The Monoprice 8323 Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style Over-the-Ear Pro Headphones are, hands-down, the best full-size, over-the-ear headphones you can buy on the cheap.
I've written about Monoprice's high-value, low-price cables, and more recently raved about some of its superaffordable speakers and subwoofers, so it seemed like a good time to check out Monoprice's headphones.
Monoprice has quantity pricing for nearly everything it sells, so if you buy two pairs of 8323 headphones it knocks the price down from $21.59 to $21.23. In any case, Monoprice sells the 8323 model with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
I doubt anyone will think the mostly black-plastic pair of headphones is a luxury design, but the 8323s aren't the least bit flimsy or poorly made. They feel more ruggedly built than Bose's new OE2 headphones ($149.95). The 8323 model's earcups swivel from side to side and up and down, so the padded ear cushions conform to your head shape better than many far more expensive headphones.
The 8323 headphones' cable is detachable, and therefore user-replaceable. The headphones come with two cables: a skinny 50-inch-long one and a thicker 11.5-foot-long one. Both cables are terminated with 3.5mm plugs and there's a 3.5-to-6.3 adapter plug so you can hook up the 8323 headphones to your home stereo. Sorry, there's no Apple-friendly in-line remote compatibility or mic, but when you're outdoors or traveling, the over-the-ear design provides a fair amount of isolation from external noise. The hinged earcups allow for compact storage.
The Black Keys' full-on stomp-rock kicked like a mule over the 8323s. The headphones' bass-midrange-treble balance is nice and smooth, which makes it suitable for those with audiophile tastes. The design is closed-back, and while most really inexpensive closed-back headphones can sound canned or hollow, these suffer no such problems. I compared the 8323 with a much more expensive closed-back pair, the Audio Technica ATH-WS55 headphones, and preferred the WS55 for their superior detailing and livelier dynamics, but the 8323s weren't totally clobbered by the comparison. The Monoprice headphones were definitely more comfortable, and some listeners might prefer their more laid-back tone. The WS55 headphones sell for $142 on Amazon.
Up to this point I had used the 8323s with my iPod Classic, but then I hooked them up to the $39 Hifiman Express USB DAC I reviewed in October. That tiny amp took the sound to another level. With the Express the 8323s', bass had more weight and better definition than the iPod's. Headphone amps, even $39 ones, can sound better than an iPod, that's for sure.
James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James" album was simply gorgeous; his voice, and the acoustic guitars, piano, bass, and drums were as natural as can be. It was hard to believe I was listening over a $22 pair of headphones.
Monoprice also sent its 8324 headphones ($20.25), which I didn't like nearly as much. They looked cheap, and sounded brash. I'd recommend sticking with the 8323 model.