ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Monoprice 9927 Earbuds - A Deep, Bassy Bang for Your Buck (Review)

When it comes to choosing a pair of headphones of any form factor, it can be difficult to sort through product opinions to come to any solid conclusion about the product at hand. Some audiophiles base their purchasing decisions solely on brand or just assume that higher price equals better sound, while less knowledgeable customers will struggle to find any noticeable difference between the audio quality of a $30 pair of cans and a $300 pair.

In other words, both the high-end and low-end camps have their own rampant forms of skewed opinions, which can make it tough to make an informed purchasing decision when you don’t commit to either camp hardcore yourself.

With that in mind, it was with mixed expectations that I first tried the Monoprice 9927 Hi-fi Bass-Enhanced in-ear ear buds. For a mere $10 it seemed hard to go wrong no matter the result, but to call the 9927s merely not a bad choice would be a pretty serious disservice to the product. No, you won’t be a cool kid wearing Monoprice buds in a room full of Beats, Bose, and Sonos, but for those who can stand ‘sacrificing’ their social status Monoprice has a pretty incredible knack for packing the best possible audio into the cheapest possible package, and the 9927s are no exception.

Granted, the build quality isn’t going to blow your socks off. It’s clear where Monoprice gets by to bring down the price of their products. Not that there’s anything especially bad about them—they’re simply not premium products. Expect plastic, average comfort, and relatively low durability. That being said, the buds do come with three sets of tips to get the best possible fit for your ears, and the cords are covered in braided fabric—a nice touch that’s rare in this price range. In order to achieve their level of sound quality the 9927s do fall a bit on the large side, with an awkward shape that has to go in at an angle that seems unintuitive at first, but after paying attention to the orientation of the ‘L’ and ‘R’ molded into the ear buds I was able to easily determine the intended orientation and found that when inserted properly they actually fit quite easily into my ears and wouldn’t come out without significant provocation. Still, every ear is different, and it’s possible this isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all affair. Based on my experience though, I wouldn’t worry about the unusual shape in recommending the 9927s to others.

But of course, nobody buys headphones to look at them. At the end of the day, what matters is how they sound, and unfortunately that’s not something that can be demonstrated without personal experience. So you’ll have to take my word from it: they’re good. Not amazing, but in the $10 price range I can’t imagine finding anything much better. Heck, they may even be a step up from many ear buds in the $20-25 range. Despite being advertised as bass-enhanced I didn’t find the bass to actually be all that powerful, and messing with EQ settings in AIMP3 I was somewhat easily able to get lower frequencies to clip rather than reproduce faithfully. As-is the bass isn’t lacking per se, I just wouldn’t want it any lower. In any case, if you know your way around EQ settings, the 9927s really benefit from a few minor adjustments, but if you just want to plug in and play, they’ll still do your music admirable justice.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of decibels and frequency response, it’s also worth mentioning that these ear buds handle binaural audio like a champ. For the unaware, binaural audio is sound recorded from two microphones simulating human ears. You may also hear this and similar techniques referred to as ‘3D audio’ or ‘3D positional audio’. Binaural audio is a good test for headphones because the more faithfully the headphones can reproduce the range of sounds human ears can detect, the greater and more natural the binaural effect will be. While the technology has been around for some time now, it’s only recently seen a surge of popularity thanks to ASMR relaxation videos, a community I’ve secretly followed since before it had the acronym ‘ASMR’, and as such I have quite a lot of experience with binaural audio and can readily tell good or bad binaural audio when I hear it. In this regard, the 9927s leave almost nothing to be desired. Binaural audio reproduction is excellent, far outdoing the likes of other cheap ear buds and clipons and even Apple pack-in buds.

For my main comparison, I was interested to see just how close of a performance I could achieve to Monoprice’s also cheap and excellent 8323 over-ear DJ-style headphones. While it would be stretching the truth to say I ever reached parity between the two even with EQ tweaks and realtime effects built into my sound card, I was impressed at just how similar of a sound I was able to achieve. It’s a close enough likeness that I find myself often favoring the 9927s, especially at times when a bulky set of noise-cancelling cans isn’t the most practical for the situation. While the 9927s do their fair share of blocking out sound you’ll still be able to hear a conversation with them on, so in that regard they are the better choice for casual use.

In fact, that statement pretty much sums up my entire experience with the Monoprice 9927s: for casual use, they go above and beyond considering the $10 price tag. While there are certainly superior options out there in higher price ranges, if you want a cheap pair of buds but still care about getting quality sound, look no further. The balance of cost and performance Monoprice manages to squeeze out of these buds is nothing short of remarkable.

Check it out on Amazon