Nixon is best known for its high-fashion watches, wallets, handbags, belts, hats, and T-shirts. Now, the company is taking a stab at headphones with a line-up of three models of varying portability. The full-size Master Blaster headphones ($200 MSRP) show promise, but don't yet qualify for a rave review.
Unsurprisingly, the Master Blaster headphones are something of a fashion statement. Even better, build quality--from the padded real leather headband and ear cushions to the machined metal earcups--is impressive. The earcups pivot on a cleverly designed ball and socket mount. The unusual arrangement allows each earcup to automatically swivel into the most comfortable position. Indeed, the overall look and feel of the headphones is excellent, and you can choose from three finishes: all black, silver and black, or silver and brown. And Nixon includes a semisoft headphone carry case to protect that finish during storage and transport.
We're particularly fond of the fact that the entire outer rim of the right earcup is a headphone volume control; we think it's easier to use than a volume control mounted on a headphone cable. The Master Blaster comes with a skinny, braided cloth covered 5-foot long (removable) headphone cable terminated with iPhone compatible 3.5mm plugs at both ends. The cable connects to the left channel earcup.
Our design praise ends at the style, however. Everybody's head and ears are different, but we found that the Master Blaster earpads applied too much pressure against out ears. It was only mildly annoying over the first 5 or 10 minutes, but after an hour the Master Blaster was downright uncomfortable. The pads themselves are relatively firm, and it was the excessive pressure that caused the discomfort. Then again, you may not be bothered by the tight fit. We'd recommend buying only from retailers that offer a money-back guarantee.
The Master Blaster's sound is on the bright and detailed side of neutral. "Strange Times" from the Black Keys' "Attack & Release" CD blasted our ears with a heavy dose of blues rock, and the drums and guitar had oodles of detail. There's an undeniable immediacy to the sound of the Master Blaster, which was plugged into an Onkyo TX-SR805 for most of our home listening tests.
We next compared, the Master Blaster with the Sennheiser HD-555 full-size headphones ($170 MSRP). The HD-555 had a more "relaxed," laid-back sound, with much softer treble and looser bass definition. We like both, but they're very different-sounding headphones. If you crave detail and clarity, go for the Master Blaster; if you prefer a less aggressive balance, then check out the HD-555. Also, the HD-555 headphones have "open back" earcups, so they let more outside sound in; you'll be more aware of your surroundings with these headphones than the Master Blaster, which block out a fair amount of ambient noise because of the closed-back design.
Returning to the Master Blaster to check out Cuban big band jazz with Paquito D'Rivera's "Tropicana Nights" CD, we found that the sound was very open and airy. The big band's stand-up bass was clear and distinct, yet the bass went fairly deep. But thanks to the headphones' bright tonal balance, we were always more aware of the top-end detailing.
For our home theater trials, we watched the "Cadillac Records" DVD. There's a lot of great music in this movie, and when Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) sings her heart out on "At Last," the Master Blaster proved its worth. Knowles is accompanied by a large string section, and the sound of the violins was exceptionally clear. In the movie, the record label's stars were all presented with Cadillacs, and the sounds of their low rumbling engines cruising through Chicago's busy city streets amply demonstrated the headphones' low bass capabilities.
To finish up we plugged the Master Blaster into a 15GB iPod. The sound was punchy, powerful, and extremely detailed, and it had no problems effectively "cutting through" the New York City subway noise. Still, the Master Blaster is nowhere as easy to drive as our Monster Turbine in-ear headphones ($150 MSRP), meaning the Nixon couldn't play as loud with the iPod. If you really like to crank your sounds, chances are, the Master Blaster will come up short for portable use. But we're more concerned that the below-par comfort will be a deal-breaker for some buyers.