From the $250 Apple AirPods Pro to the $400 Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the market for wireless noise-cancelling headphones has never been stronger. At $319.99, Marshall’s new Monitor II ANC headphones are positioned between these two leaders in terms of price. Sonically, they perform well, with rich bass depth and crisp highs for a clear audio experience. When it comes to noise cancellation, however, they do a fine job, but fall short of their relatively high cost.
The circumaural (over-ear) Monitor II ANC headphones have a black design with leather grain texture on the outer earcup panels and top of the headband, along with the familair Marshall amps logo. The earpads are heavily cushioned with memory foam, and the cups swivel for a comfortable fit that feels light even during long listening sessions.
The right earcup’s outer panel houses the multi-directional control button. This button can be pressed and pushed to control playback, track navigation, call management, and volume. There’s a customizable M button on the right earcup’s hinge. The left earcup houses the dedicated ANC button, which toggles between on, off, and Monitor modes. The left ear’s side panel also houses a 3.5mm connection for the included, half-coiled audio cable for wired listening, and a USB-C port for the included cable, which is quite long. The status LED is also located near these ports. In addition to the included cable, the headphones ship with a black drawstring denim bag with a white label sewn onto it.
One note on the cable: You can use it with ANC active, or with the headphones powered down. If your goal is to listen passively and preserve battery life, you have to manually power down the headphones, as they don’t automatically power down when the cable is connected, though the Bluetooth connection breaks.
The Marshall app for Android and iOS has a settings section that allows you to assign a control to the M button—it can either toggle between EQ presets or summon your phone’s voice assistant. The ANC section allows you to adjust adjust the level of the noise cancellation with a slider, or turn it off. You can also switch over to Monitor mode, and there’s a slider for that, as well. A timer setting lets you choose when the headphones, rather than the length of time the headphones can remain inactive before powering off.
The EQ section has three presets that can be used or altered and saved, and when the M button is assigned to EQ, it will switch between these three modes. You get five bands to adjust, but there are some quirks. Boosting the lowest-frequency fader on certain tracks has the confusing result of seemingly weakening the bass depth overall—the more powerful the lows get as a result of EQ boosting, the more the digital signal processing limits them, making the desired result difficult to achieve. The presets seem to work fine, so hopefully this is a quirk of the app that gets addressed in the near future.
Internally, the headphones use 40mm dynamic drivers to deliver a frequency range of 20Hz-20kHz. They’re compatible with Bluetooth 5.0, but support only the SBC codec—those looking for higher-res audio via either AptX or AAC will be disappointed. This is common in less expensive headphones, but above $300, it’s fair to expect more.
Marshall estimates battery life to be up to 30 hours with Bluetooth and ANC on, or up to 45 hours with just Bluetooth, but your results will vary with your volume levels.
The Monitor II ANC headphones deliver decent noise cancellation. A high-frequency hiss created by the circuitry is noticeable in quiet environments—it’s not unpleasant (think very faint white noise), it’s often a sign of less effective ANC. The headphones do quite well tamping down low-frequency rumble like you might hear on a plane or train, but moving your head one way or another can alter the way the ANC mics attack the rumble. On a plane, it shouldn’t be an issue, because the rumble is all around you, but if you’re wearing the headphones in a scenario where the low rumble is coming from a particular direction (say, speakers), turning your head will alter how the ANC performs.
The ANC doesn’t seem to affect the sound signature when audio was playing, which is a common pitfall of wireless ANC. Generally speaking, the noise cancellation here is useful, but it’s not as effective as what you get from Apple or Bose.
We tested audio with a variety of EQ settings, but the descriptions below are for the default “flat” Marshall EQ setting. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the low-frequency depth is solid—there’s serious thump, and it doesn’t distort at top, unwise listening levels. The high-mids and highs are well represented, for a balanced, crisp sound signature.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the general sound signature. The drums on this track are delivered with a round, full bass depth—nothing too powerful, and not too thin either. Callahan’s baritone vocals get a pleasant low-mid presence, and the acoustic strums and higher-register percussive hits are delivered with crisp, bright detail. This is a balanced sound that has some bass depth.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives an ideal high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchiness, while the vinyl crackle and hiss takes a step forward in the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with enough deep bass presence to provide a sense of their power, but the sub-bass doesn’t overwhelm the mix as it can with seriously boosted headphones. The vocals on this track are delivered with excellent high-mid clarity and detail—there is some slight added sibilance, but nothing that upsets the mix.
On orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the lower-register instrumentation gets a fairly transparent delivery. It doesn’t sound boosted nor thin, and the lows support the mix but do nothing to challenge the more prominent, bright, crisp presence of the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals.
The mic offers solid intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could understand every word we recorded clearly. There wasn’t much in the way of Bluetooth distortion, and the audio was crisp. Our only complaint is that the mic signal seems a little faint.
The Marshall Monitor II ANC headphones deliver a balanced sound signature with rich lows and bright highs, but we’d be slightly more enthusiastic if they supported AAC or AptX. From a noise-cancelling perspective, the headphones certainly dial back some ambient sounds, but this isn’t nearly the most effective ANC we’ve tested. For a lower price we’d be bigger fans, but for $320, these headphones don’t quite deliver the premium experience they’re priced for. The aforementioned Apple AirBuds Pro and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 remain our current favorite ANC earphones/headphones, while Marshall’s $200 Mid ANC are worth checking out if you’re looking to spend less.