Monster Inspiration (Black) review: Monster's Inspiration headphones beat the Beats.

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.0
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0

Average User Rating

4 stars 6 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Monster Inspiration headphones are comfortable, have good build quality, and offer impressive, rich sound with good detail and punchy bass. They come with three detachable headphone cables, microphone options for iOS and Android mobile devices, and an extra headband cover you can swap in. Also, they fold up and come with a nice carrying case.

The Bad The Inspiration is a fairly bulky headphone set and pretty pricey -- and the extra headband covers are priced too high at $30.

The Bottom Line While the Monster Inspiration headphones aren't a bargain, their combination of excellent sound and solid build quality, plus a decent accessory package, makes them worth a long look if you're considering a full-size pair of headphones in the $250 to $300 price range.

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As many of you already know, Monster had a partnership with Beats to manufacture Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, which now come in a variety of styles and sizes. Not too long ago the two companies severed ties, but that hasn't stopped Monster from making new headphones, and its Inspiration models compete directly with models from its old partner.

The Inspiration comes in two versions -- the $299.95 (MSRP) model with "passive" noise cancellation reviewed here, and a $349.95 model with active noise cancellation. They each come in a few different color options and the way to tell the two models apart is that the active model has a shiny finish on the earcups while the passive model has a matte finish. Both types feature a swappable headband cover so you can customize the look of your headphones; Monster includes an extra headband cover in the box and you can purchase additional headbands for a ridiculous $30.

The headphones come with a protective carrying case and three different cords. Sarah Tew/CNET

I've been using the "passive" Inspiration for several weeks, though my first review sample was only 90 percent cooked and not a final product. The shipping product I received indeed sounded slightly better, with slightly tighter bass.

The first thing you should know is that these certainly don't have the same sound profile as the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, which accentuate the bass and treble. Instead, the Inspirations accentuate the midrange and come across as warmer and more natural-sounding. They don't quite have the accurate tonal balance of studio headphones, but they're closer to studio headphones than the Beats. That said, the sound has still got some nice zip to it. By that I mean the Inspirations' sound isn't laid-back. It has a slightly aggressive edge yet at the same time it's smooth enough not to induce listening fatigue.

While the bass doesn't go incredibly deep, there's plenty of low end to go along with good clarity. Overall, the Inspirations sound punchy, seeming designed to make your music pop and sparkle, though not particularly airy. They're well suited to a variety of musical genres.

I liked the Inspirations a lot -- and liked their design, including the square earcups. So did CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg, who writes the Audiophiliac column. The build quality seems quite good (though CNET editor Justin Yu wasn't certain the hinge design would hold up well over time) and I appreciated the fact that the headset has an integrated microphone for making cell phone calls. By comparison, one of our favorite over-the-ear models, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headset, doesn't have the integrated microphone but it does offer slightly more refined sound and costs significantly less.

I found the Inspirations comfortable -- the earcups are nicely padded -- and was able to wear them for an hour straight without a problem. That said, in warmer environments, your ears will get steamy, and the headphones are heavy enough and tight enough that you'll definitely feel them on your head. On the plus side, while these will leak a small bit of sound, they leak much less than the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. That's probably because you get a good, tight seal from the earcups.

The headphones are fairly bulky but have excellent build quality. Sarah Tew/CNET

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About The Author

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music and The Big Exit. Both titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, and Nook e-books.