- Thanks to their sleek design, Marshall’s Monitor II ANC headphones could tempt new fans to the brand who want to wear headphones for everyday use, not just to show off their rockstar credentials.
- The warm, fun, and bassy sound will appeal to many listeners, and what the headphones lack in detail they make up for in outright enjoyment.
- A tiny joystick is included on the earcup, and it’s one of the best headphone control methods you’ll use.
- The quoted 30 hours of battery life with noise cancellation on is easily achievable.
- Comfortable to wear and compact when folded down, the Marshall Monitor II ANC headphones are a tempting purchase at $320.
Marshall has introduced the second version of its Monitor over-ear headphones. For this updated model, the company has added a highly desirable noise cancellation feature, while keeping a very similar design to the first set.
The Marshall Monitor II ANC headphones may not be as well known as competitors from Sony and Bose, but they have a selection of features that really do make them appealing, including a superb control system and long battery life.
But, the Monitor IIs also need to be comfortable and sound great to really compete in this market, and without the more recognizable Marshall style that the company’s other headphones use, they may not instantly attract those who already love the brand.
With those factors in mind, I’ve been wearing the Monitor II ANC headphones for a week to see if Marshall has left its rock past behind in pursuit of a new audience.
- Drivers: 40mm
- Weight: 320 grams/11.3 ounces
- Battery life: 30 hours with noise cancellation, 45 hours without
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm wired connection, USB Type-C for charging
- Codecs: SBC
Thanks to the company’s unique style, Marshall has an image of being the headphone world’s tattoo-covered rock god. With its new Monitor II over-ears, however, the company appears to be going after a slightly different market, turning its gaze away from the sweaty, concert-going masses and towards the Bose-wearing commuter.
Compared to other Marshall headphones, the Monitor IIs have a less aggressive style. They aren’t immediately reminiscent of a guitar amp and are instead more like, well, a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35. The svelte profile, the curvy cups, and the pillowy, quilted leather pads are all very familiar, as is the way the headphones fold up for portability.
But, don’t worry, Marshall hasn’t forgotten its heritage. The Monitor IIs are still highly distinct in their design — from the heavily textured, stitched hanger to the curly cables linking each driver, and the massive white Marshall branding on each cup. You won’t mistake the headphones for another brand for very long, and I think it’s great mix of Marshall design elements and a more palatable style for newcomers. They look good, aren’t too big, and are sturdily made. They are a bit floppy, though, with hinges and swivel points that seemingly have a mind of their own once the headphones aren’t on your head.
On the right earcup you’ll find a big, gold joystick, along with a far more subtle “M button” located where the hanger attaches to the cup. This M button is used for equalizer settings. Meanwhile, a noise cancellation button is located on the left earcup. Unfortunately, these buttons are easy to accidentally press when putting the headphones on or taking them off, and it takes a while to get into the habit of avoiding them.
Lightweight and very comfortable, the only downside with the Marshall Monitor II’s fit is that they can get quite hot after a few hours. Thankfully, my glasses sit happily under the cup without pulling down on my nose or needing frequent adjustment — a real bonus when moving around or on public transport. They also fold down into a compact package for easy transportation, and there is a soft bag included in the box.
Marshall may be looking towards Bose with the Monitor IIs, but it definitely hasn’t lost sight of what makes its headphones unique and desirable, and I really like the less in-your-face design.
Here’s where Marshall reverts to type, because on the inside these are Marshall headphones through and through. If you’re after a subtle, detailed sound, these probably aren’t the cans for you. Playful, energetic, warm, and at times rather raucous (usually in a good way), these are headphones that want to party.
Osanzi’s “Feel You,” an electronic dance music (EDM) track created using the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid software, sounds fantastic. The Monitor IIs make the most out of the wide soundstage, superb stereo separation, and hardcore bass and mid-bass. You really do feel the music, which sounds like a cliche, but I enjoy listening to this twisting, turning, highly emotional track more on the Monitor IIs than on many other headphones.
It’s clear the headphones suit this track, and definitely suit EDM in general. Mat Zo’s “The Sky” is similarly engaging with its thumping bass line and soaring vocals, as is Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child,” and Zedd’s “Clarity”. What these songs do is really encourage you to crank up the volume, and the Monitor IIs have plenty of that. No, they aren’t especially detailed, but there’s no distortion, and the balance between strong vocals, bass, and backing is excellent. Moving away from EDM, Nogizaka46’s “Secret Graffiti” really exploits the headphones’ well-judged soundstage, mid-range supremacy, and fun sound.
But, listening to Scandal’s “Suki-Suki,” a guitar-driven song that I thought would really play to the Monitor’s strengths, doesn’t impress as much. The bass gets a little muddy with the equalizer’s Rock profile selected, and the vocals aren’t as strong as I’d like. Throughout Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”, the Monitor IIs seem to pack the sound in very tightly, and don’t make the most out of the soundstage.
These are minor quibbles, however, and I found myself trying more and more tracks during extended listening sessions to see what sounds best on the Monitor IIs. The conclusion? They sound great most of the time, and the fact that I wanted to sit down and listen to them for fun is an indication of their versatility and enjoyable performance.
With that said, it’s important to note the Monitor II’s lack of codec support. This is perhaps their biggest downside, as the absence of AptX, AAC, and AptX HD support is a shame, and this will limit sound quality over Bluetooth.
You control the Monitor II’s noise cancellation through the app, or using the ANC button on the side of the left cup. There are three settings: off, audio passthrough, and maximum. Thankfully, there isn’t much difference when it comes to sound quality whether the ANC is on or off, which is great news. However, the audio transparency mode doesn’t seem to do much. It does let some traffic noise in when I’m out for a walk, but not enough to hear voices on the television.
The noise cancellation itself is not as robust at that on the Sony WH-1000XM3s or the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless. It definitely removes ambient sound from outside, and drowns out my noisy neighbors too; but arguably no more so than putting on any over-ear headphones and cranking up the volume. I feel suitably isolated when wearing them outside — although traffic noise is at a minimum at the time of writing — but I don’t think they suit exercise due to a higher degree of wind noise when running.
I do notice an increase in pressure around the ears with ANC active, however, which quickly disappears when you turn the feature off. It’s not that unpleasant, but may cause some discomfort in an airplane cabin. Overall, the noise cancellation feature is effective enough for everyday use, but it can’t quite match the greater levels of isolation provided by competitors.
Controls, app, and battery life
The gold button on the side of the Monitor II does way more than just switching the headphones on. Cleverly, it’s actually a little joystick which also controls track forward and back, volume up and down, and play and pause. The action is not only natural, but also very precise and much more preferable to touch control systems. Plus, it looks much cooler than a series of simple buttons. It’s a great way to control your headphones.
When you first connect the Marshall Monitor II headphones to your phone, it recommends downloading the Marshall Bluetooth app, which is available for iOS and Android. I tested it out on the iPhone 11 Pro. Once connected, it shows battery life and provides quick access to the equalizer and noise cancellation options, both of which can also be adjusted on the headphones using the M Button and the ANC button. Inside the app, the M Button can also be customized to activate your virtual assistant, rather than change the equalizer setting.
Marshall has gone all-out with the battery life on the Monitor II headphones. It quotes 30 hours with noise cancelling on, or up to 45 hours without it. It takes a two hour charge to go from zero to full. After doing this at the start of my review, the app still shows 40% battery remaining following a week of regular use. I have absolutely no doubt it will reach the 30 hours quoted.
The bottom line
With the Monitor IIs, Marshall shifts away from its more familiar rockstar style to something sleeker without losing its own identity. The sound is warm and bass heavy, and although most genres sound good, the headphones really lend themselves to enjoying electronic music. There’s plenty of battery life — easily enough to last at least a week of heavy use — and you’ll love the little joystick for controlling your music. The price is around what rivals charge for similar features, and the Monitor IIs are a good purchase, just be aware that they’re not designed for detailed listening.
What are your alternatives?
At their regular price of $319.99 (currently on sale for $279.99) the ANC-equipped Monitor II headphones are less expensive than the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose 700 headphones, which are both currently available for just under $350. Both of these competitors have better noise cancellation performance than the Monitor IIs, however, so if that’s a priority for you, it might be worth paying more for one of those options instead.
It’s also worth taking a look at the $250 Beats Solo Pro Wireless if you like a bass-heavy sound, or the $350 Sennheiser Momentum 3 if you prefer more detailed listening. For more recommendations, be sure to check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones.
Pros: A warm, energetic sound, sleek, compact design, excellent joystick control, long battery life
Cons: Limited codec support, noise cancellation isn’t the best available
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