots. Third, they are fairly “straightforward” and don’t try to dress up what you hear to sound good, without being too technical and pedantic. They are not bass-heavy Beats. These are for doing business. Finally, they are pretty well built for the price. They’re foldable and durable, so you can throw them in a Porta Brace bag without worrying about it getting messy.

MDRs are good for what they do. But they are not perfect.

First, they have a very long, non-removable phone cord, which might be fine in a studio setting, but funny if you’re trying to listen to music on your phone. I hate this cable with every fiber of my being. Basically, I feel strongly that all headphone cables should be removable, as cables can take tons of abuse. But what drives me up the wall is that I hate the twisted cable style. I find it gets stuck on too many things very easily and drives me up the wall every time I go in here.

The second is that the foam cushions in MDRs absorb flat. It’s not just a matter of convenience; they are just really bad pillows. I almost always upgrade the pads of my headphones to both To the tithe or Brainwavz pillowsbut you’ll likely need to replace these pads sooner than you think, especially if you’re using them in an unforgiving production context.

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

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

Finally, I don’t like the way they sound. How headphones sound gets into very subjective territory, but MDRs are good at best and, at worst, very hard for me. These were work headphones, but there was something about the loud volume that made my skin crawl when listening to people talk. It’s unfair to ask for more from the MDRs for the price, but at the end of the day, I just wanted something a little nicer: a professional version of the MDRs with nicer foam, better and removable cord options, and a less fatiguing sound. At the time (November 2020) it was not offered in America.

This led me down a long and winding road, trying to find a pair of headphones that ticked all the same boxes: flat, unbreakable, closed back, better cable. When you get into the higher echelons of audiophile distortion, 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 it Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros, and while they really are a studio staple, durable and have the most comfortable stock cushions of any headphone 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 I also tested 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 around to testing them. Sony’s MDR-7506s have another obscure but venerable non-folding big brother. MDR-CD900ST There is a straight cable as well as a higher-end model called Sony MDR-M1ST it has a detachable cable, but the former wasn’t available outside of Japan until recently, and the latter you still have to import.

Finally, my answer came in the form of a 76-page thread on the Head-fi forums from 2009-2019 by a user named Acix.German Maestro GMP 8.35 D Monitor in the studio… serious about audio, REALLY!!” I had never heard of the German Maestro (formerly MB Quart), but I was intrigued by the leap. The headphones looked industrial. Solid. Efficient. In short, they looked German. “Man, I’m more into function (sic) than form, but these have got to be the ugliest phones I’ve ever seen,” said user Bones2010. They looked nice to me.

Close-up of German Maestro's industrial logo.

“Seriously, REALLY about audio!!”
Photo: Christopher Person / The Verge

Most of the reviews were glowing, with the words “unbreakable” often mentioned. One dropped a picture of him stepping on a black leather boot. Another thread mentioned that they are often used on listening stations in music stores. People loved their balanced, detailed sound and the fact that they were so sensitive that they didn’t need a powerful headphone amplifier to listen to them. On the ropes and elsewhere, reviews compared them favorably Sennheiser HD25-1s, but better and with a slightly darker tone. Tight. It is controlled. One user pointed out that they are better in every way to their MDRs, exactly what I wanted at the price point.

As the theme progressed over the years, people got creative. Some disliked the stock pads and replaced them with watery ones from the aforementioned DT770s as well as Brainwavez HM5s. Others dug holes in them and did changes in backup cable. Finally, the German Maestro released a version with a removable cable and an extra spare pair of pads called The. GMP 8.35 Mobile specifically on request from clients with autism. It’s refreshing to hear a company get such feedback.

Thank goodness for a detachable cable.  That's all I ask.

Thank goodness for a detachable cable. That’s all I ask.
Photo: Christopher Person / The Verge

The phones seemed to tick every mark, but they proved to be a bit difficult to get. Besides a drop.com when it was released, no one in the US stocked them, so I had to order them directly from the manufacturer and pay in euros. I waited patiently and when they arrived they were exactly what I needed.

I was immediately impressed with how sturdy they were. The plastic was thick but didn’t weigh the phones down. Everything made today looks cheap and weak. They felt like they belonged to a different era, regardless of when the harvest was measured in decades rather than years. These were the equivalent of headphones British made Doc Martens. I could throw them at a brick wall ride a bike over themit would probably be fine if you plucked them from the dog’s teeth.

They sounded like they looked: “under control,” as one forum user put it. I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds of audiophile testing because that’s not what this blog is about (although I’d happily lend out my pair) crinacle or folks at Audio Science Review for a more extensive test). They were clear and flat, with tons of detail, but not too bright. The bass was there, but not overwhelming like I found the Beyerdynamics to be. If something was wrong with my mix, I could hear it immediately like listening to a pair Yamaha NS10s. In the end I preferred velvet cushions, which changed the sound a bit, but recently I wanted to try other options. They’re not the best headphones I’ve ever heard, but within the parameters I need them to do, they’re unbeatable.

Of course, they weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people I showed them to felt a little uncomfortable. Others did not like the sound. When I showed them to Alex Parkin (a certified MDR user with a worn-out pair who despises built-in cable) in the video group, I could sense his discomfort. “I definitely have to get used to these,” he said.

Built like a tank.

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

But even people who can’t go below sound agree that they are solid, efficient and have fantastic isolation. The Maestros are ideal studio headphones, made by a small and obscure company that really cares about the product they make. Is it worth the trouble to import them? I personally have no regrets.

On the corner of my desk are two headphones hanging from a hook: a pair Hifimans and my Maestros.

Hifimans are large and airy, comfortable Deco pillows I replaced it. These are my easy listening headphones. They’re big and flimsy, never left my desk, and I still had to order a replacement headband from the manufacturer.

My maestros sit next to them. They are my ‘work headphones’, sensitive and sturdy, designed for durability and concentration like a Herman Miller chair. I feel joy every time I pick them up. I’m thinking about a forum that’s been going on for ten years, with new people spinning, discovering, loving, and sometimes really hating these boxes. I keep them and know there’s a very good chance they’ll work for decades, maybe even after I’m dead and buried, and how rare it is to buy a piece of gear that will outlive you.

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