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Sol Republic Shadow Wireless review: Sweet-sounding in-ear Bluetooth headphones at a reasonable price

With its new $100 Shadow Wireless, Sol Republic takes on LG's line of popular around-the-neck Tone Bluetooth headphones and comes away with at least a draw.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

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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 e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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LG made the around-the-neck design popular with its line of Tone Bluetooth headphones; now Sol Republic says it's improved the design with its Shadow Wireless, which it calls the first in-ear wireless headphone to feature a NASA-inspired "biomorphic" design.

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7.8

Sol Republic Shadow Wireless

The Good

The Shadow Wireless has a flexible neckband design that's designed to fit the contour of neck and is comfortable to wear. It's water-resistant, sounds good for a Bluetooth headphones, and is affordable at at $100.

The Bad

Has elements of a wireless sports headphone but isn't really a sports headphone (the ear tips don't fit securely enough to be used for running). Battery life is decent (8 hours) but not as good as LG Tone Infinims.

The Bottom Line

The Sol Republic Shadow Wireless headphones deliver solid Bluetooth sound for a reasonable price.

At launch, the headphone comes two colors -- the black you see pictured and a "rich" gray -- and costs $100 or pretty much exactly what a wireless headphone of this caliber should cost.

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The Sol Republic Shadow Wireless lists for $100.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Shadow Wireless is water-resistant and you can use it at the gym, but it's not a being marketed as a sports headphone and I wouldn't try to run with it because the earpieces will probably slip out. While I can't tell you exactly how durable this headphone is and how it'll hold up over time, it does seem sturdier than the majority of LG's Tone headphones and I found it comfortable to wear.

The earbuds fit well (you get a few different size ear tips) and the bendable nature of the collar conforms nicely to the contour of your neck, which is I guess what Sol Republic means by biomorphic design. With this type of in-ear headphone, it's important to get a tight seal because you lose a lot of bass if you don't (and one of the appeals of this headphone is that it does offer a lot of bass).

I spent some time comparing this model to the LG Tone Infinim HBS-900 , which I liked a lot and carries a street price of around $125 and sometimes less. In terms of design, it's hard to declare a clear winner. Both are designed to worn around all day and make you forget you're wearing them when you're not using them. That said, there are things I like about the Sol Republic and things I like about the LG Tone Infinim.

The Infinim has retractable earbuds, which is a pretty nifty feature. That means that when you're not using the headphones you don't have to leave the earbuds dangling down like you do with the Sol Republics. It's unclear how durable the retraction mechanism is -- and the Infinim's cords are thin -- but I liked the feature a lot.

It's hard to say which headphone is more comfortable to wear. They're both good. I did have a slight preference for the Sol Republic when I was wearing a T-shirt (no collar) because I think the flexible nature of the band and its softer, more rubberized plastic can end up feeling better against your skin than the more rigid, hard plastic of the LG. But it's not a big difference either way.

As far as the button layout goes, I'd give a slight edge to LG, which has more buttons, including a dedicated on/off button and pause/play button, but they are clearly labeled and easy to operate by feel. While there's nothing wrong with the Sol Republic's buttons, the headphone has a uniform shape and is all one color, so it's sometimes hard to tell right from left and top from bottom. The best way to do that is to make sure the subdued Sol Republic logo on the left side is right-side up.

The headphone can connect to two devices at once, so you can switch back and forth between them, and there's a three-button remote and microphone integrated into the collar on the right side. For those unfamiliar with that style of inline remote, the pause/play button doubles as a call answer or end button, as well as a track advance/skip back button. You also get volume controls and a separate button powers on the device which puts it into pairing mode (holding it down shuts off the headphone). Wireless range is 30 feet or around 10 meters.

This model is equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 and aptX support. AptX is supposed to make Bluetooth streaming sound better with devices that support it, but it's questionable how much of a difference it really makes.

Battery life is rated at 8 hours. That's decent, but the LG Tone Infinim offers up to 14 hours.

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The headphones are designed to be worn around all day. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

I thought the sound quality was quite decent for a Bluetooth headphone, particularly one in this price range. Compared to the LG Tone Infinim, the Sol Republic plays a little louder and offers slightly fuller, more detailed sound, with deeper, better defined bass, which gives it a more exciting sound. That said, LG is a little warmer headphone and may be more pleasant to listen to for some people. The Shadow Wireless comes across as a more aggressive, forward headphone, and is going to be a better match for those who listen to more hip-hop and techno music (yes, Sol Republic is probably targeting a little bit younger demographic than LG is with its Tone line).

As with all Bluetooth headphones, you lose a little something by going wireless because you're dealing with some compression and frequency loss. These types of headphones have a harder time with complicated tracks (usually rock) where a lot of instruments are playing at once (things get mushed together). That said, the headphones did OK with Fall Out Boy's "Immortals" track, which causes a lot of Bluetooth headphones to stumble badly. It had a little rougher go with Modest Mouse's "The Best Room."

The headphone worked well as a headset for making calls. The only time anybody had a hard time hearing me was when I was walking in the street and it was windy. But with the ear tips jammed in my ears, I had no problem hearing people, even in the noisy streets of New York.

Conclusion

Both the Shadow Wireless and the LG Tone Infinim have their own appealing traits, so it's hard to declare one a clear winner over the other. However, one thing is clear: the Shadow Wireless is one of better products Sol Republic has put out for the money and it's a good value at $100.

Editor's Note: With the arrival of new competitive models in this category, we slightly lowered the rating for this headphone on August 15, 2016.

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7.8

Sol Republic Shadow Wireless

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 7