Headphones

Marshall Monitor Review

Gimmicks aside, these headphones deliver great, distortion-free sound.

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Overview

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.

Science Introduction

Normally, I'd take you through a straightforward set of tests to show you how trials went in the audio lab, and you'd be in and out of the Science Page in no time. For Marshall's Monitor over-ears, things aren't so abbreviated. Since the company includes a removable "filter" that's supposed to deliver two totally different sound profiles, I had to run every test twice.

Turns out, this was not the most exciting use of my time. With or without Marshall's inserts, which it calls an "F.T.F. System," my test results looked nearly identical.

Frequency Response

High-mids get a bit of a cold shoulder—with or without the special inserts.

Although I ran my frequency response tests twice—once with the special inserts in place, once without—my results were nearly the same each time. The differences barely warrant discussion (as you can see from the charts). So while Marshall claims that removing the inserts produces "brighter, clearer" sound (who knew sound could be see-through and shiny!), don't get your hopes up.

With or without these impotent inserts, the Marshall Monitor over-ears emphasize the bass range, but not to the extent that many consumer headphones do. Popular headphones for bass-mongers tend to follow an equal loudness curve these days, and while the Monitors clearly bear that in mind, they do so in a pleasantly refined manner:

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So although the Monitors do put an emphasis on bass, it's to a lesser degree than the ELC, as you can tell from the comparison chart (which shows the Monitor's sans-filter frequency response). This is a happy fact indeed, because the Monitors also drop in loudness between 2kHz and 7kHz. Were bass any louder, this drop in volume in the high mids would mean upper notes on strings, brass, and percussion would be overwhelmed; as things are, the upper mids could benefit from more volume, but at least they aren't fully flooded by bass. Certainly some listeners will wish that this range came through with more clarity, but I've heard far worse. As I said before, the two responses I charted are nearly identical, despite Marshall's "F.T.F." filtering system. It adds a tiny bit of volume in the uppermost portions of the range—we're talking less than 5dB—so good luck hearing the difference.

With the inserts:

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Without the inserts:

In any event, if you have refined ears, or if you're searching for a high-end flat response, the Monitors aren't quite there. For everyone else, the Monitors are likely right up your alley.

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.

The Monitors are only barely big enough to cover your ears entirely.

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.

Use the spare socket to share tunes with a pal.

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.

Audio Quality

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.

High notes on strings, brass, and percussion don't sound out with the pretty clarity that purists long for.

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.

If you work next to a chatty Kathy, you can make it all go away.

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.

Distortion

Holy Toledo

This performance is something you don't see every day: The Marshall Monitors are nearly perfect across the board with regard to distortion—but only if you keep the inserts in. Even in the sub-bass range, where distortion tends to absolutely run amok, these babies barely breach 4%—really fantastic results.

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If you do take the inserts out, you can expect similarly great results, but not in the sub-bass range. To be fair, though, listeners are very unlikely to hear these sub-bass errors, since the human ear is very forgiving in said range:

In fact, even if you were to crank your Lil' Wayne up past 107.53dB, your beats still wouldn't produce more than 3% distortion. But please, keep wee Mister Wayne below 100dB for safety.

Final Word

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.

Tracking

Equilibrium

Many headphones struggle with tracking errors, or the imbalance of volume between left and right speakers. Sometimes, music can sound up to twice as loud in one ear as in the other, for example. But the Monitors skipped through these trials without a problem.

From bass all the way up to high frequencies, volume remains almost perfectly balanced in both speakers. Well done, Marshall. Results did not vary when I removed the inserts.

Noise Reduction

Quiet time

Barking dogs, yammering passerby, and other high-frequency irritants face quite the foe in the Monitor over-ears: These headphones reduce those outside high-frequency noises by up to 1/16 in loudness.

The guy next to you will be grateful to the Monitors too, as they barely leak a peep of your music.

Looking Further....

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