Monoprice Monolith M-TWE review: $100 wireless earbuds that rock with noise cancellation, long battery life, and superb sound

  • Editors' rating
    9.5 Spectacular

Pros

  • Affordable price
  • Long battery life
  • IPx4 water resistance
  • Awesome music playback performance
  • aptX support
  • Supports single earbud use

Cons

  • No track controls on the touchpad

Browsing through ZDNet's list of best wireless earbuds we see models from $89 to $249, but diving into those features shows it is common to pay $150 to $250 for earbuds with active-noice cancellation, water resistance, and other high end features. After several weeks with the Monolith M-TWE earbuds from Monoprice, it is clear that you can save lots of money on competing headsets with outstanding performance.

The Monolith M-TWE earbuds have a MSRP of $129.99, but are currently on sale for just $99.99. You would be hard-pressed to find a headset with all of these features and outstanding performance at this low of a price. The headset has some features not found on more expensive earbuds, including support for aptX and double digit battery life.

Also: LG Tone Free HBS-FN6 review: Wireless earbuds with UVnano bacteria system, wireless charging case, six hour playback

The Monolith earbuds are comfortable for many hours of wear and have professional, basic hardware design features. However, the headset supports noise cancellation, Qualcomm's aptX, Qualcomm cVc 8.0 for clear calls, and SoundID from Sonarworks so that you can tune the earbuds to your personal hearing preferences. They may not be perfect for everyone, but the headset is very competitive and something to seriously consider.

Specifications

  • Drivers: 10mm neodymium dynamic
  • Audio codecs: SBC, AAC, Qualcomm aptX
  • Water resistance: IPx4 rating
  • Battery life: Up to 10 hours of play with ANC off. The charging case provides an additional 20 hours of battery life. A five-minute charge provides an hour of playback and a full charge is provided in less than two hours.
  • Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
  • Earbud weight: 6.6 grams each

Hardware

The retail package includes the two wireless earbuds, a charging case with integrated battery, a short USB-A to USB-C cable, a soft pouch to carry things, and extra small/small/medium/large/extra large silicone gel earbud tips. The charging case does not support wireless charging, which is one feature found on some high-end wireless headsets.

Magnets keep the lid of the charging case closed with a light spring that makes it easy to flip up the lid to access the earbuds. Magnets also hold each earbud in the appropriate compartment. There is a central LED between the earbuds in the case with four different white LED patterns for different charging levels.

Top ZDNET Reviews

When I first opened up the retail package, I thought the earbuds would be bulky and uncomfortable because they have a flat round outside with a form that is larger than I've seen on earbuds like the Apple AirPods. Surprisingly the design is such that they are comfortable to wear for hours on end. The medium gel tips are on the earbuds out of the box and I switched to the extra large size for my ears.

There is a LED on each earbud that lights up in red and white with seven possible patterns to indicate battery level and connection status. I didn't pay much attention to these so didn't worry about the patterns as the headphones seemed to last forever with my typical wear for a couple of hours and then charge for a couple off and on throughout the day.

To pair the earbuds, you simply remove them from the case and they switch into pairing mode (unless they have already been paired to your phone). MP41500 appears on your phone's Bluetooth list.

The flat outside of the earbuds are touchpads so all controls are carried out from the touchpad. Controls include:

  • Swipe up: Increase volume
  • Swipe down: Decrease volume
  • Single tap: Toggle between noise cancellation, ambient sound, all off modes
  • Double tap: Play/pause music or answer/end a call
  • Press and hold for 1 second: Reject incoming call
  • Press and hold for 2 seconds: Activate voice assistant

There is no touch option to switch tracks on your music or mute a call. You can also launch your voice assistant in the typical fashion just by speaking the launch words.

The Monolith M-TWE earbuds can also be used individually since the touch controls are the same on both the right and left earbud. With a single earbud being used at a time, you can extend the useful life as one battery is expended while the other earbud charges up. We find that less expensive earbuds tend to only support dual earbud use, or right one only, so this is another feature that exceeds the expecation for a more affordable headset solution like this.

Smartphone software

By default, you can charge up the earbuds, open the case, pair them to your phone, and start using them with no other settings or software.

If you have an Android smartphone, open up your Bluetooth settings and then tap on the gear icon to view device details. Inside this area you can tap HD Audio and then choose from aptX, AAC, or SBC for your preferred audio codec. Qualcomm aptX HD audio is an enhanced codec supporting 24-bit quality over Bluetooth. It isn't found in many headsets so it's great to see it present in such an affordable model.

For the ultimate, optimized experience with the Monolith M-TWE, you should download and install the SoundID app from Sonarworks on your iPhone or Android smartphone. Open the app, select the Monolith M-TWE entry and then you will be prompted to complete two preference tests (basic and advanced) along with a hearing test.

Also: Jabra Elite 85t review: Powerful ANC in an earbuds form factor, six mics for calls

The preference tests have you choose a demo track and then make A, B, or no difference choices through many different playing options. The advanced test is the same as the basic test with the A/B switch.

The hearing test is similar to the hearing test you go through at the doctor with tap of a button when you first hear a sound at varying frequencies. You also go through a long portion where you lower or raise the volume until you CANNOT hear the sound playing through the earbuds. I almost missed the text directions here since it was a bit unusual to change the volume until you cannot hear something rather than indicated when you can hear it.

After going through the tests, your SoundID profile is uploaded to the headset. You can then go into the SoundID app and toggle on your profile for optimized music playback.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The only thing that frustrated me with the Monolith M-TWE was the lack of track controls (forward or back) on the touchpad. However, when working out with my Apple Watch or Garmin sports watch I was able to control the tracks from the watch so this missing functionality was just a minor annoyance.

Callers sounded perfect on my end and they all told me I sounded very good. Often callers say I sound a bit removed from the phone, but that was not the case with the Monolith M-TWE. The headset is the first I have tested with Qualcomm's cVc Echo Cancelling and Noise Suppression technology so this is likely contributing to solid call performance.

While it takes some time to go through the SoundID preference tests (basic and advanced) and the hearing test, if you care about how your music sounds then I highly recommend completing these tests in the app on your iPhone or Android smartphone. Playing demo tracks with the SoundID preferences on and off convinced me the improvement is worth the testing.

In my testing, I regularly experienced between eight and nine hours of battery life so not quite 10 hours. This is still a very long time for truly wireless earbuds and the battery case provides two full charges as well.

Music sounds awesome on the headset and I was never able to set my phone volume at maximum because me ears were getting blown out. One of my ultimate tests is to listen to music while mowing the lawn and using the gas blower and the Monolith M-TWE passed with flying colors. Not only was music loud, it was crisp and clear with a nice balance of bass too.

The touch controls worked reliably and I love having easy access to volume with a swipe. The noise cancellation wasn't that evident with no music playing, but when I was listening to music I couldn't hear much around me and I felt very isolated and focused on the music.

Monoprice did a fantastic job with the Monolith M-TWE earbuds and at the current sale price of $100 they really can't be beat. They are comfortable, sound great, last for many hours, and even come with a three-year replacement warranty with a 30-day money-back guarantee so there is no risk in trying them out.