Monoprice Retro Review: $30 Headphones That Beats Wished They Were; And You Are Dumb if You Don’t Own Them
Ok, we need to talk about something here, and that is low-fi audio. Low-fi is what I would call any headphones under $100-$150. At that point, there are tons of great headphones, you know the ones I’m talking about, SHP9500, M40X, CB-1, HD598, HD558, etc…. But what if you just can’t afford $60 for SHP9500s or CB-1s? What if you have a budget of less than $50 for headphones? Then your options become extremely limited and you start going into stuff from many off brands. Well look no farther, I have found what I am going to call the best headphones under $50, the Monoprice Retro. Now before those of you with your HD650s, HE1000s, LCD2s, etc… move on, wait a second. These are different from your normal cheap headphones, these are special and are something that you should be looking at no matter what headphones you have. Be prepared to be blown away by a $30 set of headphones; here’s what I mean.
These headphones are not very well built as expected for $30. They are entirely made of plastic that is very cheap feeling, and they have a bit of a rattle. The headband is a pleather, and is actually decent, way better than the one on the Fostex T-X0. It uses the same gravity adjust system with the elastic bands like an AKG headphones (more on that in a second). The pads don’t feel great, and are kind of stiff and have a crinkle sound when you press them. The bridge over the headband that holds the wires is plastic and doesn’t feel that great either. The wire is a 10ft and is meh feeling at best. Overall these are not built amazing, but I can’t say they are below my expectations for $30.
We need to address something in the build segment, and that is why they are built as well as they are. In typical Monoprice fashion they have stolen the design of these headphones. These are a blatant rip off of a AKG design. They look 95% identical to the AKG K271 and M220, you can’t deny it in the slightest. Bad move Monoprice, you get negative marks for that one. (Build: 3/10)
I often try to review headphones stock because that is representative of how most people would use them. The only exceptions I have to this are required comfort mods (such as the T50RP pads swap), or mods that are so easy anyone could do them in seconds. On the Retros I did pad swap them, and I teetered on the edge of whether or not it was required. I have decided that the pad mod is not required, but highly recommended. The stock pads are a bit too thin and not very soft. They aren’t the worst stock pads ever, but they aren’t great. I think most people will put them on and think that they don’t need a pad change, then after an hour they might reconsider. The pads you want to put on these headphones are the Brainwavz XL pads. I got the pleather variant because I couldn’t bring myself to spend $45 on pads for $30 headphones for sheepskin pads, so the $28 pleather pads do fine. Now I already know what a lot of you are thinking, “Are you crazy? You put $28 pads on $30 headphones? That’s doubling the price.” Now just wait a minute there, I promise you it’s worth it, not only in comfort, but wait till we get to the sound. The XL pads are massive, anyone’s ear would fit in them and they are super deep. They are also memory foam and supremely soft. Now I thought long and hard about making this statement, but I’m going to say it. These are the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever put on my head. I figured out why that is too. 1. They weigh almost nothing, that all plastic construction majorly cuts down on weight. 2. The headstrap is massive. The strap is super wide and the angle at which it sits makes it touch a massive amount of your head. 3. These XL pads are amazing. As previously mentioned they are massive and soft and your ear won’t hit the drivers. That combined with a low clamp and these are just clouds.There aren’t many headphones you can forgot you are wearing, but these are one of them. They also were the first headphones I’ve successfully fell asleep while wearing, they are just outstandingly comfortable. (Comfort: 10/10)
Misc, Power, Wires, and Accessories:
Starting with the box, it’s nothing special, just a plain cardboard box as you would expect on $30 headphones. As for power, they are harder to drive than you might think. They aren’t at the point where am Amp is required, your onboard or phone will push them perfectly fine. Quiet songs on my X7S they set around 10:00-11:00 which is decently high for a headphone. Now wires, these headphones have a 10ft attached wire that is 3.5mm with a screw on 1/4in adapter. One thing I’m sure you all know about me is I hate attached wires, and I hate 10ft cables. 10ft is way too long for on a desk when you have an Amp. Also attached wires are just annoying when you want to switch headphones. I found myself wanting to listen to these headphones, but talking myself out of it because I didn’t want to deal with the wire. So I decided to fix that. Now, I could have done a simple detachable cable mod, anyone could do that even without soldering if you know what you are doing (soldering is recommended though). But that wasn’t enough for me, you all also probably know that I love balanced audio, so I converted my set to dual 2.5mm so I can run them balanced. Took me about 6 hours to do, but it was sucessful and now I can use my Periapt balanced cable on them and don’t have to deal with the stock cable anymore. If you want to learn more about either cable mod, read to the end. Anyway, for this review I’m using them on a 4pin to 1/4in adapter because I know 99.99% of people will be using them unbalanced so it’s only fair to review them that way. More on balanced in a bit.
These headphones sound great. I promise you they will far surpass your expectations in sound for $30. These headphones are so fun. They have unreal low end and sound stage. I think they are a worthy edition to any collection, I don’t want to spoil it, so wait till my conclusion.
The mids on these headphones aren’t awful, but they aren’t great. This is one of the weaker points of these headphones. They are somewhat inconsistent, some songs they sound somewhat veiled, while others they are great. The placement reminds me a lot of the HD6XX, they have a very similar veil. They are surprisingly clean, and are never awful. They kill the M50Xs and T-X0s in vocals. Only real complaint is they have a slight hollowness to them, but not nearly as bad as the T-X0. I would give them an average score here. (Mid Range: 5/10)
These aren’t super treble heavy headphones. Comparing them again to the HD6XX, I find their treble amounts equal, but of course the Retro has much lower quality, and a bit dull it a lot of cases. They never hurt, and have a similar relaxing treble to the 6XXs. (Treble Amount: 5/10) (Treble Quality: 4.5/10)
Welcome to one of the two main attractions of these headphones. The bass on these headphones is insane. These headphones have bass that is on the same level, if not more than Beats. These headphones are the closest thing I’ve ever tried to a subwofer in a set of headphones. The low end that these throw is absurd. If you find the right song, something like Deadmau5′ Glish, these headphones physically shake and move on your head. I don’t know about you, but I have never experienced that with any other headphones. It is such a hilarious experience and is one that you have to try. Now it’s not the cleanest bass, but it’s a ton. Out of everything I own, these are my favorite EDM headphones, and are probably one of the best EDM headphones I’ve heard (more on this in a bit). (Bass Amount: 10/10) (Bass Quality: 5/10)
I often have people ask what is sound stage and how to experience it. If you want to learn what sound stage is, buy these headphones. These have probably the widest sound stage of any headphones I’ve heard. This is right up there with X1 X2 sound stage, if not more. This is a level of sound stage that is incomprehensible in a closed headphone. You’ll get these songs where stuff sounds like it comes from so far away, it scares you and you swear it wasn’t the song, but something in your house. Also songs with echos sound amazing they sound so far away. I know you all are thinking that this is going to make these killer gaming headphones, and it does, but not in the way that many of you are probably think, more on that later. Back to EDM, a lot of EDM does things with sounds way off in the left and right channel and it is pure bliss on these. (Sound Stage: 10/10)
Typically with a crazy wide sound stage comes poor imaging, and these are no exception. They aren’t the worst imaging ever, but not great and are somewhat vague. (Imaging: 4/10)
These are absolutely one of my favorite gaming headphones. Those of you who read my gaming headphones misconceptions thread will know that I said these were the perfect example of a fun gaming headphone. The mid range and imaging on these headphones isn’t good enough for them to do footsteps and in fact they do them incredibly poorly partly due to the bass that washes them out. But single player games with gunshots and explosions, my god you’ve never had such an experience. The bass and sound stage on these headphones will have you laughing in any non-competitive game. Rainbow 6, still stand buy the T50 MK3s as the gold standard of competitive headphones, but for anything else you want these, and you won’t regret it. (Competitive Gaming: 3/10) (Fun Gaming: 10/10)
This is a new section I’m adding because this is the first review I’ve done where I’ve had my Valhalla 2 tube Amp to do tube testing with. So yes, I tested $30 headphones, with $28 pads, with a $75 cable going through a $25 adapter, on a $350 tube Amp. And….I don’t like it. I would not recommend tubing these headphones. As far as I can tell tubes do two things. Don’t quote me on this, but I think tubes might bring forward the vocals ever so slightly which is not bad. What it does do which I can say with 100% certainty, is tubes remove some of the impact from the bass. It looses the punchy-ness which is probably the best feature of these headphones. So don’t tube these, which I highly doubt many of you were going to do anyway.
I spent the time to convert my set to balanced becasue I wanted to see if balanced changed these headphones, and surprisingly it does for the better. Balanced on these headphones brings forward the mids a bit, increases bass impact, and cleans up the highs. I think balanced these things really can throw a punch. If you are looking into getting you set converted to balanced let me know and I’d be happy to walk you through the process. Or if you would like me to do it for you I will in exchange for one of three different things. 1. $50 2. Trade for basically anything you have that I want 3. Loaning me a piece of audio gear that I want to review for a week. If you are interested in any of these three things let me know.
These headphones are one of the most under priced pieces of audio gear on the market. Honestly, if they were $100 I would still recommend them for anyone looking for a fun headphone. Bassheads, if you have not bought a set of these yet, what are you doing? These things will satisfy your desire to a level you didn’t know was possible. Here’s the thing about the Retros and why I am hyping them so much. At no point have I ever listened to these headphones and thought they sounded bad. No matter what I listened too I never thought, “Man these suck at this type of music.”, because they never did. That is not something that can be said about much more expensive headphones such as the Fostex T-X0 and Audio Technica ATH-M50X. I would take the Retros over the former two in a heartbeat, they sound better than both in basically everything. Also, I have much more expensive and impressive headphones, but I find myself taking these out almost daily. I wouldn’t say these headphones suck at anything. Their imaging is probably their worst point, and their mid range is treble is mediocre, but not bad. But then they have the best comfort of any headphone once you change the pads, the most sound stage, and the craziest bass. If Beats Solos sounded like this, I wouldn’t complain as much. They would still be overpriced, but I would understand that they are a fashion can with Bluetooth and carry that name brand.
During my final testing I A/B tested these against my HD6XX on the Valhalla 2. I ran the Retros balanced and unbalanced on my X7S, and the results surprised me. Even with the 6XXs on tubes, so the best possible setup becasue 6XXs love tubes, there were songs were I would pick the Retros over the 6XXs. If you listen to EDM, Rap, and Hip Hop, also what are you doing still reading this and why haven’t you bought them yet? They demolish 6XXs for that type of music, especially because most of it isn’t recorded well and just relies on low end and vocals. The 6XXs don’t get to show off their resolution of technical skills in most of that type of music. Now listen, they are no HD6XX don’t get me wrong, the HD6XX is soooo much cleaner than the Retro in everything, but sometimes you just don’t care and want to have some fun. Even in certain orchestra pieces where there were crazy drums in the background, the low end and sound stage of the Retros is just phenomenal and I actually preferred them over the 6XX. For analyzing, the HD6XX destroys, also in many of those same pieces the Retros were washing out many of the string instruments with the low end. Frankly, I think the low end hurts them a bit in treble and mid range, but who cares? That’s not the point. These are crazy low end and sound stage headphones, and they are proud of it. Also, did you forget these are $30? They fact that I am even comparing $30 headphones to HD6XXs should shock you, as it did me.
No matter what headphones you own, buy a set of these. They are so fun and insane you will enjoy them no matter what you have. If you have a very limited budget, buy these unless you hate bass. Then when you get some more money get the pads. I hope that by this point almost everyone has bought a set because you are almost dumb not to. They are $30, who cares? Just don’t go out to lunch twice and you can own these headphones, and you 100% should. They are $25 from Monoprice, and were $30 from Amazon, but now are $35. Still worth every cent. Last black Friday these were on sale for $16!! I will admit I was a total idiot for not buying a pair, if they ever go on sale for that again, then I will also call you an absolute idiot for not buying a set.
Thanks for reading my review. If you have somehow made it this far without buying them, they along with everything else mentioned here is linked below. Have you bought a set yet? Why are you still reading this? BUY THEM!!!!