if you want a certain consumer tech product but don’t need all the bells and whistles, you can often get a decent alternative to the big-bucks, big-name version from Monoprice. From cheap wireless earbuds to cheap 3D printers, the company has you covered.
But for all the quality (and occasionally subpar) gear I’ve tried from the budget electronics brand over the years, the Monolith M570 planar magnetic headphones stand out as truly excellent. These open-back headphones provide epic sound for at-home listening, and they cost so little that most people can save up for a pair—even those who’d otherwise ignore fancy audiophile headphones and their inflated prices.
If you’ve been thinking about picking up a pair of high-end headphones because you’re jonesing for the emotional impact of great music, but concerts are still only coming at a trickle, the M570 are a great way to get that feeling for not a lot of money. As far as I’m concerned, they’re one of the best-kept secrets in home audio.
While most Monoprice offerings tend to sacrifice fit and finish, the M570 is actually an attractive and well-built pair of headphones. The black over-ears are fashioned mostly from metal. The open-back ear cups are cut from darkly stained zebrawood and topped with foam pads covered in a combination of plush fabric and soft leather. A thick faux-leather headband keeps everything cozily planted on your ears.
The headphones are weighty, but every element feels like it’s been chosen to serve listener comfort and to provide a great musical experience. You pick up the headphones and think, “Wow, these feel nice.”
Speaking of nice things, I love how easy these are to get on your head the right way—oddly less common that it should be—thanks to clear white R/L labels on the outside of the headband.
Recessed holes on the bottom of each ear cup hide the ports for a detachable 3.5-mm cable, and the headphones come with an adapter for connecting them to quarter-inch sources. (There is no wireless option; these are for plugging in and enjoying.) When you’re done listening, the headphones stow away in a nondescript hard case that’s molded to perfectly fit the pair.
These are planar magnetic headphones, so they aren’t like the normal, piston-driven headphones and speakers you’re probably used to. It’s likely that nearly every headphone or speaker in your home uses dynamic drivers, where a cone-shaped diaphragm is moved by magnets. Instead of conical speakers, planar magnetic drivers use thin magnetized strips of metal to vibrate air and create sound. The technology has significant benefits over dynamic drivers, first and foremost in the low end.
Most dynamic drivers have sweet spots in the frequency spectrum, which is why nicer headphones and speakers often have multiple drivers—separate speakers for producing high frequencies and mid to low frequencies, like in the two-way home audio speakers you’re probably familiar with.
For various acoustic reasons you’ll want to chat up a PhD about, planar magnetic technology allows a single driver to accurately reproduce the full spectrum of sound. The thin film of planar drivers works especially well down low. With piston-like dynamic drivers, it’s tough to get bold low-end extension without accidentally hyping many of the surrounding frequencies and creating a “boomy” listening experience. Think of listening to a song in the other room with the door closed and you get the idea. The planar drivers in the M570 have none of that “mud.”
The M570 have such clean low-end extension and separation between bass, drums, and synths that they’ve become my go-to headphones for hip hop. I have listened to MF Doom, Outkast, and Lil Nas X with joy, hearing each crazy sub-bass move in a way I’d previously experienced only on big speakers.
The crisp low end has spectacular effects on the balance of the overall tracks, even at higher frequencies. Because there’s nothing muddying up the bottom, you hear guitars, keyboards, and other chordal instruments with a ton of clarity. Cymbals and the brightest acoustic guitars retain even more shimmer. They infuse all styles of music with a smorgasbord of detail and clarity.
The open design of these headphones, in which there is no seal or barrier between the inside and outside of the drivers, gives them a very airy and vibrant soundstage—the imaginary three-dimensional space you can “feel” yourself in when you shut your eyes and listen. With closed-back headphones, you often feel like you’ve been boxed into a tiny listening room. Open-back headphones like this are the best way to produce a spacious soundstage outside of regular speakers in a good room.
The obvious downside here is that you won’t want to wear these in noisy environments. Not only does your embarrassing taste in music leak out of them, but because there’s no barrier between your ears and the world, you’ll get to hear every conversation or distraction around.
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That’s probably not an issue for most people interested in these types of headphones, given that the M570 are pretty clearly meant for people who sit in their computer room or office and jam out while working, or who plug in to unwind after a long day.
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Over the past month or so, I’ve found myself gravitating toward these over much more expensive review units. I find them to be incredibly natural-sounding, which means I reach for them when I’m checking my own personal recordings on headphones, or while mixing on the go.
When I recently left town and needed a pair of headphones to listen to while I worked remotely, I grabbed the M570 instead of other options. For me, they offer the best technology, comfort, and styling I’ve heard for under $500.
You will notice differences between these and, say, the $699 Hifiman Ananda, which are also open-back, planar magnetic headphones. There are many higher-end models that do sound slightly more open or slightly clearer overall. But there’s a reason I’m using the word slightly. The M570 sound very nearly as good as headphones that cost twice as much or more, and that’s pretty astonishing.
Given the choice between these and my previous sub-$500 favorites, the $220 Sennheiser/Drop HD6XX, the M570 wins, no contest. I don’t know what magic Monoprice’s engineers bottled to make these affordable, audiophile-grade over-ears. I truly wouldn’t change a thing about the
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