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Sol Republic Master Tracks review: A slick, sturdy headphone with strong bass

If you're looking for a more affordable alternative to the $300 Beats Studio headphones, the Sol Republic Master Tracks, which now sell for around $150, are an intriguing option.

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David Carnoy
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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.

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Sol Republic, the fledgling headphone company that launched in 2012, has done a great job marketing its products. In a relatively short time frame, it's managed to sell thousands of its distinct looking on-ear Tracks headphones, many of them to consumers who -- whether they admit it or not -- consider headphones a fashion accessory.

Sol Republic Master Tracks (Gunmetal)
7.8

Sol Republic Master Tracks

The Good

The over-the-ear Sol Republic Master Tracks have a clean, modern design, and offer a relatively comfortable fit with good sound that's punctuated by strong bass response. Also, the headband can be swapped out; the cords are detachable; and there's an Apple friendly inline remote/microphone.

The Bad

The headphones don't fold up or fold flat. Also, they don't sound as detailed at lower volumes.

The Bottom Line

The Sol Republic Master Tracks have a distinct, eye-catching design and good performance, offering better, more refined sound than the original Tracks.

Last year (2013), the company released its second-generation Master Tracks, a more expensive over-the-ear model ($199.99 list) that sports a new design with a more comfortable fit. It also sounds better than the original Tracks and Tracks HD, offering up clearer, more balanced sound to go along with the company's signature strong bass.

I liked it. It has a clean, modern design, appears to be sturdily built, and comes with an Apple friendly inline remote/microphone. And like with Sol Republic's previous full-size models (it also makes the Amps in-ear headphones), you can swap out the headband and customize the look of the headphones.

Sol Republic Master Tracks (Gunmetal)

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Since its launch, the headphone has come down in price to around $150 online, which helps its case. While you can get other full-size headphones -- such as the Audio Technica ATH-M50 (and its newer doppelganger, the ATH-M50x) -- that sound better for slightly less, the Master Tracks is a lighter headphone (more mobile friendly) and there's just enough here in terms of design and audio quality to make you think that it isn't grossly overpriced.

Design and Features

Master Tracks are supposed to come in three different "base" color options -- gunmetal, white, and blue -- but at the time of this writing I'd only seen the gunmetal version available for sale. As with previous Tracks models, you can basically disassemble the headphones and swap in a new "FlexTech Sound Track" headband, which is made out of bendable yet very strong plastic that makes the headband nearly unbreakable. The headphones also have detachable cords, so there's a lot of flexibility in terms of accessorizing the product.

Sol Republic Master Tracks (Gunmetal)
The "engines" come off the swappable headband. Sarah Tew/CNET

"Remix bands" are available in fluoro red, ion green, and progressive purple for $29.99, which is somewhat pricey, but if you are getting bored of your headphones, it's a cheaper way to give them a new look that buying a whole new pair.

I didn't love the fit of the original Tracks, and while I can't say these are incredibly comfortable, I thought they were more comfortable than Sol Republic's on-ear models. It helps to bend the headband so the headphones don't fit quite as snugly against your head. The earcups do have a little play to them, so they will conform to your head -- yes, they offer a tight seal -- but the headphones do not fold up or fold flat.

They are nicely weighted (8.6 ounces) and when you take them off your ears and wear them around your neck, they feel comfortable sitting there. I only mention this because I have feeling Sol Republic's designers considered how they would feel perched on your neck because there's some expectation that people will wear these throughout the day, whether they're listening to something or not.

Sol Republic Master Tracks (Gunmetal)
The headphones are nicely padded and do a decent job sealing out ambient noise. Sarah Tew/CNET

As for the headphone cord, it seems pretty durable. The two cords at the top are thinner than the single cord that terminates in an L-shaped plug (L-shaped plugs tend to more durable, though you may have some trouble getting the plug into a headphone jack if you have a tough case on your smartphone or one of Mophie's new extended battery cases for the iPhone). The inline remote/microphone is your typical Apple friendly three-button remote. It works just fine with iOS devices but won't fully function with most other smartphones.

The headphones ship with a basic carrying bag. While you might expect something a little fancier with $200 headphones, it's fine. Alas, when you have headphones that don't fold up or fold flat, all you can really do is stick them a bag.

Performance

Sol Republic's original $99.99 Tracks headphones stood out for their strong bass. The Master Tracks also deliver plenty of bass but it's not accentuated quite as much. While I wouldn't go so far as to call these neutral, balanced headphones, they are better balanced than the Tracks, offering better clarity and smoother, more refined sound.

Sol Republic Master Tracks (Gunmetal)
A protective carrying bag is included. Sarah Tew/CNET

What's a little weird about them is that they sound more detailed at higher volumes. At lower to more middling volumes, the sound is a little underwhelming, but as you crank up the volume, they gain some sparkle and have more jump to them. They can't match the clarity and open, more spacious qualities of the Audio Technica ATH-M50s . But they do have big, punchy bass, and they're the best sounding Sol Republic headphones I've heard to date.

In terms of what music the Master Track go well with, the short answer is bass-y music. Techno and hip hop are in their sweet spot, though they also sound good with rock tracks. Not surprisingly, these aren't tuned for classical listening. Then again, I don't think Sol Republic is targeting classical listeners.

Sol Republic Master Tracks (Gunmetal)
The inline remote with microphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

The original Sol Republic Tracks are one of those headphones people tend to love or hate. I pointed that out in my review, saying that if you didn't like big bass, they weren't for you, and they wouldn't fit everybody equally well.

Overall, the Master Tracks are a more appealing headphone -- both from the standpoint of design and performance. While I don't think they're super comfy, they're more comfortable than the Tracks (at least for me). Their sound is also more refined and their strong bass won't overwhelm you.

I can't call them a fantastic value, but now that their price has come down to around $150, they're a better value than they were when they first launched at $199.99 and are easier to recommend, especially if you're looking for a more affordable alternative to the $300 Beats Studio (2013) .

Sol Republic Master Tracks (Gunmetal)
7.8

Sol Republic Master Tracks

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 7Value 7
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