Marshall Monitor stereo headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jun 5, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube video review:

    Sources: iPhone4; iPhone4 with Decware Zen Head or FiiO E12 amps using LOD; iPhone4 with v-moda Verza DAC/amp using USB, various computers using HRT MicroStreamer DAC/amp.

    First impression of the Marshall Monitor: Somewhat recessed treble. It didn't turn out to be that simple actually, but in the final analysis, depending on how much treble boost is applied, the sound is either slightly bright in the upper treble, or moderately recessed in the lower treble. Note that my impressions of the sound, including analysis with test tones, is based on comparisons to my other headphones past and present. My standard for treble a couple years ago was the Sennheiser HD800, but I consider that to be slightly bright now, and most hi-fi experts seem to be converging on that opinion as well. Currently I find the v-moda M100 treble to be just about right, when the very strong M100 bass is reduced a little. I also think the Beyer DT770LE (not the regular edition DT770) treble is excellent, when its peak around 9 khz is reduced slightly.

    Using the above examples as a starting point, I find the Monitor treble to have a moderate emphasis around 8 to 10 khz, but the overall treble without EQ is recessed enough that that emphasis isn't particularly noticeable. When the treble is boosted it could become a problem, and so I settled on the default iTunes Treble Booster setting, which works well enough for me. Again, my take on the sound isn't based on the Monitor in and of itself, but on comparisons to other headphones that provide a framework for reference.

    The Monitor bass has a faintly audible fundamental at 15 hz and a weak but clearly audible fundamental at 20 hz. The weight that accompanies these tones confirms the presence of the fundamental frequencies. From 30 hz on up through the mids the response is very smooth, and even though I don't hear any distinct emphasis in the bass with test tones and tone sweeps, listening to music I'm familiar with confirms that the low bass has better than average impact, while the upper bass can sound slightly boomy on some material. I'm not a bass-centric person myself, preferring sound that's fairly close to neutral, yet I'm satisfied with the bass signature of the Monitor as being good for a wide variety of music. The midrange may sound less than detailed or clear to some users, but that impression would most likely be due to the recessed treble.

    My summary of the sound: Somewhat dark even with the slight treble boost, with a strong deeper bass that isn't bloated or excessively warm in the upper bass - i.e. very good for high fidelity music playback, but purists or perfectionists should not apply. The soundstage seems average to me - neither narrow nor wide - it varies far more in my experience with the music than with the headphones. Isolation seems average and leakage is very low - you could play the Monitor in a quiet office in a cubicle next to other cubicles, as long as you keep the volume to a decent but not overly loud level.

    The Monitor seems to be mainly metal - the headband accounts for most of that. There may be some plastic in the earcups, but those are covered with a leathery material that has a pebble-grain finish. The earpads are a soft spongy material covered with what I assume is 'pleather', a high-quality plastic that's similar to real leather but more comfortable, and possibly more durable. The outer part of the headband seems to be leather, and the inner part is similar to the earpads - spongy material covered in pleather. The headband clamp is fairly strong and the earcups are somewhat narrow. The earcup fit is very similar to the Sennheiser Momentum, and I think most people who try the Monitor will find that it's partly around-ear and partly on-ear. The part that's on-ear should be the part of the ear that sticks out the least, so most users won't have comfort issues with this headphone.

    The drivers are mounted at a slight angle, but with the smallish earcups I don't expect it makes a lot of difference in the sound. Still, angled drivers get a lot of press these days, so if nothing else it's probably a good marketing decision. The earcups rotate about 180 degrees toward the top and bottom of the head, but there is no rotation at all toward the front and back. The Monitor fits my ears perfectly, but I can imagine some head shapes that won't provide a good seal on the front or back of the earpads. The earpads attach magnetically to the earcups, just like the B&W P5 and P3, and you can just grab them and pull them off with little effort. Between those earpads and the driver is a small pad of material, a removable "felt filter" whose only purpose is to dampen out any excessive high frequencies. In my tests, the highs were recessed with the filters removed, so I didn't feel the need to do any testing with the filters left in place.

    The Monitor's impedance is 42 ohms, and seems to be efficient enough for satisfactory use with most portable music players with most music tracks. However, if the tracks are very low in volume, you might need an external amplifier, especially in noisy environments. I haven't noticed any peculiar behavior with my Apple portable players, with or without external amps, but it goes without saying that you get an improvement in soundstage, "space and air" etc. with a decent amp. FiiO amps that I've tried include the E12, E17, and E07K.

    The 4** foot long detachable cable is single-sided (left or right side), is thick enough to withstand moderate abuse, and is terminated with a standard 3.5 mm miniplug to attach to the earcup. The other end is also a miniplug, but has the extra connector for Apple i-devices. The little control box in the cable has a microphone and one button. With my Apple players, I can start or stop and get to the next track, but that's it.

    **The Monitor cable is my idea of a great design - starting about 8 inches down from the earcup it's coiled for another 6 inches. You can stretch that 6 inch coil out to 18 inches or so in a pinch, but that puts a lot of tension on the cord, and while that wouldn't do any particular damage, it increases the likelihood of pulling the headphone loose from your ears or disconnecting it from the headphone jack. The very good news is, the coil isn't heavy and doesn't detract from comfortable use, but it gives you advance warning when you've reached the end of your rope, so to speak.

    There is no carrycase for the Marshall Monitor, just a cloth bag included with the headphone. I don't find cloth bags useful to protect the headphone in luggage or backpacks, but since the folding mechanism makes it very small, it should be easy to find a protective box for carrying in situations where it could get crushed. While it seems very strong and durable, it's still a high-tech stereo headphone, not an unbreakable tool like a hammer or wrench. For the price I paid ($200 USD), I can highly recommend the Monitor as a good high fidelity headphone if you're willing to tweak the EQ according to your taste. If not, it should still prove very useful as a portable headphone, having good isolation, reasonably light weight, and enough bass to overcome the excess low frequencies in the environment, especially in traffic or on public transport.

    In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the Monitor compares with each individual track. Note that all of the following were played with the small amount of treble boost applied as described above.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2013
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Review part 2 - music test tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Monitor plays this perfectly.

    Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz with a Bebop flavor): The piano that leads off sounds realistic and the saxophone sounds appropriately soft. The Monitor plays this music very well.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Monitor reproduces the space and detail very well.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice sounds good and the tambourine in the background is clearly identifiable.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God (Electro-Pop): The bass in this track has a strong impact but little detail, while the ambient electronic effects are clear and distinct. The Monitor plays this track very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    DJ Shadow - Building Steam With a Grain of Salt (Electronic/DJ): This track opens with what sounds like very high and very low piano notes, and the Monitor renders those notes well. The ambient voices are slightly indistinct, but well reproduced given their background presentation.

    Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses (Pop-Rock): The moderate level of bass in this track is played with good detail by the Monitor, and the voice and percussion are crisp and well-balanced.

    Halie Loren - Sway (Jazz vocal): Bass instrument(s) here sound slightly boomy with some headphones, but not so much with the Monitor. The trumpet sounds natural but slightly soft, and the voice is excellent.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates very deep bass. The Monitor plays this music very well.

    Kaskade - 4am (Electro-House): The bass that kicks in around 1:01 into the track is very subtle, but the Monitor plays it well. The percussion and female voice balance well with neither overwriting the other - the Monitor gets this right.

    Katy B - Perfect Stranger (R&B-House-Garage): The heavy bass that begins at 0:27 into this track is played well by the Monitor. The voice is somewhat forward and bright, but it doesn't overpower the instruments or get lost in the mix.

    Machine Gun Kelly - All We Have (Rap/Hip-Hop): The heavy bass beats that begin at 0:23 into the track do sound like drum impacts, although they're not sharp impacts. The male and female voices have a good balance, and the Monitor plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

    Morcheeba - Bullet Proof (Trip-Hop): Bright percussion and medium-strength bass impacts make up most of this, with some dance-club spoken intonations thrown in. The Monitor plays the percussion pretty well, and the voices sound good too.

    Peter Tosh - Get Up Stand Up (Reggae): The bass here has a decent but moderate impact, and the lead and backup voices have good separation that's not too narrow or wide. The Monitor renders the bass with good detail and the voices sound very natural.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that may lack clarity and proper harmonic detail on some headphones, but the Monitor reproduces those effects very well.

    Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op3 No2 (Classical, Piano): Grand piano played mechanically from an original recording by the master himself. The bass is unusually light here, but the Monitor renders the notes very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is highly detailed and sounds fairly bright, but not excessively.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are quite strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The Monitor delivers the impacts with good weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 have appreciable detail, and while the bass isn't very strong, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

    ---------- Monitor REVIEW PT.2; OLDER MUSIC TRACKS ----------

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled extremely well by the Monitor.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled very well by the Monitor.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the Monitor.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the Monitor.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds very good with the Monitor.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Monitor renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The Monitor plays this very well.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The Monitor plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 30-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking even a little in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the Monitor delivers the full experience of this music.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the Monitor.

    Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in certain headphones. The Monitor plays those notes with good impact and control. Having played this track a number of times now, I'm impressed with the Monitor's bass reproduction and detail throughout the track.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The Monitor reproduction is excellent. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the Monitor plays them perfectly.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds great with the Monitor.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the Monitor plays it perfectly.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy. Sounds great with the Monitor.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not too bad with the Monitor.
  3. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

    Apr 28, 2010
    I really liked these when I had a play with them - a million times better than their first offering!
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    The Marshall reminds me a lot of the Sennheiser Momentum - not nearly as comfortable and not up to the Momentum in sound quality, but a similar design insofar as the rigid frame, earcup size, and cable too.
  5. marcusd

    marcusd Obsessive Auditor

    May 8, 2011
    I agree Robin, hated the Major and Minor efforts and by all accounts they hit the market without the inputs of an audio engineer which is weird. The Monitor is done the right way this time with some proper testing and it fits the profile of a consumer headphone with pleasing reproduction and enough dash and style to make you want to wear them outdoors also.

    Wish for a hard case though.

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