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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
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
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
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.
Like the over-the-ear Beats, the Inspirations are designed for both home and mobile use, and my iPhone had no problem driving these headphones. The headphone cord is detachable and Monster includes three cords with the headphones along with a nice carrying case, which the headphones fold up to fit into.
One cord, which has an inline Apple ControlTalk remote and volume controls, is designed for iPhones, while a second cord has a "universal" ControlTalk remote that leaves off the volume controls and is geared toward non-Apple phones. Both let you answer and end calls. Finally, for audio purists, Monster includes a third cord that has no inline remote.
While Beats headphones are targeted at a more youthful crowd, Monster seems to be going after more mature professionals -- sort of a slightly hipper version of the crowd that Bose is targeting with its headphones. In that sense, the Inspiration's sound profile probably has more in common with the Bose sound than the Beats sound, but these are a little faster and more aggressive than Bose headphones (I'm speaking generally) and the bass is slightly tighter.
I got a chance to compare the passive Inspiration model with the more expensive active noise-canceling Inspirations, and unsurprisingly this passive model sounds a bit better. While I liked the active noise-canceling model (I thought the noise cancellation worked well), this model offered slightly cleaner sound. It's worth noting that you can use the step-up "active" model without engaging the noise-cancellation circuitry, which is powered by two AAA batteries -- meaning that if the batteries die, you can still use the headphones. However, even when I turned the noise canceling off, this model offered cleaner sound.
There are a lot of strong headphone models in the $200 to $300 range, and you can argue over the degree to which they are overpriced. The list price on this passive model is $299.95, but its street price at the time of this review is $249.95, while the active model streets for $299.95. I can't tell you that's a bargain and I think the Audio-Technica ATH-M50s deliver sound that's a bit better, for $160. But that model is less suited to on-the-go use.
I also like the
What I can say is that overall the Monster Inspiration is an impressive pair of headphones. They're comfortable, seem well-built, and offer rich, detailed sound and bass that while not superdeep is tight and punchy. I can't call this model the ultimate $250 headphone, but I do think a lot of people who are looking for full-size headphones will like it, especially those who are trying to avoid headphones with overpowering bass.