Published on May 27th, 2013 | by Greg0
Monoprice: Value-Added Audio Accessories
Manufacturers and retailers have one all-important number that means the difference between being able to keep the doors open and having to find another line of work: profit margin. And your average store will need to make money- maybe 50% of the cost of an electronic product goes to cover brick and mortar costs. This is why e-tailers and online shops can cut prices- there’s more room, since they don’t have to cover physical locations. Add in the cost of marketing an item, and it’s easy to see why an item that might cost $20 in materials ends up selling for $100 or more. But what if you didn’t pay for celebrity endorsements or commercials, and offered your gear directly to consumers? The products would be essentially the same, especially for components or basic “commodity” items like cables, while the could be priced much more affordably.
That’s the Monoprice model. And they’ve recently gone beyond components, offering a whole line of audio gear. Since we’ve reviewed headphones and portable speakers in every size and shape and from most major companies, we thought it would be interesting to look at some of the budget equivalents from Monoprice. What we found: you can expect the gear to perform above similarly-priced products, but the materials and quality are pretty mediocre, so that we still wouldn’t recommend anything that we tried highly. Most everything is a decent value, but little of it could be called durable. Packaging and style are relative afterthoughts- nothing is ugly, but nothing grabbed us aesthetically.
Take the Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi Earphones with Built-in Mic and In-line Controls for iPhone, iPod, and iPad. This wordy product name tells most of the story- and at $12 or so, they seemed like perfect option to put through the paces, as some of the other headphones are even less expensive. Of course, they work with other devices too, but the play/pause button won’t function with Android gear. Audio quality offered some positive impressions- we didn’t expect audiophile-level sound, and these had the usual hallmarks of basic drivers (these are 10mm). Clipping on upper registers, poor bass performance, and plenty of distortion couldn’t hide the fact that for many people, the sound was good enough. We liked that they included several ear tip sizes. And the controls and mic were OK- it was a bit difficult to use the in-line remote since it was a tiny nub between the volume buttons. After a week or so, our views changed though, as they started falling apart- cables becoming exposed, losing sound in one earpiece, controls failing to respond on occasion. Ultimately, these are a decent, but disposable set- and it appears that the maxim holds true: you do get what you pay for.
We had similar experiences with the other low-cost headphones- the Enhanced Bass Hi-fi Noise Isolating Earphones and their sister model with mic and controls. But at $7 or so, they both offered surprisingly good bass with only one major downside- they are quite large. Durability was slightly better- we didn’t lose audio- but we hadn’t put these through quite as much on-the-go testing. Cabling is worse, though, and tangles easily.
Finally, we also tested out the Monoprice Bluetooth Speakers. It’s plain black design, wireless connectivity, and 12 watts of stereo sound offered an allure boosted by the $30 price tag. The typical near-50-foot range is decent, and the rated battery life of six hours isn’t too bad either… though we found it was closer to three or for hours in our case. It’s small enough to throw in a purse, but big enough to be offer a bit more oomph and volume than pop-up style units. The unit has an unfortunate tilt to it, so it won’t lay quite flat on a table, and the rubber feet fall off easily. We noticed a bit of a hum, and the sound is fairly lifeless, but good for use in a park or out and about.
Next time you’re looking for inexpensive electronics- and don’t mind if they aren’t as durable or sexy as their more expensive name-brand versions- it’s definitely worth checking out Monoprice.