Earbud Review: Monoprice 8320

Detail of Monoprice 109927

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I'm on a mission. A mission to find the best earbud headphones under $100, try them out, and report back to you, my friends. Sometimes, this search leads me to dark, dangerous places - hidden corners of the internet little-known except to those who call such places their home. Places with cryptic names, such as "YouTube" and "head-fi.org." It is in these places that words are spoken, and sometimes names are exchanged. It was in one of these places where I first heard hushed whispers of a secret; a pair of earbud headphones possessed of such value that it was scarcely to be believed, being offered for sale to the cognoscenti for the scandalous sum of... $7.

My informants glanced surreptitiously around to be sure we were alone, speaking the name in a low, quiet tone before disappearing in to the night.

"Monoprice... Monoprice 8320."

"But," I thought to myself, "Monoprice is just an online e-commerce retailer, offering quality audio cables and components to consumers at near-wholesale prices... they don't sell headphones, do they?"

Could it be possible?

I re-checked my sources. Sure enough, a reliable informant (Amazon.com) offered several models from Monoprice. Initial intel suggested that the model 8320 was first offered in a silver finish, with a braided cloth-covered cord, packaged simply in a ziploc bag with but a single pair of eartips.

But that had recently changed. Monoprice had begun to branch out, offering their popular model in several new colors, including matte black, white and pink, packaging it in a simple but attractive box and including 3 pairs of eartips in varying sizes to allow for a better fit and labeling them as "Enhanced Bass HI-Fi Noise Isolating" headphones.

I had to dig deeper to uncover the truth. I ordered a pair of Monoprice headphones in black (model number 109927) to see for myself.

Shortly after, a small package arrived at my office, non-descript and casual. I opened it and inspected the contents: a small blue box containing a pair of black earbuds, with two extra pairs of tips, just as I had suspected. They seemed curious in shape, but not as large as initial photographs had suggested. I opened the package and tried them on. The fit was very snug, but not uncomfortable, and the awkward appearance was soon forgotten. Other operatives had surmised that the best fit and sound comes from swapping out the original tips for memory foam, so I found a pair and slipped them on the eartip posts for the Monoprice, then tried them again. They felt molded to my ear canal, and removing them felt more like an extrication than merely pulling them out. The braided cloth cord added a nice touch to their appearance (but seemed especially prone to tangling) and featured an attractive aluminum splitter and gold-plated straight plug at the end of its 1.2m length.

But what about the sound? Could these really produce sound quality far beyond their meager asking price? Are they really "Bass Enhanced," as the package suggested? I staked them out to discover the truth.

After an initial burn-in (as recommended by others who have had dealings with the 8320), the sound did seem to improve noticeably, evening out, becoming more balanced. The highs - initially a bit too sharp for my taste - seemed to mellow and the bass deepened a bit, but still not what I would consider to be bass-heavy. Overall, the sound signature of these earbuds appeared more balanced, with solid, accurate (but not over-emphasized) bass, a balanced mid-range clear highs and an impressive soundstage. These are not for bass-heads and are not tuned to please the "Beats" - lovers, but they do offer sound quality that is balanced and accurate far beyond their cost.

Specifications:

Driver: 14.2 mm

Impedance: 32 ohms

Sensitivity: 96 +/- 3 dB / 1mW (S.P. L at 1 k Hz)

Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz

Rated Power: 3mW

Maximum Power: 10mW

Cord Length: 48" (1225 mm)

For anyone looking to experience sound beyond the budget-level, typical $20 WalMart specials and the throw-away earbuds that manufacturers like to toss in with their mp3 players, the Monoprice 8320 definitely deserves investigation.

Note: To get the best sound out of these earbuds, you really have to make sure you get a good fit and seal in the ear canal. Try all three tips provided. If those don't do it, you may have to scrounge around for some others to try. Many people seem to have good luck with the Comply foam tips, others (like me) prefer the Sony Hybrid replacement tips. Keep trying until you find what works and fits for you!

Did you like this article? Please feel free to leave a comment or feedback below, and for more earbud, headphone and tech reviews, follow me on Twitter! @danpetreikis

© 2013 Daniel Petreikis

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