Sol Republic Tracks Air Wireless Headphones review: A Beats-like wireless headphone for less
At $200, the Sol Republic Tracks Air Wireless aren't cheap, but they're better priced than some of the premium Bluetooth headphone competition -- and sound relatively good, too.
Back in 2011, Sol Republic launched its
Over the last couple of years, the fledgling but fast-growing company has released a few different iterations of the Tracks, including the Tracks HD and Track Ultra, as well as the over-the-ear Master Tracks. But now, in a joint partnership with Motorola, Sol Republic's gone wireless with its first stereo Bluetooth headphone, the Tracks Air.
It shares many of the same strengths as the original Tracks -- an eye-catching design, durable build quality, muscular sound -- and small shortcomings that may affect some people more than others.
Like the wired Tracks, you can disassemble these headphones and swap in a new headband if you like. The big difference here is that the headband on this model has some metal embedded into it that acts as a conduit and connects the two earpieces, which Sol Republic calls "sound engines." So the company has retained the modular flexibility of accessorizing the earphones while not making any cumbersome changes to the design. Kind of brilliant.
That headband is bendable yet very strong. In all, these headphones seem very durable, but you can't fold them up into a more compact form factor. However, they do come with a simple protective carrying case (it's more of a pouch) that works well for storing the headphones.
This is an on-ear model which means these guys sit on top of your ears rather than completely enveloping them. The Tracks Airs are nicely padded and should be pretty comfortable for most people, but not everyone. Due to the angle of the headband, they may not sit quite right on some people's ears and if you have a smaller head, the headband can end up poking out of the bottom of the sound engines a little too much -- it doesn't look quite right.
I wouldn't call these lightweight headphones, but at 0.48 pound, they're lighter than many full-size headphones, including the Beats Studio Wireless 2013 (0.57 pound) and the Parrot Zik, (0.72 pound).
The headphones charge via a Micro-USB port on the right earpiece and in the box you'll find a set of cables that allow you to use these as wired headphones.
The power button is a little awkwardly placed on the top of the earpiece right next to the headband, but on a more positive note, it's easy to find by feel. So, too, is the volume control and one-button remote, which you use to pause/play tracks and skip forward and back (two quick presses to jump forward, three to jump back). Those buttons, which are the ones you'll use most frequently, are well situated on the right earpiece.
I also liked how when you power on the headphones a voice tells you how much battery life you have left (in hours). Battery life is rated at 15 hours, which is above average for this type of Bluetooth headphone (by contrast the Beats Studio Wireless Over-Ear's battery life is rated at 20 hours).
Like the Deck by Sol Republic x Motorola wireless speaker, the Tracks Air also features extended Bluetooth wireless range. Standard Bluetooth range is 30 feet, but Sol Republic says you can be up to 150 feet away from your source Bluetooth device and still stream music. In my test in our New York office, I managed to wander about 100 feet away from my device before I lost the signal, but I could see how you could do even better in an open area without any obstructions.
As with virtually all stereo Bluetooth headphones, there's a microphone integrated into the headphone for making and receiving cell phone calls. And finally, there's NFC tap-to-pair for devices that support that feature. I personally found it pretty useless since the headphone should automatically pair with your device after you've paired it once successfully.
The Airs grew on me the more I listened to them. I didn't love them, but I thought they acquitted themselves quite well for Bluetooth headphones. They accentuate the bass -- as a lot headphones do these days -- and have a little treble push that amps up the detail. If you're someone who prefers a more neutral, balanced sound profile, this isn't it, but it will appeal to folks who want a faster headphone with some muscular oomph to the bass.
That bass holds together well at higher volumes, though I wouldn't say it's incredibly well defined. And, on the whole, this isn't the most refined headphone, though that's partially a product of it being a Bluetooth headphone.
Switching from wireless to wired mode, you do gain something in the low end (it's a little bit more defined), but it's not a big leap in sound quality.
I haven't spent enough time with the Beats Wireless On-Ear ($279) to make a definitive judgment, but from what I remember, the Tracks Airs are more durable and sound at least as good, if not better. However, I did prefer the sound of the new Beats Studio Wireless Over-Ear Headphone (2013). It has a more comfortable fit and a bit more accurate, natural sound. But at $379, that model costs nearly twice as much as the wireless Tracks.
I also prefer the fit of the $250 Bose AE2w, which sounds very good for a Bluetooth headphone. Bose's sound profile tends to be a bit creamier and more laid back (it's designed to make all music sources sound good). In contrast, the Tracks Air has a more aggressive headphone and has bigger bass.
There are a couple of other models in this $200 price range: the
Like the original Tracks, these headphones are targeted at a certain type of listener, someone who's considering a model like the Beats Wireless On-Ear but is looking for something a little more affordable. Sure, I'd like to see this model sell for $179 -- or even slightly less -- but more premium Bluetooth headphones tend to sell for $200 or more, so the Air's price isn't out of line with the competition. The headphone's decent battery life is a plus, as is its increased wireless range over standard Bluetooth. It's also good that you can use it as a wired headphone.
My only reservation about the headphone is that it might not fit everyone equally well. For those with smaller heads, it may not be such a good pick. But CNET editor Ty Pendlebury, who has a somewhat large head (but not a big ego), liked the fit and found these headphones comfortable and sturdy. They didn't fit me quite as well, but overall I think they have a lot going for them and should be on your short list if you're considering an on-ear Bluetooth headphone.