Do you need some affordable over-ear headphones that you can use for listening to music, watching movies, or both? At Sonic Elevation, we enjoy reviewing headphones that punch well above their weight. Helping you find the best bang for your buck (without skimping on performance) is one of our specialties!
Our Monoprice Modern Retro review, will let you know where they fall short and where they excel. We’ll also help you decide whether or not they really are the best budget cans under $40. (Sometimes you get what you pay for and sometimes you get more!)
Without giving too much away, just know that they have a lot to offer in terms of getting the best bang for your buck. Ultimately, our goal is to help you understand whether or not they’ll be the right fit for you. Keep reading below to learn more!
Monoprice Modern Retro Review – Best Budget Cans Under $40?!
- Wearing Style: Over-ear (closed back)
- Driver Size: 50 mm
- Cable Design: Non-detachable 9.8 ft. straight cable
- Frequency Response: 15 Hz – 25,000 Hz
- Impedance: 32 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 94 dB
- Weight: 1.13 lbs
If you want to skip ahead to any one of the 4 sections, feel free to use the links below:
- Lightweight Build & Practical Durability
- Wearing Style & Out-Of-The-Box Comfort
- Sonic Performance – Why Do They Sound This Good?
- Best Budget Cans Under $40?
Now that you know what we’ll be covering throughout our review, let’s get started!
1. Lightweight Build & Practical Durability
When you first hold these in your hands, you might be surprised by their durable and practical design. Of course, the build materials aren’t what we would call “premium” or “high end” by any means – but they definitely get the job done.
The self-adjusting headband mechanism is made of plastic, but it doesn’t take away from their durability or wearing comfort. They are surprisingly flexible and don’t make a ton of creaking sounds when you hold both ear cups and twist them in either direction.
There are right and left indicators near the base of the sliding adjustment bars which makes it easy to pick them up and put them on correctly the first time. The 9.8 ft. cable is non-detachable and provides more than enough length for most practical uses.
What You See Is What You Get
The headphones themselves, including the cable are all black. You won’t need any additional adapters since the gold-plated 3.5 mm connector plugs directly into your laptop or phone. They don’t come with a carrying case or drawstring pouch.
What you see is what you get. You shouldn’t have any issues in terms of design and durability despite an all-plastic build. Read the next section to see how they feel on your head!
2. Wearing Style & Out-Of-The-Box Comfort
There aren’t very many headphones in (or around) this price range that have a self-adjusting headband. Usually you’ll see this headband style on more expensive, high end models. Why don’t more budget cans have it? We wish we had the answer to that question.
Self-Adjusting Headband & Clamping Pressure
When you first put them on your head and over your ears, you’ll notice how lightweight and comfy they are. The self-adjusting headband takes care of 99% of the adjustment for you. The 1% they don’t take care of is how the ear cups are positioned over your ears.
You’ll also notice how lightly they clamp down. The faux leather headband strap suspended just below the split headband is wider than most. It helps spread the weight of the headphones more evenly across the top of your head.
Pretty much every single headphone company markets their products as having long-lasting comfort for all day listening. These ones actually back up that claim. The only drawback in terms of comfort are the ear cups.
Are The Protein Leather Ear Pads Comfortable?
The protein leather pads included aren’t exactly plush or cloud-like. They’re extremely straightforward and offer the bare minimum padding you’d expect from cans at this price point. The good news is, they offer quite a bit of ventilation since they aren’t memory foam and won’t fit snugly against the contour of your head.
For shorter listening periods they’re comfortable enough. If you plan on listening for longer than 2 hours, you might want to consider replacing the ear pads. (Don’t worry, they’re extremely easy to remove and replace.)
Read This Before You Replace The Headphone Pads
If you do decide that you want to try some different ear pads, keep in mind that it will change the way they sound. The stock pads are pretty thin, so your ears will sit fairly close to the drivers (speakers in both ear cups).
Here are some changes to expect if you replace them with some thicker pads (like the memory foam Brainwavz HM5 we used in our guide for how to replace headphone pads):
- Stronger bass response
- Less mid range/treble detail
- Slightly less form-fitting (depending on your head size/shape)
If you’re not fine with a slight loss in detail and low end bump, you might want to leave them with the stock pads. Granted, aside from the changes in sound, they will be quite a bit more comfortable. While that’s true, remember that it’s definitely not absolutely necessary since they’re already surprisingly comfortable right out-of-the-box.
Also keep in mind that switching between the stock and replacement pads is super easy with these cans so there’s no need to worry about that. (Plus, it’s an easy way to make them stand out if you’re someone who likes customizing your headphones.) Now that we’ve dipped our toes into their sonic performance, let’s take a deeper dive!
3. Sonic Performance – Why Do They Sound This Good?
For many of us, this is the most important aspect we consider before settling on one headphone over another. Whether or not you’ll need an external amplifier or EQ to enjoy them are two factors worth looking into.
Do they sound good across a wide range of genres? Are they better for listening to music or watching movies? Can you use them for both? Before we answer those questions, take a look at our detailed breakdown of their sound profile below!
Do You Need An Amp?
If you don’t have a headphone amp, playing around with an EQ can help give them a bit more volume, but isn’t totally necessary. Either way, you can plug them directly into your phone, DAP, laptop, or PC.
You can listen about as loud as most ears can handle using their default settings. Their sonic performance detailed below is based on our experience plugging them directly into our laptop; we didn’t use an EQ or amp for our testing.
Bass, Vocals, and Sibilance
The bass is very solid and doesn’t rattle or crackle whether you’re listening to pop, hip-hop, or EDM. It’s never overpowering or underwhelming. It has a very steady and reliable presence that’s perfect for multi-genre listening.
Vocals on most tracks have decent separation and you can clearly hear every word being sung, yelled, or rapped. Excessive sibilance is one of the most common issues on lower-priced headphones.
Luckily, these cans aren’t very sibilant at all, which means you won’t hear a piercing hiss or distracting emphasis on certain vocal passages. The piercing highs that you might expect are completely nonexistent. The treble is fairly smooth and never becomes uncomfortable to listen to (even at higher volumes).
Closed, But Spacious
For closed back headphones, the Modern Retro are surprisingly spacious and detailed. They sound like they’re slightly open even though they aren’t. What do we mean by that? Well, most closed cans make your music sound like it’s all happening inside your head.
Open cans on the other hand, lean towards a much more spacious sound that emulates the live experience. These sit somewhere in between. Don’t get us wrong, you’ll still be fully aware that you’re wearing headphones, but they definitely have a specific quality that’s hard to accurately label.
As amazing as they sound, they’re still far from flawless. At times, they lack some of the depth that more expensive models excel at reproducing. You might find yourself wanting just a little bit more oomph without an EQ.
As we mentioned above, you don’t have to EQ them, but it will improve their overall performance. All things considered, their sonic performance really blew us away! They’re extremely consistent, very unique, and great for any kind of listening you desire.
They’ll easily cover all your bases whether you want to watch a new release on Netflix or jam out to the latest single from your favorite artist.
4. Best Budget Cans Under $40?
When you factor in the roomy over-ear fit, replaceable ear pads, extremely comfortable headband, and wider-than-normal soundstage, these are easily one of our favorite budget cans under $40.
There’s really no reason we wouldn’t highly recommend them, as long as you don’t expect absolute perfection. Remember, if you aren’t satisfied with the ear pads, you can easily replace them with something you’re more comfortable wearing.
It’s our opinion that competing headphone brands should take a few notes with them back to the lab. If Monoprice managed to knock these out of the park AND make them extremely affordable, what else is possible?
Before you check them out on Amazon, you’ll want to take a look at the review table below! If you have any questions about anything we’ve covered, feel free to ask below. Thanks for stopping by – we hope you enjoyed our Monoprice Modern Retro review!
Monoprice Modern Retro Over-Ear Headphones
Comfort & Build8.0/10
Price vs. Performance9.5/10
- Best Overall Under $40
- Self-Adjusting Headband
- Removable/Replaceable Ear Pads
- Spacious & Consistent Sound
- Extra Long Cable
- Cable Is Non-Detachable
- All-Plastic Build
- Not Ideal For Portable/On-The-Go Listening