I originally posted this review on Amazon.com, but I’ve chosen to repost it as its lost in fray.
The legend of Monoprice
Monoprice is a white label brand, or least wants us desperately to believe that it is. In reality, the Monoprice machine works on economies of scale, sourcing cheap Asian electronics and creating products from them, which is what many major electronics firms do. Some of said products use the same components found in more reputable brands. This strategy has worked well in the cable market and soon ventured into microphones, monitors, and headphones.
Monoprice has a small legion of loyal fans, who all feel empowered by their prowess as consumers, usually professing Monoprice’s much cheaper product is better than <insert well known brand>. In the case of XLR cabling, this wasn’t too far from the truth. I bought an XLR cable after my cheap Guitar Center cable started to pick up errant radio signals due to improper shielding. For the price I paid, which was about roughly the same as Guitar Center, I got a heavier duty cable. The cognizant paradox is had I ponied the cash up the for a reputable cable to begin with, I would have never had to chance on Monoprice after failing at my first gamble buying a cheap mic cable and spent the same amount of money in the end. Not all of Monoprice’s products are winners, I learned this on my second purchase of 1/8 inch cables for my car, which broke much faster than the Fred Meyer no-brand cables that died after years.
Monoprice is the counter-brand, brand of electronics. It’s counter-marketing marketing scheme, runs the gambit of selling less expensive copies/rip offs of products already on the market. There’s a self-effacing nature to the brand that desires to unbrand its products with uncreative names, spartan information, plain packaging. However, this nihilism is only skin deep, as Monoprice really does care about itself as brand and warmly embraces positive feedback by touting proudly on its own website customer reviews and seems to gleefully encourage its comparisons to name-brand despite itself being a name-brand by simply making this comparison. I could go on to pontificate about the greater ironies of our consumeristic culture but what you’re undoubtedly here for is a review.
I’m a headphone junkie. I’ve owned a lot of headphones in my life, Beyerdyanmic, Sennheiser, Grado, Sony, Klipsch, Etymotic, Beats, Jay’s, Numark, Apple, JVC, earbuds and cans alike. For the sake of this review I’ll list my current roster: Beyerdynamic DT-990s (preferred cans), Klipsch X10s (my office earbuds), Klipsch S4, Sony PS3 Wireless (for gaming) my old Beats Tour (I bought when they first arrived not realizing the gimmicky nature), and occasionally the Numark RED WAVE DJs for my Numark NS7s. Basically, I’ve owned a lot of headphones.
The Monoprice 8323s spiked my interest, at $20ish, they’re a bit hard to resist. Reviews exclaim how wonderful they are with users professing them sounding better (insert brand) at fraction of the price. Looking to replace my absolutely disappointing Numark Red WAVEs, I decided to take a bite.
If they were simply better than my worst set of headphones, then it’d be a victory.
Are they as good as professed? Nope.
I’m not trying to rain the parade but quite frankly they aren’t as good as the classic Sony V6s, which are two things: arguably of the best closed ear headphones made for under $80 and clearly what Monoprice was styling the headphones after.
They simply lack the articulation. The highs are slightly shrill, and upper mids seem somewhat absent. The bass is strong, slightly boomy, lower mids seem to drown out the upper mids. The stereo articulation present but slightly diminished by the mids.
Sonically, they’ll feel a bit lost. They remind somewhat of the Beats soundscape of punchy and absent sound. Perhaps I’m spoiled but I wasn’t enthralled by what I was hearing but I wasn’t completely offended.
It seems silly to compare these to headphones costing 3x as much right? I’d say yes except a lot of reviews are. What they sound like is a budget pair of headphones.
The actual physical design of the headphones actually better than average. They may not be the sturdiest headphones made but they feature a separated cable (Even both my pairs of Beyerdynamic DT-990s lack this, and my Grados did as well). The top of the headband features mild padding, DT-990s these are not but they’re more comfy than the average pair of cans. While they lack the full rotation of the cups like my Numark RED Waves, I’ve never found much value in the the ability to fully rotate the speakers when DJing or otherwise. They fold nicely for storage as well. They’re not as sturdy as the more expensive Numark Red Waves, but you could buy 2-3x of these headphones (depending on where you buy them) for the price of one pair of Numark Red WAVES.
Monoprice gets kudos for including two 1/8 inch cables, a short lightweight cable ideal for portable music, and heavier duty, longer cable, suited for home/gaming, and they included a ¼ inch adapter, which I’m always happy to have more of.
This can be summed up as good but not great. They’re more comfortable than the Numark RED Waves, Grado SR-80s, and maybe Sony V6s by just a hair but its hard for them to top larger cans that go over-the-ear. Headphone and earbud ergonomics in the past ten years have really improved, so while they deserve kudos, even at $20, its not surprising.
I’m not terribly impressed by these headphones. If I had to guess a price, I’d of hazarded about $15-$40 range.
They’re much much much better than my $50 Numark RED WAVES, which is a pretty low bar. However, shouldn’t be considered a marker of what $50 headphones are like. My other $50 headphones I own, the Klipsch S4s (earbuds) are superior to the Numark and Monoprice headphones. Apple’s redesigned earbuds that have been shipping since the iPhone 5 cost $30 stand alone. When compared to the Monoprice, there’s a world of difference between the two: The Apple earbuds sound considerably better. Usually, large cans have an inherent soundstage advantage simply due to the raw physics of the larger transducers, so it’s telling these get trounced by the slightly more expensive Apple earbuds.
The build quality was a little better than expected, and the extra cabling was nice. I’d really be interested to see what Monoprice could serve up if they decided to release a $50 pair of cans. My gut tells me its space Monoprice isn’t ready to enter… yet. They’re better than my current DJ headphones, but not by a wide margin. If you’re looking to pay no more than $20, there are some Koss headphones that are in the same ballpark for performance.
These are not the steal that legions of Monoprice fans profess, however they are a decent pair of headphones at a low price point. I don’t regret buying them but these aren’t my primary or even secondary headphones.
Strangely, the best analogy I could think of is In-and-Out Burger, a chain that many people obsess over and revel in its mediocrity. The two times in my life I had it, I wasn’t offended but I failed to understand what was the big deal, even at the price point. As someone who doesn’t eat fast food, I’d of rather paid the few extra dollars and gotten a better burger and better experience. This sums up my feelings towards Monoprice.
You get what you pay for.