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Comparison test: Three Monster Turbine in-ear headphones

Monster may be best known for its cables, but it also makes exceptional headphones. We tested Monster's three Turbine models and picked a winner.

The newest Turbine, the Pro Copper

And now there are three Monster Turbine in-ear headphones: the original and still great Turbine ($180), Pro Gold ($300) and now Pro Copper ($400). Which one sounds the best?

From the outside the three Turbines' earpieces look the same, differing only in the plated color finish; the standard Turbine's look is, cosmetically at least, my favorite. Its black chrome is the most understated, the Pro Gold is finished in gold, and the new Pro Copper is, you guessed it, copper.

Monster Turbine Pro Gold Monster

All three Turbine metal earpieces feel solid and sturdier than most in-ear headphones, and my fears that the metal construction would adversely affect comfort in the winter months turned out to be a false alarm.

The Turbines are also heavier than the other in-ear models I've tested, but overall comfort is average, and the generous assortment of eartips included with the Turbines go a long way to toward insuring the best possible eartip-to-ear-canal seal. Like every in-ear headphone I've ever used, if you don't get a proper seal sound quality suffers.

The Copper and Gold models come with two really nice travel pouches, and get this: a one-time, no-questions-asked replacement guarantee. So when you break them you automatically get a new one. Sweet!

But this report will focus on the sound differences between the three models. I still love the Turbine, it's a seriously powerful in-ear headphone, and in early 2009 it immediately became my reference, displacing my trusty old, and more expensive Etymotic ER-4 in-ear headphones.

The Turbine Pro Gold came next; it had a lot more bass and sounded more refined than the Turbine. The Gold's bass can sometimes sound like too much of a good thing, and it obscures detail in the midrange. The Copper's bass is a thing of wonder, and its bass-midrange-treble balance is more accurate.

Listening in noisy environments, the Gold's and Copper's extra bass cut through better than the standard Turbine. Maybe that's because in the real world there's a lot of low-frequency noise (rumble, thumps, tremors, etc.) competing with the music, and the Gold's bass bulge overcomes some of that. The Copper's punchy bass also cuts through the mayhem.

The original Monster Turbine Monster

I rarely listen to my iPod at home, but when I do the Turbines (all three) sound even better than I thought they were. Sure, a lot of environmental noise is blocked by the Turbines' ear tips, but some noise leaks through and obscures detail in the music. Even so, the three Turbines' noise isolation compared to other in-ear headphones is slightly above average. The cables are also thicker than average and less tangle-prone than most.

On Radiohead's "In Rainbows" CD, the Copper unleashed more of the drums' punch and impact than I've ever heard from in-ear headphones that sell for less than $1,000. Bass goes nice and deep, with spectacular definition. The Gold scaled things back a bit, losing some clarity along the way. The standard Turbine is no slacker, but it lacks the Copper and Gold's gravitas.

Grizzly Bear's "Yellow House" CD is mixed with a lot of reverberation, and the Copper's uber-resolution of fine detail revealed every bit of it; so the percussion sparkled and shimmered as it does in real life. The Copper's sound seems clearer, lower in distortion than the other Turbines. The Gold flattened the soundstage and glossed over the details; the acoustic guitars' strums blurred together and percussion transients softened. The plain vanilla Turbines' tonal balance was brighter than the Gold's, which I liked, but felt lightweight compared to the Gold and Copper.

Harper Simon (Paul's son) has a brilliant, self-titled new album, and I couldn't help but notice his voice sometimes sounds like his dad's, and sometime like Art Garfunkel's. The Copper brought out the best from the tunes' wonderfully rich balance. That was even more evident when I listened to Matt Berninger's vocals on the National's "The Boxer" album; the Copper got them just right, but the Gold slimmed the vocals and the band's weight down a few notches; the Turbines even more so.

The Turbine and Gold are punchy and dynamic in-ear headphones, but the Copper is closer to the wide-open sound you'd get with a good set of full-size headphones.

Are the Copper or Gold worth the extra dough over the original Turbine? It depends on your ears--how discerning a listener are you? If you have any audiophile leanings, go for the Gold. If you want to hear the most accurate sound, get the Copper. Everybody else will be blown away by the standard Turbines. They're that good.