Aw, shucks. Another pair of headphones to review. The nth in a never-ending series.
I’ve done dozens of them, from cheap, headache-inducing little earphones to wonderful, immersive, reference-quality headsets. I wonder what this one has in store for me.
It’s a pair of Marshall Headphones! Hey, great. I’m always excited by Marshalls.
They’ve come up with some wonderful pairs in their long history of creating amps and various gear for studios and performance venues. I last reviewed their Major 50 FX headphones, made for their 50th anniversary in the business, and I was pretty happy with them.
This particular pair is the Monitor model. It comes in a more compact box than usual, but still impeccably designed and conveniently packed. The box speaks highly of the product inside, and you can tell this is an expensive product.
You open it up, and the headsets are right there, compressed in their collapsible configuration, folded neatly and tightly in the middle of the box in a die-cut foam housing, and held together by an elegant black cardboard band. Another long black cardboard piece protects the inner lining of the headband. (Hey, not very eco-friendly, Marshall!)
Underneath the foam is another cardboard housing that you have to remove to get at the nice carrying pouch Marshall conveniently includes, and inside the pouch you have a slim, folded-up instruction manual and warranty information.
There is a paper insert in between the cans themselves when you take them out, and it’s actually an information sheet that tells you you have a choice of using the headset with or without the Felt Treble Filter (or FTF) cushions, which are preloaded into the headset when it comes out of the factory. The ear cup faces are magnetically removable, and the FTF is inserted into the cans and you can see them when you take the ear cup facing off. The FTF cushions allow you to listen to a sound that’s “laid back and warm.” If you prefer to hear brighter and clearer audio, those “screaming highs” as they put it, you should remove the filters first. Ok, we’ll see.
The black headset itself is compact and solidly built, with a nice padded leather headband with small gold plaques on the inner portion that tell you which which is left and which is right of the two 40mm drivers. The over-the-ear ear cups are nicely padded and firm, and the metal hinged folding mounts that attach them to the headband are equally strong. There is a white, embossed Marshall logo on the outside of the cups.
The cable is detachable, with 3.5mm gold mounting plugs, and is around three feet long when it isn’t stretched out; there is a coiled spiral portion of the cable that can extend the length a good deal. The cable can connect to either cup, and the unused port can act as an audio extension for someone else who wants to listen in with another pair. Strangely, there is no 1/4” plug adaptor included in the package. There is an inline remote/microphone on the cord that lets you use it with your phone, although it doesn’t have volume controls, which is a point against it.
The over-the-ear cups are a bit too compact for my liking; they were just exact for my big ears and didn’t leave much room for movement. The headset was also kind of heavy for my taste, and a bit warm on the ears after a while, but then again, I was listening in a warm, non-air conditioned room.
After fifteen minutes, I couldn’t stand the “laid back and warm” sound and opened the headphones up to take the FTF cushions off. (To be sure, they came off easily. They were just literally felt inserts that attached to the earphones with a little plastic tab.) To me, they only deadened the highs. These were, after all “Monitor” reference headphones, and I felt I deserved to hear the audio as it was intended to be heard.
After that, though, the headphones flew.
It’s a testament to the Monitor that it brings the limitations of the source material to the fore, exposing poor audio production values in some pieces and the surprising top-notch quality of some others, and not the other way around. I tested it on classical pieces, standards, pop, hip-hop, electronica and spoken audio, and the Marshall Monitor didn’t even blink. The remote/mic also worked wonderfully, nice and loud and clear.
The highs were pronounced, clear and very loud, as were the mid tones and the warm, throaty bass, which would give Monster’s Beats by Dr. Dre a run for their money. In fact, the audio characteristics were evenly distributed across the spectrum, and were all equally pronounced. It brought to the front, light, fragile music with full brilliance and clarity, and equally, the bassy, booming crescendos of the louder pieces.
And if you turned the volume up to maximum, the sound still wouldn’t distort or warp; it was still as clear as it could be under the circumstances. The sound would just merge into an unintelligible mess that was a physical limitation of the equipment and not at all a judgment of the set’s quality. My ears would tingle at the onslaught of the sound, the headphone’s dynamics “buzzing” at the volume, but it never got to be truly painful to the ear. This was a fantastic headset!
I put the Marshall Monitor through its paces one early afternoon, and you can tell these were a great pair when you lose track of time; I was being called to dinner and hadn’t realized how much time had actually passed. After first marveling at the quality of the headset, you slowly forget the fact that you are testing a pair, and pretty soon you are just lost in the sound. It’s so good the physical aspect just disappears into the woodwork, and soon it’s just you and the music.
One of my favorite pieces to test headphones on is David Foster’s instrumental Water Fountain, the Love Theme from “The Secret of My Success” (not the best movie out there, Michael J. Fox notwithstanding, but it has a killer score). It has light, quiet portions in the beginning, and great swelling passages later on that can test gear to their limits. If it can present both aspects of the music well and loud, then I’m a happy camper. This headset, I’m glad to say, passed the Foster Test with flying colors.
I may have some criticism of a few of the physical attributes of this headset, like it’s a bit heavy, and warm and constrictive on the ears after some use, but its wonderful audio characteristics heavily outweigh these little considerations. This heavy-duty headset comes at a price, but it’s certainly well worth it.
The Marshall Headphones Monitor Edition is available at Digital Hub/Digital Walker and Beyond The Box branches and audio equipment outlets all over. I still have to confirm the final local price, but it should hover around the equivalent of US$250.
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