Monoprice M1060 Review

The Monoprice M1060 is some sort of anomaly. In an industry where the market seems to almost welcome price ceilings being pushed higher and higher, Monoprice went the opposite direction: they released a large diaphragm planar magnetic headphone for the low, low price of $299. They easily could have tacked on another $100 and nobody would have batted an eye, but instead, they presented the headphone community with a relative bargain. A $300 planar headphone with a diaphragm bigger than the Fostex T50RP’s rather small driver isn’t necessarily unheard of; Hifiman’s released two planar magnetic headphones around that price bracket in the HE400 and HE400S, but interestingly, the M1060’s drivers seem to look like early Audeze drivers. Whether they actually sound good though, is up to question.

The Monoprice M1060 comes in a large, attractive box with a sturdy carrying case. The case is a thoughtful, if odd inclusion. The cable is, bafflingly, an MMC-X cable with a nylon sleeving. It’s decently thick and seems durable but a 3.5mm termination is an odd choice for a headphone that’s relatively hard to drive.

The build is fine. They have wooden rings, which would seem “premium,” but a number of users have reported cracking. They have MMC-X connectors—removable connectors is a nice idea, but why use a connector mainly used on IEM’s, much less one infamous for failure? I understand that there is limited space for the connector if they don’t want to make a separate attachment like Audeze’s, but even SMC seems like a more reasonable choice. The metal headband seems solid enough, but the plastic adjustment pieces do worry me a bit. I heard a cracking sound when putting the headphones on one day but I can’t find any evidence of it. The strap has foam bumps but they’re soft enough that they shouldn’t cause any comfort problems, unlike the AKG K701/K702. But what bugged me the most about the M1060 was the smell: it smelled like wet paint so strongly that I had a headache the first time I used them. It’s gone away after a week and a half, but it was pretty jarring at first.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t have particularly high expectations for these. I reviewed the O&E E800P which looks aesthetically similar and also has a large diaphragm planar driver that looks similar to the driver in the M1060. I didn’t love the E800P but thought with some added upper midrange and treble it wouldn’t be a bad headphone. The M1060 did add a bit, but in one specific area: a bit under 5kHz. It’s not slight; it’s enough to ruin tonality for me and make everything sound plastic. I noticed it within the first few seconds and thought I put them on wrong or something because I haven’t heard a headphone sound this off since the Audio Technica W5000 or Sennheiser HD700. It wouldn’t be bad on its own, but since the area between around 2k and just before 5k sounds dipped, the 5k peak is incredibly noticeable and gives a cave-like, but simultaneously shrill, sound. I’m not using exaggerated terms; the peak  is over 6dB louder than 3kHz, meaning it’s twice the SPL.

It also seems to be a source of ringing. The M1060 measure with an “ortho wall” of ringing, or a resonance. Many accept the claim that the wall is a function of the tension in a planar driver and isn’t audible, and I can’t say I ever heard severe ringing in any of the Audezes or Hifiman planars, but there is incredibly noticeable ringing in the M1060. I normally listen at around 80dB but I found myself turning the volume down significantly just so I could actually use them without wincing. It’s a shame because if the 5k peak disappeared, these wouldn’t be half bad. EQing the peak down does help but I still hear the ringing for some reason. I also slapped on some Audeze lambskin pads and they did in fact reduce the peak significantly, but it’s hard to recommend buying $80 pads as a band-aid fix for a headphone that already costs $300. $380 gets into used Hifiman HE-500 territory and I can’t think of too many reasons I’d rather have the M1060 over the HE-500 unless one has such a vehement hatred of Hifiman that they won’t even consider any sort of Hifiman or absolutely will not buy a used headphone.

Bass

These have thick pleather pads. And they don’t seal on me very well for some reason. After pressing them against my head they seem to seal better but they still sound thin. They reach into the sub bass but midbass just isn’t full-sounding, even compared to the Audeze Sine or any T50RP mod. It sounds rather one-note and unclean too, not unlike the Hifiman HE-500, but the M1060 takes it a step further.

The Audeze pads sealed significantly better and I’d finally heard the bass quantity I expected. It still retained the unclean and one-note quality to it but it no longer sounded thin. Overall, the bass isn’t anything particularly special; for a $300 headphone to have linear bass like this is a feat, but that doesn’t mean much if the quality isn’t up to par.

Midrange

My biggest issues with the M1060 lie in its midrange. Low midrange sounds relatively even, but I hear a bit of a peak in the upper midrange at around 1kHz which makes them sound very slightly shouty. After 1k, the upper midrange takes a pretty steep dip which contributes to a distant, hollow sound. Then, as mentioned earlier, the M1060 have a huge peak at 5k that makes they sound incredibly plasticky and artificial when combined with the lower mid dip. The dip-spike causes the midrange sound to incredibly strange; the hollowness combined with the plastic sound successfully makes almost every song I threw at it sound off.

Treble

There’s not that much of it. The 5k peak may give the impression that the headphone errs on the bright side but past 5k, they drop off pretty significantly. I never experienced any sort of painful sibilance, but I really, really wish these had more air.  They sound rather muffled overall. What little treble is there sounds rough and unrefined.

Alternate Pads

I happened to have a pair of Audeze Lambskin pads so I removed the stock pads (stuck on by what I think is rubber cement) and slapped them on. Immediately, they sounded less wonky; the 5k peak was tamed significantly and I heard a little bit more treble, though that may have been due to the 5k taming. And as I said earlier, the better seal I got from the lambskin pads helped flesh out the bass nicely. The plasticky sound was noticeably lessened, but I still heard a bit more ringing than I’d find tolerable for long-term listening and they sounded a little bit more distant. It’s an expensive way to only moderately fix a problem that never should have existed.

Measurements

This is the initial FR measurement I got fresh out of the box:

The upper midrange dip-spike is quite apparent and the bass is rather flat to 20Hz, as expected. Treble from 5k and up is -10dB relative to 1k, which is consistent to my subjective impression that these lack treble.

Out of sheer curiosity, I let the M1060 run for ten days straight (~240 hours) to see if somehow there were any changes:

The change in bass is probably more likely due to better seal due to the worn-in pads than burn in. It’s odd that upper midrange and treble are dipped even further at places but it is possible that the difference is due to a rig inconsistency or placement difference, with variation shown in the following graph. Unfortunately, the spike isn’t remedied at all.

The following is my measurements taken with Audeze lambskin pads and no changes otherwise:

The spike is significantly lessened, aligned with my impressions. This measurement shows how important seal is because despite my subjective impressions saying these were fuller, these actually measure with less bass.

Conclusion

Overall, I think the stock M1060 Monoprice is a rather mediocre headphone, not just compared to the best flagship headphones, but even within its own price range. The Sennheiser HD580/6X0 series has more natural tone, the Beyerdynamic DT880 may be a bit too bright for some, but excluding the treble spike, it sounds more even. The Fostex T50RP may be less technically impressive, but there are many available mods that are much easier to listen to than the M1060. The only redeeming quality I can find for the M1060 stock is that its sub bass extends very well, which is something that its competitors can’t claim. But that doesn’t mean much when its tonality is so off that it’s actually unpleasant to listen with. These are good drivers; I can hear a good amount of detail and, as stated, they have linear bass. With some creative damping, these may be worth a recommendation (probably even beyond the $300 price point) because I do believe these have potential. But I can’t recommend people who don’t know what they’re doing to dive in and mess with these headphones, especially at present with the build problems this first run of headphones had. That five-year warranty may be necessary. Monoprice has said they are aiming to fix the problems with the next run, but until it can be proven that the next batch is free of issues, I’d hold off on buying one.

  • Daniel Bencomo

    Nice review. You pretty much torn these headphones apart. You mention you’d recommend the HE500 instead?

    Around $400 what would you recommend to pair with an Aune S6?

    • Daniel Bencomo

      The HE-560s are about $500 right now on sale. Would those be a better option?

      • Kyle

        I haven’t heard an HE-560 in a couple years so I don’t really remember how they sound but I recall they were a tiny bit on the dry side.

    • Kyle

      I think the HE500 is a “safer” option as it’s a more agreeable sound and requires less fuss to sound good, but I have a feeling the M1060 with enough modding can equal or surpass the HE500. But I can’t expect people to put the effort into experimentation.

      I’ve heard the S6 briefly but not long enough to glean particularly meaningful impressions. It sounded fine from what I remembered and had a good amount of power so there isn’t anything barring the HE-6/K1000 that it shouldn’t work well with.

      • Daniel Bencomo

        Hey Kyle, thanks for the response. Because of your review I ended up buying the HE-560s and the Aune S6 as my first set of headphone and Dac/Amp 🙂 Jumping from a silly Bluetooth Playstation Headset. I did hear the HE500 vs the 560s and ended up getting the 560s, they’re also more comfortable. But I’m just diving into this game!

        Thanks and keep up with the good site, love the reviews!. If you ever need a developer let me know http://www.danbencomo.com

  • M7md 3li

    He-400i was on sale for $225.