Review: VE Monk – The $4.99 Miracle

Disclaimer: The VE Monk was sent to me free of charge for the purpose of this review. They came from VE directly and it doesn’t need to be returned. The pictures with the grey background are property of audiofight.info. The ones with the white background are VE’s and the rest is ours.

Earbuds?

Earbuds! Waw. I haven’t used any for the last 5 years or so and even then they were the stock Apple iBuds. As the VE Monk however kept popping up on my social media streams, I decided to get one and give it a try (and who knows, a review). In the meantime the VE Monk really became a hype but we all know there are lots of FOTM (Flavor of the Month) units we never hear from ever again, so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Anyhow, Andy from Cayin (we reviewed his N5 just last week) got me in touch with Lee from VE and he was delighted to see we were interested in checking them out. VE is also known for their Duke, Asura and Zen earbuds/IEMs, more on those here.

A few weeks later my Monks (Lee sent me two pair) arrived. I have been using them very regularly since then and that’s something I, them being earbuds, didn’t expect to happen at all. As you all know by now I’m a CIEM guy: it is extremely hard to beat the comfort and isolation they offer, plus there’s the BA typical sound I love so much. The VE Monk earbuds are completely the opposite what CIEMs are: they have a loose fit (when compared to CIEMs), make sound with only one dynamic driver and they offer no isolation whatsoever.

VE Monk 7

In my younger days you had 4 types of headphones: earbuds, on ear Walkman headphones/earphones (pictures ©Peter J. Vis) and full sized headphones. Back then we (or I at least) didn’t care that much about sound quality and while there certainly must have been good gear around, most of these mini speakers just sounded crap.

Comfort and build quality

The VE Monk seems to be provided for free with some of the local Chinese MP3 players. They of course(?) are Made in China and their build quality is perfectly normal: they are all plastic, don’t have any strain relief and packaging is extremely basic. They come in a thin plastic bag with 2 company cards and two pair of red ear foam: a fully closed set and another set with 5mm holes in the middle. These naturally have an impact on the sound the VE Monk produces but more on that later. Comfort wise these aren’t the best but they are earbuds, it’s kind of normal. An earbud has its typical shape and everyone’s ears are different. That means they for some might cause discomfort but the most important thing is that the sound quality is highly dependent from how well they fit in your ear.

VE Monk 10

There are two possible ways to wear the VE Monk: cable down (which is the normal way) or over ear, where your turn the earbuds 180 degrees and wear the cable over your ear down (like monitors). For me the best fit and most comfort comes when using them cable down. For my ears the VE Monk fits and sounds best using the fully closed jackets but even then I have to reposition them several times as the fit gets looser with every move my head makes.

Sound

I guess you don’t have too much to complain about when you pay $4.99/unit but here’s the thing: the VE Monk outperforms its price by far. Very far.

Sound continues on Page 2

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

30 Comments

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    Oleg Golov

    Not eBay, only Aliexpress & Taobao markets Venture Electronics.

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    Oleg Golov

    Monk Plus

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    Rasmus Horn

    I have always thought Monks were kind of cool. Specially the Belgian beer-brewing kind of Monks. I think I will try these.

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    Kristian Lindecrantz

    Great to see a review of affordable gear! I’d love more of these “hidden gems” it appears Aliexpress might be full of them, or maybe not? More reviews “for the people” please 🙂

    • Reply April 26, 2016

      dalethorn

      Yes and no is my feeling. Yes that affordable (i.e. dirt cheap) is good, but no for most products because the variance in sound for ultra-cheap audiophile products would mean the review wouldn’t always match what the customer gets. If the product is considered disposable, it shouldn’t need much of a review.

    • Reply April 27, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      Like Dale says, it’s a difficult one. Everybody’s budget is different so all reviews are for the people. But yeah, I guess I mostly review what I could afford. that being said, I’ll try to look at more budget gear. In Fact, we should find a budget gear writer. I might have an idea

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    Kristian Lindecrantz

    Btw i have a pair of monks on order since a couple of weeks back, hope Swedish post gets around to deliver them some time soon

    • Reply April 27, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      Might take a few weeks. It only took a week or 2 for me last time. I hope my new order (10+) arrives before June

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    dalethorn

    What’s the leather belt-like clip in the photo?

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    dalethorn

    I have the Yuin PK1 ($115) and PK2 ($39) I got from Massdrop, and I honestly don’t understand what the deal is with Yuin – they don’t sound any better than the Edifier earbuds I got, or the FiiO EM3. The Yuin low bass is more like the Apple earbuds (basically none), whereas the Edifiers and FiiO do have some bass impact.

    • Reply April 27, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      I always wanted the Yuin PK3 but as they were earbuds I never got them. I might have to check them out again. Whats the difference actually between PK1, PK2 and PK3, besides the obvious price difference? I haven’t been following Yuin enough to know (shame on me, I know)

      • Reply April 27, 2016

        dalethorn

        The PK1 is brighter than the PK2. Probably both are near neutral with the little foamy pads on. But the deeper bass is noticeably down. I haven’t had the PK3. I just got a Edifier P190/H190 with the flat ribbon cable, which looks a *lot* more durable than the Yuins. Anyway, with a judicious bass boost, the P190 has a spacious mid-to-top end and decent bass impact. I think the P190 is better than the Yuins for sure, and better on the low end than the FiiO EM3.

        • Reply May 3, 2016

          taquitosforall

          I completely disagree. I recently got the Edifier H190’s and while they sound good, they don’t come close to the Yuin PK3 for sound quality. They’re definitely better made in terms of materials than the PK3, but the sound just lets them down.

          • Reply May 3, 2016

            dalethorn

            I never heard the cheap PK3, but the H190 is better than the pricy PK1.

            • Reply May 3, 2016

              taquitosforall

              My understanding is that the PK1 is designed to be amped. Makes no sense to me (earbuds needing an amp), but if you listened to it with no amp, I’m not surprised you didn’t like them.

              • Reply May 3, 2016

                dalethorn

                Well, I currently have the Beyer DT1770, T70p, Grado PS1000e, M&D MH30, and a dozen other lesser or greater headphones, so whether a headphone or earphone needs amped or not depends on several factors of the sound. In terms of tonal quality, tightness and impact, soundstage, etc. etc., these earbuds are not comparable to the better headphones I have. But when I use a parametric equalizer from my phone playing WAV tracks, either with the phone alone or with the Oppo HA-2 and other amps, the overall sound quality gets very close to the big headphones. So the earbuds (the better earbuds) have great potential, but if you’re using them outdoors or in other somewhat noisy places, or where you’re very active like bicycling etc., then you can get “good enough” sound without an equalizer. I think that given the prices and the options users have at their disposal, these earbuds are a tremendous value.

                Edit: Speaking mainly of the FiiO EM3, Yuin PK1 and 2, Edifier P180 and 190…

                • Reply May 3, 2016

                  taquitosforall

                  I hear you. My comment was on the need to amp an earbud. Seems daft as most people wear earbuds for portability, so carrying another device works against that goal. Unless there’s a bunch of people using earbuds at home?

                  • Reply May 3, 2016

                    dalethorn

                    They are convenient to use in bed.

                  • Reply May 16, 2016

                    dalethorn

                    Amping won’t help an earbud that has no deep bass and almost no midbass. An amp could possibly help with creating a sense of warmth, but it won’t create real bass. The Oppo HA-2 certainly doesn’t create any sense of bass with the Yuins. But, I wonder what is the application for a $150 earbud? Not for the guy sitting in a moderately noisy coffee shop, and not for the EDM afictionado who needs real bass. It’s hard to imagine who is in between those applications, and yet is willing to shell out $150 (or even $129 to Massdrop) for these earbuds.

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    Reinaldo Velasquez Silva

    Are this better than the Philips SHE3590?

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    Özkan Ercan

    Monk+ is a lot better and refined than the Monk which is discontinued now. Thanks for reviewing the Monk. ????

  • Reply April 26, 2016

    Headfonia_L.

    FYI: I ordered 10 sets of the Monk + myself to give to my friends.

  • Reply April 27, 2016

    Barun C

    Great find Lieven, reminded me of the time when I got the Superlux HD 381/F/B/ Got to try these someday. Hope they are comfortable while hitting the sack.

    • Reply April 27, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      I have to say I haven’t tried sleeping with them. I tend to use custom IEMs when going to bed, but I tend to sleep on my back, so no issues for me 😀

  • Reply October 16, 2016

    Perene

    Having the magnificent first version of the VE Monk, the new Monk+ version is quite a disillusion. Less clarity, less soundstage and mids withdrawn. The outstanding vocals presence are gone. 🙁

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