Monoprice Monolith M1060 Planar Headphones

General Information

The Monolith M1060 planar headphones are the perfect way to experience your music collection. Featuring a 106mm planar driver technology that produces a detailed aural landscape and resolves all the sonic detail from the best recordings. Spectacular imaging, low distortion, and perfectly balanced sound make the Monolith M1060 a true audiophile listening experience.
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macdonjh

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Price ($300 on Amazon), overall good sound, light weight
Cons: Need power to open up
Monoprice M-1060 Planar-Magnetic Headphones

1. Disclaimer: I do not work for Monoprice. This particular pair of headphones was loaned to me by a friend who is curious what I think about them.

2. Introduction: After finding out what a big fan I am of my HiFiMAN HE-500 headphones, a friend of mine got curious about what I’d think of the Monoprice M-1060.

3. Design: It’s not like these are new headphones, so I’ll keep this brief. The Monoprice M-1060 are planar-magnetic, over-the-ear headphones. They have a detachable cable, with 2.5mm TR (phono plug) connections at each ear cup. My friend supplied me with a cable that has a 3.5mm TRS plug at the source end, and another cable with a 4-pin XLR plug at the source end. The supplied pads are cushy and angled, covered with synthetic leather.

4. Fit, Comfort, Isolation: The M-1060 fit me just fine. The head band is stiff enough to keep the ear pads against my head, without undue pressure. Compared to my HE-500, they are quite light. Since they are open-back, the M-1060 don’t really have much isolation. Overall construction isn’t as refined as my HE-500. While some might think the M-1060 appear cheaply made, I don’t worry about them falling apart (like I’ve heard some comment about the newer HE-560). But then I don’t toss my head phones down onto my desk. Others might do that.

5. What I Listened to: I used both my Astell&Kern AK70 Mk II and my Aune X7S (fed from my AK Jr.) for listening.

6. Soundstage: I listened to Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” to get an idea of the M-1060 soundstage. It was a bit strange. The horns were panned far to the left, behind the violins, rather than behind the violas. The clarinets were close to center stage where I expected to hear them. But the flutes sounded like they were right on top of the clarinets. Sometimes, it sure sounded like there were violins stage right, where the basses should be, lots of violin sound in my right ear. There wasn’t much depth evident in this recording, either, all the instruments were lined up across the stage. Contrast that with Pete Fountain’s clarinet, right of center and up front, on “Columbus Stockade Blues”. The trumpets and trombones are further right and behind Mr. Fountain, while the saxophones, drums and bass are all stage left. One final example: “Wasteland” the eponymous track from Riverside’s latest CD. Vocals are front and center, but the strummed acoustic guitar appears in both ears with no center fill. The bass fills the entire space between hard left and hard right, and the electric guitar is solidly in the center. My other head phones did that, too, so I guess it’s what the band intended.

7. Highs: One test that lots of head phones fail for me is Rush’s “Limelight” from Moving Pictures. Near the end of Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo there’s sustained note that almost sounds like it’s whistling. The M-1060 do that note justice. While Art Blakey’s cymbals in “Drum Thunder Suite” didn’t shimmer as much as they should have, the difference between the high hat and brushed crash cymbals was easily apparent rather than being lost is a sibilant static.

8. Mids: One place where the M-1060 didn’t sound good was Keith Richard’s “Make No Mistake” from Talk is Cheap. The drums sounded muddy, and I couldn’t tell if it was a snare drum or not providing a slow beat, but it sounded bad. That said, Richard’s voice was up front and clearly rendered, with all its weary raspiness. For contrast, I listened to Peggy Lee’s “Fever”. Her voice, at least on this recording, came across as brassy and a bit biting. I’ll admit that the toms on Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ “Drum Thunder Suite” are at the low end of the midrange, but they did rumble well. The trumpet had a bit of brass bite as well. On something a little less involved, like “Peace Piece” from Bill Evans’ Everybody Digs Bill Evans, I could hear the resonance of the bass strings and the decay of the treble strings. Perhaps those details get lost when the Monoprice are asked to deliver more complex, congested music. Transient attack of each note was better in the Bill Evans piece than on other tracks I listened to as well.

9. Lows: Bass plumbs low enough to be satisfying for rock fans like me. When listening to Rush’s “Limelight”, Neal Peart’s kick drums thudded in a satisfying way. However, Geddy Lee’s bass was way back in the mix (except during Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo). There isn’t a lot of bass information in the string and woodwind-heavy “Appalachian Spring”, but when the basses did have big notes, they were resounding in my right ear. That said, rap, trance and other fans of subterranean bass may not find the M-1060 satisfying.

10. Gestalt, Zeitgeist, Fahrvergnugen (and other German words meaning “the whole enchilada”): I’ll get right to it and say that I didn’t like the sound of the M-1060 straight from my AK70 Mk II. The poor DAP is under powered and the head phones sounded unsatisfying powered with it alone. However, when powered by an external desk-top amp, their sound filled out and dynamics opened up. They were able to handle the big sound of one of my favorite Earth Wind & Fire songs, “Africano” quite well. I especially like the ensemble playing the horn section does throughout the song, blaring away over the bass and drums. Good stuff that the M-1060 made fun, just like it should be.

11. Conclusion: I will say I didn’t do any back-and-forth comparisons while listening to the M-1060 (but I did listen to my other head phones after listening to the M-1060). The M-1060 are really fun to listen to, and they get lots of things right. What they don’t get right are errors of omission, really. Compared to my HE-500, the M-1060 bass is one-notey, it goes deep enough to satisfying, but lacks the nuance the HE-500 can display (for example, kick drums have more “skin” sound). In the mids, vocals are well presented, but what is missing are micro-details like the reverberation of the hall and other spatial cues that let a listener know the size of the recording venue. Similarly, the highs are missing that last bits of shimmer that make cymbals sound splashy rather than crashy; triangles are <ting> rather than <ting-ring-ring-ring>. Decay is missing. That all sounds quite doom and gloom, but I think if you’ve never heard more complete sound, you wouldn’t know what you’re missing and would really like the M-1060. Heck, I know what I’d be missing and I like the M-1060. A great entry into headphone sound, or an economical way to find out what that planar sound is all about.

junki

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Exceptional air, slam, separation, low end response, and impact
Cons: Must be modded in order to bring out strengths, missing some frequencies between 4-5 KHz, lack of depth in headstage
My background

I like my music to sound good, but I don't label myself as an "audiophile." A snapshot of where I stand: I prefer my music lossless but sampled in 16-bits at 44.1KHz; besides microphonics, audio cables do not make a sonic impact to the ears of human beings; and vinyl is neither truer, more faithful, nor better at reproducing recorded audio.

Setup

Source: 16-bit 44.1 KHz
DAC/Amp: Audio-gd NFB 11.28, which is the ES9028Pro DAC coupled with a Class A current conveyor amp.
M1060: Modded with Audeze vegan pads, fuzzor mod, and cskippy's 3" two-ply paper towel mod.
HD650: Stock

Bass (20 - 250Hz)

The M1060's bass is excellent to my ears. The sub-bass is emotional, satisfyingly textured, and very well extended, and the rest of the bass spectrum is creamy, controlled, and relatively directionless, which I prefer. In some electronic tracks, I noticed the DJ doing flips and turns in the sub-bass that is nigh undetectable in the HD650. Bass is probably one of the two things the M1060 does really well.

The HD650's bass is nothing to seriously complain about... Overall, I find it extended enough and present enough. There is that noticeable roll off below 100 Hz that you all know about, and upper bass is much punchier, less emotional, leaner, more analytical, and much less directionless. Also, I do find the mid-bass on the HD650 a tad boomy on balance.

Midrange (250Hz - 4KHz)

When it comes to midrange, I'd say the HD650 is a step more forward than my M1060 with current mods. The M1060's midrange sounds slightly drier than on the HD650; the nuances of vocals blend together and sound smoother on the HD650, while on the M1060 those nuances are more separated and thereby produce a slightly grainier sound.

When it comes to tonality and timbre, the HD650 is incredible. Voices and instruments sound like how they ought to sound with a sense of dimensionality and space to it all. I believe part of that is due to the HD650's neutral midrange FR and part of it is due to the headphone's excellent dynamics. With my current mods, the M1060's midrange tonality is also very good but just short of the HD650. However, the M1060's headstage is quite flat and this lack of depth makes it underperform when it comes to dynamics. Listening to the immediate BANG on Artillery by Infected Mushroom conveys this difference really well to me.

Overall, I cannot overstate just how amazingly natural the HD650 sounds. Listening to the acoustic guitar plucks at the beginning of Pasion by Sarah Brightman, for example, is just breathtaking. The HD650 makes my M1060 sound almost artificial by comparison. I have a feeling this has something to do with the physics of planar vs. dynamic drivers, but I'm not sure.

Presence (4-6 Khz)

From the midrange into the presence spectrum, the HD650 produces natural, smooth, laid back treble. The M1060 struggles here. There are certain frequencies that seem to just be missing, and this is especially evident on Evergreen by Mree, where her higher vocals lack texture (and thereby sound more euphoric than natural) and then ghost into...not quite nothingness but close? I'm not entirely sure how to describe it. Switch over to the HD650 and she immediately sounds like a human being again, and her entire performance snaps into focus and becomes much more cohesive. On the other hand, there are other frequencies in this spectrum that on the M1060 touch the harshness threshold. This is evident on Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers, where some of the distorted guitar and effect sections start to hurt.

Brilliance (6Khz+)

Both headphones produce laid back treble here, with the HD650 sounding more dimensional and hence more natural. I don't consider either to be veiled, however, as I find there to be plenty of detail and resolution.

Soundstage & Imaging

The HD650 has a realistic soundstage with decent imaging. When the music gets busy, everything can sound a little crammed and muddled, but on simpler tracks, I hear solid separation and layering of instruments and vocals.

The M1060 is...strange. The M1060's soundstage is often described as "in your head" or "behind your head", and I think that's accurate. Its headstage is also very much left-or-right, with a lack of center and pretty much zero depth. However, the 106mm ortho drivers' technical prowess in speed and instrument separation is excellent compared to the HD650. I have listened to my M1060 for over two months now and I still often catch myself thinking that I am noticing sounds I shouldn't be noticing when listening on these. And while the HD650 will image distant sounds to sound, well, distant, the lack of headstage depth on the M1060 allows its sounds to exist all right next to your ears, unmuddied, each on its own plate. In addition, this all-the-sound-is-here phenomenon means the air on the M1060 is amazing. On certain tracks, especially in the chillout and electronic genres, there is a sublime, euphoric presence that drapes ever so delicately, enveloping the music, that on the HD650 would be so far away that it may as well have dissipated.

Overall

At the end of the day, I am quite fond of my M1060. It's obviously imperfect, but its funkiness in the presence region, while coloring the music, does give the headphones character. Its exceptional performance in instrument separation, air, speed, slam, and emotional impact in the low end, all of which I think are due to the physics of planars, sets it apart from other headphones at and around its price point. In some use cases (i.e. electronic/synth music, non-competitive games, cinema) it is the superior headphone to the HD650. However, in use cases that more involve natural sounds for which we as human beings have expectations (i.e. real world instruments, vocals, also cinema) or endeavors that demand a certain level of seriousness (i.e. evaluating another headphone, competitive gaming), the HD650 is clearly the better choice.

In the end, the M1060 excels in some areas but also suffers from some idiosyncrasies, while the HD650 simply produces wonderfully natural, dimensional sound without offense.

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