The likes of Sony and Bose spring to mind when thinking about noise cancelling headphones but Marshall has made an excellent pair at a more affordable price in the Monitor II.
Design – Compact comfort
Most people avoid over-ear style headphones because the design makes them too bulky and heavy. As the name suggests, the ear cups completely surround your ear rather than sitting on them.
The Monitor II headphones are among the most compact and portable over-ear cans I’ve tested – and they’re extremely comfortable, too, unlike the Mid and Major designs.
Each ear cup pivots over 90 degrees and can also be folded in and the result is incredibly small. Marshall also provides a nice fabric carry case to keep them in.
The way the earcups move, combined with very soft pillowy padding, makes them super comfortable. There’s enough pressure to keep them in place and the headband has a range of fixed settings so you can get the right fit.
Marshall has also kept the weight down, so they don’t really look or feel like over-ear headphones. They’re 320g but somehow feel lighter.
All this combined makes them excellent for all kinds of situations and I’ve found I can wear them for very long periods of time with minimal fuss.
This is a Marshall product, so you naturally get some design staples including the textured finish on the back of the ear cups and a gold button on one. This is a power button as well as a joystick.
You might need to get the hang of it, but it means you can adjust things like volume (up/down) and playback (forwards/backwards/push) from the same place. You might not even notice the other two buttons as they are black and are built-into the very end of the arm.
These control active noise cancelling (on the left), while the ‘M’ button on the right allows you to ‘cycle through equaliser presets or, alternatively, access your phone’s voice assistant. It’s a shame the voice assistant isn’t simply summoned with a long press.
Sound quality & features – Personal
As mentioned earlier, the ANC button on the headphones allows you to quickly toggle between full-on noise cancelling and ‘social mode’. This allows some of the sound around you in so you can hear things like announcements or have a conversation with someone.
You can long press to switch ANC off and in the companion app you can adjust the level of ANC and the transparency of social mode in chunks of 10%.
The noise cancelling on offer here is good, although I didn’t notice a huge amount of difference when adjusting those sliders. The Monitor IIs did a good job of cutting out the sounds of train travel, for example, but I could hear someone having a phone call next to me quite clearly even with ANC at 100%.
It’s not quite up to the standard set by Bose, Sony and Bowers & Wilkins but it’s still decent and these cans do come in at a lower price.
Those EQ presets are also customisable across five frequency bands, or there are simply a bunch of other Marshall ones to choose from if you like.
How the headphones sound will depend on which EQ you like or create. Testing in the standard original tuning, they sound pretty great.
The large 40mm dynamic drivers are perfectly capable of delivering powerful and high-quality sound. They have a standard frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz.
Bass is warm and well-rounded and the top-end is bright, but the Monitor II headphones really shine in the mid-range. They are exceptionally crisp and give excellent clarity to vocals and lead instruments.
Of course, you can pump the bass if you want but as standard, they sound great across a range of genres whether you’re rocking out to Foo Fighters or chilling out to Asgeir.
Note that although these are Bluetooth wireless headphones, Marshall supplies a detachable 3.5mm cable so you can still plug in when you need to – perhaps if you have a legacy device like a record player that doesn’t have Bluetooth.
Something you might find annoying is all the little guitar strumming sounds the headphones make when changing between modes etc. If so, you can turn them off in the app.
Battery life – Longevity
Battery life is a strong point here with up to a quoted 45 hours if you just use Bluetooth and no noise cancelling. With ANC on, you can still get 30 hours, according to Marshall, which is excellent.
In my testing, I don’t think I quite got 30 hours with ANC on but not far off. The main point is that the battery life is so long, you needn’t worry about charging them for days or perhaps weeks depending on your usage.
When you do they can be quickly charged over USB-C with a 15 minute charge giving you up to five hours of playback.
Price – Competitive
At the top I mentioned that Marshall offers these headphones at a cheaper price than rivals.
The Monitor II headphones come in at £279/US$319 so they’re not exactly budget but a typical RRP for this kind of pair is £329. This includes the Sony WH-1000XM3, Bose QC35 II and Microsoft Surface Headphones.
It is worth noting that some key rivals, having been on the market for a while, can now be found at lower prices so you can get yourself a comparative bargain.
However, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are due to be replaced this year so you might want to hang on if those are tempting.
Check out our chart of the best noise cancelling headphones to view alternatives.
Marshall has definitely made one of the nieces pairs of over-ear headphones around, with a compact and comfortable design for starters.
Noise cancelling might not be quite up to the high standard of some rivals but it’s certainly decent and the Monitor IIs have various other features making them tempting, even without looking at the competitive price point.
They sound great, have adjustable noise cancelling, customisable EQ, optional 3.5mm cable and handy controls. Furthermore, the long battery life means they seemingly last forever.
Overall, there’s very little to dislike here if these are the kind of headphones you’re looking for.
Marshall Monitor II ANC: Specs
- Drivers: 40mm dynamic
- Frequency range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
- Ports: USB-C, 3.5mm jack
- Features: Microphones, Control Knob, Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
- Battery: 45 hours wireless, 30 with ANC
- Weight: 320g
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