Review: Marshall Monitor headphones
If you’ve ever played in a rock band in your teens, or even if you do now, you know the “Marshall” name. It’s a brand that practically screams rock, and while it’s normally known for amplifiers, it is now bringing its amped-up style to headphones.
Features and performance
Headphone designs are changing, and there has been a huge amount of movement in this space to make are over-the-ear audio devices more fashionable than they ever have been, while increasing the sound they can make.
In the past few years, we’ve seen new designs from Bose, Beats, and Soul to name but a few, and now a brand synonymous with on-stage amps and speakers thinks it has the guts to get in with these teams and make headphones that really matter.
And that’s what the Marshall Monitors are: headphones designed to matter, to make you feel connected with the music while making others aware that you’re a musician who knows what Marshall is.
If you don’t know the Marshall name, it’s a British brand known for creating amplifiers and speakers for musicians, many of which have been used by people with positively huge amounts of music red, including The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix.
The brand has been around since the 60s, and still today produces equipment with serious clout, competing with other long established brands like Fender, Gibson, and Orange.
But amplifiers and speakers aren’t all the company produces, and it’s now getting into lifestyle products, bringing the Marshall style from its signature and well-known gear to other gadgets.
We saw this recently in the Marshall Stanmore Bluetooth speaker, an external wireless speaker that needed a power source but looked and sounded great.
Now it’s time to check out the headphones that lead Marshall’s line-up, and these are the “Monitor” over-ear cans, coming with a name designed to evoke the feeling that these are made for listening to music, and lots of it, since monitors are traditionally flat-sounding audio devices to let you hear music the way it’s being engineered, such as when producers and mixers are working on a track.
First the look, and it’s an interesting mishmash of the leather look applied in matte black across headphones that feature a softer circular shape.
They’re even soft to the touch, because while Marshall has opted for plastic, it’s a plastic designed to look and feel like leather, even though it’s quite obviously that pleather stuff that normally looks cheesy.
Here, we won’t say it’s cheesy, but it’s also obviously a gimmick, and is fashionable enough, though it’ll be different for all. We’ll get to our thoughts on it later, but it’s definitely unique, and will scream to people that yes, you like your music because you may well be wearing an amplifier brand on your head.
Comfort-wise, though, we’re surprised by the Marshall Monitors, mostly because the cups lack a pivoting mechanism, and yet they’re strangely comfortable.
Normally, the pivoting mechanism would mean the cups would adjust to individual ear placement, but due to the use of circumaural pads, the Monitor headphones make your ears sit inside the pads comfortably, and bring the headband and its joints closer.
Some may find the joints here cause the headphones to be pressed too tightly against the skull, so you’ll want to try these on at a store before committing. We were fine with them, but after wearing headphones for as long as we have, it takes some seriously tight headphones to get to us.
Music testing is next, and already as our electronic music starts up the GadgetGuy Sound Test, we can hear the bass is really what the Marshall Monitors have been made for, with a heavy thud erupting from the black cans on our ears in Mooro’s “M66R6,” which echoes through out skull, the lower sounds drowning out the mids and highs which feel shallow in comparison.
The Glitch Mob’s “Skullclub” firms this up a bit, but the bass is still square in control, as the highs take a backseat in volume to the deep glitch and drum hits in this track, telling us that these headphones are all about heavy sounds, and making us look forward to rock.
So let’s take it there, starting with Muse’s “Supremacy” which features a booming and very distinct bass drum echoing at the back, while the mids are a touch hollow in the soundscape. Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” echoes this sentiment, with the low sounds of the electric bass and bass drum taking priority over the harsh vocals of Zack de la Rocha.
Closure In Moscow’s “A Night at the Spleen” gives us a taste of a lighter rock, albeit one with progressive sounds, and while the bass is strong here, the mixing on this track is such so that the sound is more balanced, with the mids and highs given similar points. That said, the low end still takes control towards the middle, with the vocals pulled back.
While it’s not the most totally balanced pair of headphones we’ve ever seen, there’s a definite personality here thus far, one that extends itself to well produced music, which could bode well for most commercial music released lately.
That leads us to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” which has specific and definite percussion hits, with a finger click heard, and a soft sound on the perfectly separated vocal track of Jackson. It’s warm and striking here, and the mids of keys come out quite well while the track starts to heat up, leading into the multitracked chorus which sounds very clear.
Modern soul and R&B shows this, particularly in Jessie J’s “Bang Bang” where the empty synthetic drums sound exactly as programmed, while the harmonies between the three performers — Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj — come together well, though the overwhelming synth bass drum at the low end does have the tendency to overpower things, which we see in Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” where the heavy bass line and riff sits over the top of Kanye’s lyrics, thundering down your aural cavity while the rest of the sound comes together.
The beat and riff of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” comes in over the top of the Aussie singer as he calls out his words, while another Aussie — Sia — battles the mids and lows with “Chandelier,” her highs taking a backseat to the other sounds.
In jazz and classical, the headphones calm down a little, likely because the instruments and the mix are more “real” and less about the synthetic overproduced sound you find on tracks today.
As such, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s take on “Maria” from West Side Story sound balanced with a soft double bass sound at the back, while the drums and piano sit in the middle and let the mid and highs of the saxophone take over.
John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” keeps the balance up, with warm mids and highs from the horns, while the drums in the back keep their position, and the lows coming from the small amount of bass round out the bottom.
Indeed, in music that is mostly acoustic and definitely not overly engineered, these headphones shine, with a sound that is really quite lovely.
Perhaps that’s because Marshall is a music equipment company and it wants to impart a feeling that music is meant to be heard on these headphones the way music was traditionally made.
Or perhaps it’s because the mids and highs take a backseat to the lows in general, and older music didn’t have a ton of lows the way the tracks do today.
The volume is also pretty solid across the board, with pretty much all we needed at around 50 percent on some phones, and leaning closer to 60 percent on others.
You shouldn’t need to turn these up, that’s for sure, and if you, we’d see a doctor and have our ears checked.
Portability is also good here, with Marshall relying on a fold-up design whereby the headphones push up against the headband, collapsing nicely for easy storage in your bag, or even the included cloth carrying case.
One thing that did surprise us was the inclusion of a filter to let you change the profile of the sound yourself.
For Marshall, it’s the “Felt Treble Filter” which is more or less what the name implies: a piece of felt that you can remove when you take the earpad off to change the sound of the treble, making the attack a little sharper when it’s removed, or keeping it in for more warmth.
We did all our testing with the filter left in place since most people will likely do that — removing earpads is generally something left for people who like to fiddle — but this extra attention to the headphone gives it a little more flexibility, which could be nice for people who like to change the sound based on the sort of music they’re listening to.
Marshall makes this easy by letting you remove the earpad by way of magnets, but if you do what we do and accidentally pull the pad by removing it from the magnetic element, you’ll have some fun restoring the pad to its position, that’s for sure.
Over to the negatives, and while the style is definitely interesting, this isn’t a pair of headphones all will appreciate.
It’s strange, because we loved the look of the Marshall Stanmore speaker, bringing that old school amplifier and quad box aesthetic to something that was basically a technological progression of the original Marshall speakers.
But headphones aren’t speakers, and headphones that look like amps look a little, well, silly.
At once, they both elicit a feeling of “yeah, that’s a Marshall product” thanks to the script font on the logo and that fake leather look dominating the cups, but they also look like a gimmick because seriously, why would you want an amp on your head?
And yet, there’s something cool about it. Maybe it’s that trend towards old style rock and looking like a musician. Maybe it’s because we’re all quite outgoing with musical styles, and headphones no longer look like the beige or black boxes on your ears that they once did.
Basically, we’re in two minds: it looks cool, but it also looks a little overkill, and we can’t explain why we shy away in public when wearing them, when really we should be embracing our inner rock god and saying “yeah, these are our Marshalls,” followed by a string of words that probably shouldn’t be published in a headphone review.
There’s also only one cord in the box. You can count it, but there’s one, and while it at least takes a standard 3.5mm cable which is easily replaceable, we’d still like to have seen at least one more cable for a headphone nearing the $300 mark.
Beyond these issues, Marshall’s Monitors have one other strong thing going for them that we’ve only seen pop up once before, and that’s a secondary headphone jack.
Yes, these headphones have two 3.5mm jacks on the ear cup, making it possible to set the cable up on whichever side you prefer, left or right.
It also comes with the added benefit of being able to share your music with another pair of headphones, as they simply need to plug into the secondary pair into that jack to hear you music.
They won’t get any volume control, sadly, and when you fiddle with the volume settings for your media player or phone, it will change the volume in the audio for both headphones, but it’s a great way to easily share a track from a friend in a way that is so much more hygienic than shoving a used earbud in an ear (and we’ve seen people do it, ugh).
The name may imply a flat sound, but Marshall’s “Monitor” breed of headphones is anything but flat, pushing out heavier bass, which pulls out in front of the mids and highs in most tracks.
Music with less synthetic and overly amped up mastering will appreciate these cans more in a way suggesting of something real, but if you like your music turned up to eleven, we can see why you’d want to check the Marshall Monitors out, as these really let you crank the sound.