Monoprice Monolith M1060 (Closed/Open Backed Headphones)
As we continue through Monoprice’s Monolith headphones lineup, starting with the entry-level M565 headphones, and continuing on to the balanced desktop DAC/Amp featuring dual DACs (as well as dual amps), we have arrived at the M1060. Price-wise, the M1060 sits only $100 above from its younger brother, the M565. Sharing numerous strengths and weaknesses, the M1060 offers a remarkable value. Many of the same sentiments regarding performance are shared between the two offerings, but everything the M565 does the M1060 will do better. Whether it is imaging or bass response, the M1060 offers a markedly improved level of performance for just a slight jump in cost.
For those of you who missed out on my review of the M565, I will reiterate what these Monolith planar-magnetic headphones are all about. Both models feature planar drivers, and will benefit from dedicated amplification. That said, they are both easy to drive and will work with a phone. Both models offer closed and open backed varieties, and there is no correct answer as to which is best. My fiance’ prefers the closed back offerings, because the cups reinforce the bass response a bit. I prefer the open backed headphone models for the smoother response and more spacious soundstage.
As stated in the review for the M565’s, you may not notice the difference between open and closed-back if you don’t spend a good amount of time before switching to the other. If you select open vs. closed or vice-versa based on your preferences, you shouldn’t miss out too much of what the other has to offer.
When first unboxing the Monolith M1060s I was treated to the same substantial padded case, removable cable, and ¼” adapter that was found in the M565s. The frame is light, thin, and at first seemed a bit flimsy, but don’t let the thin frame fool you. It is far from flimsy, and while it may not feel heavy duty it is robust while maintaining flexibility.
The headband is padded and comfortable, the earcuffs never led to any discomfort throughout my listening experiences, and the wood cups have a nice finish. Overall the M1060 are a nice looking pair of headphones straight out of the box. While the right and left headphone cups are not labeled, the removable cable is. The larger portion of the headphones indicate the rear of the headphones, and when you lay them out, it is easily apparent which cable goes where.
When I first received the M1060’s, I spent a month or so enjoying them extensively. I received some Audeze LCD-X headphones a few weeks in, and though they retail at nearly $1000 more, I was in no hurry to make the swap. I was having a blast with the 1060’s as it was, and if the Audeze were not within an arm’s reach I didn’t think it to be worth the trouble. Upon conclusion of my review of the M565’s, however, I decided to spend some time with the Audeze. I listened to them for a full month before swapping back to the 1060’s to write this review.
After spending a month with the Audeze, it really helped put things in perspective. The Audeze offer better resolution, better imaging, and smoother bass response; but why shouldn’t they? The most notable differences upon switching back are the more localized sound, the slightly reduced bass response, and less pronounced mid range. The 1060’s seem to nearly match the high end detail, and are a touch lighter, which lends to their extended wearability. Is the difference between the two worth the additional $1000 to snatch the high end pair of Audeze? To some, perhaps. Audiophiles have a long history of spending excess amounts of money to squeeze that extra touch of performance out of their gear. To the average person, though, and anyone shopping in the $200-300 price range, the M1060’s are going to get you as close as you need to get without quadrupling your budget.
We’re starting off abrasive as ever with the heavy hitting track “Dead Inside” by Dubloadz. Starting with a hard kick with a long decay, the 1060’s deliver the extended bass note beautifully at any reasonable listening level when paired with Monoprice’s own Balanced Desktop DAC/AMP with dual AAA THX amp modules and AKM 4493 DACs. No ears were hurt in the making of this review, but they weren’t exactly babied either. As a bass head, it is important to me that bass is rendered plentifully without bloating other regions of the track. These are not shy in delivering the goods, and I was plenty pleased with it.
As you may know from some of my past writing, Tipper is my favorite producer and he just released a new album last month so this is an easy pick for reference material. I picked the track Viscous, as he has been playing it at live shows for a couple of years before release and I have some great memories with it. What starts off as a bit of a downtempo soundscape turns into a wonky banger toward the end. The visceral sounds aren’t presented quite as wide as I’d like, and as I stated, the sounds remain somewhat local to your head, but overall it is imaged well. When things kick into full swing, all of the impact is there and I found myself getting down to the track at my desk at work. I caught an awkward side-eye from my coworker and I knew it was time to move on.
Again, I dug back into Adele’s beautifully mastered discography and landed on When We Were Young. With truly impressive gear, you can really hear a glow around her voice in which it can flourish. Her voice is powerful, and every bit of emotion comes through unscathed. I feel like the 1060’s really excel with female vocals. The 1060’s don’t give it the same sparkle that perhaps a $4000 pair of speakers would offer, but it gives you a taste of that for just a tiny fraction of the cost. For most shopping in this range, this amount of detail is going to sound simply remarkable. My fiance’, for example, never just sits and listens to music for the sake of getting lost in music, but she found herself re-listening to all of her favorites on the couch (this song included) with the 1060’s as the day zipped away.
When I was but a wee lad, my parents controlled a bit of what I listened to, so metal was a hard sell. They did settle on Rammstein though. What they can’t understand can’t hurt them, right? I settled on Mein Herz Brennt from the album Mutter for the symphonic elements and all of the slam that makes metal metal. In my 565 review I mentioned that planars aren’t much suited for this type of music, and that’s true for both headphones and full sized planars (such as Magnepans) alike. I am going to maintain the same stance here. The verses (for example, if you skip to about 2:18 in) sounds great. There is plenty of separation between instruments, and the synthesized sounds image well. When it gets to the busier passages, such as the choruses, things muddy up a bit.
I love Jazz, but I have a hard time finding exactly what it is that I like within the genre. Through some difficulty locating pieces that resonate with me, I was oddly relieved when I was introduced to the strange world of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. This track is all over the place, and despite the muddiness of some of the busier heavy metal tracks, it is actually done justice by the 1060’s. I believe that the (intentional) distortion found in heavy metal really does a number on planars, since they tend to reveal quite a bit of sometimes unsavory information about the source material. That same distortion is not found in jazz, and none of the same complications are present even in a track as busy as this one. If you’re listening along with me, beware of the high frequency blips that play throughout the song. They are quite sharp.
On a lighter, less hectic note comes Benny Greb’s “Nodding Hill” off of his Moving Parts (Live) album. With a bit more of a clean shaven presentation, this track is a bit more telling, perhaps, of the headphones capabilities. The drums have a good bit of punch, which is just as well, considering Benny Greb is a drummer after all. If you have ever listened to a planar speaker, you may have noted the lack of zazz when it comes to percussion. With these headphones, however, that is not an issue, and they get much closer to the performance of a dynamic driver in that aspect. If you really want to push things as far as snappy and impactful kicks are concerned, perhaps a dynamic driver would be a decent choice, but I would miss the clarity and smooth extended bass notes that planars are capable of purrrrr-ing out.
It remains true of both the M565’s and M1060’s; if metal is your go-to genre you may want to look for a more forgiving dynamic driver. The 1060s do a great job with most varieties of music and really shine with simple arrangements, but they are revealing of poor source material. Do not plan on listening to anything less than a 320kbps MP3 or you will be in for a harsh reality check. You will also greatly benefit from pairing these planars with a headphone amp, but they are easy to drive. Feel free to budget for that later.
For the price, you’ll have a hard time matching the level of clarity that these offer, and it took a full month with $1200 headphones to find any notable faults. To my ears, Monoprice did a remarkable job mating performance and value with both the M565’s and M1060’s. If you are looking at both, I certainly recommend you wait a week or two if that’s what it takes for you to push your budget another $100, because while they have similar strengths and weaknesses, the gap that is closed with the 1060’s is totally worth it. It’s easy to be impatient when you’re excited about bringing new gear home, but I’m confident that you will be happy with these for a long time. One extra week never hurt anybody. Right?