Background

Ed: I’m not sure if first-day hardware reviews are going to be a thing we consistently do, but experimentation is the only way to find out!

I got the itch pretty badly for some new headphones recently. The nuts and bolts of my current lineup are:

  • Audio-Technica ATH M40X: Closed-back, completely flat sound signature, high isolation.
  • Sennheiser HD 518: Open back, relaxed sound signature, high sound leakage.
  • AKG 7XX: Open back, bright, responsive signature, extremely wide soundstage, high sound leakage, needs an amp.

All of these are circumaural headphones. The AKG 7XX is my desk unit always hooked up to my Schiit Stack. The ATH M40X and HD 518 are my travel cans since they don’t require an amp; my laptop, phone, and Switch can all drive them fine. The ATH M40X is great for planes because they keep sound from coming in and keep the sound that I want to hear from leaking out and annoying the other passengers. The HD 518s are super duper comfy, but are really only good for private listening sessions because those leak sound like crazy.

Introduction & Specs

The Monoprice Monolith line are their in-house line of speakers, headphones, DACs, amps, and general suite of audio equipment. A higher grade than most things you’re likely to find at department or big box stores, but I haven’t had any experience with anything besides the M560 headphones (and even those, just for today). Ordering from Chicago, the headphones came in much less than 24 hours, so I have been able to play with them for the better part of a day.

The Monolith M560 have two gimmicks:

  • Planar magnetic speakers at a relatively low price ($199 before shipping)
  • The ability to swap between open and closed back configurations

The short list of the specs are:

  • Price: $199
  • Circumaural
  • New batches come with a braided 3.5mm to forked 3.5mm cable for connecting the cans to your source
  • 56mm driver
  • 16hz-40kHz response rate
  • 42 Ohm impedance
  • Come with a fairly sturdy travel case

They’re pretty impressive for price/performance. Planar magnetic drivers instead of traditional transducers are usually reserved for price points well over $300. The impedance is a little on the high side for being driven by standard consumer electronics, but I decided to take the dive with my hard-earned cash and see if they were any good.

The Use Case

I picked these up in the hopes that they would replace my Audio-Technica ATH M40X and Sennheiser HD 518 for everyday carry/at the office/traveling. Coming with a travel case, they are pretty much even with the money I spent on those two headphones and their travel case. The budget breakdown for my old lineup stacks up like so:

  • ATH M40X: $99
  • HD 518: $60
  • Slappa Hard Case for ATH M40X: $30

So we’re at $189 for those two headphones and one travel case. It’s not super likely, though, that one pair of headphones will adequately cover both isolated/courtesy use and comfy long-listening sessions as well as the separate machines.

Impressions

It’s a plain black box that the M560 arrive in, nothing too special to say about that:

When you open it up, you find the travel case and within the travel case are the actual headphones:

The travel case isn’t quite as solid as the Slappa case for the ATH M40X, but these headphones are built like tanks. It’s unbelievable how sturdy they are. From the outside, there is no detectable plastic which to me is pretty insane because the ATH M40X & HD 518 are made almost exclusively from plastic, but my AKG 7XX are also about 50% plastic as well. The raised bits in the travel case and the fact that these headphones could double as an armored personnel carrier give me great confidence in their ability to travel, though the proof will be in how they hold up over the next week or so going back and forth to the office.

There is a lot of talk about burn-in in the audiophile sphere. The consensus seems to be that the M560 and their bigger brother, the M1060, require at least 10 hours of continuous music playing for the sound to really flesh out. That said, I’m very pleased with out-of-the-box performance. We’ll see if burn-in is a thing (I am wont to believe that it’s just a bunch of woo).

Driving Them

The impedance was still a big worry, so I spent the next handful of hours (until right now) trying them with my phone (a Google Pixel), my laptop (i7 5300HQ & GTX 970M MSI Ghost Pro), and my Nintendo Switch. Everything has performed admirably – the one thing to note is that while listening to The Avalanches’ album “Wildflower” (a super excellent summer listen) sourced from my Pixel, the mids got a little harsh. The album did not suffer from being dropped a notch or two, but most everything else I listened to got full volume for the desired effect. Not surprisingly, the laptop gets the best sound out of the 3 sources, but I put in about an hour of Breath of the Wild and it was a treat.

I tried both open and closed modes across all the different sources, and it appears that the only real difference is in soundstage – if it feels like the instruments being played are arranged around you (open) or if it’s just sound coming in (closed). Different albums have different soundstages because of the way they’re produced, but so far it feels like one might expect: open back mode has a wider soundstage and closed back mode has a more limited one. Both sound very good, just different.

Open Back Mode

Impressions of sound leakage in closed back mode exceed expectations: with the wood panels on, earcups pressed together, and music at full tilt, it was hard to notice from even a few inches that any sound was coming out. Much better than I had anticipated, which gives me even more good feelings about using these for travel.

Isolation is also very high in both open and closed back modes – it’s tough to hear anything going on in your surroundings (which can be good or bad) in either open or closed back modes.

I could tell just from skipping around a few songs that these would benefit from an amp, but everything so far has been extremely pleasant and I don’t get the impression that they are required. The only other thing that sticks out to me now is that the fitment is a little loose (although my glasses do act as shims). I’m not much for headbanging anyway.

Closing Words

This isn’t a conclusion – I haven’t been able to use them enough to draw any real conslusions. So far all signs are positive, and I need to A/B test them with an amp and against the old headphones for me to really formulate some thoughts as well as take them out in the real world. So far, though, I haven’t come across any real negatives to these being my everyday carry. Time will tell!

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1 Comment

Monolith M560 Headphones: Travel Review – Salt Fabricators · May 24, 2017 at 2:58 am

[…] noted in the Day One blog post I purchased the Monlith M560 headphones to replace the Audio-Technica ATH M40X and Sennheiser HD […]

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