Marshall Monitor Review
Gimmicks aside, these headphones deliver great, distortion-free sound.
If you want rockstar design and distortion-free sound in a portable, durable package, Marshall has you covered. The company recently tossed its venerable name into the headphone ring, and we're going to lab-test their mettle with the Marshall Monitor (MSPR $200) over-ears.
Textured leather and brass details recall Marshall's famous amps, and the storied white script bearing the company's name decorates each ear cup. As for the sound quality, you can expect good results, but don't get carried away: The company includes removable fabric inserts in each ear cup for "sound customization," but testing revealed unimpressive results to this end. Don't expect payoffs like what we found on the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro.
Design & Features
Dressed to impress (and for duress)
The Marshall Monitors are just plain handsome. Soft, textured black leather cushions your ears and the top of your head. Impressive metal plates mark "left" and "right" speakers. Coiled joints add flexibility to the cable—not to mention a sharp look. Winking gold details sparkle from both ends of the removable cord. Well done, designers.
Unfortunately, the Marshall on-ears aren't every bit as comfortable as they look. Unlike what you might deduce from the product photos, the Monitors are only barely big enough to cover your ears entirely. I took a photo of these headphones on a colleague to show you just what I mean. Don't get me wrong: These are still great for extended listening, but the smallness of the ear cups make for a less-than-decadent overall feel.
As for the rest, a one-button mic/remote means you can eat a muffin, lug some groceries, jog a schnauzer, and yammer away on your phone, all in one obnoxious go. Plug the cable into the ear cup of your choice. In fact, you can even use the spare socket to share tunes with a pal. I only wish you could control the volume via the remote—an annoying oversight.
At least the four-foot cable sports a coiled portion to give you extra length and leeway—and the whole thing's removable. If you mangle the first one, just buy a backup. And when you're ready to take these on the go, the Monitors fold up into a very compact shape for easier transport.
Lastly, the ear cups aren't coming apart at the seams, don't worry: Marshall designed the Monitors with magnetic ear cups that pop off. Why? For starters, it helps with cleaning, but the main reason is so that users can get underneath the pads and remove the fabric inserts nestled by each driver. Marshall claims that removing these inserts changes the sound profile, but I'll discuss that in the next section.
W.T.H. is an "F.T.F." system?
To begin with, Marshall's "F.T.F. System" is not as sexy as it sounds. You're very unlikely to hear a difference with and without the fabric inserts. I will elaborate more as I go, but the good news is that the Monitors produce balanced, distortion-free sound.
While headphones frequently litter the sub-bass range with distortion, the Monitors do not. From top to bottom, these are some of the best-looking results I've seen in a while. Moreover, volume is very balanced between the left and right speakers, delivering wonderfully even sound.
Wondering why you don't see a 10 at the top of the page then? That has to do with the emphasis in volume throughout the upper midrange—or lack thereof. Let's start at the beginning: With or without the feeble fabric inserts in each ear cup, the Monitor puts emphasis on its bass range, delivering prominent low notes. The kids'll just love it! Snoop Dogg stamp of approval. This emphasis isn't too vulgar, so don't hide under a bush just yet, refined listeners. Sound keeps within acceptable limits all the way until the upper midrange, when the volume falls off to a degree. Ultimately, then, high notes on strings, brass, and percussion don't sound out with the pretty clarity that purists long for—but this is an error that is unlikely to bother most. Everything else is ship-shape.
More good news: If you work next to a chatty Kathy, you can make it all go away: Mid- and high-range outside noises are all but obliterated with the help of the Marshall Monitors. If for some reason you're dragged to a monster truck show, the tidings are less happy. Low sounds like rumbling trains and trucks break through the noise barrier easily. In the last place, your neighboring chatty Kathy will never hear your weird opera, since these over-ears effectively seal sound in.
The Marshall Monitors deliver great feedback.
The Monitor over-ears (MSRP 199.99) from Marshall earn points where it counts: These headphones are stylish, comfortable, durable, portable, and distortion-free. Upper notes on instruments like harps, guitars, drums, and horns won't ring out with beautiful clarity to woo the cross-armed audiophiles of the world, but most buyers will be tickled pink with this purchase.
For a 51-year-old company that earned renown with the help of none other than The Who, it's about time we saw Marshall get into the headphone game. At the end of the day, they don't out-perform similarly priced competition, but for sale prices as low as $175, the Marshall Monitor is definitely a solid buy.
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