You know Marshall guitar amplifiers. If you’re a fan of music, you know what Marshall’s iconic amps look like and you have definitely heard them. The company is so much a part of music history that it’s surprising that they only recently launched a line of headphones. Marshall’s headphone lineup is fairly extensive, with a range of in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, and wireless cans all bearing the Marshall brand. The newest entry into this lineup is Marshall’s Monitor Black Bluetooth over-ear, priced at $249. While they sound good enough to carry the Marshall name, some aspects of their design detract from the experience.
The Monitor Black comes with a basic but useful set of accessories. In the box is a canvas carry case, coiled 3.5mm cable with inline mic, a charging cable, and a manual to explain its operation. The Monitor Black isn’t a super-lightweight, but it folds to an extremely compact package. Its ear pads are held on with magnets and easily removed — Marshall offers discs called “FTF Filters” that can be inserted between the pad and the driver to dampen treble response. None were included with our review sample, but as we’ll discuss later, we doubt that we would want the treble dampened any more than in the stock configuration. In addition, the Monitor Black has a cool trick up its sleeve — when in Bluetooth mode, a second headphone can be connected to the onboard 3.5mm jack for shared listening.
Marshall calls the Monitor Black over-ear, but we must disagree. Though its cups are large enough to be over-ears, its pads rest squarely on the ear, compressing them like an on-ear. Exacerbating the problem is the Monitor Black’s high clamping force, which is due to its stiff high-arched headband. We experienced a similar issue with the Hifiman Edition S, though the Monitor Black’s headband is more flexible and has better padding. Still, heat and pressure built up over time, causing the Monitor Black to become uncomfortable when we used them for more than half an hour. Those with smaller ears may have a better experience, but we wish Marshall had included larger ear pads (or pads with a larger opening) to make these truly over-ear.
Pad issues aside, the Monitor Black have a high-quality build that is consistent with the brand. Guitar amplifiers are meant to be thrown around as a band travels on tour; while perhaps not built with the same abuse in mind, the Monitor Black inspires confidence. The cups are a made of a sturdy soft-touch plastic with a texture similar to that of the company’s guitar amps. Driver cups are connected to metal yokes and a well-padded headband. All controls (on/off/pair, volume, track, calls, Siri) are handled with a small brass button that is actually a 4-way control stick. The Monitor Black looks classy, maintaining the Marshall brand identity without overdoing it.
In some ways, the Marshall Monitor reminds us of the Blue Sadie and Ella we reviewed earlier this year. Each of these are headphones produced by a company historically known for some other kind of audio product, and each has design elements that evoke those other products. Just like parts of Blue’s headphones look like the company’s microphones, the Monitor’s textured cups, brass controls, and coiled cables are designed to remind us of the company’s guitar amplifiers. While we doubt that anyone is actively shopping for headphones that look like microphones or amplifiers, we think that Marshall’s attempt at maintaining a consistent brand identity is better executed than that of Blue. The Monitor maintains a classy look, even if its company DNA is evident in its design.
The Monitor Black pairs easily, displays battery level in the iPhone’s status bar, and links its volume level with the iPhone. Its control switch, however, was far less of a breeze to use. The switch is designed to be a four-way control – up/down controls volume, and left/right changes tracks – at least in theory. In practice, however, we found it hard to feel which direction we were actually pushing the button, leading to a lot of accidental track changes. We think some gating in the internals of the button to add some definition to the button presses would have made this a really great feature, but in is current form, we preferred to control things with our phone.
Marshall advertises the Monitor Black as having a neutral sound, and we mostly agree. We enjoyed the Monitor Black with a wide variety of genres, and were not surprised to find that its lush mids shine with guitar riffs. It’s refreshing to hear a consumer headphone that isn’t overly tuned for electronic music. Comparing them to a similar headphone, however — our trusty Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 — we found that we might have preferred the treble to be slightly less recessed. The Monitor Black are neutral, but skewing towards “laid back” in that regard, sacrificing a little detail in favor of a less fatiguing sound. This would normally be fine, but we found the isolation afforded by the Monitor Black’s pads just average, making them sound softer than intended when used in noisy environments.
If you’ve read our reviews of the Blue Lola and Sadie, you know that we’re not exactly fans of highly-branded headphones. The Monitor Black, however, is able to evoke Marshall’s heritage without being overly flashy. They’re well-built, portable, and their sound is great for fans of guitar rock. However, we found that the experience of wearing and operating them left something to be desired. If you like rock music and your ears are smaller than ours, the Marshall Monitor Black is worth checking out.
Company and Price
Model: Monitor Black