Monoprice Monolith M570 Headphones Review
A beefy pile of off-the-shelf audio majesty
I don’t usually buy in when a new hyped-up planar magnetic headphone comes out, because they’re either priced outside of my personal budget restrictions or they’re built by HiFiMan, a company with a reputation for questionable build quality.
For the last few years, Monoprice has tried to disrupt that market by offering the performance of higher end planar magnetic audio hardware within cheaper designs built to hit the prices expected by mainstream audio enthusiasts. They’ve been dancing around that value sweet spot with several models now, and this time I think they completely nailed it.
The Monoprice Monolith M570 is an open-back, planar magnetic headphone that carries a standard retail price of $299 (official site here), and sometimes gets discounted further. I was lucky enough to purchase a pair from Amazon for the absurd price of $199. It uses the same OEM planar drivers as the significantly more expensive Sendy Aiva($600), Blon B20($450), and Sivga P-2($400) headphones alongside a metal headband used on most of Sivga’s budget studio lineup.
Does this Frankenstein’s monster of headphone parts deliver on its quest for truly exceptional audio at a relatively-affordable price? Absolutely. Like all headphones, it’s not without a few small issues, but these are so phenomenally well-made for the price that I’ve held off reviewing them for several weeks just to make sure my excitement about them wasn’t “new toy hype.”
The planar magnetic drivers used here are awesome, and although their lower-than-average 96dB sensitivity means you’ll almost certainly need an amp, the amount of powerful rich sound they can pump out is exactly what you’d hope for from high-end headphones. They combine warm, perfect bass response with a slightly laid back but silky mid-range, and clean detailed treble that brings out all the wonders or flaws in any recording.
When you combine all of that with a wide soundstage, the result is a sound very much like listening to a nice pair of speakers in a room, or a nicely-calibrated live sound system in a concert hall. It doesn’t quite have the “sitting next to the band” feeling that some headphones provide, but only because the sound is a little richer in the bass and brighter in the highs than reality. Instead, it’s like being in the front row at a perfectly-engineered concert in a famous theater.
The sound signature is very much in the spirit of other lauded headphones like the AKG K371(read my review), Sennheiser 600 series, and Beyerdynamic DT880, but with an extra layer of planar magnetic oomph layered on top. Planar drivers use a large thin membrane suspended between layers of magnets for a hyper-fast response and increased bass detail, and the M570 is a great example of the tech.
When the Sendy Aiva first launched last year and the hype surrounding this particular driver began, I was skeptical. Look hard enough and you’ll find critics pointing to some wonky behavior in the mid range that you can hear if you listen to a frequency sweep. I did these tests on my M570’s, and there’s absolutely some small frequency peaks and balance issues in the mids, but they’re only audible to me when I do these tests and not when actually listening to real sound.
I was instantly shocked at the amount of performance here when I first put these on, and I decided to give it several weeks of listening tests and comparisons to make sure I loved them as much as I do. They sound more powerful and luxurious than any other headphone in my small collection, with only an occasional weird treble bite to remind me that these are a budget take on a high end headphone. They’re one of the only pairs that has me reaching over to crank up the knob on my Schiit Fulla 2(review here) past the relatively meager levels I usually like into “authoritative volume” territory, as they have so much to reveal.
Comfort is great in spite of the headphones weighing enough to serve double-duty as a sledgehammer. That’s thanks to the ear pads, which are the nicest-feeling I’ve ever encountered materials-wise. They’re filled with over an inch of fast-rebounding foam, and while the outside and interior are both covered in perforated pleather, the side that touches your face is made out of a magical soft cloth. This cloth looks like it’ll feel rough or textured, but it’s actually a microfiber that’s frighteningly smooth and weirdly satisfying to touch. If I could put these ear pads on every headphone, I would.
The headband is very wide front-to-back, which helps it distribute the pull of the massive 420g+ frame across more of your head. That’s good, because the padding in the headband is quite thin, and alongside the slightly-withdrawn midrange, it’s the only other easily-mentioned flaw present in these headphones. You’ll need to fiddle with the positioning and adjustments to get these perfectly-balanced, and once you do, long listening sessions are possible. But if you get the balance even slightly wrong, prepare for slight discomfort and some additional fiddling.
In spite of the Monoprice grills on the outside of the cups being the only custom design touch, build quality here is top-tier for any headphone price. It’s absurd. You’ll have to search hard to find any part that’s not made of metal or wood. The entire headband, the support forks, and the ear cup frames are all thick metal, and the cups are made of zebra wood.
My personal pair shipped with a slightly crooked arc to the metal headband, but I fixed that with a little application of force. I had no fear about bending the headband back into shape, and it has held up just fine since. The adjustment mechanisms have a firm clank to each position, and I have 4 clicks of extra room on my large head.
The included cable is braided, and incredibly nice. It loves to straighten out and hates to tangle, and has a premium supple feel that most headphone cables lack. The source end is a 3.5mm plug with optional 6.3mm adapter and a nice spring-style strain relief. The wire itself is 1.6m long or so, and connects to the headphones with two 2.5mm plugs that lock firmly into place with a press. This type of cable is used on many other headphones, so finding a replacement shouldn’t be too tough.
Aside from having to bend the headband back into place, I also stupidly scratched the zebra wood next to the right ear cup’s audio jack on the first day I owned these when removing the cable. It’s only a cosmetic surface mark, but it didn’t take much force from the plug touching it to leave a white scratch, so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing be gentle with the wood.
The Monoprice Monolith M570 will let you hear every single detail and flaw in your music, games, or movie soundtracks and it’ll do so with a little extra bite and exciting bass on top of its technical accuracy. It’s one of my new benchmark pairs, and one of my personal favorites across a lifetime of headphone listening. I’m eager to check out the other pairs using this driver to see if their headbands and slight design differences warrant their dramatically higher prices. In the here-and-now, the M570 delivers far more than $300 of sound and build quality, and if you find a discount then congrats on getting the proverbial cherry on top.