You may be thinking, “Hold on, didn’t he already review this?”.
You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m duplicating my last post on Monsieur Notebook, but this one’s a little different. Since my last review, they have been trying to improve the look, feel, and overall quality of the notebooks, and got in touch with me to let me know that they’re bringing out a whole new range of “Soft Classic” leather-bound notebooks.
In my review of the original MN, it was clear that the leather wasn’t particularly nice, and the construction definitely needed some work, especially as the pages would unstick themselves when you “cracked the spine”. The cover of the notebook was a hard and not particularly nice leather, and easily creased like paper when bent. However, I noted that the quality surpassed Moleskine notebooks at the same price, and the paper was also high quality, so they had that going for them.
Enter the Soft Classic. In designing this notebook they have taken a lot of the good things with the original and added a few much-needed upgrades. Is it enough to fix the mistakes of the original though?
Construction and Quality
Seeing as this was a major point of contention with the original, it makes sense to start here.
First, the cover. The leather has taken a major jump in quality from the poor, hard, compounded leather construction to a soft, supple, high quality hide that does away with most of the shoddy aspects of the original. The edges aren’t finished like, say, a Midori TN, so you do get some fraying fibres, but the leather is soft and flexible, as leather should be. There is enough structure to the cover that the notebook isn’t limp and floppy; this is a good balance in rigidity.
The colour is far more uniform as well. No more odd patchy dyed areas, and no more weird colouring on the inside. The leather is also much thinner, which reduces a huge amount of the bulk without sacrificing quality – a welcome change. This red version is more “red” than the original, which had a pink hue, and the glossy coating is gone, making it actually look like leather, instead of plastic.
Inside the updates show as well. The paper is smoother and overall nicer than the original, and the construction of the paper block is much better, with a more consistent edge. The pages are lined in this one, as in the previous, but the layout is much more traditional: equal margins at the top and bottom, no markings, and fainter lines.
Some may miss the date markings and page numbers, but I feel a blank canvas allows a bit more freedom. The inside-front-cover does away with the contents table, and you’re left with just a single “name” line and a MN logo. One subtle change is that the new version’s pages are more pure white, versus the off-white of the original.
Whether these changes to the paper are a good or bad thing is a matter of preference I think, but I do like how all the changes come together to form a higher quality product that’s also around a third thinner than the original (check out the size difference below).
The paper has changed, but it looks like the same great performance has been retained. Comparing the two notebooks side by side shows that the paper performs essentially identically, but the new version has a much smoother, more consistent feel to the pages that I much prefer over the old one. The new one is above, with the old one below.
Nil bleedthrough, showthrough, and feathering on all but the most difficult inks (Bernanke Blue in particular). Fantastic performance from both, but the new paper is better overall in my opinion. Also notice the fainter lines on the new version.
Value + Conclusion
The new Soft Classics range is priced at around $35.00AUD, which is about the same as the original version.
In terms of overall value, the same rules apply as last time: these are much better than Moleskine notebooks for the same amount of money. Heck, this new one is up there with Rhodia Webnotebooks for quality, and that’s saying something.
Which should you go for though, the original or the new Soft Classics? The SC blows the original out of the water in every regard. Frankly Monsieur Notebook should just throw out the original and make the Soft Classics their main line, because you’d be a turkey to buy the old one.
Better covers, less bulk, better paper, better binding, higher quality overall. MN have done a great job in taking a good notebook and making it into a polished, premium product that is well deserving of your work. I gave the old one an 8/10, mainly because it was a great notebook let down by quality issues. This one deserves a 9/10, because they’ve taken strides towards making it a more premium, high quality product overall, and they should be commended.
The only issues I can see are in questionable longevity – the paper, whilst sewn together, is still glued in, and despite the glue being higher quality and the job more consistent, I don’t see how glue will hold up after years of use. If MN could find a way to sew the paper into the spine, or choose a more permanent binding method, this could be the perfect notebook.
Thanks to Monsieur Notebook for providing a review sample