The Marshall Monitor II A.N.C is the flagship model in the British manufacturer’s 2020 range of Bluetooth headphones. This over-ear closed-back model with a design that is reminiscent of Marshall guitar amps features active noise cancellation and promises up to 30 hours of playback with this feature activated and 45 hours with it turned off. Available from March 17 for €299, will the Marshall Monitor 2 ANC outshine the iconic Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose 700?
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: the brand
An undisputed icon of the rock ‘n’ roll scene, Marshall is a British company founded in 1962 by Jim Marshall, a drum teacher and the owner of a music store in London. After many discussions with famous musicians, including The Who’s Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, he noticed that emerging rock music needed a different and more powerful sound. It was this observation that led Jim Marshall to found his company and enter the world of amplification.
In 1962, Jim Marshall began designing his first amplifier, the Marshall JTM45. A tube model inspired by the design of the Fender Bassman to which he added an aluminum chassis to reduce the unwanted noise generated by the Fender Bassman’s steel chassis, a closed cabinet, and a modified negative feedback circuit to optimize the harmonics produced by the amplifier. This model was a big success with famous guitarists, such as Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, and rapidly became a reference in the music scene. To this day, it is considered to be one of the brand’s best amplifiers. It underwent many upgrades throughout the years, including the introduction of the iconic design combining black vinyl and metal, which is still synonymous with the brand today.
In 1965, Pete Townshend asked Jim Marshall to design an even more powerful guitar amp. The result was the Marshall Townshend, a 100 watt amplifier powering a cabinet loaded with eight 10” drivers. However, this cabinet was very difficult to transport. Consequently, it was quickly replaced by two separate cabinets each equipped with four 12” drivers. This new model appealed to the greatest rock musicians and was notably used by Jimi Hendrix in 1969 at the Woodstock festival. This tremendous success led to a number of different versions up until the early 80s.
The 80s were marked by the Marshall JCM-800 amplifier range. These models were the first to introduce an effects loop as well as a master volume. They had a variable power output of 50 to 100 watts and were available in full tube, hybrid and transistor versions to suit each artist’s sound. The Marshall JCM-800 was used by blues artists such as Eric Clapton as well as by heavy metal bands like Motörhead.
The 2000s marked a turning point for the British brand. While continuing to produce its legendary amplifiers, the manufacturer branched out to respond to changes in the way people were listening to music. As a result, the brand developed many portable Bluetooth speakers, wireless speakers and, more recently, smart speakers. More compact than guitar amps, these speakers leave no doubt as to their origins as they retain the sound signature and design that made Marshall a success.
In 2010, Marshall entered the headphone and in-ear monitor market. The brand launched the first generations of the Marshall Major and Marshall Minor ranges that included models with the iconic white logo and black vinyl coating. They were an immediate success. So much so that the brand now has a full range of earphones and Bluetooth headphones, which includes the Marshall Monitor 2 A.N.C, the brand’s latest release and the subject of this review.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: packaging & accessories
The Marshall Monitor II A.N.C comes in an elegant box that is surprisingly small (160 x 160 x 95mm). Inside, the headphones are folded and held in place by packing foam. There are two different compartments inside the box. The first contains a USB-A to USB-C cable for charging, along with a spiral 3.5mm mini-jack cable. The second compartment contains a fabric pouch to protect the headphones during transport.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: presentation
Design and comfort
As soon as they are out of the box, the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones leave no doubt as to their origin. They sport the British manufacturer’s iconic retro design, with earpieces that are covered with black vinyl and adorned with the brand’s white logo for an appealing rock ‘n’ roll look.
The structure of the Marshall Monitor 2 ANC headphones uses metal and polymer plastic. The headphones transpire quality while weighing a reasonable 320g. They have a closed-back design and over-ear coupling. The earpieces are fairly wide and cover the ears properly. They can be folded for easy transport and storage. They can both be rotated 180° to adapt to the shape of the listener’s head, but also so that they don’t get in the way when worn around your neck. They can also be moved up and down using a system that is independent of the headband.
The Marshall Monitor II ANC’s earpads are generously padded with memory foam and are covered with elegant imitation leather. The headband is also thickly padded with memory foam and covered with imitation leather. It is both flexible and robust. When we put them on, we found the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones to be very comfortable. The headband rests gently on the top of the head without ever feeling uncomfortable. The earpieces are breathable and provide excellent passive isolation. Consequently, the active noise cancellation should only be useful in very noisy environments. Lastly, our ears didn’t get too warm, even after several hours of use.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: active noise cancellation
The biggest difference between the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones and their predecessor (Marshall Monitor BT) is the integration of active noise cancellation, which significantly increases their sound isolation. To do so, the Marshall Monitor II ANC Bluetooth headphones’ earpieces integrate several microphones that are combined with a controller to continuously analyze the environment and filter out unwanted noise. This active noise cancellation can be quickly activated by pressing the dedicated button situated on the left earpiece. You can then select one of the ten levels of noise cancellation in the Marshall Bluetooth control app. The noise cancellation button also lets you activate the “Monitoring” mode in which the Marshall Monitor II ANC headphones pause playback and amplify background noise. This feature lets you bypass the headphones’ passive isolation so that you can listen to an announcement in an airport, chat to someone or cross the road safely, for example.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: control interface and voice control
In addition to the noise cancellation button, the Marshall Monitor 2 A.N.C Bluetooth headphones feature two multidirectional buttons. The first is metallic and gold-colored and is used to control playback, skip tracks, adjust the volume and answer phone calls. The second is adorned with the letter “M” and is used to apply one of the three available EQ presets. By default, these EQs accentuate the bass, midrange or treble. It is possible to apply other curves or to create your own EQ settings in the Marshall Bluetooth app.
This control can also be used to activate the voice assistant installed on the smartphone that is paired with the Marshall Monitor 2 A.N.C headphones. The built-in microphones are used to interact with the voice assistant using the built-in microphones. You can control playback, and play any track, artist or playlist simply by asking the assistant. Countless other commands are possible; you can ask the assistant the time of your next appointment, to send a message, to add a product to your shopping list or to guide you to the nearest café, for example.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: Bluetooth and mini-jack
The Marshall 2 A.N.C headphones are designed primarily for wireless listening. Consequently, they feature a Bluetooth controller that ensures compatibility with all Bluetooth devices, whether you use a smartphone, tablet, HD DAP or computer. However, this controller is only compatible with the SBC codec, which has a maximum bit rate of 350 kbit/s. That said, the transmission quality was good during our different tests. In addition to Bluetooth connectivity, the Marshall II ANC headphones can also be used in wired mode, which is useful if their battery runs out or if you want to connect them to a device that doesn’t feature Bluetooth connectivity. To do so, the headphones come with a 3.5mm mini-jack cable that can be plugged into the dedicated connector on the left earpiece.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: 30 to 45 hours of battery life
One of the Marshall Monitor II ANC headphones’ strong points compared to many competing models is its very generous battery life, which is provided by a Lithium-Ion battery capable of lasting up to 30 hours in Bluetooth mode with the active noise cancellation activated. By deactivating this feature, the Marshall headphones’ battery life can reach 45 hours. As a result, we were able to listen to music over several days without worrying about having to charge the headphones. Moreover, a full charge only takes two hours. A convenient quick charging mode provides up to five hours of autonomy after only 15 minutes.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: control app
As well as physical controls, the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones can also be controlled via the free Marshall Bluetooth app for iOS and Android. This app allows you to select one of the ten levels of noise cancellation or create your own EQ curve. These features are covered more extensively in the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C Grand Déballage video at the end of this review.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: test conditions
For our review, we decided to pair the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones with a Mac computer using the mini-jack audio cable for wired listening, and with an iOS smartphone for wireless listening. The headphones are paired with the source simply by pressing the on/off button for a few seconds. You must then go into the smartphone’s Bluetooth settings and select Marshall Monitor II A.N.C to connect them. You can then play music stored in the portable device’s internal memory or music streamed from an online music service. In our case, we listened to music from Spotify and Qobuz.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: listening impressions
Wired connection without noise cancellation
With Eminem’s track “Stan” from the album The Marshall Mathers LP, the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C proved to be nicely balanced and offered great extension in the lows. The bass was powerful, deep and well-defined, without overshadowing the other instruments. Dido’s voice was incredibly soft, and the rapper’s timbre was accurately reproduced. These characteristics remained constant throughout the rest of the album.
The bass was powerful, deep and well-defined.
In a completely different genre with Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones were dynamic. Although it wasn’t as wide as that of a pair of open-back headphones, the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C’s soundstage was relatively extensive and provided each instrument with enough space for them to be correctly expressed. Each tone was accurately reproduced. Even the highest guitar notes remained smooth and pleasant to listen to.
Bluetooth connection with noise cancellation
During our first listening session with the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones, we were in an open-plan office with a dozen co-workers. In this environment, the headphones’ passive isolation proved to be very effective and reduced most background noise. However, some noises were still audible so we decided to activate the active noise cancellation to completely eliminate them. Although it wasn’t as powerful as the noise cancellation of the iconic Bose 700 headphones, the Marshall Monitor 2 ANC’s system effectively eliminated all noise generated by the keyboards, computer mice and ventilation. However, we could still hear some conversations when listening to music at low volume. This was no longer a problem when we turned the volume up, and we were able to fully enjoy our music.
Although the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones provided a very deep low end without the active noise cancellation, this trait was further emphasized when we activated this feature. The lows were punchier and gained a little more depth and intensity, without compromising the overall balance. Lastly, the “Ambient” mode proved to be very useful when we wanted to listen to a conversation without removing the headphones.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: compared to…
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: sold for €319, the Bose 700s provide a noise cancellation system with 11 levels that is more effective than that of the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C. When it comes to battery life, the Marshall headphones do better with 30 hours of autonomy, compared to only 20 for the Bose model. The British headphones also come out on top regarding sound quality, as they offer a richer and more balanced restitution. The Bose 700 headphones tend to excessively accentuate the bass. Lastly, the Bose headphones are made entirely of polymer plastic, which makes them seem cheaper. However, this does allow their weight to be reduced to 250 grams, which is almost 20% lighter than the Marshall Monitor 2 ANC.
Sony WH-1000XM3: sold for €299, the Sony model features three noise cancellation modes: Waiting, Walking and Travelling. The Waiting mode lets voices through, the Walking mode allows you to hear certain noises around you, and the Travelling mode filters out all background noise. This active noise cancellation system is therefore more versatile than that of the Marshall Monitor II ANC. The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones also have the advantage of being compatible with the LDAC codec, which provides a higher bit rate. Lastly, the Sony WH-1000XM3s have a more conventional design. They are mainly made of polymer and the earpieces feature a large touch interface.
B&W PX7: sold for €379, these B&W headphones provide a very similar sound to the Marshall headphones, which is natural and dynamic with powerful yet perfectly handled lows. However, the noise cancellation system must be activated to enjoy these characteristics, without which the sound is duller. The B&W PX7s aren’t as comfortable or as intuitive to use. It is harder to access the different buttons situated on the bottom of the earpieces. Despite this, the B&W model has the undeniable advantage of being compatible with the aptX HD Bluetooth codec.
Marshall Monitor II A.N.C: conclusion
The Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones are by far the most accomplished model from the British manufacturer. Comfortable and attractive, they provide a balanced and natural sound. The lows are powerful and deep, without ever overshadowing the rest of the soundstage. The highs are detailed and rich. Lastly, the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C’s active noise cancellation is very effective and works in conjunction with the headphone’s passive isolation to block out the vast majority of ambient noise. It is important to note, however, that the volume has to be turned up rather high to fully block out all voices, which is the weak point for most noise-cancelling headphones. Lastly, the headphones’ different multifunctional controls are easy to use right off the bat. However, we regret the lack of aptX Bluetooth, which would have made these Marshall headphones one of the best in their category. Despite this, the Marshall Monitor II A.N.C headphones are an excellent solution for anyone who loves Marshall’s iconic sound and design, but also those looking for a pair of headphones that are elegant, powerful and portable.
What we liked:
- The design
- The tonal balance
- The powerful bass
- The multifunctional buttons
- How comfortable they were
What we would have liked:
- aptX Bluetooth compatibility