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Monster iSport Intensity review: Mostly excellent sports earphones

Monster's new $99 sweat-resistant earphones don't sound as good as the noise-isolating Immersion model, but people who prefer a more open design will like them better.

David Carnoy
David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews

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 reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
3 min read

Monster is making a push into the sports headphone market and doing a pretty impressive job of it. In 2012, it released its iSport Immersion in-ear model, and I liked it a lot. That model appears to be on the way out, but in the meantime, Monster has also released the iSport Strive and iSport Intensity In-Ear Headphones (the subject of this review), both of which have a more open fit and are not noise-isolation earphones like the Immersions.


Monster iSport Intensity

The Good

The <b>Monster iSport Intensity In-Ear Headphones</b> fit securely and comfortably and are sweat-resistant, and their "open" design has its appeal, particularly for runners who want to hear oncoming traffic. They also provide decent sound and have an Apple-friendly inline remote and microphone for making cell phone calls.

The Bad

The earphones let in sound, causing reduced sound quality in noisier environments.

The Bottom Line

While in sound quality the Monster iSport Intensity earphones are a step down from the noise-isolating Immersion models, they offer good sound and a comfortable, secure fit with an open design that will appeal to folks who don't like having eartips jammed into their ears.

Think of these as fancy, hard earbuds that have molded, removable rubber coverings -- Monster calls them OmniTips -- instead of silicone eartips. The design has a couple of advantages. For starters, the earphones are quite comfortable and will appeal to folks who don't like jamming silicone eartips into their ear canals. Like the Bose SIE2i sport headphones, they come with a few different sizes of "wings" to accommodate different ear shapes and help you get a snug fit -- and yes, they do fit securely.

The other positive for some folks will be that the OmniTips let sound in. If you're a runner or biker who for safety reasons wants to be able to hear the external world -- cars in particular -- these allow you do that.

The downside to their open design is that sound quality is significantly impacted by your environment. If you're dealing with a lot of ambient noise, you lose a lot of the lower and higher frequencies and are left with pretty flat sound. (Note: From what Monster PR reps tell me, the slightly cheaper Strive model, which has a different shape to its OmniTips, lets in even more sound than the Intensity.)

The Intensity earphones feature molded OmniTips. Sarah Tew/CNET

Personally, I had good results listening to the Intensity earphones in the gym or at my desk at work. They don't sound incredibly clean or smooth, but the bass does have some kick to it and their sound is a definite notch up from Apple's earbuds, even the new EarPods, which just don't stay in your ears all that well. But outside in the streets of New York they didn't perform as well, with reduced bass response.

The bottom line is that they simply don't offer sound as good as you get from their noise-isolating cousins, the Immersions. Even in a quieter environment, there isn't quite as much bass and they're not as detailed. That said, they still sound decent and measure up to competitors like the Bose SEI2i series and cost $50 less (though the Bose models are arguably slightly more comfortable).

You get a few different-sized wings, as well as a nice carrying pouch. Sarah Tew/CNET

Monster says the Intensity earphones are "tough, durable, UV-protected, and sweatproof for your most aggressive workout." In my tests I used them for a week, running a little outdoors but mostly on a treadmill at the gym. They held up fine over that time and overall I came away most impressed by their fit. It's hard to find sports earphones that slip in and out of your ears easily and also manage to fit securely. These have both those attributes.

The Apple-friendly ControlTalk inline remote/microphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's worth noting that they sport a tangle-resistant flat, linguine-style cord that terminates in a sturdy L-shaped plug. They also feature an integrated ControlTalk remote/microphone that's a Made for iPhone certified product, geared to users of Apple's mobile devices. The microphone features should work with other smartphones but the remote features will be more miss than hit (read: they won't work).

The flat cord terminates in an L-shaped plug. Sarah Tew/CNET

When reviewing sports headphones, design can end up carrying a little more weight than performance. The Monster iSport Intensity In-Ear Headphones' design clearly has its pros and cons. If you prefer not to jam silicone eartips into your ears and are looking for sports earphones that allow some external noise to leak in, these are an excellent choice. They offer a comfortable, secure fit, are easy to slip in and out of your ears, and seem fairly durable. Their sound quality is decent, particularly in quieter environments, but they don't sound quite as detailed or offer as much bass as Monster's noise-isolating sports earphones.

I can't say the iSport Intensity earphones are a steal at $99, but they're less expensive than Bose's similarly designed sports earphone models and they're not grossly overpriced. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but I have no problem recommending them, particularly to folks who are looking for a more "open"-designed sports earphone. Unless you're expecting incredible sound, you shouldn't be disappointed.


Monster iSport Intensity

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7
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