Venture Electronic's Monk+ Earbud

These are absolutely famous, so I won't do too much in the way of introductions. I purchased these myself, simply because they're just so cheap, and I needed to hear them. I bought the balanced configuration, terminating in a TRRS 1/8" auxiliary connector. No microphone, no controller, no fancy frills, just the headphones and a cable.

Fit and Form

For a grand total of $35 (I paid the extra cash for the balanced configuration, since I still have the Pro iCan on my desk, and a couple Ex-Packs to ensure that I had all the foam covers that my heart could ever desire), these earbuds came in an admittedly gaudily branded plastic bag. Upon tearing that open, I was greeted with the headphones, and an absolute sea of accessories. In total, I got 32 foam covers, an 1/8" TRRS to 1/8" TRS adapter, an 1/8" TRRS to 2.5mm TRRS adapter, 4 rubber rings, 4 concha-wings, and the Monk+ earbuds.

The build quality won't stun you, that's for sure, but for the price paid, it is certainly above what I would expect. No rough edges to speak of, no general machining unpleasantness. Sure, they aren't bombproof metal bunkers for your ears, but they're nice enough for what you pay. The cable is not particularly microphonic and has a retainer that can be trained right up to the chin to help them stay in a little bit better.

I'd like to make an aside about the foam covers. 4 of the 32 that I received were the type that have a hole on both sides, not covering the center of the earbud. The rest were the standard type that cover the entire head of the earbud. I found that the aforementioned 4 were the perfect balance of increased bass and increased ability to stay in my ears. With the better seal that these covers allow, they do bump up the mid-bass a bit, the full covers slightly more than the partial covers. The rest of this review, particularly the sound section, will speak to my experience using the partial covers.

With those covers on, I found comfort to be pretty good. They stuck in my ears well enough that when I shake my head, they don't fly out. I've got pretty sensitive outer ears, in terms of general discomfort, and extended wear brought me no discomfort to speak of, thankfully.

In whole, the design is pretty standard for earbuds. There isn't much variation (aside from the route that Apple has taken with their EarPods) that manufacturers can take in regards to earbuds, and I respect Venture Electronics for sticking to the standard, as opposed to innovating in ways that may not be idiomatic to a better experience.

Sound

These are a definite departure from the consumer-common, V-shaped sound signature that is so frequently seen in headphones in this price range. There is a definite mid-frequency emphasis here, and that's something that I really appreciate. Although the bass is certainly reserved and slated back compared to fully-sealing IEMs, it isn't non-existent, and can move enough air when called upon. Treble reaches fairly high without much effort and that, coupled with the design inherent to earbuds in terms of seal, allows for a vey open and light feel to these headphones in general.

The soundstage isn't massive, but it is larger than I've become accustomed to with in-ears, generally. It extends a bit further out than most IEMs and has pretty good radial extension. The imaging and separation are equally good, yielding a very pleasant picture of the music in the user's head. Intensely layered vocal tracks come through particularly pleasantly, as the combination of lightness and air with the soundstage, imaging, and separation yield a very satisfying image in the music.

Bass

Songs used: Helix by Flume, PiƱata by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, and Viol by Gesaffelstein

The bass is certainly the weak point of these headphones. Impact, slam, and punchiness all take a hit to the design elements inherent to earbuds, but it isn't all bad. Texture holds on pretty well, and the extra air allows for better control by the dynamic driver over speed and attack/decay in more complex, fast-paced passages. And by the way, the first sentence isn't to say that there is no impact. In songs that heavily call for it, these can still push out enough air to inspire a bit of head-nodding, but it isn't quite enough to match something like the Model 3 or the Dulce Bass, although both are different form factors. For example, in "Viol", the kick pushes pretty hard, and has very impressive poignancy. Sub-bass is very much recessed, but is still present. It does tend to come through more as a very faint tone than a rumble, but it isn't missing entirely, thankfully.

Key descriptors: textured, light, and detailed

Mids

Songs used: Rolling in the Deep by Dirty Loops, Jolene by Dolly Parton, and Windup Glass (Prepared) by The Flashbulb

The mids are where these headphones shine. This is single-handedly where the emphasis resides, and is almost wholly responsible for the musical sound signature that these create. There is very good detail here, and its up-front presentation is a nice change from the many headphones that I've listened to of late that let the mids rest back a little bit. Male and female vocals, along with instruments of all descriptions, ride right on top in the mix, with a very forward and satiating presentation. I wouldn't necessarily describe them as lush, as they can be a little bit edgy, but they certainly have a relatively natural sound to them. Again, the imaging and separation in conjunction with the soundstage really help to create an engaging and entertaining listen with these headphones, particularly of genres that are, by nature, mid-centric.

Key descriptors: detailed, forward, and natural

Treble

Songs used: Ageispolis by Aphex Twin, Goodnight Kiss by Ibrahim Maalouf, and K.K.P.D. by Christian Scott

The treble helps the mids along the way to this musical sound signature. The extension, lightness, and sense of touch and finesse allows cymbals and overtones to sing in just the right way. Additionally, there is really good speed here that helps with attack and decay, particularly with cymbals, as aforementioned. The range is relatively smooth, without much noticeable peakiness, thankfully, and this keeps the headphones from becoming grating or unpleasant with extended use. I experienced pretty much no sibilance to speak of, but spent a lot of my time with instrumental music, so I can't count that out entirely for prospective listeners.

Key descriptors: extended, airy, and light

Minutia and Miscellaneous

I understand that these headphones are pretty much unique in their market-space, and I don't really have much to add in this section. However, I will say that the one use-case I can't see these faring too well in is for public, on-the-go use. The isolation simply isn't good enough to keep the outside world shut out, unless the volume is pumped up to pretty unpleasant listening levels.

Wrap-Up

The Monk+ seem to live up to their hype. For between $5 and $35, you can get yourself a mid-centric, very competent pair of earbuds that will outperform headphones at least twice their price, some much higher. The mids are detailed and natural, with highs that help them out to create a very pleasant presentation of pretty much any non-bass heavy genre. Sure, these won't pump out the gallons of low-frequency tones that EDM or Industrial House require, but they will convey orchestras and choirs with tremendous fidelity and ease. They certainly win my recommendation, if not for every use-case, than for those that feel this sound signature is for them.

Disclaimers

These headphones were purchased of my own accord. I am not being paid by anyone to write this review, to endorse the product reviewed, or for the content that I put in the review.

These headphones were powered by an Astell&Kern AK Junior, a Google Pixel, a Neurochrome HP-1, an iFi Pro iCan, and by whatever soundcard is in the motherboard of my computer.

I have had these headphones for about a month, and I have put about 40 hours of analytical listening through them during that period.

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