(Pocket-lint) - Marshall’s brand is one of those that needs little introduction. Non-audiophiles and sound experts alike can recognise their logo and world-famous amps without prompting.

That said, its place in the headphone market has been a little less distinguished. Take a slice through your average London Underground service at commuting time and you’ll see plenty of Bose and Sony cans on show, but Marshall is less likely to be represented.

It’s looking to change that with the Monitor II ANC, its new flagship headphones and the most premium-priced pair it’s made so far. We’ve put them through their paces to let you know how they stack up.

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Design

  • Weight: 320g
  • 3.5mm cable included if you want to go wired

Marshall isn’t reinventing the wheel here – it made its choices on the design front a few generations of headphones ago. That means the Monitor II ANC boasts a black look with that cursive logo standing out in white.

In fact, not a massive deal has changed since the version that these headphones are effectively replacing – the Monitor Bluetooth. You have a leatherette headband and a leather-effect finish on the hard-shelled outside of the cups, too, while the ear pads themselves are an even softer material.

They’re really cushioned and comfortable to wear, even as a glasses wearer. You might still get a slightly warm head if you go for the all-day wear that Marshall’s boasting about, but that’s not exactly a unique conundrum.

It’s a pretty timeless look, as you’d expect, and is accented by some nice touches. The brass-coloured control knob on your right earcup stands out, though not excessively, while there is a useful button almost entirely hidden on each earcup’s hinge.

Tackling that knob first, we’re big fans of its control options. It’s directionally sensitive, meaning that you can skip tracks, change the volume, play and pause really easily, alongside turning the headphones on and off.

Moving to those discreet buttons, one controls the degree of active noise cancellation (ANC) at a touch, while the other can be assigned to a few different functions using Marshall’s app, but changes your equaliser balance by default.

The headphones also come with a nice coiled 3.5mm cable if you want or need to go wired, a charging cable and a rugged denim-finish canvas carrying pouch that doesn’t feel like it will protect them to a truly reassuring degree, but is really nice to look at.

The audio jack is on the bottom of the left earcup, with a USB-C port for charging also down there, along with a little indicator LED to help you when turning the Monitor IIs on, off and into Bluetooth pairing mode.

The headband is easy to adjust, and we like that it has little numbered slots etched into its inside surface – this is helpful if you want to work out exactly which level of extension on each side is most comfortable for you and remember it.

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Balanced sound with isolation

  • Two 40mm drivers
  • 20Hz – 20kHz frequency response
  • 96dB SPL (179mV @ 1kHz) driver sensitivity 

ANC isn’t new for Marshall – it put noise-cancelling into its Mid headphones a couple of years ago with impressive success.

That said, it hasn’t put it into its top-of-the-line unit until now. Its patience has paid off, to be fair. This is just what you want from noise cancellation. It’ll have you cocooned in your music if you want that level of isolation. It might not quite reach the high-water mark of Bose's software, but you'll still feel a lot better off in your musical bubble on trains and in busy places. 

If you want to quickly hear your environment to check on something, you can single-click the ANC button to get passthrough audio, while holding it down turns the ANC on or off. We’re not convinced how much people will use that passthrough versus just pausing their music, but the difference is appreciable if you compare the two.

As with many ANC solutions, you won’t need it all the time but when you do you’ll be thankful to have it, and Marshall’s app also lets you choose how strong you want the effect, though it’s not particularly quick to change this on the fly.

The sound quality itself, meanwhile, is as solid as it’s been in most of Marshall’s outings so far. The balance is perhaps its best feature, skipping out on overwhelming bass to deliver a rich sound that doesn’t favour channels. Each cup houses a dynamic 40mm driver, with a fairly standard 20Hz – 20kHz range to power the sound.

Testing it with something like Justice’s Waters of Nazareth, the Monitor II ANC did a good job of balancing dirty lows with chirping mids, while a bit of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No.3 similarly came through with a sweetly balanced strings section in the highs and the deep crashing of a ruddy great organ punching hard in its climactic movement.

Tame Impala's new album, meanwhile, sounds as wavey and glutinous as you'd hope - the Monitor II ANC tackled most anything we threw at it with credit, although it wasn't necessarily always the crispest we've heard.

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Battery life and connectivity

• 30 hours playback with ANC
• Up to 45 hours without ANC
• Passive playback with cable

Marshall’s done a good job with the battery in the Monitor II ANC – the purported 30 hours of playtime that you get while listening with ANC has held up in our testing. 

Turning off ANC to get an extra 15 hours is a pretty good equation, too, if you’re not that fussed about it or are in a quiet environment regardless. Finally, being able to listen with passively while wired is the sort of feature that isn’t useful until your battery dies and you realise how thankful you are that it works. It’s a no-brainer, basically.

Charging is also nice and sprightly – a 15-minute burst will get you 5 hours of listening time, which is the sort of ratio that’s really reassuring if you do ever find yourself in dire straits while needing to hear some Dire Straits.

On the connectivity side, we found the Bluetooth held nice and strong when we moved away from our iPhone to test it, which is all you can hope for, really. 

Google Assistant and Siri can also both happily work with the Monitor II ANC, which is a nice bonus – the right-hand earcup’s shortcut button can summon either assistant with a long press, letting you give them instructions as you would direct to your phone. As always, we’re not totally convinced how many people actually use this functionality, but it’s nice for those who do.

To pick up those instructions, the headphones do have onboard microphones that mean you can also take calls on it if you like. The reality is that this isn’t massively comfortable, but our callers reported satisfactory call quality, so again the feature is a nice touch for those who’ll occasionally need it.

That makes the Monitor II ANC a pretty dependable companion, that can easily get you through a week’s commuting, or indeed a long business trip, without the need to charge up regularly. 

Verdict

The Monitor II ANC is a great set of headphones to use, if you’re fond of over-ears. The sound is lovely, balanced and tasteful, and the ANC is worthy of its addition, helping you to maintain your bubble in busy environments.

Of course, you’re now paying for the privilege, though. Marshall has bumped up its pricing to a point where it’s competing with some massively popular headphones from the likes of Bose and Sony, and while it does perform nicely, that’s a crowded field. That said, if you like the classic looks it’s got going on, we think the Monitor II ANC are a worthy choice.

Alternatives to consider

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Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

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Bose has our top-spot for noise cancelling for a reason – this is super deluxe pair of headphones, and while they’re more expensive than Marshall’s at full price, that’s not necessarily true given reductions. 

The sound quality is top-notch, and that ANC is simply the best in the business. Smart Assistant integration also lets you use Alexa, unlike the Monitor II ANC. That said, its battery life is significantly shorter than Marshall’s.

Read the full article: Bose QuietComfort 35 II review

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Sony WH-1000XM3

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Sony’s third-gen 1000X cans are superb, especially if you like that futuristic, smooth design – it’s certainly a contrast to the Monitor II ANC. Sony’s noise cancelling is really impressive, more so than Marshall’s, though not to a huge extent.

They’re pretty matched in most other regards, though the Marshall has Sony beaten on battery life, especially if you turn ANC off.

Read the full article: Sony WH-1000XM3 review

Writing by Max Freeman-Mills.