Yes, it’s yet another pair of headphones. Why? Because I (still) hate headphones in general although Urban Ears Zinken, PSB M4U-2 and NAD are the exception. The headphones I REALLY like tend to be in the $1K+ range and there is no chance I’ll be caught dead wearing them outside my listening room. Yes there is that PSB M4U-2 noise cancelling headphones I mentioned earlier for my reference and travel usage, and I have a pair of Urban Ears Zinken for home use and my NAD for anywhere else in between. However, I still need something that is good enough for studio use when I occasionally play second-fiddle in sound production and/or recording sessions.
So I stumbled upon “Urban Ears” at #CES2013 and was invited to its sister-brand: “Marshall” for #CES2014. Is it going to be a bastardization like the “Fender” brand as in-car-entertainment manufactured by Panasonic or is it truly follows the “Marshall” sound tradition (whatever that is… at least Marshall have always been in the “sound” business whereas Fender have always been in “guitar” business — but I digress)
Design and build quality
Rather than going with crazy patterns and fancy textures like its younger brother (see photo above), the Monitors are a far more subdued and classy. They come in classic black with only Marshall logo on the sides. None of the Marshall speaker-look which I find to be gaudy and juvenile (although I still have to admit that they are photogenic). This more subdued look will attract more professional and mature users, as it should be, and I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of us being part of that group.
Pulling softly on the interior pad reveals the Monitor’s most unique feature: Beneath the removable pads are small felt inserts which cover the drivers. Marshall calls the inserts the “F.T.F. System.” The idea is to give the listener control over the headset’s sound curve, allowing removal of the inserts for a sharper treble response. SO: X-curve with the pads on, flat response with the pads off — which I find the sound to be to shrill with the pads off.
The removable headphone cable is reminiscent of a guitar cord, and has notched brass terminals at each point. A small, single-button control microphone extends from the input for receiving phone calls, hanging just above the cable’s miniature coils. Dual inputs on the earcups allow daisy chaining to allow for sharing with other listeners and sing “Kumbaya” together.
The headband is constructed of sturdy matte metal, wrapped entirely in a slim vinyl leather sheath. The cover has a feeling of quality despite it’s “faux” status, and the top section is covered in a rugged split surface. A soft pad runs the length of the interior of the band. The cover is held in place by shiny brass plates on each end which also indicate the stereo channels. The “Y” shaped arms that attach the earcups adjust for size and are hinged to allow the cups to fold into the narrow bow.
Build quality is flimsily-solid overall. Repeat after me, “THIS IS A GOOD THING”. It feels flimsy and flexible but the feel is very deceiving because the Monitors are as break-resistant as break-resistant can be. I literally twisted the headband and stepped on my headphone sample several times just like I did with the Urban Ears Zinken without damaging it at all. With the stiff plastic and metal hinges resisting my attempts to hurt them, I’m confident you could haul them around in a bag all day and they wouldn’t suffer for it. I actually (not-so) accidentally dropped the headphone from my 2nd floor (as an attempt to replicate my accident when reviewing the Urban Ears Zinken last year) to the ground floor and the headphone still works well. The only drawback I found is that because of the material’s finish, I don’t like the patterened leather but that’s purely subjective.
The cable is a crucial part of the Monitor as it allows you to do a couple of neat tricks. For one, it’s removable, meaning you can replace it if you accidentally slice through it while chopping tomatoes — as to why you are chopping tomatoes it’s not for me to ask. It’s also got a coiled section that gives you some leeway to move away from your audio source, without sending it crashing to the ground. It means you don’t have 5ft of cabling dangling from your pocket if it’s connected to your phone.
On one end is a standard 3.5mm jack to plug into your iDevice of choice or phone and on the other is a ¼-inch jack that plugs into your headphones. This way you can turn the cable over and plug your headphones into your headphone amp or use it with a protable device without needing to carry an adaptor. When the 3.5mm socket isn’t in use on your headphones, your friend can plug his/her pair straight into them so you can both listen to the same thing. If you have enough friends, as I mentioned previously, you can form a circle and listen and sing-a-long to Kumbaya in sync!
Marshall claims these headphones are specifically designed with studio monitoring in mind so I was expecting natural sound without additional bass in the middle region by the truckload from them and that’s exactly what I do NOT get. And this is really good thing. Unlike the soul-sucking, beat-oriented and hose-like brands always do, the mid-bass-boost is not there. Just pure impactful and dynamic low bass that packs a wallop with a naturalistic tendencies.
The overall tone is warm and full of low end, which will suit those of you who mostly listen to virtually any type of music. Be it a The Beatles mono 180-gram vinyl recording all the way to Judas Priest’s Ram It Down were handled quite well, with the sub-level kick drum in the opening section of Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me (Rock of Ages version — which has more bass) rumbling powerfully and clearly. Similarly, the bass lines from the old hair-metal Judas Priest’s Johnny B. Goode were reproduced just like… well, bass lines… without the unnecessary additional oomph that is fatiguing to one’s ears, or even worse, messing up a final mixdown in any studio mastering session.
The Monitors are NOT particularly focused around the low and mid range but giving the full spectrum equal importance which, given the startup and/or professional studio engineers audience they’re targeted at, is to be expected. If you only plan on using your headphones for listening to bass-heavy recordings, they won’t do the trick. If you are hoping for a reference headset to enjoy classical, acoustic or folk music that relies more on accuracy, the Monitors are designed for that although the sound coming from them are still somewhat warm especially when being listened to in higher volume level due to the X-curve applied on the headset at frequencies at around 4 kHz or higher (just like the Urban Ears Zinken). I don’t know whether the X-curve is deliberate, but at least you won’t burn your eardrums with screeching high-frequencies at high volumes and I wholeheartedly welcome that.
The Marshall Monitor offer comfort, sound quality and handy features, with a professional styling to boot. Amateur music producers and musicphiles in general will appreciate the nicely balanced tone and the X-curve. The audio purists and true professional engineers may not get on the Marshall Monitor train with the lack of clarity in the high end. I personally think these headphones are never intended to be listened to in a quiet room as a purist reference system but more as a professional musicians’ monitor and for that purpose, these headphones are absolutely amazing.
So if you’re a musician, want to be a musician, thinking wanting to be a musician one day, or used to be a musician. Get a pair of these. You ears and wallet will thank you.