Back in 2006, I reviewed the active noise-canceling Jabra C820 headphones, which were clearly modeled after the (since discontinued) $300 Bose QC2 headphones but cost about a third of the price and performed well enough to be considered a good deal.
I bring this up only because when I saw Monoprice's new active noise-canceling headphones, I was hit with a clear case of deja vu. They may not be exactly the same as those Jabras, but the concept is very similar: make a pretty good imitation of the Bose headphones but charge about a third of the price for them.
This is Monoprice's M.O. It's the electronics equivalent of a generic drug company, selling much cheaper versions of pricier name-brand products. In true Monoprice fashion, the headphones are simply called "Noise Canceling Headphone (with Active Noise Reduction Technology)." They start at around $113 if you want a single pair, but as with most Monoprice products, if you purchase them in larger quantities, the price goes down, dipping to a $100 unit price if you pick up 50 or more in one shot.
For better or worse, I ended up feeling the same way about them as felt about the Jabras. They're not as good as the top-rated Bose QC 15s, but they performed well enough to be considered a good deal for those on a budget who want a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
Design and features
While not quite as comfortable as the Bose QC15, this is a comfortable headphone that features memory foam earpads. Like the Bose, they're relatively lightweight for over-the-ear headphones (6.3 ounces), and they fit snugly though not too tightly on your head.
On the plus side, it's easy to access the battery compartment in the right earcup -- you simply slide the earcup's cover to the left to reveal it -- with one AAA battery powering the noise-cancellation circuitry for up to 50 hours. Also, the headphone cord is detachable, and Monoprice includes both a 58-inch standard cable and 55-inch cable with an inline microphone and control module (both terminate in an L-shaped plug). And no, the in-line remote isn't Apple certified, so it should work with most smartphones.
I also liked that you get a headphone/microphone splitter for use with PCs (a 3.5mm-to-1/4-inch plug adapter and an airline plug adapter are also included). And the headphones fold flat and come with a decent "hard-shell" zippered nylon storage case, which has a nylon mesh internal pocket to store the extra accessories.
All that's good stuff, but I did have a few complaints about the design, most of which concerned the cosmetics. The headphones simply look a little generic and cheap. The exteriors on the earcups have a glossy black finish that attracts fingerprints and seems prone to getting scratched. Oh, and I really think it's time Monoprice came up with a better logo to put on its products (perhaps "MP" would work?) rather than simply spelling out its name. It's the equivalent of having "Costco" displayed on each earcup. Some people might not mind rocking that with pride, but others might.