In the world of active noise canceling (ANC) headphones, Bose tends to be the weapon of choice. The company has made quite a name for itself with the QuietComfort series, and for good reason — Most ANC headphones tend to be bulky, devoid of good sound and generally very expensive. Bose nipped two out of those three problems, leaving only the $300 price tag as a concern. But discount retailer Monoprice has entered the market with a set of ANC headphones for a mere $113. Can they compare? Read on.
The Monoprice headphones come in a fancy box. Inside this fancy box you’ll find a reinforced soft case (it will stand up to getting shoved in a backpack, but don’t sit on it) that contains the headphones, a straight and mobile cable, an airline adapter and a stereo-mini to quarter-inch adapter and a AAA-sized battery for power. No more, no less. Nothing about the product screams money, and that’s for good reason. Remember that you only paid $100 for these.
After picking the cable that suits your need and plugging it into the side you might be taken by surprise at the fact that these headphones will work without powering them on. It’s commonplace in the world of ANC to not have this feature, as the acoustics of a powered versus passive device are quite different. As such, if you run out of battery halfway across the Atlantic, you’re just out of luck. Monoprice has done an admirable job of keeping decent sound quality in the passive mode, but the volume is considerably lacking.
In short, the Monoprice headphones are the polar opposite of what we’ve seen from brands like Bose and Beats by Dre. The BBD Executive headphones that we reviewed a few months back also required two batteries, were heavier and overall less comfortable for longer listening.
Powering up the headphones, you’ll immediately notice a significant boost in volume, while the world around you suddenly becomes quite silent. As is common with ANC technology, it works better for droning sounds such as a train or an airplane engine. Office environments get blocked out quite well too, but you’ll still hear the occasional spike of sound from outside of your ear cups.
Long periods spent wearing the Monoprice headphones won’t leave you with sore ears or a numb head from the band. There is sufficient, soft padding and the leatherette (read: fake leather) covering does a good job of not getting uncomfortably hot. If I had to have a gripe about them, it would be that the wires which come with the headphones are thinner than I’d like to see. Fortunately, since they’re modular, you can replace them with something of better quality should the unexpected(?) happen.
Getting down to brass tacks, ANC headphones from any company aren’t going to win awards for sound quality. Though the technology has gotten impressive over the years, there’s still too much going on with the tech side of things to leave unfettered audio. Bearing that in mind, if you want to save some cash and go with the Monoprice offering, you’ll also need to be aware that they’re not going to be the best-sounding headphones you’ve owned.
Purely from an audio quality standpoint, the Monoprice ANCs sound much better when they’re used in passive mode. If I were a betting man, I’d say that the OEM for these headphones spent more time tuning them to the passive mode, and then added ANC as a feature, sound be damned. That’s not to say that they sound bad in active mode, but they’re not going to be stellar.
What you have, in the Monoprice offering, is a product that is less fancy, but there’s a price tag to match. In fact, if I were blind testing these, I’d say that they’d be in the $175-200 range, rather than the $100 point where they actually reside. Whether or not you go for ANC is still a personal decision, but if you’re in the market for a pretty great set of ANC headphones, these will keep you happy without even a moment of buyer’s remorse from the price.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.
Published April 29, 2013 — 19:54 UTC