There are 336 pages and counting of head-fi commentary on a $5 earbud called the VE Monk (Plus). Now let me tell you that earbuds have never been on my radar until recently with the Celsus Gramo one, the FiiO EM3 and my own Lyra 6 from Astrotec. Just about everyone said to try the VE Monk and with memes such as “bang for buck” how can you refuse? I called out the FiiO EM3 as a healthy audiophile option to seeing a matinee in Manhattan given the similar price. The VE Monk + might just be even cheaper than catching the bus to go to that matinee and frankly I think you would be insane not to try out something that cheap, even if you hate earbuds.
What Are They?
The VE Monk Plus is a closed design set of earbuds housing a 15.4mm dynamic driver in translucent plastic. The VE Monks are designed and manufactured by Chinese firm Venture Electronics. Their sales channels are mainly AliExpress, which is a Chinese retail giant that many in the West will not have heard off, as well as small resellers dotted around the globe. One of which, Power Up in Cebu, Philippines, very kindly sent me a pair for review and is selling them nationwide for 690.00 Philippine Pesos. Prices of the VE Monk Plus vary a tiny amount depending on how many you buy or where you get them but the average price does seem to be around $5-$10 so Power Up do seem to be competitive.
This is one of those true viral ‘word of mouth’ product successes. People are simply telling people how good they are for an earbud and how cheap they are also. It is a tantalizing no risk purchase on their own. To be clear there are actually two types of VE Monk on the market so do be careful before buying a VE Monk to verify which one you will be buying. There is the V1 which has an all black shell and has a 32-ohm rating and the Plus edition which has a translucent shell and is rated at 64-ohms. I do not believe VE are selling the original Monk anymore but there are plenty on the used market if you are hunting around.
The Monk Plus is built like the proverbial tank with a thick translucent closed shell and multiple venting ports at the base of the dynamic driver enclosure. You can peek right into the shell and see the entire workings of the driver design which is kind of cute. Compared to the all black thinner shell of the EM3 it has a slightly wider radius but that shouldn’t be surprising give the EM3 houses a slightly smaller 14.8mm dynamic driver.
Unlike the EM3 the Monk Plus is an all plastic front end with multiple pores over the driver than the metal like grill you find on the EM3. It doesn’t look as premium as the EM3 but honestly, they look a little more robust and less fussy than the EM3 design. The Monk Plus is designed to be worn commando style or with foams depending on your tonal and comfort preference. Given the larger radius of the Monk Plus, my ears were happier with the foams mounted. They also provide a tiny bit better grip in my ear.
Stem length is shorter and wider than the EM3 and stems do play a role in how you get a comfortable fit. The EM3’s slightly longer but thinner stem provides a little more room to get the buds in a bit tighter in my ear than the wider radius Monk Plus. It is a minuscule difference but for some people that could make a be a deal breaker depending on the fit.
Unlike the EM3 also the Monk Plus has no stem relief on the driver housings but the cable is pretty damn tough and much more durable looking than the EM3 cable which is a lot thinner and wirey in comparison. The cable on the Monk Plus is shorter than the old original Monk and whilst both are terminated with gold plated 32.5mm stereo jacks, the original Monks jack was a lot longer in comparison. The shortened jack enclosure makes the Monk Plus a lot easier to work with on source outputs. The jack is terminated with a very durable looking strain relief but it is a straight jack, unlike the right angled jack of the EM3.
Chin Straps and Mics
One upgrade from the regular Monk is the all new sturdy y-split with chin strap. The EM3 does not have a chin strap either but it does actually house an inline remote and mic which some might find preferable for use with smartphones when out and about. Whilst I am no fan of inline electrical hurdles for my audio signal I do think this might be a small advantage for the EM3. Then again the Monk Plus is half the price of the EM3 so the additional inline might push the VE Monk Plus price beyond the EM3,
Accessories & Packaging
The VE Monk comes in an ultra thin but fairly durable looking plastic black plastic bag which is not resealable. It is adorned with memes galore and a large head with glasses. It’s typical Asian humor with an awkward English sentence construction such as “Dare for challenge me” adorning some dudes bald head. I don’t get it, I am sure plenty others do. Inside you get a range of foams in blue and red, 3 for each color.
Sadly all the tips are full foam covers and there are no donut ring type foams included. A lot of earbud fans much prefer the donut rings due to the combination of outer form comfort and enhanced neutrality from listening directly to the driver without a central foam part getting in the way. You can cut a whole in one of the foams to compensate, I mean you have six foam covers after all and all the same size.
Fit and comfort
No surprise here, they are earbuds after all. The Monks large diameter driver enclosure did sit ok in my ear but there is zero isolation, perhaps even more so than the EM3 which got a tiny bit tighter. They also feel a bit loose so I would not recommend jogging with them, they are likely to fall out. These could do with a set of hooks just to keep them super steady during high levels of activity. Mind you, they will stay in place for more sedentary activities.
Comfort levels are good with foams and slightly less so without the foams and just pure plastic on the ear. They can’t hold a candle to premium buds such as the smaller hooked Lyra 6 from Astrotec but then again the Lyra 6 is over $100 compared to $10 or less for the Monk Plus.
Tonally the Monk Plus is a smooth performer but with a very nice sparkle in the upper midrange and treble that outclasses the EM3 in that respect. It’s still largely a musical earbud but it has more audiophile sensibilities than the FiiO Em3 and sounds more balanced in comparison. This is also a bit of a change from the original Monk edition which has a more planted and weightier bass and lower mid-range performance. If you enjoy a coherent and more balanced presentation with a pacey neutral midrange and sparkling top end the Monk Plus is a good choice.
It also has a snappier and the better-defined bass performance than the heavier but softer EM3 bass performance. On the old Monk v1 you did get a weightier bass response so if that is not to your taste this newer leaner and nipper bass performance might ideal. It really sounds a lot more balanced than what the EM3 can offer though I would understand if you picked the EM3 simply because it has a slightly more forgiving warm sound that the more neutral sounding VE Monk Plus.
Sub bass performance is nothing to write home about with steep roll-off towards sub 80mHZ but not surprising really given its very open nature. If you use both fingers and push them in tighter you can get a more impactful bass response with a fuller sound but it is unworkable in the long term and looks a bit silly with two fingers on your ears for any length of time.
The Monk Plus midrange is forward clean and more neutral sounding than its slightly warmer bass signature. It has a quick pace, very natural sounding timbre and ideally suited to full-blooded vocals. It can be a bit more unforgiving than the EM3 which tends to smooth over the vocals so you do get a slight trade off in clarity and speed with a touch more sibilance thrown into the package.
The midrange detail is outstanding for an earbud at this price level and very spacious to boot despite the more forward vocal presence. Not once did I feel the Monk Plus struggled to convey an accurate stage with top notch width and reasonable depth. The lack of sub bass is probably the only thing holding back the excellence of the Monk Plus staging.
The treble is more forward than the FiiO EM3 with more sparkle but it is not a strident brash experience, more of a neutral to smooth and chilled experience. Resolution is very good and articulation is spot on. There isn’t too much peakiness either in the lower treble but it is a tiny bit harder sounding than the EM3. In return, you do get a bit more snap and clarity and a more coherent performance with better top end extension.
It is a 64-ohm earbud with a 122dB sensitivity rating so it will run just fine on the smartphone of your choice but the better dynamics and staging do come with a better amp, be it DAP or portable dedicated. For instance, volume on the Shanling M5 DAP hit almost 70 which is 20 steps higher than quite a few sensitive IEMs. Much of this is to do with the far more open nature of the Monk Plus or any bud for that matter and a lot of leakage does make you want to turn the pot up a lot more. In the case of the Monk Plus it performs at the same gain level as the EM3, which I always found more satisfying with a more powerful DAP or portable amp such as the Kojo Km-01
Much of this is to do with the far more open nature of the Monk Plus or any bud for that matter and a lot of leakage does make you want to turn the pot up a lot more. In the case of the Monk Plus it performs at the same gain level as the EM3, which I always found more satisfying with a more powerful DAP or portable amp such as the Kojo Km-01 brass amp (lovely smooth sound) or the AM2 at least on the X7. Portable quality DAPs such as the FiiO X5ii, or the Cayin N5 will drive the Monk Plus no issues but you will find the same scenario with slightly more juice than BA IEMs required.
Because of the more balanced and neutral cleaner sound of the Monk Plus, in comparison to the EM3, I found DAPs with a more natural sound to be a better tonal match than those DAPs with a birther or sharper signature. The Cayin N5 is one such example which brought a lovely bombastic and fun signature to the Monk Plus but that N5 sharp attack did not suit the neutral and slightly harder upper midrange sound of the Monks leaving everything just a bit off with a splashy lower treble and a slight loss in vocal authority.
Excellent tonal matches tended to work to the strengths of the VE Monk Plus. The Shozy Alien Gold Edition was a much better pairing and brought a wonderful noise free and very smooth sound that filled every inch of the Monk VE’s large soundstage. The Opus#1 by The Bit was another very natural pairing with the Monk Plus with excellent resolution, good dynamics and a peppy turn of pace. If your budget doesn;t stretch that far I highly recommend the warm and smooth tones of the FiiO M3 though you will take a slight hit in distortion levels if you like it loud and proud with the M3/Monk Plus pairing.
I actually did quite a hefty comparison of these two IEM’s compared with the VE Monk on the EM3 review but since the emphasis is on the EM3 I have tweaked it to focus back onto the VE Monk Plus. Thus there is a fair bit of overlap and paraphrasing between this comparison and the one in the EM3 review.
The VE Monk plus should be seen as a nice complementary sound signature to the EM3. Instead of a thicker warmer sound from the EM3, you instead get a cleaner and more neutral sound with a far more sparkle in its treble performance. I am not convinced it has more detail than the EM3, simply it is engineered with a more forward sounding treble which can often give the impression of more detail. However, the snap and energy in the lower treble are welcome additions to the sometimes overly smoothed out EM3.
The VE Monk Plus is not as refined though as the more expensive Lyra 6 with some vocals suffering overly with a sibilant performance but then again it is just $5. Of the two the Monk has the better sub bass presence. It is also tighter, snappier overall compared to the full but warmer sounding EM3 bass response. Both have very good soundstages but the Monk’s extension is superior with a less rolled off and brighter treble performance and a more tangible sub bass hit.
If you want a more soothing tone the EM3 is the better of the two, but if you fancy a bit of a cleaner signature with a more forward and energetic treble performance, then the Monk + is superior. Go on then, splash out the full $15 and have both!
Astrotec Lyra 6
The Lyra 6 is a big step up in resolution, layering, and separation over the Monk Plus but then again this is a $180 earbud. It also has an excellent ear hook mechanism that provides a very stable positioning system to maximize the Lyra’s potential. The stems and body are smaller than the VE Monk Plus also making it a lot more comfortable in the ear.
This is a neutral but very natural sounding earbud. Highs are very sweet and detailed and not an ounce of grating or peakiness. Dynamics are fantastic right across the board with the Lyra 6 with a very spacious soundstage and excellent extension. Bass performance is no different from the EM3 in terms of quantity and this is somewhere the VE Monk Plus has a slight edge in terms of weight but the detail and refinement are very good and more akin to listening with a quality mid-range open headphone than an earbud.
Oh the daftness of it all, spending $5 on an earbud and raving about how great it sounds eh? The VE Monk Plus makes a monkey out of this audiophile business when prices are getting higher and marketing memes are getting more and more ridiculous. It is not the ultimate or the best ever but it is the best for five bucks and probably one of the best for under $50. Earbuds are not fashionable to most yet over 300 pages on the big forum would suggest they are still alive and kicking as a serious option. I am fascinated by the fact people get so worked up over the fact it’s just $5, it really does prove audiophiles can and do get excited when things go bargain basement. One in the eye for those who say audio lovers only get wet on something over a grand?
Should you buy it? Yup. Should you choose between it and say the EM3 from FiiO? Nope. I say buy them both and I said that before on the EM3 review. $15 on a pair of complimentary sounding earbuds is a pretty good deal. If you hate earbuds physically then they won’t change your mind. You can’t change the fact they are awkward in terms of fit, comfort, and that open sound. But if you think they suck in terms of audio quality then think again. Not every bud out there is a throwaway accessory with your phone or DAP and the VV Monk Plus is an excellent example of just such a case.
- Style:In-EarLine, open earbud
- Cable Length:1.2m, 3.5mm straight line jack
- Response Range:20-20000Hz
- Plug: 1/8 in (3.5 mm) gold-plated straight jack
- Cable: 4 ft (1.2 m), TPE outer coat, 128 x 0.06 4n OFC copper
- Weight: Approximately 0.5 oz (15g)