Monolith by Monoprice M1000ANC Headphones review: affordable travel headphones with decent sound


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The Monolith M1000ANC Headphones offer ANC, algorithmic spatial audio, and 60-hour battery life at a price lower than AirPods.

Monoprice uses the Monolith brand for its high-end audio equipment, and the M1000ANC Headphones are the base model for that brand. Their low price and advanced audio features act as a bridge between Monoprice’s consumer and professional products.

Unlike the Monolith TrueWireless Earphones we reviewed previously, the Monolith M1000ANC Headphones lack a clear competitor in Apple’s AirPods or Beats lineup. That makes these headphones a more compelling choice for anyone seeking a sub $200 headphone with noise cancellation abilities.

Design

The Monolith M1000ANC Headphones are over-ear headphones made from plastic with memory foam protein leather padding. These headphones can fold into a compact shape for storage, but Monoprice only includes a small pouch for storage, not a hard-shell case.

Fold up the M1000ANC headphones for travel

The headband is adjustable using a sliding mechanism that exposes the metal support band when extended. The headphones should comfortably fit most people’s heads, but we had to use the fully extended setting.

The construction is what we’d expect from a headphone in this price range. Some parts are a bit rickety, but you won’t notice when worn. The single attach point of the ear cups to the headband does seem to be a potential break point in the future.

The extendable headband exposes the metal support

The extendable headband exposes the metal support

There are three physical controls on the right earcup, while only one will be used regularly when worn. There is a power and pairing button, a Dirac feature toggle, and an ANC switch.

The Dirac feature toggle inexplicably has a microphone icon since the button only seems to be used for turning the Virtuo Spatializer on and off. The raised bump on the button will let you find it without looking, though it is unlikely users will use it much during long listening sessions.

The Monolith M1000ANC Headphones have a 60-hour battery life without ANC and 40 hours with ANC enabled. Quick charge over the USB-C port provides 2 hours of playback in only 5 minutes.

Using the Monolith M1000ANC Headphones

We enjoyed using the Monolith M1000ANC Headphones to listen to music and podcasts. The audio is crisp and emphasizes highs and mids with minimal bass.

Something we immediately noticed was the volume levels. We tend to use over-ear headphones to block external audio and listen to music at a medium level, so it is loud enough to hear but not so loud it prevents our ability to focus.

The M1000ANC volume levels were lower for the same volume level when compared to other headphones

The M1000ANC volume levels were lower for the same volume level when compared to other headphones

The Monolith M1000ANC Headphones seem to operate at lower volumes than other headphones. When using the volume slider on iOS, the quiet levels from 0% to 50% have a decent audio level ramp from barely audible to background listening. The audio level is soft and quiet in quality until about 70%, then it quickly ramps to much louder levels.

At 100%, the audio is noticeably lower than other headphones, but we’re not sure if this is bad. The sound is just below the point of being unbearably loud to our ears, and audio doesn’t distort at this level.

We’d argue that the volume should adjust more evenly, and the 50% to 70% audio levels should be louder and more robust like in other headphones. Since the noise ceiling is lower in these headphones, we found ourselves listening in the 70% to 90% range more often.

ANC modes

There is a physical switch on the side of the headphones that toggle between ANC low, ANC high, and ANC off. The low setting blocks up to 20 decibel sound while the high setting blocks up to 35 decibel sound.

The physical buttons and switch are easy to find by touch

The physical buttons and switch are easy to find by touch

We found that the ANC modes act as good-enough filters for loud noises or the constant droning of machinery. Start listening to music alongside the ANC mode, and the outside world will disappear.

The ANC modes aren’t as good as competitors, but these headphones also start at a price of $100 lower than other ANC headphones.

Virtuo Spatializer

The Virtuo Spatializer uses algorithms to play audio with a “spatial” effect. It is activated with a button on the headphones, and the effect is distinct but can be ruinous to some songs.

Simulate 3D sound using a virtual spatializer

Simulate 3D sound using a virtual spatializer

Some tracks take on a wider soundstage where each instrument is more audible. However, some tracks sound like a stadium effect has been applied and comes off with too much reverb and echo.

Users’ perception of the Virtuo Spatializer will vary from person to person. Many might find the effect cool or even desirable, while others will want to hear the music as the intended producer.

Algorithmic-based music listening can be hit or miss since the algorithm isn’t getting any hints from the music file on how to reproduce the song correctly. This is opposed to Apple Music Dolby Atmos files and AirPods Spatial Audio mode, which has data baked into the album for intentional recreation of tracks in 3D.

Gestures and controls

Standard controls work on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, so you can control volume and playback normally from your device. However, the Monolith M1000ANC Headphones have on-device gestures for controlling playback.

  • Double tap to play/pause
  • Swipe forward from the center to skip the track
  • Swipe backward to skip to the previous track
  • Swipe bottom to top to turn up the volume
  • Swipe top to bottom to turn down the volume
  • Cover the ear cup with your palm to mute audio

You have to hit the center somewhat precisely to get the gesture to work. After some practice, we were able to perform the gestures without error.

Should you buy the Monolith M1000ANC Headphones

Like any audio device, there are many options at nearly every price point. Headphones from Monoprice tend to stand out with better construction, decent sound, and interesting smart features.

These headphones are black, but the plastic can be highly reflective in direct light

These headphones are black, but the plastic can be highly reflective in direct light

If you need a set of over-ear headphones with Active Noise Cancellation, you’d be hard pressed to find another pair with the same quality and features at this price. Since Apple doesn’t offer a competing product in this range, choosing the right headphone gets more difficult.

If you don’t need the headphones to be unbearably loud and maybe even enjoy algorithmic spatial audio, then the Monolith M1000ANC Headphones are a great choice.

  • Good-enough audio quality
  • Incredible 60 hour battery life
  • Simple pairing and controls
  • Comfortable
  • Volume has an uneven ramp from 0% to 100%
  • Algorithmic spatial audio is gimmicky
  • Construction leaves us questioning durability in the long-term

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Where to buy the Monolith M1000ANC Headphones

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