Monoprice M565/M565C Planar Headphones Review

No strangers to offering high performance for low prices, Monoprice is back with another budget offering for headphone enthusiasts with the M565/M565C. Selecting planar drivers instead of a more traditional dynamic driver, Monoprice has really pushed the limits in terms of value and performance at this price. Offering both open and closed backed solutions, whether listening during a noisy commute or sitting in a more private setting, the company has you covered.


There are strengths and weaknesses to both open and closed-back headphones. Typically, open back headphones provide a larger soundstage, but the lack of cups leaves nothing to reinforce bass hits. Conversely, closed back typically leave sounds feeling much more “local” to your head, but can add a bit more punch to a bass kick. Also worth noting, the lack of cup on an open back set allows a lot of noise in and a lot of noise out. It would be rude to wear them in a shared office without a disclaimer, or among other passengers in an airplane for hours on end. If you are in a noisy environment or you want to keep quietly to yourself, closed back may be the way to go.


First Impressions

After removing a couple of tamper-proof stickers and lifting the lid out of the way, a nice padded case is revealed. I figure if it kept the mailing companies from tearing the headphones to shreds, that it’s going to work just fine for any traveling they’ll have to do, but given the size of these headphones, I won’t be doing much traveling with them. Still, it’s nice to have something to get me to and from work without worry. This is certainly a welcome inclusion, and at this price point I was thrilled.

Inside the case is a mesh partition on the lid, which has the included 3.5mm to ¼” adapter and removable cable. I’m not one for swapping out cables, but the option is certainly nice to have, especially if you prefer to run a balanced system.

Enough about the case and peripherals, let’s dig in to these headphones. The cups of the closed back variant have a nice look to them, and while the finish is dark, the wood grain is very visible. The open backs have a wood veneer surrounding the open cups, which serves as a nice accent.

The frames are thin, but overall do not feel flimsy. The padded faux leather headband and ear pads are comfortable on the head. The ear pads do make it all the way around my ears, though by a small margin. If you have larger ears, they will likely sit on-ear rather than over. The clamping is sufficient yet comfortable. All these factors lending to the overall comfort provides a pair of headphones that I can easily wear at my desk for a full 8-hour shift without any qualms.

During these 8-hour sessions, I wasn’t listening to soundstage music, or mid-range music, high frequency music… I was listening to music by genre like a normal person because I’m a music fan first. To me, it doesn’t make sense to write about equipment in sections like that because that’s not how music fans listen to music. Rather than breaking this review down into categories that don’t really help anyone, I will share how they handled each genre. I will be sharing some specific song titles and I welcome you to join me on this journey. Perhaps you’ll hear something different from the way I describe things and you can develop a bit more basis of comparison than a review filled with buzzword fluff.


Bass Music

Let’s face it, it’s 2019 and most popular music these days is more vocally and beat focused than the glory days of dynamics, timbre, and instrumentation. We will touch on that a bit in a moment but given the overall cultural shift towards bass heavy music that we’re currently facing, this is where our journey begins.

Going against my expectations, the M565C’s low end is actually rated at 15 Hz versus the open backed M565’s rating of 10hz. The closed back still sounds punchier than the open back despite the sliver of reduction in response. The open backed set seems to have a smoother bass, but the kicks are missing a bit of punch. With the closed back pair, you will win a bit of that low end rumble that many desire, and bass kicks will have more of a perceived tactile quality. This comes at the expense of sound stage, but the difference isn’t profound enough in either direction to consider either pair lacking to a fault, and I would be happy with either one in both regards.

I started off with one of my favorite bass test tracks of recent, “L’appel Du Vide” – Lorn. The intro to the track has a thundering, somewhat pulsing bass. I picked this track specifically because I have heard it through four 21” horn loaded woofers and I know good and well that the sub bass information is capable of rattling a house at otherwise silent moments. While the headphones can’t touch that, they can dig rather low to reproduce a healthy portion of the bass content without presenting bloating in the region. The intro isn’t an easy passage to reproduce but both pairs offered a performance that I would be delighted to live with for a long time. Some of my other headphones remain silent through a good bit of it, and you don’t miss out on much with the M565. At this price point, I’m surprised to put that in writing so comfortably.

Going back to the humble beginnings of bass-test anthems, I queued up “I Love Big Speakers” – Bass Boy and Techmaster P.E.B. This track is full of bass sweeps ending in low rumbles that will easily scratch the itch of any bass junky. Is it the most musically pleasing tune I’ve ever heard? Certainly not, but it serves its purpose well. This is the track that really pronounced the low-end rumble of the closed back set and made the difference very apparent to me. That said, if I wasn’t listening to the two back-to-back, I’m not entirely sure I would have noticed. The open back remained more smooth sounding, and less rumbly. This does not mean that the bass was lacking, however. I personally prefer the more refined bass offered by the open backs, but I couldn’t form an argument that the added rumble DOESN’T make the track a bit more fun.


Standard Audiophile Tracks

We all know that if you’re auditioning new speakers or headphones, you are going to hear “Keith Don’t Go” from Nils Lofgren’s Acoustic Live, and Aja by Steely Dan. Everyone knows the tunes, and we all know that they can make a bad speaker sound decent or a good speaker shine. I’m not going to dig into them too much, because let’s be real with ourselves, I’m not trying to hear it all day and unless you’re a sadist, you don’t want me to either.

Starting off with “Keith Don’t Go” it is immediately notable that you can hear every bit of picking. As may be expected with planars, they extract every ounce of detail. Every vibration of every single note is well defined, and resolute. I have never heard a pair of $200 set with dynamic drivers do a solo performance like this justice in the same way, but that’s what sets planar apart from dynamic. While dynamic drivers can deliver a bit more impact, these planars excel in delivering fine detail effortlessly.

Off of Aja, I have chosen to share my thoughts on “Deacon Blues.” This song shows off just how well planars play with horns, small percussive details, and fantastic separation of instrumentation. Don’t expect a soundstage which much of an axis extending forward or behind you, but the separation is certainly there. There’s nothing haphazard about the layering, but in busier passages it gets a little bit more blurred than would be present in a higher dollar set of headphones. For the price, however, you’d be hard pressed to find something better in that regard. The horns come in smooth, and not too bright. I haven’t experienced any listening fatigue with the M565’s during any of my listening sessions, and I have certainly put them through the ringer at this point.


Female Vocalists

Planar drivers really have a way of capturing vocalists, soloists, and small ensembles. It is an obvious strong point for them, and this remains true in the M565’s. Female vocals can be challenging to reproduce without being fatiguing, but that is not present here at all.

Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black album is fantastic musically, but it sounds like absolute trash on my Magnepans. It doesn’t sound like an ideal pick, but that is actually why I picked it. It was much to my surprise how forgiving the M565’s were! That is not a typical trait for planars of any sort, and the fact that these can hash out a more satisfactory listening experience than a full panel boggles my mind a little bit. I don’t think her vocals come through as naturally, as let’s say an Adele album would, but on the M565’s I can still enjoy it without it hurting my feelings. The instrumentation sounds pretty solid, but perhaps a tad veiled. Again, this is no fault of the headphones, and the fact that they are so forgiving is a huge plus in this case. Typically in a driver you will get detail, or you will get a more relaxed and forgiving presentation. These offer a great blend of the two.

As mentioned above, Adele’s albums are always so beautifully recorded, and her engineers pay a great deal of attention into the fine details during post production. When dealing with these recordings, the M565’s really shine. The ringing of each piano note sounds natural, and her vocals come through organic and nearly tangible. If you close your eyes, you’d think you could reach out and grab her.


Metal

Planars are NOT know for doing well with metal. Most of the time, I think people would tell you that if you’re into it, to probably shy away. If nothing else, have a dedicated pair that isn’t planars to handle the task. That’s because metal tends to come through muddy, veiled, and with little separation of instrumentation. Planars are incredibly revealing and a lot of metal isn’t recorded the best. You also lose a bit of dynamics over a dynamic driver; but surely that comes at no surprise right? It’s in the name.

So I start with what I know to be a horrible recording. The tune is Sabbath Jam – “Eyehategod”. The setting is my office at 7:45am. It starts off well, I feel alright. There are some artifacts. It helps set the mood, no big deal. At about a minute and 15 seconds into the song, it sounds like my right side of my headphones are failing. Are they though? No. That’s just a horrible recording. Good thing I’m listening to this dumpster fire as a Flac, right? Anyway, it is not an enjoyable passage, but it ends shortly by the right channel completely fading out momentarily. Preaching The End Time Message is an album full of rarities, alternate versions, and live tracks. It isn’t pretty by any means, but that can’t be chalked up to anything else than atmosphere and poor recording equipment. It certainly isn’t the headphones. If anything, it is my fault for liking such a dingy band. If you’re into stuff this messy, I don’t think you’ll mind, but the poor quality is certainly accented. Even still, it is involving, and the genre sells itself on poor recordings.

Moving on to something somewhere in the middle of the heavy-metal-recording-quality scale, I end up at “Hands of a Killer” – Suicide Silence. Not something I would typically listen to after high school, there is a rather impactful slam that they use as a segue from intro to first verse, and I had to hear it. The impact wasn’t there, and to be completely honest I didn’t really expect it to be. The whole recording is rather veiled and it comes through. It’s still an enjoyable listen, and I like how analytical planars are so I would be happy to live with the trade off as an everyday pair. I have, however, heard more forgiving dynamic drivers do this type of thing a bit more justice.

Not all metal sounds like you’re listening to the band through a wall, though. Some artists put great value in production, such as Between the Buried and Me. It appears as I’ve been sucked into a high school era wormhole with the last track, so we start with “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” from their Alaska album. The electronic bit comes through quite well, and it floats the sound effortlessly from ear to ear, straight through your head. The drummer does seem a bit dialed back in the mix, and of course the planars are on it. The separation is impressive for how busy it is. If every metal track sounded like this, these headphones would be any easy pick for metal fans. In metal, the closer to commercial a band is, the closer to bearable the production is. Even still, I fired up Automata, their 2018 release and it seems a bit veiled through planars, even to this day.

I will say that if you intend to listen mostly to metal, I would perhaps look into something else less analytical, and perhaps with a bit more “fun” tuning. If metal plays a less pivotal role in your catalog, like myself, the positives in the other genres will far exceed any downside you may experience here.


Downtempo

Some people may be confused to see another form of electronic music on the list, but electronic music comes in many forms and not all of it is bass music. What I mean by that is while there may be bass in the track, the track isn’t there for the purpose of pumping ridiculous bass. Downtempo is an amazing genre, typically filled with intricacies and comes with a bit of a calming property. So I close my eyes. Is it involving enough to detach and get lost in the soundscape?

Tipper is one of my favorite producers of all time (and live shows, but that’s for another day). His production is so tight and his sound so varied, there’s something for any mood and it is delivered on a platter in high fidelity, ready to serve up and tickle your ear holes. I started the song “Forty Winks” from his album Surrounded and lied back. It is to be noted that there is a 5.1 surround mix for this album on a dual-disk format, but for the purposes of this review I am listening to the Flac on Tidal. The sounds certainly do seem to surround you, and it was easy to lie back and kind of lose myself for a few while and forget things. I had a hard time changing the album. It was involving enough to really connect to. The M565s revealing characteristics and insane clarity seem to cater to this recording. I’d even go as far as to say that they excel at this type of music.


Jazz

To be honest, Jazz has always been a difficult genre for me to crack. I have always enjoyed it but I never know quite where to go. It is very apparent, however, the Monoprice Monolith M565 knows just what to do when fed the right jazz. Being that my knowledge on the genre is limited, my selections will likely come off topical, but at least that comes with the likelihood that you will be familiar with the recordings.

I had the luck of Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock being recommended to me early on in my hunt, and Herbie remains one of my favorites along the journey. “Watermelon Man,” of course starts out with a repetitive woodwind that hee-hooloo’s throughout the track, and it comes off sounding natural and not too fatiguing at reasonable listening volumes. I’m sure if you wanted to, you could blow an eardrum with it, however, so don’t take this is as medical advice. The percussion sounds great, and the shouting sounds perfectly distant, the strings are beautifully plucked and muted. The horns are the selling point though. They are so buttery smooth, and in my opinion lend a huge hand to the overall polished presentation. It sounds absolutely incredible. The keys come through with a healthy portion of impact, and brings closure to the louder passages in one final slam before segueing into the groove which leads out the track.

Being impressed thus far, I move on to something a bit busier. “Moanin’” by Charles Mingus has been queued up to assist me on this one, and it sounds amazing. That is, until things really start to get busy. When the whole band is going, the instruments don’t give each other any space to vibrate peacefully and it the mix becomes a bit of a muck. A muck that Raoul Duke would find impossible to walk through. A majority of the track doesn’t come off that way, and actually sounds quite nice; but alas we’re discussing the performance of the headphones, and it has become apparent that the M565’s do not like overly complicated passages. In smaller ensembles, they accomplish separation and simple layering very well. They reproduce vocals and horns naturally and beautifully. They reproduce minute electronic blips and have the ability to place them in a rather large listening field. What they don’t do is forgive a crowded or poor mix.


Soul

Another genre I have always struggled with, though one of my favorites, soul music just has a way of mood boosting that can be difficult to find elsewhere. Aside from that, it’s always good to let your listening equipment know that, “there’s nothing wrong with meee loving youOU!”

It may come as no surprise that with light, simple instrumentation and emotional vocals that the M565’s really shine when listening to soul. Marvin Gaye and Al Green ballads come through as smooth and sexy as they were intended. Etta James’ powerful voice really took this journey to new heights, and again I found myself very connected to the music I was listening to. Personally, I think that’s what all of this gear swapping is about really. Nothing more than a means to an end, we’re looking for gear that brings our music to life, conveying the emotion behind it all, and the M565’s provide an incredibly immersive experience in that regard.


Closing Thoughts

In the beginning I was treated to a nice padded case, a thin and springy yet sturdy feeling frame, and throughout I was provided with a comfortable listening experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the M565/M565C and overall I would recommend them for the price. It seems their greatest achievement is detail, and their greatest fault is being too detailed, revealing poor recordings for the monstrosities that they are. Can you blame a headphone for that with a straight face, though?


I was able to push these easily on my PC and Mac, but adding an iFi XDSD DAC/amp to the mix offered a lot more control. With the addition of the external amp, I was able to get them to ear blistering levels without hearing any breakup or degradation of sound.

There is a bit of difference between the open and closed back varieties, my preference being the open backs for the buttery smooth bass and extended soundstage. The closed backs offered a bit more rumble with extended bass notes, and more bang with bass kicks. At the end of the day, though, if I had to choose I would simply consider where and how I would be listening to them to make my decision, and I wouldn’t look back. The difference isn’t so large that I’d need both, and if they weren’t side by side I likely wouldn’t know the difference. No matter which selection though, I think that for the price they are an incredible value. Whether you’re looking for a headphone to get you through while you work on a much larger budget, or you’re aiming to find a pleasant set of headphones around $200 to live with permanently, I think you will find yourself eager to re-discover old favorites with the Monoprice Monolith M565 open or closed back headphones.