Marshall has a long legacy of being one of the best manufacturer’s of amps, but in recent years it has also been focusing on consumer audio as well. The company has released Bluetooth speakers and even Bluetooth earbuds all with the same classic Marshall design. That said, one thing that’s been missing from the lineup is a pair of active noise cancelling headphones. With the new Monitor II ANC Bluetooth headphones, Marshall is closing that gap and hoping to join our list of best active noise cancelling headphones (at least we like to think so). So how do they perform?
Who are they for?
- Fans of Marshall design. If you like the look of their famous amps and some of the products in the Marshall line-up, then these will be right up your alley.
- Commuters and frequent fliers. The strong active noise cancelling isn’t best in class, but it’s up there. Anyone that finds themselves in nosy environments often will find these get the job done nicely.
How are the Marshall II ANC headphones built?
If you’re familiar with any of the previous products Marshall has released, these should look very familiar. They’re unmistakably Marshall headphones, and look almost exactly like all their other products. You get the minimal, all-black colorway complete with a gold accent on the control knob and the white logo on the side of each earcup. The frame is made of a tough metal that gives the headphones a hefty, reassuring weight. They’re not heavy at 320 grams, but they’re also not nearly as light as something like the Bose QC35 II, which weigh in at 235 grams.
Still, I don’t worry about these potentially cracking in my backpack like I do with the Bose headphones. These are built to inspire confidence, and they do. The headband is wrapped in leather and even the exposed coiled cables are thick and feel tough to the touch. In my two weeks of testing I didn’t exactly baby these, and they still look brand new. Of course, they do come with a pretty nice fabric carrying pouch so if you really want to avoid these getting scratched up at all I’d recommend tossing it in the case before packing them. The plush earcups are also really comfortable and sat on my ears perfectly with little fatigue. There was some slight pressure on the crown of my head after about two hours of wearing them, but it wasn’t anything that required me to take them off.
Using Monitor II ANC headphones in my daily life has also been on par with some of the best in the market. They’re super convenient thanks to fully rotating earcups and easily adjustable earcups that make for a great seal every time. I found that there was also very little sound leakage with these so as long as you’re listening at normal human levels you shouldn’t have too many issues rocking these in the office. The playback controls are all found on the golden knob which is surprisingly intuitive and easy to use. At first, I thought that the knob would be a dealbreaker for me as I’m so used to just clicking buttons or using a touchpad, but I really enjoyed using it. Clicking the button to pause music or moving it around to control playback just felt really satisfying.
Besides the golden knob, there are only two buttons on the entire headphones. One of which is labeled “ANC” and, as you’d expect, controls the active noise cancelling. Pushing it will immediately turn off the ANC and pause your music so that you can hear what’s going on around you. It uses the microphones built into the headphones to pick up and slightly amplify your environment, so if you need to hear what the conductor or pilot is saying you don’t even need to remove your headphones. As someone who relies on the New York City subway system for transportation, this feature is super useful as it allows me to know what new misfortune the MTA has in store for me without needing to remove the headphones. If you’ve used the transparency mode on either the Sony WF-1000XM3, Apple AirPods Pro, or the Jabra Elite 75t, then you know how useful a feature this can be.
What about the connection?
Marshall is one of the most prominent manufacturers of audio equipment in the world, so thankfully making a pair of Bluetooth headphones doesn’t mean they got rid of the headphone jack. Besides Bluetooth 5.0, these also have a 3.5mm input on the left earcup which was nice since I still have plenty of devices that aren’t Bluetooth compatible. As far as connection strength goes, these were great. I didn’t have any issues with skips or stutters whether I was connected to my phone in my pocket or my computer on the other side of my apartment. The range maxes out at about 10m though, so as long as you keep within that range you shouldn’t have too many issues.
Staying connected to two devices was easy as well. To pair to a new device, you have to power up the headphones by pressing down the gold knob and hold it down until you hear the Bluetooth pairing noise. Then you can just go into the settings of your source device and choose the Monitor II ANC headphones. I was connected to both my iPhone 11 Pro and my Huawei Matebook X Pro at the same time, and the headphones had no problem switching between them depending on which one was playing audio. The process isn’t instant, and there is a slight delay when switching, but it worked every time.
One downside to the Monitor II ANC headphones that’s pretty surprising is the lack of any high quality Bluetooth codecs. These have the standard SBC, and that’s it. So if you were hoping for AAC or aptX you’re out of luck. What this means practically is that if you use a high-res streaming service like Tidal or Deezer, you won’t be able to take full advantage of their high-quality tracks. If you tend to watch a lot of videos this can also be a problem since there’s a slight lag between a person’s lips and when you hear what they’re saying. It’s very subtle, but it’s there.
If you want to customize anything about the Marshall II ANC, there’s also an app that you can download to tweak them to your liking. In the app you can control everything from what you want to name your headphones to your preferred EQ settings. You can also reassign the “M” multifunction button to either access Siri, the Google Assistant, or switch between three EQ presets.
What’s the battery life like?
Marshall claims that the Monitor II ANC headphones will give you up to 30 hours of constant playback wirelessly with active noise cancelling turned on. This turned out to be fairly accurate in our testing. For our battery tests, we make sure to keep the headphones at a constant output of 75dB and then leave music playing constantly on loop until the headphones eventually die. Doing this, we managed to squeeze out 28 hours and 11 minutes. That’s just under the 30 hours that Marshall claims, but still really impressive. If you opt to turn off active noise cancelling you can squeeze another 15 hours out of these if you need it. They also charge via USB-C which is great.
How do the Monitor II ANC headphones sound?
One of the biggest factors when it comes to how your music is going to sound is how good the headphones are at blocking out noise. Thankfully, the Monitor II ANC are really good at this. While they’re not taking the crown away from the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM3 or the AKG N700NC, these are still really good. They do a good job at blocking out sounds in the higher frequencies, but it’s the slight bump between 100Hz – 1000Hz that you should take notice of. This is where the most disruptive sounds usually are (like the rumble of a jet engine or low humming of a train) so being able to make those sounds less intrusive is a big deal.
Sound quality is also really good, at least to me. I’m not a huge fan of big thumping bass in my headphones, and the Marshall Monitor II ANC headphones toe that line masterfully providing just enough bump to keep me entertained without overdoing it. The bass kicks in the song GOD. by Kendrick Lamar still sounded strong without making the rest of the song dip in volume whenever they hit.
The sub-bass that comes into the song at 0:58 is also clearly distinct from the bass kicks and just sounds great. By default, the mids were also nicely emphasized and I had no problem listening to Lost in Yesterday by Tame Impala even with all of the other instrumentation going on around him. On the downside, I found the highs weren’t great and this is reflected in the frequency response graph. They were a little too underemphasized resulting in the rhythmic hi-hats sounding too far away. On the brightside, this was fixed somewhat by switching to a different EQ profile in the app, but for the purposes of the review I left everything on the “Marshall” sound profile which is turned on by default.
Is the microphone any good?
Not really. If you happen to have a deep voice these headphones are going to cut off a big portion of the lower notes so that your voice will just sound slightly higher than usual. Sure, this isn’t a big deal if you don’t take calls often but if you do then it’s something you may want to take into consideration.
Should you buy the Monitor II ANC?
Whether or not you should buy the Marshall II ANC headphones really comes down to how much you like the design. True, these have really good active noise cancelling, but so do some of the other top active noise cancelling headphones. Plus, these will run you around $320, which isn’t cheap enough to really undercut the competition. I’m assuming that if you can spend $320 on a pair of headphones, then you can probably save a bit and spend $30 more and choose from a few more options.
While they’re good, the Marshall II ANC headphones are lacking some truly premium features that other top headphones have such as support for high quality Bluetooth codecs. And while they do have a great battery life of about 30 hours, other top models also have truly impressive battery life and many of the same features. Basically, the biggest problem with the Monitor II ANC headphones is that they don’t exist in a vacuum.
What the Marshall Monitor II ANC headphones have going for them is their truly superior build and design. Plastic is definitely lighter and easier to wear, but there’s something inspiring about cold metal and leather. The strong active noise cancelling, comfortable ear cups, tough build, gold playback control knob, and the ease of use all make these a really strong contender for the best ANC headphones, assuming you really don’t like the options coming from the likes of Sony or Bose for some reason.