Technology Tuesday: Monoprice Does It Again – Noise Cancelling Headphones

We’ve already reviewed two of Monoprice’s outstanding audio values. Their $7 offering in earphones and a $20 set of headphones each offered fantastic sound quality, build quality and even comfort. Relatively recently they’ve added to their lineup with a pair of active noise cancelling headphones called simply, “Noise Cancelling Headphone.” Can the company that has become synonymous with discount cables & connectors score another win and go 3-for-3 in our reviews? With a retail price of about $100, the expectations are certainly higher. Likewise, in this hyper-competitive segment of the headphone market, there is a ton of competition.

Noise cancelling headphones have several things of critical importance to note when evaluating them. Typically, they are used when travelling, so they need to be durable yet portable and relatively lightweight at the same time. Battery life should provide plenty of juice and not be a constant concern. Like any headphone, they need to be comfortable. And of course, the two most important things: Overall sound quality and the noise reduction that they offer. Fortunately, Monoprice has done quite well in all these areas.

Overview These are corded headphones powered by a single AAA battery that offer about 50 hours of listening per battery and can be used without the noise cancelling should your battery run out. Memory foam ear cups are of the “over the ear” variety and they come with a hard carrying case, two sets of detachable cables (one with an inline mic and one standard one) as well as adapters and splitters for listening to practically any source.

Portability & Comfort These are incredibly comfortable headphones. Last week, I had over ten straight hours of flying and wore these headphones for the duration. They were as comfortable at the conclusion of the flight as they were when I popped them on. The earcups are generously padded which in addition to comfort also help with the noise elimination. Just the right amount of tension keep the headphones placed comfortably on your ears without being a nuisance. The adjustable headband stays in the position that you click it into which is nice. With many headphones I find myself constantly fiddling with the fit. The headband is not as generously padded as their 8323 headphones but nonetheless, very comfortable. The weight, at just 6 ounces, adds to the comfort. They fold flat and compactly into a nicely built hard-zippered carrying case which I think is practically a mandatory accessory for NC headphones.

Build Quality & Design On top of the comfort, these have a nice feel and build to them. On the left earcup is the noise cancelling switch that is easy to find when wearing and conveniently placed. A green LED indicates that the circuitry is on and the battery is charged. The right earcup cover slides down to give access to the AAA battery compartment. While I love the ease of access to the battery, the cover can inadvertently slide open which happened to me a couple of times. The earcups are glossy black and stamped with “Monoprice” on each one.

[Headphones with zippered carry case and included cables, splitter and adapters]

Sound Quality & Noise Reduction Wow! These have among the best noise cancelling that I’ve ever heard at any price point. I was amazed at how well they literally erased all the sound in the background and left the music as the only thing you heard. I’ve owned several pairs of decent noise cancelling headphones and  tried many more and I was still a little stunned when I put these on. Many (most?) noise cancelling headphones do a great job with “droning” sounds of engines, air conditioners or other ambient noise. What was most surprising with these was how well they did with ALL exterior sounds. It’s tough to enjoy a concert with loud mouths that never shut up around you – despite how hard you concentrate on the music – the annoying chatter is always there. Just like headphones – it is tough to 100% enjoy the music if the exterior world is too loud. These do such a great job at letting you simply enjoy your music.

Noise cancelling headphones can sometimes have a Jekyll & Hyde personality with poor results in one of two modes. Fortunately, sound is very good in both modes: with noise cancelling and without. With noise cancelling, volumes are appreciably higher and slightly better bass. The sound does not seem overly processed or artificial like many NC headphones tend to do. Without noise cancelling, the sound is very neutral, crisp  and full but noticeably lower in volume. However, the overall sound quality is better without the NC. I really enjoy listening to them in both modes.

Bottom Line You know how you can get name brand prescription medication that costs quite a bit OR opt for the generic alternative that gives you the exact same results? That’s basically what you get with these Monoprice Noise Cancelling Headphones. It is not a perfect analogy, but it is close. The name brand prescription in this case being the Bose Quiet Comfort series that will set you back $300. At roughly 1/3rd the price, these are just what the doctor ordered for sound quality, comfort and durability. Sure, they may look a little generic, but the build quality, sound quality and even the travel case are top notch. This is a great value for the dollar. Given Monoprice’s 30-day money-back guarantee with no-restocking fee, there’s no reason not to give them a whirl if you are in the market for noise-cancelling headphones – I’m sure you will not be disappointed.

Monoprice Noise Cancelling Headphones $101.33 (direct from Monoprice)


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