Headphones and Earphones

Monster Turbine High Performance Ear Buds

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

Monster, long time suppliers of speaker cables, interconnects and power conditioning products, has recently entered into the portable audio market. They now offer a full range of products from the Dr. Dre branded Beats headphones all the way up to the professional Turbine Copper Pro ear buds. I had the pleasure of checking out their middle-of-the-line offering, the Monster Turbine High Performance ear buds (Monster calls them "In-Ear Speaker".) First, if you don't know what the term "ear bud" means, well, if you have an iPod, you have a set of ear buds. It means ear phones, but the kind that insert into the ear canal, as opposed to headphones that fit over the ears like a cup, or on the surface of ears.

Specifications

  • Full-Range Ear Bud
  • Tangle-resistant Cable
  • Cable Length: 4.5 Feet
  • MSRP: $179.95
  • Monster

Since the introduction of Apple’s iPod, the selection of earbuds has grown by a large amount. Choosing a pair can be quite the task. Most people will head to their favorite big box store, or to an Apple store and grab the first thing they see. I’m fairly sure the average Secrets reader cares a bit more about the sound quality of their portable experience. There are some great offerings out by other companies like Ultimate Ears and Shure, so Monster does have some stiff competition in the market. Personally, I have experience with Shure earbuds, as my last pair were the e2c, a pair on the lower end of Shure’s product line. The Turbines list for twice as much as the e2c, so a direct comparison between the two isn’t quite fair. I will focus mainly on my experience with the Monster Turbines.


Design and Setup

The Turbine’s are a relatively simple design, made of black chrome metal, they feel very solid and a tad heavy. When I first picked them up I thought they might be too heavy when sitting in my ears, turns out they rest quite nicely once you get a good seal. The cable is light and designed to be “tangle-resistant.” I can honestly say that the cable never got tangled up on me, which may not sound like a big deal, but a tangled headphone cable can be a real pain. I’m pretty sure the longer cable on my Shure e2c’s preferred to be in a tangled state. At 4.5ft in length, the cable is a tad too short for my tastes. The 3.5mm connector has a slim casing, so you won’t have trouble using it with any cell phone or portable device, including the new iPhone 4 bumper case.

As is the case with all in-ear speakers, most commonly referred to as ear buds, they require a good solid fit in your ear canal. This not only seals off outside noise, which is great for traveling on an airplane, but it allows the earbud to generate a solid low end to the sound. Without the right fit, you will get weak, bass shy, and often harsh sound quality, so a proper seal is a must.

The Monster Turbine’s come with an array of “mushroom” and “tree” shaped eartips. The “mushroom” style is very common with earbuds, while the “tree” takes a non-standard, terraced approach. I played around with both styles for about a month and found myself enjoying the tree-style a bit more. However, neither quite did the trick for my finicky ear canals. I decided to order some high quality foam tips from Comply, as foam tips have always worked better for me at fitting snugly and blocking out unwanted noise. With the tight seal, I was really able to enjoy the full, detailed bass of the Turbines. I just found out about Monster’s own foam style tips, called SuperTips, and have requested a set to test out. I plan on updating this review with my thoughts on the SuperTIps after sampling them.

Here is a photo with the Comply foam tips attached.

The Turbines do come with a nice little carrying case as well.

I connected the Monster Turbines to a few different devices. Firstly, I connected them directly into my iPhone. Then directly into my laptop and finally, into my laptop via the Nuforce Icon Mobile (portable USB DAC and headphone amp).


In Use

Overall, the Turbines are a better set of ear bud’s than the cheaper, lower class e2c’s. Bass extension, detail and strength is significantly better with the Turbines. Also, I found the listening experience to be less fatiguing overall, both in terms of ear comfort and audio signals.

Directly into iPhone

Once again, I would like to note that the slim 3.5mm headphone connector fit just fine through my bumper case on the iPhone. I began my testing by playing Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a film score by Stephen Warbeck. The strings of the orchestra sounded smooth and full, with quite a lot of openness which is odd to think about considering how closed off your ears are. The pluck of the mandolin sounded natural and tangible. I am used to a bit more mid to upper-end detail with my main set of headphones, the AKG 701’s (costing about twice as much the Monsters), however the Monsters were more than adequate in the detail department. Overall very pleasant to listen to symphonic works on.

The bass line on MGMT’s track, “Kids”, was strong but not over powering. I could almost feel it in the rest of my body and not just my ears. I’m listening to it right now, as I type this. Most excellent.

Directly into Laptop

This was my least preferred way to use the Turbines. I’m not quite sure what my Dell XPS laptop is up to, but the sound was just a bit too bass heavy for my tastes. Listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was not all that enjoyable as the bass lines over shadowed everything else. It was certainly a good test of the Turbine’s low end capability since they had no problem handling the strong bass line from Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” The Turbine’s had zero issues playing loud and low, especially when compared to the Shure e2c’s weaker bass output.

Via the Nuforce Icon Mobile

When connecting the Turbines into my Nuforce Icon Mobile (portable USB DAC and headphone amp), I immediately noticed a difference. The low end was tightened up and the music space opened up. John Mayer’s “Gravity”, from Where the Light Is, just came alive on these earbuds. Guitar plucks were detailed without having an over-exaggerated brightness. Mayer’s voice was clear and had just enough meat to it, like you could tell there was a body behind the voice. I cranked up the volume on this track and the performance just sounded better. Bass drum hits had a nice impact, without being over-powering and the bass line cruises on effortlessly. Helps to create smooth bass response when not dealing with room acoustics. Did I mentions these play pretty loudly? I will mention it again, as I just cranked up the volume for the guitar solo. They still play clean and clear without distortion.

Listening to the Monster Turbines via a headphone amp is a painless joy. I have no problems listening all day while at work, experiencing little to no fatigue.


Conclusions

If you are like me and cringe at the sight of the Apple ear buds that are included with every iPod, then you probably take your portable audio more seriously than the average person. I would definitely recommend putting the Monster Turbine’s on your list to check out if you are searching for audiophile-grade ear buds. The sound is well balanced, with quite a lot of bass impact for such a small in-ear speaker. The build quality is solid and I love the “tangle-resistant” cable. I, for one, welcome Monster into the portable audio market. I believe their Turbine ear buds are a solid value and are definitely worth checking out. I will certainly continue to enjoy them everyday at the office, as I have decided to keep them for myself.