Nearly every audio or home theater enthusiast knows about MonoPrice. They're the go-to source on the Internet for A/V cables at rock-bottom prices. And most people who subscribes to the "cables don't matter" school of thought have probably bought cables from them at one point or another because, hey, a cable is a cable, right, so why pay more? But who, as a self-respecting hi-fi enthusiast, would even consider buying a set of headphones from them, from the same price category as their cables: rock bottom? Well, that person would be me.
Several weeks ago I managed to break my past set of portable headphones, a pair of MEElectromics Ai-M2s I bought while I was out of work and had broken my former previous set of portable headphones. At the time I thought the sound of the M2s was acceptable but, like the review in the Multi-IEM review thread says I thought the bass was boomy and treble was not quite there. I also had terrible problems with the microphonics and the left bud not wanting to stay in my ear (due to the shape of my left ear's ear canal). Overall I was satisfied with them for the $10 they cost, at least until I managed to rip the left bud off the cable when it fell out of my ear at an inopportune time.
Flash forward to this week: I'm shopping on MonoPrice for a spare charging cable for my phone to keep in my car and since I was already buying something from them I thought I'd see if they had anything else I needed so I could bundle the shipping and save. I still hadn't bought a pair of headphones to replace the M2s and I thought I'd see what MonoPrice offered. I was slightly disappointed to see that they only sold "store brand" headphones at bargain-basement prices, but those prices were low enough that I figured I had very little to lose. I decided on the "Ergonomic Comfort In-Ear Earphones w/ Cobalt Magnets" (which I will hereafter refer to as "MonoPrice Ergos" or "Ergos") because they had the most reviews and a good average score among reviewers at MonoPrice. Many of the reviews on the site were glowing, but I'm always leery of reviews from the general public on matters relating to audio (just think of the reputation Bose enjoys) so I wasn't expecting much.
I got my package yesterday evening but didn't get a chance to try these out until this morning at work (where I do most of my listening these days). Before I put them in I was expecting sound quality comparable to a bluetooth earpiece and certainly no better than my M2s. I hooked them up to my Sansa Clip+ and put on Boston's More Than a Feeling and was frankly blown away. They weren't terrible! The bass was there wasn't bloated or one-note! They had treble that was only slight recessed and wasn't grating or splashy! The mids kind of dominating and a little boxy but they weren't bad. Then I turned on my Sansa's equalizer to balance the sound out a little and I was impressed all over again. They were better than my M2s! I was floored. Here's a review:
Packaging and accessories: 2/5
The packaging is a very simple plastic blister pack (which was a pain to open) and there were no included accessories (including replacement tips).
Build Quality: 3/5
The build is cheap plastic, but you can't expect anything more for the price. I am concerned about durability of the plug which is a straight design instead of an L-shaped one so there could be a lot of stress on the connection when I put my player in my pocket.
Nothing special, but as a closed IEM they do provide decent isolation (enough to drown out the sparse background noise at my office).
Very little, much less than my M2s.
I wore them all day at work and I forgot I was wearing them a few times!
Sound quality: 4.5/10
Sound quality (with equalization): 6/10
Sound quality for the price: 9/10
Sound quality (with equalization) for the price: 12/10 (not a typo)
These things sound GOOD. And I don't mean "good for the price", I mean good. They frankly have no right to sound as good as they do for as little as they cost. As mentioned, out of the box the mids dominate and they have a slightly boxy sound to them. Using equalization (specifically this foobar EQ preset file) to tone down the mids and (to a lesser degree) bass, these things really open up. Overall the sound (after equalization) reminds me of my Koss PortaPros (which I no longer have so I can't compare directly). There's plenty of bass, but its well controlled (it's not flabby or undefined) and it has great extension (I can hear all the way down to the lowest bass note in the organ portion of the closing theme to Tron). The highs are smooth and, like the bass, well controlled. They're not splashy or grating and have good extension; on Dire Straits' Down To The Waterline they hit the highest high note (you know the one I'm talking about) perfectly. After equalization the mids open up and lose their boxy character and they're not at all congested or veiled like you might expect from such a cheap set of headphones.
So, what's not so good about them? Well, they're not very refined. Even after equalization they're not the most balanced or neutral sounding set of headphones. I'd describe the character of the sound (after equalization) as warm but not overwhelmingly so. They lack the ability to resolve the fine details and they can't quite hit the sharp attacks. In addition to suffering from the "soundstange inside your head" problem most IEMs do, they also don't define their soundstage or do imaging very well. You get left, center, and right, but not much more distinct than that. None of these problems make the headphones hard to listen to; in fact if you asked me to use two adjectives to sum up the sound of the MonoPrice Ergos I'd use "pleasant" and "inoffensive;" there's nothing at all that's offensive about their sound (which can't be corrected with a bit of equalization).
Value (with equalization): 10/10
If you need a pair of disposable headphones for portable use and have the option of using an equalizer these are a no-brainer for $5.50 shipped. If you don't have the option of equalization these aren't nearly as good a buy. They're still better than probably anything else you could get for that much and they're certainly better than 99% of bundled earbuds, but the slightly boxy sound would take a bit to get used to.
So, do the MonoPrice Ergos give you Hi-Fi sound for $5.50 shipped? No, but they come darn close. With a bit of equalization, they're a solid set of mid-fi headphones which come within striking distance of hi-fi but don't have the necessary refinement to get there. They're absolutely perfect as a set of truly disposable headphones to wear while out and about.