Just like any sort of hunting, audiophile bargain hunting involves a modicum of danger, but that’s part of the thrill. The risk of finding a stinker is part the process, and the rise of Chi-Fi, or Chinese-made gear has made bargain-hunting even more compelling for audiophiles these days. But you don’t always have to look to no-name Chinese brands for good values, as California-based Monoprice has become the Costco of the audiophile world by offering stripped-down but well-made audio products that are very kind to the wallet. Monoprice’s super-low-cost subwoofers like the Monoprice SW-12 are great as Steven Stone recently found out. The company’s audiophile grade AV equipment racks are another IKEA-level value winner, as Andrew Dewhirst learned. I know some of the people behind the scenes at Monoprice with their headphone initiative and I couldn’t resist when their PR agent offered their $49.95 wireless Bluetooth headphones (buy at Amazon) for me to evaluate. I had him send them right away.
What Makes the Monoprice SonicSolace II Wireless Headphones Special?
- At $49, you should expect the SonicSolace II headphones to feel cheap, but they don’t. Now, don’t get me wrong… the buttons aren’t milled aluminum like the $1,600 per pair T+A Solitaire. The ear cups aren’t made of Nappa leather like the Bowers & Wilkins Px8 headphones, either, but these lightweight, comfortable headphones are a little nicer than you might expect for $50.
- The driver is a 40mm unit, which is commensurate with the internal driver of far more expensive headphones in the class.
- Monoprice employed a Qualcomm chip that delivers Bluetooth 5 performance with one level of active noise cancelation.
- The buttons on the Monoprice SonicSolace II Headphones are easy to read and use. With a little experience, you can make the headphones do what you need without looking at them.
- These $49 headphones with flawlessly with Apple Siri and Google Assistant.
Why Should You Care About the Monoprice SonicSolace II Wireless Headphones?
You care about $49 headphones because you don’t want to spend $400 or more on a more audiophile-grade, pedigreed set of wireless headphones. You likely would rather spend your hard-earned cash on more traditional audiophile components, and who can blame you? With all of the hype about Chi-Fi, perhaps you’ve read from us or a growing number of Facebook Fan Groups that there’s a ton of really good new headphones on the market today that barely cost anything.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the SonicSolace II Wireless Headphones
- I’ve never had a harder time making a pair of wireless headphones pair with my Apple devices, but I also have good news: I can teach you the way around the issue so you don’t have to suffer any of my frustration. Turn on the headphones, open Settings, select Bluetooth, and find the SonicSolace II. That might be more difficult than you’d expect given that they’re not well-named. Then (and this was the hard part to figure out) go to Sounds and make sure that they are selected there too. No other headphones needed this to work but once I got them rolling, the SonicSolace II wireless headphones were all good for connectivity.
- 12 hours of battery life is really pretty poor by today’s standards. Having shopped for wireless headphones at an OEM basis for a side project in the past few years, I might suggest that it would be hard to find a battery that lasts a mere 12 hours with ANC on. I am just not sure that companies make batteries that small anymore.
- Whoever voiced these headphones apparently used the Harman curve as a target, which is a good, aspirational endeavor, but in my, third party measurements, the SonicSolace II simply has some tonal imbalances that affect performance.
- The SonicSolace II tends to be quite bass-heavy in terms of overall tonal balance.
- There is no app to control these headphones and at this price perhaps you can’t expect one, but boy could I use a little EQ to round out the sound a bit.
- There is no USB-C support, which leaves Apple users needing to go backwards in the cable department to charge/connect these headphones.
Listening to the Monoprice SonicSolace II Headphones
On “Eruption” from Van Halen I (AIFF 1440 CD Resolution) (buy at Amazon), you hear what the SonicSolace II does best, which is midrange and high-frequency performance. Eddie’s Brown Sound sounded believable and open. The song imaged well, but until you get into “You Really Got Me,” you don’t get any real bass guitar, so the song is a bit of an audiophile false friend.
The more that I listen to Turnstile, the band that my brother is a guitar tech for these days, the more this ’80s-pop-influenced metal band grows on me. They’ve got three Grammy nods, which is pretty strong for a first record. Their song “Blackout” (1440 AIFF CD Resolution) (buy at Amazon) is one of their hits and is a really solid rock-pop track. The problem is that the bass, via the SonicSolace II, is too sloppy for my tastes. When it kicks in the sound gets muddy in ways that say the $99 1More Soniflow headphones didn’t struggle with.
On “Eleanor Rigby” (AIFF 1440 CD resolution) from The Beatles 1 compilation album (buy at Amazon), there is a drastic improvement in sound, as the Sir George Martin-conducted string section just doesn’t dip into the bass frequencies where the SonicSolace II has most of its glaring issues.
Do the Monoprice SonicSolace II Headphones Have Any Resale Value?
They cost $50. Your expectations should be set to use them until they die and then take them to your nearest electronics recycling facility or drop-off point.
Who Is the Competition for the Monoprice SonicSolace II Headphones?
Would it be fair to look at $400 headphones as competition for a $49 pair of headphones? That’s eight times retail price, after all. I am not sure that this would be very fair. For the extra money, you will get a closer approximation of the Harman curve from some brands, or alternately something a little more artistically voiced, and perhaps better suited to one particular genre of music over others. You will get better, tighter and more accurate bass as well way longer battery life. You also can expect more fashion-forward colors, metal buttons, USB-C connectivity, and more. But that comes with lots more money too. Remember, we are bargain hunting here.
The 1More Soniflow Headphones ($99) (buy at Amazon) were so popular this winter that they actually sold out over Christmas. These headphones have some of the same generic markings and build quality as the Monoprice, which makes sense. Nobody expects a pair of headphones with the fit and finish of Bowers & Wilkins for $99 or less. The bass on the 1More headphones wasn’t as good as, say, the Focal Bathys (buy at Crutchfield) or specifically the $999 Mark Levinson No. 5909, which match the Harman curve best of all headphones that we’ve tested to date in the wireless Bluetooth category. Needless to say, the 1Mores are some fine $99 headphones.
Final Thoughts on the Monoprice SonicSolace II Headphones
Batta-batta. Swing-and-a-miss… batta. Knowing what I know about what’s going on at Monoprice with their headphones and who’s making them good (I later learned that my friends didn’t work on this pair of headphones, but I had already written most of the review) that there is good hope for some very strong audiophile values from Monoprice in the headphones category. I remain optimistic that this is the case still, but I think a little more budget needs to be invested at the client level to get to the performance that we seek to be happy.
Look, Monoprice is loaded with killer audiophile values right this second. I can’t tell you who makes their $1,099 250 Watt-per-channel amp, but if you knew, you’d go buy one (assuming that you can get your hands on one) right away. I can’t tell you how many AV industry executives use Monoprice cables, leaving the B.S. and the voodoo behind while leaving room in their budget for more meaningful upgrades.
Keep an eye out for some more upmarket Monoprice headphone reviews later in the year. I am not discouraged, nor should you be. You gotta dig deep and often in some odd/dark places to find truly great audiophile values and that’s what we do for you around here at FutureAudiophile.com.