REVIEW: MITCHELL & JOHNSON MJ1 – SHIMMER
Disclaimer: Mitchell & Johnson sent the MJ1 my way for the purposes of this review. I will be reviewing most of their headphone line. The MJ1 goes for 399,99£. You can find out more about them here: MJ1 stereo headphones.
After reviewing Verisonix’s N500 and N501, Electrostatz Technology left a deep impression on me. Such clarity, such precise z-axis 3D detail, and so little weight and drive requirement. Mitchell & Johnson’s Electrostatz versions follow similar signatures to their Verisonix OEM, but are a bit more bitey around and above the vocals. Bass lines are tauter, hardening the entire sound. The differences aren’t huge, but I think anyone with ear time on both versions will get them.
Electrostatz is one of the most interesting hybrid technologies out there. It ties a 40mm dynamic driver to a portable electrostatic driver in a passive crossover. No special amp need, and Electrostatz headphones get right loud even from portable sources. Ostensibly, it hitches together the benefits of both driver types.
Mitchell & Johnson’s headphones come in standard white boxes, emblazoned with two icons, one beautiful, one cheap. The beautiful one is the Union Jack; the cheap one is that eye sore that reads: Hi-Res Audio. At least to these eyes, it is better suited to market cheap headphones for people that know nothing about headphones.
This box is easier to open, close, and get around in than Verisonix’s box. MJ1 is fast: it neither folds, nor bends. Nor does it come with the zippered case the MJ2 and JP1 come with. In its stead is is a subtly-branded, soft, velvet-lined tote pouch. Inside that are three cables: a curlicue DJ-style cable, a textile clad mic’d remote cable, and a no-fills textile clad cable. Further, there are a 3,5mm to 6,3mm stereo phono step-up adapter and an old-school airplane dual-mono-to-stereo adapter. If you’ve forgotten that airplanes used to pump audio via air pressure from the armrests through bare rubber tubes, you might just remember that what came after was a dual-mono output. But it’s been yonks. And in general, those outputs sound like mud. There is real reason to include a 3,5 to 6,3 step up adapter, but – especially for high-end headphones – little reason to still include an airplane adapter.
While I use each cable, my favourite is the regular textile cable. The reason is that whilst on the go, I don’t always listen through my iPhone and the mic’d cable doesn’t work on the amazing Onkyo DP-S1. That, and the regular textile cable is more svelte.
The MJ1 is solidly built. The metal butt of each arm is fastened by two metal bolts. Its shiny, swivelling metal fulcrums attach to shiny metal hangars. Generally, the fulcrums are well anchored, playing only just so on their hinges. And the dark walnut cups are handsome. The MJ1 is also the first Electrostatz headphone I’ve used that fits my head – albeit barely – out of the box. For my head-room-less head, the smallest setting sags to just a bit below my ears, but only just. Otherwise, driver positioning is good.
If your ears are angled outward, you may have trouble. The drivers are fixed on parallel hinges. They can’t be swivelled along the z-axis. The headband doesn’t clamp like MyST’s OrtoPhones, or older HiFiman and Audeze headphones, but it isn’t as light or comfy as the amazingly comfy HiFiman Susvara.
Among Mitchell & Johnson’s higher end Electrostatz series, the MJ1 is, at least for me, the best-fit. My somewhat misshapen head gets on with it well enough. Better lateral adjustment would be great.
It is my opinion that Electrostatz Technology was made for me. The MJ1 sits between JP1 and MJ2, situating bass sound pressure lower than the former, and warming up important portions of the sound signature in comparison to the latter.
The thing is that The JP1’s upper midrange is – again for Nathan – spot on. The MJ1 preserves enough of that while capitalising on a smooth bass-to-midrange transition zone. It’s not got the bigger, soft-edged, Grado PS1000-esque lows of the JP1. In its way, it’s the sort of bass that Final Audio invented in their original 1601 horn-speaker series earphones: mids up front, bass at a droop, and high highs giving way to vocal-anchored upper mids. The MJ1 has that sort of presentation, but better normalised so that its extremes push toward parity with the mids.
As far as I can tell, the MJ1 is brightest just below 3kHz, or about where female vocals peak. It appears to build naturally from the bass to that point. As a result, female vocals jump more to the fore than do male vocals, and no matter the biology or the range, the MJ1 outputs a sort of reverby, shimmery vocal range. To a lesser extent, this extends to and fro midrange instruments in the same frequency range.
In going back and forth between the MJ1 and old-time favourites I find this shimmer something of a hit and miss. For trance, and other highly fiddled-with music, it’s the sort of shimmer that reproduces the sort of euphoria you only get in larger, human-shifting closed venues. But, with harder-edged studio and live performances, it can get a bit hot. Onkyo’s jazz EQ fixes the latter right up.
The best way I can describe the MJ1’s signature is live, as in being in front of the band playing, or being in the crowd.
For this reason, I prefer Mitchell & Johnson’s JP1 for U2, Iggy Pop, Duran Duran, and the like. And for the same reason, I prefer the MJ1 for New Order, most progressive and trance, electronic post-punk, and whatever genre Faithless are. In fact, the MJ1 is one of if not my favourite Faithless headphones. And Faithless are one of if not my favourite band.
Unique among Mitchell & Johnson’s high-end lineup, the MJ1 puts you almost Grado-close close to the band, but within a wide and environmentally detailed stereo milieu more typical of Beyerdynamic’s open headphones. The That is: the MJ1 sits you close to the band, but lets you in on what’s going on in the crowd typical of 10th-row wide-imaging headphones. It is eye-opening.
Highs and high mids build and slowly fade to an aggregate bright, stereo-delineated profile. Percussion attack is fast. Decay holds on a tad longer, but is nearly instantaneous. The MJ1 effects a bright, wide, and fast sound image in a wide and detailed stereo birth. If you’re an electrostatic headphone lover, the MJ1 is a pretty natural take on what you take for granted as how headphonesshould sound. Long-time dynamic headphone owners may find MJ1 a tad bright. They may even find it a bit too stereo detailed, wide, and spacious. Even coming from a Beyerdynamic DT880, the MJ1’s midrange stands out. What the MJ1 isn’t is sibilant. And its midrange is clearer than it is warm or melty.
I can’t figure out what the coiled cable is for. Is the MJ1 made for monitoring? The MJ1 sounds good. It blends environmental detail with stage intimacy almost perfectly for specific genres. But it isolates neither in nor out well at all. Music leaks out, and mildly loud to loud environments suffuse your music unless overpowered turning up the volume dangerously high. If you have a clacky keyboard, it will clack through your music even when set to medium-level volumes.
Speaking of volume, MJ1 is pretty sensitive, getting pretty damn loud through both an iPhone SEand DP-S1. The DP-S1 drives it flawlessly up to a volume of about 55/60, after which it pinches current to the tune of audible clicks and pops and soaring IMD. It is driven flawlessly from a Lynx HILO.
I detect very little difference when driven by the iPhone or the DP-S1. Another thing that is great about the MJ1 is that it isn’t sensitive to hiss. Despite getting loud and getting there quick, it registers very little hiss from powerful desktop sources.
The more I listen to the MJ1, the more I like it. But, the more I listen to it, the more I sort my music into MJ1-friendly and MJ1-unfriendly groups. Over-engineered music mates perfectly with the MJ1; liver, harsher stuff does not. And that is the proviso at the end of this essay. When on, the MJ1 is basically heaven – as defined by wide, detailed stereo and forward, and shimmery vocals.
For me, it is also the best-fitting of Mitchell & Johnson’s high end Electrostatz headphones.
Overall, this is a fine headphone with a few design niggles.