This is getting ridiculous, with a $5 RRP, the VE Monk+ is cheaper than most cables. The VE Monk+ is an update to the highly regarded VE Monk, one of the most awarded and most popular budget buds on the market.
I know these reviews go in one of two ways, “I can`t believe this earphone costs $5” and “I didn`t know an earbud could sound this good”. I don`t think either of these statements still apply with products such as the Fiio EM3, Baldoor E100, Mrz Tomahawk and now the VE Monk+ on the market. That being said, does the performance of the Monk+ live up to these earphones or even to that of it`s progenitor? Let`s find out.
About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases
I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.
The VE Monk+ comes in a very amusing sealed bag lathered in statements of audio superiority, “The biggest band you`ll ever hear for your buck… Dare to challenge me” just two of the numerous captions proclaim (we`ll justify those claims in the sound section).
Opening up the bag reveals the Monk+ in a new translucent shell and 4 pairs of Venture`s light foams (4 red and 4 blue).
The foams are very unique, they are colourful for easy orientation and extremely porous. Initially I thought they looked like they might disintegrate in my ears or feel rough, both I luckily found to be untrue.
The foams are perfectly comfortable and work miracles on the sound of any earbud, not just the Monk+. They hardly affect the clarity and detailing of the midrange whilst increasing seal and thus bass performance/extension. Due to the open nature of the foam pores, they do crackle a lot when moving around within the ear but this shouldn`t be an issue in normal use. I did also notice a slight darkening of the sound with these foams. Since I prefer a slightly brighter sound, I decided to review the Monk+ without covers.
The packaging and accessories are perfectly fine for $5, the bag is pretty nice and the foams are fantastic.
The VE Monk+ use the same housings as most Chinese buds such as the Tingo TG38 and other VE buds. Venture have employed a similar transparent/smoke housing as the updated v2 Zen and Asura which adds another dimension to the look over the standard black, I actually like the aesthetics a lot. The housings use a tried and tested design, that are quite large in size but still comfortable, especially so when combined with foams.
The Monk+ is fully plastic all around but feels solid nonetheless. They are extremely light and disappear in the ear like the EM3, but the thick stems do produce an annoying plasitcky creak when sidelying, something the thinner stemmed EM3`s avoid.
The Fiio EM3 and Baldoor E100 are both slightly smaller, the EM3 a little more so than the E100, resulting in more long term comfort but also slightly less seal. The bell shaped housing of the E100 promotes a slightly deeper fit whilst the EM3 and Monk+ are both very shallow, the Monk+ are particularly shallow fitting due to the large yet thin front face.
The cable on the Monk+ is great for the price, nice and thick but not too tacky. It is a typical rubber cable but it`s as thick as the bottom EM3 cable all the way through. The cable doesn`t have too much memory and straightened out surprisingly quickly after un-packaging the buds. One thing to note, the channels are separated below the y-split which increases tangle resistance a bit but also increases the chance of splitting. This cable leads up to a nice, low-profile y-split with the Venture Logo imprinted on its face.
The Monk+ has a gold plated straight plug which is not as nice as the right angle plug on the EM3 but far better than the E100`s plug. Like the EM3 it has a very solid strain relief at the plug but none at the earpieces themselves. There is a small chin slider at the y-split if you intend to use the Monk`s for anything active. The Monk+ is not offered with a remote of any kind, It would be nice of Venture to add on in, but it`s hardly necessary.
An added note regarding those new foams though. I remember reading a post where Lee stated that the Asura 2.0 was designed to be used without covers. This leads me to guess that the Monk+ may have been designed in the same fashion. Given the overwhelmingly positive impression of the new light foams, I installed them on the Monks and disregarded the sound changes. Big mistake on my behalf, I far prefer the sound without foams. Please remember that this is just my preference, I`ll try to be objective as possible and separate sound signature from quality in my review. So good marks for build and design overall.
I haven`t heard the original Monk, but many described it as mid-centric. That`s definitely not what I`m hearing with the new plus variant.
The Monk+ has a powerful bass response combined with a full-bodied lower midrange, similar to the EM3 but a lot cleaner. It is quite dark sounding with the included foams, upper mids do sound recessed, not overly so, but on the borderline. The signature does change considerably when removing the foam covers, the midrange is quite level with plenty of presence. It`s far more neutral only at the expense of a little bass extension. Either way, the Monk+ sounds quite detailed, not as aggressively detailed as the E100, but more so than the EM3. The Monk+ doesn`t have a lot of clarity as a result, instead sounding more smooth and laid-back, a little more refined and less artificial than competitors. The treble response is commendable as well but I`ll talk about these in more detail later.
The presentation is top quality. The soundstage has great width and good depth with a lot of space around each instrument. Imaging is also quite good. It`s similar to the EM3, but the Tomahawks sound more well rounded. The Monk+ has no difficulties separating complex passages or those with an abundance of instruments and easily achieves that “out of the head” feeling with certain material.
The Monk+ is only moderately sensitive, sounding especially quiet due to its slightly recessed upper midrange. Despite this, it will still reach high levels from portable sources. Luckily it didn`t seem to be affected by output impedance and even my iPod Nano 7g drove it perfectly fine, the Monk+ isn`t source sensitive at all. At the same volume, it is slightly less sensitive than the Fiio EM3, that means less so than both the Tomahawk and E100 as well. If you prefer high listening volumes and listen from a weak source, you might want to consider an external amp.
So overall, the tonality of the Monk is relatively balanced, the midrange is slightly dark, but very natural. The neutral treble prevents a dull or fatiguing sound and there is more refinement to the sound than either the EM3 or E100. It`s a coherent and well considered sound. Using the included foams boosts bass extension and slam at the cost of neutrality. Some may prefer the more full-bodied, darker sound with foams and this sound does work well when there is ambient noise.
The bass response is powerful and full but the boost is quite moderate overall. It has slightly less sub-bass extension and slam than the Fiio EM3 (even with foams), but the bass response is more textured in return. The mid-bass response has the biggest boost, more than the EM3 and similar to the E100, whilst the upper bass response is only slightly boosted, granting the sound greater body and the mids nice warmth whilst avoiding the sense of bloat that afflicted the Fiio EM3`s. The EM3 is slightly tighter, but some listeners may enjoy the cleaner presentation of the Monk+.
Whilst It isn`t as tight as the Tomahawk`s leaner presentation, notes still attack with impressive speed and finesse though it is still more laid-back over punchy. As a result, bass notes do come through ever so slightly bloated, but the bass remains well separated from the midrange which is very commendable within this price range.
The lower midrange is slightly boosted giving the sound warmth and body, but not as much as the EM3. The upper midrange is a little recessed and it may take some time getting used to coming from a brighter earphone. But behind this dark tonality, the Monk+ reveals quite a lot of detail, easily as much as the EM3 and E100, but still falls short of the intricate reproduction of the much more expensive Tomahawk`s. The greater clarity of both the EM3 and E100 can create a more aggressive presentation, but the Monk+ is more refined and a lot cleaner sounding.
What the monk does possess is an uncanny smoothness to the sound, making vocals very enjoyable whilst avoiding any kind of harshness. I personally prefer the leaner Baldoor E100`s and Mrz Tomahawk`s, but I can see the merits of the Monk+ for study, relaxation or genres of music such as indie, older pop and jazz. Acoustic also sounds nice and full, helped by a spacious soundstage whilst even poorly recorded jazz and rock sound un-fatiguing. The more full-bodied and powerful tonality of the monk+ is well suited to it`s shallow sealing nature, resulting in a relatively neutral sound, but the added seal produced by foams results in a low end dominance.
The treble is about neutral in quantity and is well extended. It is similar in quality to the EM3, but comes through clearer on account of the Monk+`s less boosted upper midrange. The treble response prevents the sound from being boring or overly dull; it has plenty of sparkle whilst retaining appropriate body and texture. It`s quite a bit better than the grainier E100 and Apple Earpods of course. I do find myself enjoying the texture and tone of the Monk+`s treble response.
The Monk was quite an important product in the budget bud scape that really didn`t need to be updated. The new Monk+ brings an improved build, revised tuning and a new slew of accessories. Does that make it a better product, overall? Of course, and for the exact same ridiculously cheap asking price, Venture provides buyers with a great product for virtually no money at all.
I was initially a little disappointed with the audio performance; the reputation of the Monk`s was invincible and the Monk+ didn`t flaw me like I thought it would. But removing the foam covers has improved the tonality remarkably, enough for me to reconsider my review at least. So at $8 shipped worldwide, the Monk+ is easily the strongest performing earbud in it`s price range, there are none that are even close to matching it`s price/performance ratio. Without covers I also find it to be both more neutral and more technically proficient that other budget earbuds, especially considering that such a tonality is very hard to come by in this price range. The Monk+ hence makes a very good gift and a great intro into the merits of superior audio gear (or an intro to earbuds if you want to give them a try). It`s comfortable and enjoyable to listen to, the transparent housings looks intriguing and the build is very sturdy. The Monk+ is a smoother, more balanced alternative to the Fiio EM3 and Baldoor EM3, did I mention that they`re $8 shipped? Go buy a set!
Accessories – 10/10, Very minimal but also very cheap, Venture offers a much more extensive selection of accessories for only a few dollars more, good travel cases are easily found on the internet for just a few dollars.
Design – 9/10, The housings look neat and are very comfortable with or without foams. I especially like the cable which is nice and thick, resisting tangle with low memory. The plug is reinforced and well relieved but the earpieces have no relief at all. They could also offer a remote model.
Bass – 6/10, Decently tight, powerful and reasonably extended. Very textured with good slam whilst retaining punch.
Mids – 6/10, Relatively neutral with a weak seal, ever so slightly warm and dark with an emphasis on details and smoothness. Female vocals can come through a bit muffled, but the midrange is a strong performer overall, perhaps surprisingly so.
Treble – 6.25/10, A little more detailed and clear than other top budget buds such as the Fiio EM3. Great texture and body produce an enjoyable listen.
Value – 11/10, At $5 USD, the Monk+ unsurprisingly represents unbeatable value.
Verdict – 8/10, The Monk+ offers a relatively balanced sound signature in culmination with a very textured bass performance, extended treble and a smooth, clean midrange. When adding those slick housings and great build into the equation, the Monk+ is a very attractive buy. The RRP is ridiculously cheap, and whilst I can`t compare it to the original, the VE Monk+ is well worth a try.