Marshall Minor III review: Good sound can’t redeem its many sins

Don’t let the classy design fool you, the Minor III wireless earbuds aren’t comfortable and lack many features that even cheaper earbuds now have.

Marshall Minor III review: Good sound can't redeem these wireless earbuds sins
Alejandro Medellin / Input

There are three basic criteria any pair of wireless earbuds should have: they should fit well, sound good, and battery life should be decent. Marshall’s Minor III wireless earbuds sound okay, but fail at everything else.

You might think Marshall’s signature faux leather aesthetic is enough to justify the $129 price, but I’m here to tell you it’s not. The Minor III are poor wireless earbuds, and you should avoid them at all costs. Take your pick — Pixel Buds A-Series, Echo Buds 2, Galaxy Buds 2, etc. — there’s an endless list of wireless earbuds at myriad price points that are better buys.

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Faux luxury

Aesthetically, the Minor III buds look like premium wireless earbuds. These are basically AirPods dressed up with faux leather and brass-like textures to give them the appearance of a more expensive product. But don’t be fooled. Though I admit the materials are nice, there’s really nothing refined here. It’s just veneer and it gets old fast.

The faux-leather case sure looks nice. Alejandro Medellin / Input

Even the features are barebones. The Minor III buds are so basic, Marshall didn’t bother making a companion app. That means you can’t tweak the sound with an EQ or even any presets and you can’t update the firmware. Even the $80 Jabra Elite 3 has access to an app. What’s infuriating is that Marshall does make an app, the Marshall Bluetooth app, but it’s only for its pricier $199 Motif A.N.C. earbuds.

Noise cancellation is a feature we’re starting to see in more earbuds within the $100-150 range — hello OnePlus Buds Pro. Hell, even the $99 Nothing Ear (1) buds have ANC. But there’s no ANC in the Minor III.

Another thing that doesn’t work well: voice calls. The microphones pick up sound fine enough, but I had connection issues. Several times I experienced pairing issues mid-call. That could be due to the earbuds slipping out and me having to push them back in (keep reading), but I can’t be sure. And speaking of pairing, the earbuds show up as a mess of characters in my Bluetooth settings; it’s an issue we’ve seen with other wireless earbuds like the Ear (1) and it reeks of sloppiness.

What the hell does this mean? Alejandro Medellin / Input

And as if the list of cons wasn’t long enough, there’s no support for any voice assistants like Siri or the Google Assistant. Again, the Ear (1) also doesn't support assistants, but the Minor III are $130 earbuds. If freaking SkullCandy can put a proprietary voice assistant on two of its new wireless earbuds for under $100, so can Marshall. It really feels like Marshall is scrimping here.

Bad fit

Fit is arguably the most important thing for wireless earbuds because if they don’t fit, then who cares how good the sound is?

The Marshall III buds use the same open-fit design as AirPods, meaning the earbuds sit in your ears, but there are no rubber or foam ear tips to help create a tighter seal. There’s nothing wrong with open-style wireless earbuds, but the problem with the Minor IIIs is that they’re larger than AirPods. They just wouldn’t stay in no matter how much I readjusted or firmly pressed them into place. The Minor III FAQ page says that the earbuds “will be a good fit for most users.” If the standard for “most users” is unofficially AirPods, then anything larger isn’t. I don’t have particularly small ears and I couldn’t get them to stay in.

The grained texture makes the earbuds hard to stay put. Alejandro Medellin / Input

Their material also presents a different problem: the grain-textured plastic isn’t very grippy. Unlike the smooth plastic on AirPods that gently hugs your skin, the Minor III’s coarse texture makes them very loose.

One time, an earbud fell out as I was flushing, narrowly missing the toilet. I’ve never experienced that with other wireless earbuds. If I talked or made any facial expressions, the buds would fall out, too. As dramatic as this may sound, were these earbuds actually tested on real people? Because it doesn’t feel like it.

It’s not like you can push the earbuds back into your ear whenever they’re loose. Pushing them into your ear canal for the umpteenth time becomes painful over time. In fact, it was my ear canal aching that led me to take off the earbuds. In all my testing, I could never wear the Minor III buds for very long. Because of that, I couldn’t verify the actual battery life of the earbuds, which Marshall claims is a total of 25 hours (5 hours on a single charge).

The bad fit also makes the in-ear detection feature impossible to use. In-ear detection is common on wireless earbuds — audio pauses when you take a bud out of your ear and resumes when you put it back in. But since the buds always fall out, my audio would always stop. It wasn’t a big deal at first, but after repeatedly disrupting music and podcasts, I couldn’t stand it. I put a piece of electrical tape around 1-2mm in size over the in-ear sensor on each bud and it stopped the auto-pause/resume. But then I ran into another issue: taping the infrared sensor disabled the touch controls. Talk about being busted.

Good sound

The one thing that barely saves these from the garbage bin is the sound quality. The Minor III earbuds use either SBC or aptX as the Bluetooth codec. Depending on your phone, either one will work, but Android phones with Qualcomm chips can take advantage of the latter. Other phones, such as iPhones, will rely on the basic SBC Bluetooth codec. It’s functional enough, but it would have been nice for AAC support for iOS users. Anyway, the earbuds sound good.

These earbuds sound incredible for the price. Alejandro Medellin / Input

Lows are mellow and clearly distinguishable in songs like Kota the Friend’s “B.Q.E.,” with its kick drums and percussion softly pounding underneath; the heavy kick drums in a song like Roy Woods’ “Say Less,” comes through loud and clear. The mids are good as well; the Minor III shine here. In songs like Buddy Guy’s “Cognac,” the multiple guitars and piano sound crisp, especially during the solos; the soliloquy and playful banter come through perfectly. The highs are fine, though pushing the volume too high can give you a headache in songs with lots of snares or other sharp, piercing sounds.

The Minor III’s soundstage was much better than I thought possible in all the songs I mentioned. A good example is Los Heroes del Silencio’s “Avalancha” performed live. The song has multiple guitars, drums, and vocals. The bass guitar is so stanky — just absolutely disgusting in a good way — throughout, but lower-end headphones typically can’t help it stand out, nor the low-key solo near the end. The Minor III picks up the bass guitar just fine, though, as well as the solo. And it sounds sick. If you got a playlist full of face-melters, these would be the earbuds to get, if not for the myriad other issues that drag it all down.

Major pass

The first time I put the Minor III on, getting the earbuds to stay in was a pain in my ass, but I couldn’t help but notice the sound quality. Of all the wireless earbuds I've reviewed this year, the Minor III might have the edge over others in the $100-150 category in terms of sound. At the very least, Marshall gets sound quality right — it would have been embarrassing if it didn’t, considering its heritage.

Besides the sound and looks, these earbuds don’t have much going for them. Alejandro Medellin / Input

Sadly, so much of the Minor III buds is so bad that it overshadows the sound. I mean, no ANC, no assistant support, and no app is bad enough, but the ergonomic design is even worse. The fit is terrible; it’s just plain bad. And the in-ear detection issue had me counting to 10, as it had me readjusting the earbuds over and over again. Finally, the pain caused by the uncomfortable fit made these an easy thumbs down.

While it’s possible to overlook some things at this price point, the combination of issues makes it hard. Forget looking away; try wishing you never looked in the first place.