Being an audiophile while on a budget is not a relatively easy task to accomplish. When you’re the type of person who gets into the nitty-gritty of things, the plethora of options when it comes to great headphones will definitely leave you a bit overwhelmed.
PRODUCT INFO Monoprice Retro Over Ear Headphones Manufacture Monoprice Available at View at Amazon
If you really are a headphone enthusiast, you’ve probably been hunting for a great pair that are worth your money. Well, you’re in luck, we think Monoprice might have actually cracked the formula for great budget headphones. Not familiar with the name Monoprice yet? You should undeniably play close attention to them from now on.
Monoprice was founded back in 2002. Since then they’ve been on one mission only: Make products in the budget department that live up to their price tag. The headphones we have in for review today clearly represent that legacy.
We have the Monoprice Modern Retro headphones with us for testing. These are a pair of $30 headphones, but they don’t sound or feel like a cheap pair at all. In fact, Monoprice has nailed the basics so well that these might actually be the best budget headphones we’ve ever tried. Let’s get into the in-depth review.
These pair of cans are called the Monoprice “Retro” for a reason. That is obviously because they have a bit of a retro look to them, as you can probably tell from the pictures. Although personally I do like how these look, they definitely look a bit familiar to my eye.
They resemble the over-ear headphones from AKG, specifically the AKG K271. I don’t exactly mind that, however, because it is definitely a classic look. However, I understand that most people are not going to be as warm-hearted towards the design as I am.
I wouldn’t wear these out in public, as the headband design draws a bit of attention to itself. Plus, the cable is long and thick, so they aren’t exactly the most portable. Like most studios or audiophile headphones, the earcups don’t fold in, which makes them less portable.
The build quality is actually quite robust. As you’d expect for the price, they are entirely made out of plastic but it is not the type that feels flimsy. Apparently, they can withstand a bit of abuse, so durability shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If you’re the type of person who happens to be a bit clumsy, the Monoprice Retro won’t worry you too much.
While the design won’t be for everyone, the build quality definitely makes up for it. I just wish I could wear these out in public without getting weird gazes from other people.
When I pulled these headphones out of the box, I was immediately pleased with how lightweight they are. Sadly, once I put them on, that’s where I was let down just a tad bit. Let’s talk about the positives first. The self-adjusting headband is definitely a major bonus, and I wish more headphones in the budget area had this feature. Finding the perfect fit really isn’t an issue here, they sit well straight out of the box.
The clamping force or the pressure you’d feel around your ears is well balanced too. They never feel like a burden on the head. The faux leather headband is quite wide, and it does a good job of distributing the weight across the top of your head.
The earpads themselves are the only area where the Retros fall apart a bit. They aren’t exactly plush or all that soft, they actually even feel a bit hard against the ears. The padding is basically bare minimum here, and I wish they had a bit more depth to them as well. Folks with bigger ears might find that the drivers will brush against the ears, which can be annoying.
Thankfully, the earpads are extremely easy to replace. We certainly recommend doing so, as this will make the pair more comfortable for longer listening sessions. We replaced our earpads with the Brainwavz XL earpads. These are memory foam earpads that honestly feel quite premium. These earpads cost about $30, which is actually the price of the cans themselves.
Now that might sound a bit overkill at first because it doubles the cost of the headphones overall. But believe me, it is very hard to go back after putting the new earpads on. Even if the total package is now around $60, it is still unbelievable you can get this type of sound quality under $100.
These Brainwavzz earpads even make sound quality a bit better. This is because they have more depth to them and sit comfortably around the ears. The soundstage is noticeably wider with these new ear pads. Overall, once you replace the earpads, these headphones are near perfect. Even with the stock earpads, I can’t complain too much considering the price.
Let me put this straight. The overall audio quality and sonic performance on these headphones are actually too good for the price. That’s not a statement you hear every day, do you? Well, I am not just saying that as an over-exaggeration. I am still having a hard time comprehending that these cost just $30 because Monoprice could have easily sold these for $150, maybe even more.
I understand, however, that sound quality is purely subjective. So we’re still going to do a detailed breakdown of the sound profile, so you can get an actual better understanding of what they perform like. Before we get into that, you’ll be glad to know that these are easy to drive. Sure they can benefit from a great AMP, that would just make things even better. But listening directly from your phone, laptop or any other device is just impressive as is.
With that said, it’s important to mention that most of our testing was done directly by plugging into a PC’s headphone jack. No soundcard or external AMP was used. We figured you’d like to know how they sound in the vanilla form, straight out of the box.
The treble on these headphones isn’t exactly heavy. However, I find that the amount of focus given here to the higher frequencies or treble is definitely pleasing. It’s not too sharp or bright in any way which I like, although some people prefer that type of sound. However, I found the highs to be smooth and relaxing. Sure the highs can get a bit dull for some people, but considering the overall value, there’s nothing much to complain about.
The mid-range on these headphones actually sound surprisingly clean, and at no point did I think they were muddled. A lot of cheap headphones sacrifice the mid-range for heavy bass, so its good to see the Retros redeem themselves here. The mids can sound a bit hollow at times, and its a bit recessed in some songs. However, most of the time it’s good in this department.
This is one of the two areas where the Retro really shines. The bass or the low-ends on these headphones is absolutely mind-numbing. The deep, punchy, and rumbling low-end is on the same level as the infamous and overrated Beats. However, these don’t sacrifice other frequencies as most Beats headphones do. Throw on an old-school hip-hop track with a lot of low-end, and it’s going to sound heavenly. If you are a fan of EDM or bass-heavy hip-hop, these are a must-buy not to mention the impressive performance of almost any genre you throw at it.
Soundstage and Imaging
A lot of people wonder what soundstage actually is. It’s pretty self-explanatory actually. Imagine you are sitting in an opera house with different instruments playing. The different instruments playing are going to echo throughout a large room and create a sense of immersion.
On headphones, this is known as a soundstage. The Retros have a very wide soundstage. It’s actually a bit surprising how good it is. If you play a song where voices sound really far away, it almost feels like you’re actually listening to ghostly whispers. But on songs with a lot of instruments, you’ll feel immersed as if you’re in an actual live concert. All of this from a pair of $30 headphones.
Imaging refers to positional cues i.e the accuracy of said position of instruments and vocals. Some people might call this separation between instruments. With a wider soundstage like on the Retros, imaging can be often poor and diffused. However, the imaging here is decent enough, and telling different instruments apart isn’t that hard either.
Are They Good For Gaming Too?
These headphones definitely aren’t made with gaming in mind. However, because of the punchy bass, they’re actually way too much fun and enjoyable while gaming. Things such as gunshots and explosion sound absolutely blissful on here. If you play a lot of single-player games with a lot of explosions and action set-scenes, you are definitely going to love this pair. The bass and soundstage will definitely leave a smile on your face.
However, they aren’t really the best for competitive gaming, as the bass can washout the footsteps of your enemies at times. This is mainly because the imaging I mentioned before isn’t absolutely spot on. But for anything else, the Retros sound impressive for sure.
Overall, I can’t stop praising Monoprice for making this unbelievable pair of headphones. The soundstage is incredibly immersive and the thumping bass is certainly a major plus in my book. If I could use just one word to describe these it would be “fun”. The sound signature can be described as warm, which I know a lot of people are going to like.
Overall, for the low price of $30, this is an absolute no-brainer. Buy these before someone at Monoprice figures out they can sell them for triple or even more than that. It doesn’t matter if you are new to the world of audiophile headphones, or if you already have a large collection of cans, or even if you just have $30 to spare. These are an absolute must-buy for almost anyone.
Best Budget Audiophile Headphones Frequency Response: 15 Hz-25000 Hz | Impedance: 32 ohms at 1kHz | Drivers: 50 mm Neodymium magnets | Connection Type: 3.5mm | Weight: 512g
Monoprice Modern Retro
Best Budget Audiophile Headphones
Frequency Response: 15 Hz-25000 Hz | Impedance: 32 ohms at 1kHz | Drivers: 50 mm Neodymium magnets | Connection Type: 3.5mm | Weight: 512g