The Monoprice Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones With Bass Boost ($79.99) aren't the company's first effort at noise-cancelling headphones, but they might be the most successful one so far. They have medium-sized plushy earcups that are big enough to house two AAA batteries for power, a switch for activating the noise cancellation feature or the bass boost, and a foldable headband.
From a design, comfort, and performance standpoint, these headphones provide an enormous amount of value. They're not the best, or the most portable, or the most comfortable, but they punch well above their weight with crisp mids and highs, throaty lows, and noise cancellation that is good enough to dim the sounds around you whether you're traveling by train, plane, or automobile.
The Monoprice ANC Headphones with Bass Boost have the following specs, per Monoprice:
- 40mm drivers with neodymium magnets
- 20Hz ~ 20kHz frequency response
- 32 ohms impedence in Passive mode, 100 ohms in ANC or Bass mode
- Amplifier Power: 5 watts
- Built-In Microphone, in-line controls
- AAA battery power for ANC/Bass, 20 hours of battery life
- Weight: approximately 1 pound
As with all active noise-cancellation headphones, they work by playing sound waves that counteract the ambient noise around you. This in effect "cancels" the outside noise, letting your music take center stage. This is in contrast to "passive" or "noise isolating" headphones, which merely block these outside sound waves by using thicker materials or filling your ear canals, as with in-ear headphones.
First and foremost, our favorite thing about these headphones is their value. Though the list price of $89.99 isn't cheap, these headphones frequently fall to $70 and lower, which is way below similar models. Even other affordable noise-cancelling models typically retail for around $100 so this is fairly cheap.
From a performance perspective, I really enjoyed the headphones' ample low end response, which can be pushed even further if you use the included Bass Boost option. I'm not the biggest fan of bass boost, because it nearly always creates nasty distortion problems. It works for some kinds of music, but in general I left it off. And frankly, the low end doesn't really need boosting; I was consistently impressed by the bass response anyway.
The noise cancellation performance of the Monoprice ANC over-ears wasn't the best that we've ever tested, but it does enough to cut out most mid-range ambient noise. Idle chatter, papers shuffling, people walking around, and most ambient office and travel sounds were effectively drowned out once you begin playing music at a decent volume.
Just activating the ANC isn't enough to isolate yourself, though. Unlike some ANC headphones that can be useful if you want to just focus without music playing, these merely take the edge off outside noises, about on par with most in-ear headphones. It also poses an issue if you plan to use these to focus on something like a podcast, where the sound level is intermittent; as soon as the track goes silent, you'll hear what's going on around you.
I also really enjoyed the headphones' design, which is understated and comfortable for more normal listening sessions. The earpads are plush and were just large enough to cup around my ears, the tangle-free cable is removable for easy storage (and durability), and the collapsible neckband meant the headphones easily fit in my bag for a recent flight to Las Vegas and back.
As for battery life, the use of AAA batteries will turn some people off but I generally find it more convenient since you don't have to worry about recharging as long as you're carrying spares. And while the ANC requires power, if your batteries die the headphones will still work, unlike some other ANC models.
That said, there are a few drawbacks to be aware of.
While the overall impression I got from the Monoprice ANC Headphones with Bass Boost was good, at no point did I confuse these for ultra high-end headphones. I don't think most people will care, but any audiophiles looking for a cheap pair of ANC headphones for travel may be disappointed if they're used to models that cost upwards of $300 or more.
And while I liked the design, there were some people I showed them too that weren't as impressed. The most common complaints centered on the headphones' bulky size, a headband that tightly clamps your ears, and earpads that may not cramp your ears, meaning they get hot after a half hour of listening or so. Again, none of those are dealbreakers at this price, but you should be aware of them.
In the labs, there were a few minor issues that popped up during testing. The first was that the ANC wasn't quite as strong as with other models like the Bose QuietComfort 35. Conversations can still be heard if there's a lull in your music, which will be an issue if you work in a chatty office or travel on a loud train/subway often.
Monoprice's solution seems to be to make the headphones loud. And we do mean loud; max volume on every device I own was practically unbearable, though it was particularly loud when plugged into my laptop. Some people love that, but it could easily damage your hearing over the long-term, so we don't recommend these for kids whose hearing is more sensitive.
If you're looking for affordable noise-cancelling over-ear headphones and are comfortable with the fit and the design, the Monoprice ANC with Bass Boost are absolutely worth considering. If your budget is under $100 you're going to be hard-pressed to find a better option with noise cancellation, even if the ANC isn't the most effective we've used.
Are they ideal? No, but it's clear that Monoprice made intelligent, judicious design decisions to keep the cost down while still putting out a decent pair of active noise cancelling headphones. The sometimes creaky design does give me pause about their long-term durability, but the removable cable and pads should be easily replaceable if they start to break down. As usual, if you take good care of them I doubt you'll have issues.
One word of advice here, though: if you just want headphones that will keep the outside world out, just about any pair of in-ear headphones will do just as good of a job. Though not as comfortable as over-ears, in-ears like the 1More Triple Driver ($99) will do a better job of isolating noise, because they fill your ear canal. I'd also recommend that audiophiles and those in search of truly premium soundscapes look elsewhere, but if you just want a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones at a phenomenal price, these are the best sub-$100 option we've found so far.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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