Venture Electronics Monk Lite: Almost There

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out one of Venture Electronics’ most affordable earbuds, the Monk Lite.

The original Monk received critical acclaim thanks to its low price and a level of sound quality that almost nothing at the time could touch. While that has changed over the years, the Monk remains a very strong offering. One issue many had with it resulted from the ergonomics of the Sennheiser MX500-styled shell. It’s not particularly friendly to small ears and could cause hot spots and discomfort over time. The Monk Lite aims to rectify this through improved ergonomics via a more compact shell.

Does the Monk Lite succeed at this while upholding the excellent sound quality of it’s namesake? Let’s find out.

What I Hear

Foams: I strongly recommend running the Lite with donut foams. Naked it sounds tinny and the midrange hollow. With full foams the hollowness is mostly mitigated but they add too much warmth and muddy detail. Donuts find just the right balance between bass quantity and overall detail while mostly mitigating my qualms with the midrange.

Earbuds aren’t for everyone thanks to what is typically a lack of bass depth and/or quantity, owed to the inability to create a seal in your ear. While the Monk Lite has pretty decent bass for an earbud, it’s unlikely it’ll be able to satisfy someone used to the presentation of in-ears or full-sized headphones. Midbass is well textured and satisfying with a tight, punchy, articulate presence. I appreciate the amount of warmth it adds to the signature, leaving it a bit cooler sounding overall than the Monk+ and KBEAR Stellar. Heading into sub-bass regions highlights the standard earbud Achilles heel, that being roll off. The Lite provides some physical feedback, but not enough to provide much of a physical sensation on the deepest of notes. Both VE’s own Monk+ and KBEAR’s Stellar do a slightly better job with bass depth and feel. I also find the Stellar better balances mid- and sub-bass regions to provide a more linear presentation. The Lite performs well here but I’d point you towards other earbuds if bass quantity is a priority.

Leading into the mids I found the Monk Lite very much hit and miss. What is does well, and better than it’s Monk+ counterpart and Stellar competition, is note definition and clarity. I find vocals and instruments slightly more crisp and coherent than the aforementioned earbuds, all while retaining plenty of weight and density. Unfortunately, deeper voices and notes come across as boomy leaving the Lite less than ideal for commentary based content. I much prefer the Monk+ or Stellar for that style of content. The Monk Lite also comes across as hollow sounding as heard on Sa-Roc’s “Forever” which is quite distracting, until you get used to it. I found myself adjusting to the presentation pretty quickly if using the Lite exclusively for an extended period, though the moment I switched to another earphone/headphone and swapped back, the Lite’s midrange deficiencies came roaring to life again. Fine in a vacuum, underwhelming in direct competition.

Thankfully, the treble quality pulls things back. The Lite doesn’t roll off in the brilliance region as aggressively as either the Monk+ or Stellar and as a result provides a more well-rounded, overall experience than the other two. Cymbals and chimes have a satisfying amount of shimmer and sparkle to them, without being bright and overbearing. The Monk+ and Stellar sound less vibrant and dynamic in comparison, shifting their tuning focus to the midrange and mid-bass with treble playing more of a supporting role. Note definition is handled well, free of splash or looseness that would hinder the emotional undertones of Warlock’s “Für Immer”.

The sound stage of the Monk Lite is reasonably sized, though not as expansive as I have come to expect from the form factor. While the overall staging is reasonably evenly well-rounded with a greater sense of depth than width, that space ends up coming across fairly intimate. Vocals default to the outer edge of the inner ear with effects being tossed slightly past. This helps it just barely avoid a wall-of-sound effect. The results in it’s technical qualities falling behind the Monk+ and Stellar; imaging is lacking nuance and layering is limited. Instrument separation fairs better, but toss on a congested track like those from Havok or King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”, and everything starts to blend.

In The Ear The main draw for the Monk Lite is its compact size. It gives those who typically have trouble with the commonly broad designs of most earbuds an opportunity to experience the format. I’d say it succeeds at this, being bested for role of most comfortable earbud by only the Sennheiser MX470.

The all-plastic shells are well-built, especially for the price. The plastics are light but feel solid enough. There’s no give to the main shaft when attempting to bend it which leaves it feeling quite robust. That said, instead of bending it’ll probably just snap if pushed to hard. Also, the plastic gold accent can be lifted up and off with mild effort leaving this design fairly easy to mod if that’s of interest to you. The main face of the drivers is covered in a fine steel mesh with five vents barely visible through the minuscule holes. Six more vents allow air to escape through the rear of the housings. Fit and finish overall is excellent with no misaligned parts, plastic or glue reside, or any negatives of note.

The cable is the same one found on various Venture Electronics products which is a good thing. Being an old school, bi-strand, white rubber sheathed unit, it lacks the flash and pizzazz of the braided cables that are ever so popular nowadays. I’m totally fine with that since it doesn’t transmit a ton of noise, tangling isn’t a huge deal, and it’s shown itself to be quite durable. The hardware is nice too with a compact, rubber straight jack with decent strain relief. The rubber y-split is tiny so no relief is needed. Surprisingly, above it rests a chin cinch. This is a feature that is sorely lacking on budget earphones so big props to VE for adding it. No strain relief is present leading into the earpieces which is the only area of concern. Still, given how affordable the Monk Lite is it’s easy to overlook. Plus, strain relief in that location is exceptionally rare on earbuds anyway, at least in my experience.

For an earbud, the Monk Lite aces the comfort aspect. The chosen shell is very low profile with not a lot of depth to it. While the diameter of the face of the earbud is still quite wide, it is just a hint less so than the Monk+ which goes a long way towards making it so comfortable. It nestles nicely into the outer ear thanks to these slight dimensional adjustments which for me leaves it more stable than other buds using the ever-popular Sennheiser MX500 shell. The extremely light weight doesn’t hurt either. As mentioned earlier, the only earbud I’ve used that is more comfortable is the Sennheiser MX470. It’s shell is also very low profile, but it uses a considerably smaller driver making it suitable for those with ears that do not normally jell with earbuds. Unfortunately it’s considerably more expensive, and has been discontinued for years. Good luck finding one.

In The Box In keeping with VE’s no frills philosophy, the Monk Lite arrives in one of the most classy resealable plastic bags you’ll ever come by. On the front is the VE logo, brand name, and slogan “a sound we trust”. These rest above a clear viewing window showing off the Monk Lite and included foams over top a gleaming silver background. Flipping around to the back you find VE’s other slogan “keeping it real” along with the website and a short description of the Monk Lite’s sound.

The Monk Lite’s big and bold sound is a pleasant surprise coming from its small and ergonomic form factor.”

As was visible through the clear storefront, inside you get a pair of Monk Lite earbuds and four pairs of foams in various colours; red, blue, white, and black. While you’re not getting a ton of stuff or flashy cardboard, you are getting as straightforward an unboxing experience as possible, along with four pairs of VE foams. In my experience, they’re more durable than most. Example, I’m still working through the original Monk expansion pack that I got with the Monk Plus around the time of its release.

Final Thoughts The Monk Lite is a solid earbud, but to my ears is outclassed by it’s older sibling, the Monk+. If sound quality isn’t your primary qualification for a purchase and you instead put more weight into ergonomics, or you’re the type to use only one earphone/iem/headphone at a time, the Monk Lite is a good pick. It looks nice, is very comfortable, and the inclusion of four sets of high quality foams is a pretty sweet bonus.

If sound quality is tops above all else, I’d look elsewhere. The Lite has nice treble and produces quality bass, but the mids can be hollow, vocals boomy, and it’s sound stage qualities are just average at best. It still results in a satisfying enough listen, but even at this extremely low price there are alternatives I’d rather use, namely VE’s own Monk+, or the KBear Stellar.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A big thanks to VE’s CEO Wild Lee for reaching out to see if I would like to review some of this products and for sending a Monk Lite for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my subjective opinions and do not represent VE or any other entity. At the time of writing the standard edition of the Monk Lite was retailing for ~7.96 CAD / 6.00 USD. You can scoop up a set here on VE’s AliExpress store or main website; https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32844964644.html / https://www.veclan.com/engappliance_sel_one?eng_ApplianceVo.eac_id=24

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000Hz
  • Sensitivity: 117dB/mW
  • Impedance: 40ohms

Gear Used For Testing Huawei P40, VE Odyssey HD, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams

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