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Headphones

Monoprice's $14.99 on-ear headphone is almost too good to be true

The Audiophiliac is known for his high-end tastes, but he found a lot to like about the new Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphones.

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Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphones.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone looks cheap, and it is. Even so, the all-plastic on-ear headphone feels sturdy enough to withstand some rough handling and it's not going to fall apart in a month or two. The upside to plastic is that it's light -- this headphone weighs a mere 4.5 ounces, so comfort is good, though the ear pad pressure is snugger than I like.

The headphone has 36mm drivers, impedance is listed at 32 ohms, and the cable has a microphone and play/pause controls. One downside to the design is the 47-inch cable isn't user-replaceable, so when the cable breaks it's game over for the Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone.

I rarely cover headphones in this price class because they mostly sound awful, but this new Monoprice is exceptional. As closed-back, on-ear headphones go the sound is downright spacious. In fact, I heard nothing that immediately betrayed the Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone's budget price. Isolation from external noise is average for on-ear headphones.

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Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphones' ear pads.

Monoprice/Alex Tostado

The bass, midrange and treble balance is spot on, and that's exceedingly rare in cheap headphones, the more I listened, the more I liked the sound. Bass is abundant, and fairly well defined, midrange is open, and treble is pretty smooth. Encouraged by what I heard, I decided to compare this one to much more expensive headphones, like the $69 Beyerdynamic DTX 350 p, which bears a striking visual resemblance to the Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone.

The DTX 350 p is a warmer/fuller sounding headphone, but the Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone had plenty of low bass punch on Moby's "Play" album. I also noted it was easier to drive, so the Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone played louder at the same volume setting on my iPod Classic than the DTX 350 p.

Listening to Amy Winehouse's "Live at the BBC" album I couldn't pick a clear winner between the two headphones. The Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone's treble is brighter and more present than the DTX 350 p's, but that's not to say the Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone's treble is too aggressive or grating, it's not.

Way back in 2011 I wrote a rave review of the $24 Monoprice Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style Over-the-Ear Pro Headphones, and I said "They are, hands-down, the best full-size, over-the-ear headphones you can buy on the cheap." Those headphones are still available, so I was eager to compare them with the Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone.

The over-the-ear model's tonal balance was leaner, less rich, and with Jonny Greenwood's orchestral score for the film "There Will Be Blood," the Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone sounded more natural, whereas the Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style Over-the-Ear Pro Headphone's sound was recessed and hollow.

The Monoprice Hi-Fi Lightweight On-Ear Headphone is sonically on par with headphones that sell for up to $100! So at $14.99 (plus Monoprice's $4.99 flat-rate shipping in the US), it's a steal! The headphone is sold direct by Monoprice with a 1-year replacement warranty, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.