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Monolith M1000ANC Review: Dirac Virtuo 3D-Sound in a Budget Bluetooth Headphone

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Monolith by Monoprice M1000ANC Wireless Headphones

Monolith by Monoprice M1000ANC Wireless Headphones

Summary

  • Product Name: Monolith M1000ANC
  • Manufacturer: Monoprice
  • Review Date: May 26, 2022 00:20
  • MSRP: $129.99
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now

M1000ANC Bluetooth Headphone Specs

  • Driver Size - 40mm
  • Frequency Response 20Hz~20kHz
  • Bluetooth® Version: 5
  • Bluetooth® Chipset: BES2300Y
  • Bluetooth Frequency: 2.402 ~ 2.480 GHz
  • Bluetooth Pairing Name: MP43453
  • Audio Codec: SBC
  • Noise Reduction: (ANC HI) 35dB Noise Reduction (ANC LOW) 20dB
  • Battery Type: Lithium‑ion
  • Battery Capacity: 720mAh
  • Charging Connector: USB Type‑C®
  • Playback Time (ANC off): About 60 hours
  • Playback Time (ANC on): About 40 hours
  • Playback Time with 5 Minute Charge: About 2 hours
  • Charging Time: About 2.5 hours
  • Weight: 9.3 oz. (263g)

Executive Overview

Monoprice’s Monolith line has been producing hits like a rock star of late. One of its biggest booming hits earned the Monolith 16-inch THX Ultra certified subwoofer a 2021 Audioholics Product of the Year Award for Best Powered Sub. But the company known for no-nonsense, high-grade home audio equipment at surprisingly modest prices also has deep experience bringing its design work ethic to headphones and portable audio accessories. New to the Monolith portable audio line comes the M1000ANC, a Bluetooth headphone that brings Dirac Virtuo enhanced audio to the masses. Understated in its compact, flat-black appearance these headphones are packed with innovative technology that makes them every bit as gratifying to handle as they are to hear. Dense memory foam pads, 40-mm drivers, two-stage Active Noise Cancelation (ANC), a whopping 60-hour battery life, Dirac Viruo DSP and a unique gesture touch-control UX for only $130 brings both comfort and joy that anyone can afford.

Presenting Monolith M1000ANC

Monolith M1000ANC BoxThe overall presentation and user experience begins when you open the box. But unlike more premium-priced headphones, you’ll get very little in the way of presentation. A modest black cardboard Monolith box assures that you’re not paying any extra for an Apple-like unboxing ceremony. Production cost is well-placed exactly where it should, in the headphones.

Inside the box you’ll find the headphones, one USB-C cable for charging and a 3.5-mm headphone cable for alternative “unpowered” headphone listening. There’s also a small black cloth bag featuring the Monolith mark, just fold the earcups into the headband for easy storage.

Out of the box, the M1000ANC headphones feel effortlessly light as you expand the headband a few clicks to fit your cranium. The headband is a little wide around the top, giving the user a black and metallic halo while wearing. The arc of the headband ensures a snug fit around the ears from its delicately soft memory foam covered in breathable “protein leather”. It’s a fake leather that feels so thin and soft that it can almost pass as sheepskin, but no sheep was harmed in the manufacture. The mem-foam & leather padding are applied generously (about 1-inch thick) around the earpads with a thin layer for the top of your head at the apex of the headband. The headband padding probably isn’t necessary as these headphones are so light you’ll barely notice them. But they feel suitably breathable around the ears for long listening sessions.

On-Ear That Goes Around Your Ears

M1000ANC is technically categorized as an on-ear design, but these headphone-design categories can be imprecise depending on your individual ear size. On me, the earpads are wide enough to go fully around my ears but they do make some contact with the inside of the earcups. The interior of the earcups feature 40-mm drivers behind a vented grille you can feel behind a soft fabric printed with large, conspicuous L & R indicators. Their lithium-ion battery is rated to take these headphones up to 60-hours of listening time, a ridiculously long charge that effectively means you’ll only have to worry about recharging every few days or so of regular use.

I found their lightness and comfort allowed me to easily go for hours, barely noticing I was even wearing headphones, especially outside on cool spring days. Although, in the heat of summer all bets are off that the protein leather will keep you cool. One of the benefits of lower-price points in headphones is they tend to be smaller and light. But as compact and lightweight as these are, they never feel “cheap” thanks to the care put into the leather parts that touch your skin. The delicate softness of the fake-leather may raise concerns about their resistance to wear and tear over time. But under appropriate/heavy use as a travel headphone the pleather should hold together, but I probably wouldn’t leave them outside in the car overnight in the dead of winter. Deep freezing could cause cracks if you’re not letting them get closer to room temp before using them. It gets cold up here in Canada so I make it a habit never to leave battery-powered devices to freeze overnight in a car, just for the sake of staving off the inevitable corrosion of contacts that shortens the life of anything battery powered.

Usability

After the fit and comfort of these headphones has been established. You're in for a real treat when it comes to the controls. The included quick-start guide is all you need to get connected to your phone via Bluetooth 5.0 (quick auto-connect thereafter) then you can start learning the ropes that control your new headphones.

First-step, get used to the right-side outer-earcup, that’s where the brains and controls for these headphones are located. Around the edge of the right earcup is a power button (simple on/off) and a Bluetooth pairing-mode button (long-press for pairing a new device) that doubles as the Dirac on/off (short press). The Dirac/pairing button is cleverly differentiated from power with a little bump to one side of the button to help guide your fingertips while wearing them. Although, I would have liked an LED or some indicator that Dirac is active.

One additional control around the right earcup is a 3-position Active Noise Cancellation switch. The switch lets you choose between Off (middle), High (up) for 35dB NC or Low (down) for 20dB noise cancellation. Also around the right earcup is the USB C connector for charging. The left earcup is where you’ll find a 3.5-mm jack for direct connection to a source. With the basic controls out of the way, this is where it gets really interesting, the touch controls.

Gesture Touch Controls

M1000ANC Inner-EarcupThe majority of your day-to-day headphone controls use the outside of the right earcup. The center of the smooth, rugged shell doubles as a touch-pad that gives you access to a series of the most common controls so you don’t have to reach for your phone and turn on the screen. The touch controls and simple finger-swipe gestures work with fantastic acuity. The gestures are simple and intuitive but best of all - they work! But they won’t work as well if your fingertips get wet, something I learned by cooking dinner while listening. Make sure your fingers are clean and dry. The touchpad is suitably accurate and sensitive to perform exactly as advertised. I never found that I had to re-swipe my last control-command, misreads were a rarity and usually due to swiping the wrong area of the earcup. The biggest problem you’ll face with M1000ANC’s touch controls is having your right index finger find the touchpad area without seeing it. But once you get the feel for exactly where to make contact with the right-side of your head the controls are slick, giving you that James Bond-tech feeling like you’re playing with one of Q’s new toys. I haven’t felt this much geek-lust over a gadget trick since my first car with power windows. I expect we’ll see more unique uses of touch sensors in lower-cost devices through the 2020s. It’s always a blessing for your phone’s battery-life to not have to turn on the screen or even touch your phone just to skip to the next song, or turn the volume up or down. 

The gestures themselves are easy and intuitive, mostly involving simple, directional swipes. Volume up/down are swipes up/down the middle of the pad. Skip to next or skip-back a track are swipes forward or backward. Double-tap to pause/play or answer/end an incoming call. If you don’t want to take an incoming call, just touch with one finger and hold for 2-seconds to dump them to voicemail.

Another neat touch-pad trick is “conversation mode” that makes use of the headphone’s microphones for mixing in ambient sounds. Just touch and hold three or four fingers over the earcup’s touchpad and the music volume will reduce as both earcup’s mics are activated so you can hear and talk to whoever is in front of you. As soon as you release your touch, the headphones go back to normal playback without ambient sound. It’s a neat trick that activates/deactivates immediately upon touch/release. But perhaps some M1000ANC-user etiquette rules should be observed with this feature. I can tell you first-hand that if your wife has something important to tell you, just holding one hand up to your headphones won’t pass for your full attention. It might be deemed a little rude not to remove your headphones in some circumstances, your mileage may vary. The ambient-sound feature comes in handy if you were out in the streets and thought you heard something nearby.

Dirac Virtuo Sound

In the words of famed fight announcer Bruce Buffer:

“... the main event of THE EVENING!”

Dirac LogoDirac is why you buy these headphones. Outside of its solid, no-nonsense build quality, highly capable 40-mm drivers, noise cancellation is a nice-to-have in a travel headphoneit's Dirac that keeps you listening!

Dirac is an audio tech company out of Sweden that develops digital audio signal processing (DSP) solutions in conjunction with partners that include such brands as Onkyo, Pioneer, Klipsch and Arcam. The Dirac enterprise is backed by some major players, making it a serious DSP in the digital audio era. Anyone who has sought the best possible sound quality for a number of years may have developed a knee-jerk cynicism about DSPs. In years past they amounted to not much more than impure cheesy effects that muddy the sound. But in an era where most of your musical sources are digital they’ve been able to develop uncanny sophistication.

Dirac Vituro is the company’s own spatial audio technology that promises a more immersive sound experience for a variety of applications including car audio and Bluetooth headphones. With the popularity of 3D audio tech today, Dirac Virtuo promises to enhance any source, adding depth, clarity and range to 2-channel stereo or any of the “enhanced” Atmos-based headphone formats out there including Apple Music’s Spatial Audio, Tidal’s Atmos implementation or Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. The Monolith M1000ANC is one of the most economical ways to get 3D audio processing in a headphone that costs less than half the price of a pair of Apple AirPods. Unfortunately for iPhone-users, AAC is not listed in the documentation as a compatible codec, leaving iOS users on the outside. I have no idea if this is something that can be added later with firmware updates, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Listening Through Dirac Virtuo

Using the Dirac button on the right earcup you can easily toggle between two modes, regular SBC stereo and Dirac Virtuo enabled. In my own subjective opinion, the change in sound is thankfully subtle, but a definite improvement overall.

The first thing you’ll notice with Dirac engaged is that the volume level goes down at least a full decibel. It slightly widens the soundstage and adds a greater sense of dynamic range, slightly cleaner highs and deeper bass. The 3D sound never seems to go overboard with its directional effects producing sounds coming from all directions, except in the odd recording where it may be intended.

Burt Bacharac & Dionne WarwickThere was one song that came up in a shuffle of an Apple Music Spatial Audio Rock playlist. The song, "Doin’ Time by Sublime" is a throwback I hadn’t heard in years. While on a long headphone-listening walk, I passed by a yard with a low decorative fence, that kind that’s not intended to be a barrier, but may be a minor inconvenience to anyone wanting to cut through their yard. I suddenly heard biggish dogs barking from a distance. Startled, I pulled off the headphones as my eyes darted around the yard knowing I had no cover from any angry dogs. But in taking off the cans I was sonically transported back into the calm spring day, the dogs disappeared replaced by birdsong. The dogs turned out to be in the recording. It occurred to me then that the 3D effect is quite capable, but thankfully the directional effects mostly remain a tasteful soundstage enhancement and do not make every song sound like a binaural demo track.

Dirac also adds a nice digital update to older recordings too. While listening to 60s recordings of one of my favorite female vocalists, Dionne Warwick who brings her lush soulful voice to the venerable martini-soaked, waspy hits of Burt Bacharach, there’s noticeable noise reduction. Many older recordings retain that slight background hiss, possibly a result of being recorded onto analog tape. Dirac seemed to clear it mostly away, and allowed those short-beats between breaths to descend into near total silence offering powerful punctuation to any song. I attribute this to the slight enhancement to dynamic range coupled with Dirac’s noise reduction capability. It all adds up to a pleasant effect that provides much better sound quality than you’d expect from a $130 headphone. I spent significant time toggling between unprocessed vanilla SBC and Dirac, and while not all songs on my playlists are as significantly enhanced as these older recordings, it at very least offers subtle improvements.

While using M1000ANC, Dirac mode is definitely the way to go for the majority of your listening, you’ll almost never want to do without it. Although the headphones don’t sound bad in regular SBC mode in side-by-side comparisons. As soon as you disable Dirac, the sound is just a little flatter and pulled a little closer to your ears. But in those times when you’re not getting enough volume from a recording in Dirac, even after you’ve pumped the volume all the way up but still need more, turning off Dirac will provide an extra dB or two.

Conclusion

I can come to no other conclusion at $130. While it’s nobody’s end-game headphone, the M1000ANC is an amazing Bluetooth solution for specific purposes. If you’re an Android-user looking for a budget alternative to Apple AirPods but still want to enjoy Spatial Audio, or you need a secondary travel closed-back headphone with noise canceling that fits into a tiny space and weighs practically nothing, Monoprice’s Monolith M1000ANC is your opportunity to fill the bill without breaking the bank.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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Recent Forum Posts:

Danzilla31 posts on May 26, 2022 17:01
Wayde Robson, post: 1558884, member: 15138
I had a chance to spend some time with Monoprice's newest Monolith Bluetooth headphones, the M1000, but the cool kids just call it the “1K”. As a $130 headphone, for its intended use-case, they really hit the mark. That specific use-cases are these:

1/ You want cheaper headphones for travel w/ Active Noise Cancellation.
Sometimes you don't feel comfortable loading a pair of $1K or more headphones w/ your DAC/Amp into a suitcase or a carry-on bag for a flight. Who knows, you may end up at a sketchy hotel/motel somewhere. ANC in a budget headphone can be a difficult combination to find.
2/ You use an Android Phone. Required
These headphones use the SBC Bluetooth codec only. Apple iOS need not apply.
3/ Dirac Virtuo.
You may even be curious about what the audio engineers over in Uppsala, Sweden at the Dirac labs have cooked up and how it might perform in a lower-cost headphone. Fun fact, the town where Dirac is headquartered is prominently featured in the show Vikings: Valhalla.

If you're interested and meet any or all of these conditions, the M1000 is something you should consider. The M1000 is a truly remarkable headphone and I'm impressed with the audio technology and wearable comfort they've packed into these at the price. Monolith products have been price/performance killing it lately. Full disclosure, I lied about the kids calling them “1K”, okay. Nobody calls it that, I just made it up. I have no idea what cool kids call anything. But if you'd like to learn more about these headphones, check out the article below.

Monolith M1000ANC Review: Dirac Virtuo 3D-Sound in a Budget Bluetooth Headphone
56254
Thanks for the heads up I love a good pair of headphones!
Wayde Robson posts on May 26, 2022 07:34
I had a chance to spend some time with Monoprice's newest Monolith Bluetooth headphones, the M1000, but the cool kids just call it the “1K”. As a $130 headphone, for its intended use-case, they really hit the mark. That specific use-cases are these:

1/ You want cheaper headphones for travel w/ Active Noise Cancellation.
Sometimes you don't feel comfortable loading a pair of $1K or more headphones w/ your DAC/Amp into a suitcase or a carry-on bag for a flight. Who knows, you may end up at a sketchy hotel/motel somewhere. ANC in a budget headphone can be a difficult combination to find.
2/ You use an Android Phone. Required
These headphones use the SBC Bluetooth codec only. Apple iOS need not apply.
3/ Dirac Virtuo.
You may even be curious about what the audio engineers over in Uppsala, Sweden at the Dirac labs have cooked up and how it might perform in a lower-cost headphone. Fun fact, the town where Dirac is headquartered is prominently featured in the show Vikings: Valhalla.

If you're interested and meet any or all of these conditions, the M1000 is something you should consider. The M1000 is a truly remarkable headphone and I'm impressed with the audio technology and wearable comfort they've packed into these at the price. Monolith products have been price/performance killing it lately. Full disclosure, I lied about the kids calling them “1K”, okay. Nobody calls it that, I just made it up. I have no idea what cool kids call anything. But if you'd like to learn more about these headphones, check out the article below.

Monolith M1000ANC Review: Dirac Virtuo 3D-Sound in a Budget Bluetooth Headphone
56254
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