Monoprice, best known for its outstanding budget range of audio products, has been aiming higher in recent years, with mixed results. Their Monolith K-BAS speakers didn't light my fire, but things picked up a bit with the Monolith M300 in-ear headphones.
The Monolith M650 full-size headphone is the best-sounding product I've heard from the company. Better yet, it sells for just $150 in the US and £145 in the UK.
It was clear from the get-go that with the M650 over-the-ear headphones, Monoprice has a winner on its hands (or should I say head?). It sounds sweet, it's comfortable and build quality is substantial for a 'phone in this price range.
The M650's headband and metal parts feel solidly put together. It comes with a user-replaceable and unusually flexible cable that plugs into the ear cups with 2.5mm plugs. Two sets of ear pads — faux leather and velour — that can be swapped out depending on your preference. In either case the headphone's comfort is above average. I'm less pleased with the way the M650 looks, it's drab and uninspired.
As for the sound producing parts, the M650 sports 50mm beryllium drivers that are housed in open-back ear cups. That means the M650 doesn't do a thing to isolate the wearer from external noise, and people nearby can hear sound "leaking" from the headphones. Impedance is rated at an easy to drive 64 ohms. The M650 also comes with a three-year warranty.
Aphex Twin's latest EP, Collapse, with its churning bass beats and hard hitting electronic blasts were given their full due over the M650. Switching over to a set of slightly less-expensive Grado SR80e open-back headphones, the bass and midrange thinned out. The M650 isn't as lively as the SR80e, but I prefer the M650's more refined and natural sounding tonal balance with acoustic music of all kinds. The M650's more potent (but not overdone) bass clinched the deal.
Next up, the Audio Technica ATH M50x over-the-ear headphones. It's long been one of my reference under $200 headphones, and when I put it on I remembered why: it just sounds right. It's more immediate sounding than the M650, and the M50x wins on overall clarity, it's a more neutrally balanced sounding headphone.
Still, when I returned to the M650 its added warmth was quite pleasant. Both headphones are recommendable, and since the M50x is a closed-back design it hushes external noise to some degree, it might be a better choice if you like to listen music loud in quiet public places. That said, the M650 presents a somewhat bigger, more spacious soundstage than the M50x.
The Monoprice Monolith M650 faces stiff competition from the Audio Technica ATH M50x, but even so I kept returning to the M650. Then again, I'm a sucker for sweet sounding headphones, even ones that miss the last degree of clarity. Also, it's really easy to wear for extended listening sessions, and that counts for a lot.
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