After its success with the Turbine In-Ear Speakers and the Beats by Dr. Dre Tour, Monster Cable enters the rugged headphone market with the release of its Monster Mobile Jamz with ControlTalk in-ear headphones. Along with the classic Monster Jamz headphones that feature the same sound without the in-line ControlTalk remote, these headphones live up to the legacy and combine near-indestructible build quality with engulfing sound isolation and excellent fidelity worthy of their $140 retail value, as well as our recommendation.
The lifespan of in-ear headphones varies from user to user, but we go through several throughout the year due to various pain points. Whether it's the plug shorting out, the wires disconnecting from the buds, or spliced cords, some part always seems to break despite our struggles to keep them protected. It's obviously frustrating to spend hundreds of dollars a year on high-quality buds only to see them fall apart after less than a year.
The Mobile Jamz tackle this issue with an impressively durable metal housing that supposedly makes them impervious to drops, spills, and even several hits from rubber, wood, carbon graphite, and steel hammers. We're always skeptical of product videos produced by their creators, so we replicated the hammer test using our own tools, and the housing actually held up to multiple attacks--as you can see, the smashing caused the glue to separate from the two halves of the enclosure, but the Jamz are otherwise unscathed and still play just as well as they did out of the box. The ControlTalk remote is wrapped in the same steel enclosure, and the cord features a tough rubber casing that repels dirt and grime, but also makes it easy to tangle up--although an included carrying case helps a bit.
Monster Cable products are never short on designer style, and the Mobile Jamz are no different, with a gunmetal finish to the buds that looks similar to the Turbines, but with an integrated remote on the cable just below the left earpiece. The remote has a microphone on the back and a small button on the front to answer a phone call and control your music (one click of the button to play and pause, two clicks to advance track, three clicks to go back a track), but they're only supported by the fourth- and fifth- generation Apple iPod, the 120GB iPod Classic, the second-generation iPod Touch, and the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 models. Of course, you'll still hear music if you plug them into an iPhone 3G or another noncompliant model, but the remote functions won't operate normally.
Compatibility issues notwithstanding, the ControlTalk remote remains our biggest gripe with the Mobile Jamz. First, the "skip track" button in the center of the remote is contoured to an awkward diamond shape that sits perpendicular to the natural direction of your fingers, making it difficult to grasp and press the remote while the buds are plugged into your ears. Second, the button is overly sensitive when it comes to double-clicks, and one press is often registered as two, which leads to skipping tracks we only meant to pause. Finally, forget about using the Mobile Jamz at the gym or on a walk; the extravagant design of the whole enclosure makes the left wire noticeably heavier than the right and thus has a tendency to force the left bud out of your ear.
The Mobile Jamz ship with five pairs of silicone eartips to ensure a good fit in your ears: three sizes of the standard circular tips and two sizes of triple-flange tips. We had trouble dialing in a tight seal on all the included sizes, so Monster sent over a sample back of its SuperTips gel and foam inserts. These are slightly more conical than the standard tips and the foam versions expand for a perfect fit in the ear canal, which made it a lot easier to attain a seal. Your mileage may vary, but we liked the SuperTips much more than the standard pack that came with the Mobile Jamz. Unfortunately, the sample pack will set you back another $25, when they should really just come in the packaging with the headphones.
Once the eartips are inserted properly, you won't be disappointed with the fidelity of the Mobile Jamz. We're just as excited about these as we were about the Turbines, and they performed admirably across a variety of genres. The headphones exposed every instrument beautifully on the Miles Davis Quintet's kaleidoscopic ballad "Something I Dreamed Last Night" without blowing out the horn section, and the breadth of the soundstage is unmistakable, almost like the music is coming from an external source, not just inside your head.
Sound isolation is often a big selling point for shoppers; look no further if you're shopping for a set of in-ear buds to drown out ambient noise on the subway, on the bus, or in the office. The Mobile Jamz do a better job of blocking outside noise than the Klipsch S4i, a similar set of MP3 player-friendly earbuds for $100, and the Jamz's isolation is so deep that it's difficult to notice someone calling your name directly behind you--just a warning to use your eyes to pay attention to your surroundings while using these headphones.
Our final criticism is that you can hear the sound of anything rubbing against the headphone cord inside the headphones while listening to softer music, so, again, the Jamz aren't the ideal candidate for active listening at the gym or while jogging. If that's your main concern, check out this roundup of headphones better suited for exercise.