Marshall Monitor Bluetooth Headphones

Spellbound by the gunmetal and black aesthetic of the iPhone X, and its superb OLED screen I was finally convinced to upgrade from my iPhone 5s. I couldn’t be happier with the upgrade, save for one key annoyance. You guessed it- the lack of a 3.5mm audio jack.

I was somewhat vocal about being in favour of dropping the 3.5mm jack, or at least being very much against the outcry at its removal but I have a problem- I can’t wear the Apple Earbuds supplied, so right from the get-go I was left headphoneless. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just use the little adaptor to connect my old headphones, solved!” You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a simple if not necessary elegant solution to this non-problem, but unfortunately Apple are incapable of making a cable or adaptor that lasts more than 10 seconds.

The supplied 3.5mm to lightning connector is garbage, complete and total garbage, the wire connecting the two halves of the adaptor is thin, frail and broke its way to making my listening experience a noisy distorted mess within a couple of days. It didn’t help that I had a fair amount of wire and a large-ish right-angle 3.5mm connector hooked up.

So I used this unfortunate situation as an excuse to embrace Bluetooth. I don’t believe I’ve ever tested or owned a pair of bluetooth headphones, although I did test a bluetooth headset back in 2010. I was in a hurry to grab a pair of headphones and I had my eyes on a few decent but expensive pairs but I decided to settle for something that looked good, with a price tag somewhere in the middle of cheap-n-nasty and pretentious-fashion-brand; the Marshal Monitor bluetooth headphones.

I chose these mostly for their looks, but also because I have an iota of faith that a brand with the associations of Marshal- a company best known for guitar amps- would be able to throw something together with half decent audio quality. They can, but if you ignore the looks the Monitor headphones aren’t really anything special. In fact they use off-the-shelf internals that most likely can only be paired with a certain range of drivers, and have a fairly standard window of audio performance. How do I know this? Well I just happened to get my hands on another pair of Bluetooth headphones from another brand that behave exactly like the Marshall Monitor. Same low battery tone, same on tone, same off tone, and more or less the same sound. These weren’t cheap either, but I was pretty resigned to the fact I mostly paid for looks.

The Marshall Monitor are good enough headphones, with a long battery life, really great black and brass aesthetic and a folding design coupled with a storage bag for toting them around. The come with a really nice- again black and brass- 3.5mm audio cable, and a decent enough micro USB cable for charging them.

The black and brass was the main appeal for me, and a big part of this is the joystick-style control on the left ear cup. It’s a great idea in principle, although it fails slightly in execution. The tiny joystick can be pushed and held to turn the headphones on and off. Push it briefly and it will play and pause music. Push in some other obscure patterns and it does…. things… who knows. I once accidentally called someone when I was trying to play my music, but only once. Tilting the joystick up/down or left/right will adjust the volume up/down and skip back/forward. This sounds great, but it’s sometimes tricky to remember which direction does what, and when the headphones are on your head the joystick is being operated from a weird angle so it’s not always intuitive which direction is which. This is all relatively easy to overcome, though. Another small problem is hoods or collars, a couple of times I’ve snagged the little joystick on something I’m wearing and accidentally skipped tracks. In general, though, I find it *much* easier to operate the joystick by feel than a series of individual buttons, and there’s no doubt that it looks fantastic.

Comfort is my big bugbear with these headphones. They’re not a good all-rounder. Previously I was using my Razer Kraken headphones, which are super, super comfortable for long periods of time. I regularly embark on 3-4 hour train journeys so comfort is paramount. The Marshall Monitor are fine for about an hour, but any longer than this and they really start feeling uncomfortable. This isn’t great in transit, where I’m trying to relax and drown out the hubbub of a busy train with a podcast or – sometimes – white noise. They are great for walking to and from work, and occasional use elsewhere, but they really truly suck for marathon listening. I kind of expect this from on-ear headphones, but I’ve had pairs before that have been comfortable for long periods of time, at the expense of not staying on my head quite as well. Other users of the Marshal headphones have remarked that they’re somewhat small/tight and I tend to agree, they’ve missed the mark a little bit.

Battery is the other big deal for me, not because it has a short battery life – it’s actually quite long – but because the headphones do the most absurd thing when the battery is low. Rather than give a warning and simply switch off when it’s dangerously low, they will happily continue to work for minutes while playing (every 30 seconds or possibly more frequently) a truly infuriating “battery low” tone. When you’ve forgot to charge the headphones and you know they have enough juice for your walk home, but they insist on instead making your music unlistenable with intermittent warning tones… well that’s frustrating. I’ve since managed to get a handle on this problem by regularly charging them, but knowing that annoyance is just one long walk away bugs me.

On the features side, the Marshall Monitor can be connected via their 3.5mm cable directly to any device with a 3.5mm jack, just like good ol’ wired headphones. They will do this even if the battery is depleted, which makes them great for serving a dual role with a laptop/phone. When you’re not using this 3.5mm to connect to an audio source, you can actually connect *another* pair of headphones to it and allow a friend to listen to your music… they’ll have to be a close friend since they will be tethered to your head with wires, but this has actually proved to be a useful feature on train journeys for video watching together with D.

Repairability seems reasonable good. Not only do the ear pads detach, but they do so magnetically with minimal effort. They’ve never detached accidentally, but when I went to find the QR code under one of the cups I set about prying it off only to have it detach effortlessly in my hand. A really nice touch to generally great looking and well built headphones.

Built quality is also excellent, with solid metal construction of the headband and arms that attach the ear cups, and metal plates behind the ear cups to facilitate the magnetic attachment/detachment. They are physically absolutely superb quality and perhaps among the best construction of any headphone I’ve tested in a while. The lack of physical buttons and switches really helps with this, though, since there’s nothing to feel cheap or loose. The fit and finish of the faux leather over the ear cups is absolutely perfect, and the headband is good apart from some creasing on the inside curve which is something I’d expect.

Overall I’m happy to have plonked down cash on these headphones. I’ve been using them without incident for three months now and while I want an over-ear pair for longer journeys, they’ve been great for short commutes where obnoxious big headphones would otherwise make me look a plonker. I chose them for how they look, and they’re actually pretty decent performance wise too and built like a battleship. I wish they were a little louder (my hearing is abysmal). Some of the design choices- the not-quite-there control knob and the weird battery low notification- make me wonder if my pair are fake (allegedly there are fakes in circulation), or if Marshall just went cheap and cheerful in order to jump on the fashion headphone bandwagon. Either way, they’d probably be made in the same place so ¯\_(?)_/¯