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Monster Turbine Pro In-Ear Headphones Review Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 December 2009
ImageDuring my last two years of high school, I would come home from class, put on my Koss headphones, take a seat behind my drum set and play along to music for about an hour. I played loud and needed the music equally so to hear above my own din. After every session I was left with a bit of buzzing in my ears that, fortunately, has yet to cause any permanent damage. But those couple of years spent learning Neil Peart's licks left me with little love for headphones. It seemed more like I was surviving the music rather than enjoying it, and have since never found headphones comfortable or pleasant to listen to.

The worst for me have been the “ear-bud” variety that now pervades the market thanks to the astonishing success of Apple's iPod. Most have painful upper-mids and highs that bring to mind Dustin Hoffman's character in Marathon Man, who is subject to some unwanted “dental work” at the hand's of a former Nazi Commandant, played by Laurence Olivier. Brutal. But I also concede that I've never listened to anything but marginal headphones, and it was time to make that move, which began with Monster's Turbine Pros.


Another set of ear-buds? Yes, and no. I liked the Turbine's design immediately. The individual “speakers” resemble a cross between airplane turbine engines and gold RCA plugs, even sporting red and blue rings signifying right and left channels, respectively. The earpieces come plated in either a shiny gold with black chrome or copper with bright chrome finish; the gold is engineered for bigger bass, while the copper is geared for professional reference applications. The gold version is the subject of this review. For such a tiny earpiece, the Turbines have surprising heft and solid construction; in fact, Monster offers a one-time, lifetime replacement guarantee on the product.

Monster is best known for its cables, and they've incorporated several technologies, including MicroStrand Conductors, Magnetic Flux Tube and 24K gold-plated contacts, into the Turbine's wiring. A soft, velvet-like pouch is included to house the Turbines when not in use, and an assortment of five different ear tips ensures the speakers stay in your ear when in use. These tips are not just tips, but “SuperTips,” which are designed not just to stay in place but keep outside noise from interfering with the music. Take a close look at the tips, too, and you'll see a bigger sound-hole than most ear-bud-type headphones. To my surprise, the smallest tips were the ones that worked for me. The tips fit snugly and comfortably - a proper fit makes listening much better. Nearly 4 feet of cord extends from the earpieces to the terminating L-shaped 1/8-inch plug, enough cable for most portable applications or computer listening.

“We wanted the Turbines to be able to reproduce every detail of the music,” said Monster's Noel Lee, in a pre-release video for the in-ear phones. With an MSRP just under $300 per pair, Monster is obviously targeting those who spend significant time listening to portable media players or spend their days with headphones around their ears. If the goal was to produce a “reference” in-ear headphone, Monster comes close to the mark with the Turbine Pros. A low-mass, ultra-wide bandwidth driver produces sound that is consistently clean, detailed and crisp as a freshly picked apple. These little dudes  are very revealing and expose many subtleties of a recording. The Jayhawks' “The Man Who Loved Life” had plenty of air in the arrangement, with Gary Louris' voice and Karen Grotberg's piano standing out to me. Transients are very fast through the Turbines. The opening chimes and cymbal crashes on Iron Maiden's “Hallowed Be Thy Name” were presented with a crushing blow, and I heard the ascending guitar riffs of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray in single-note clarity, including a couple lead-in notes that escaped me prior.

I love hearing new things in old music, such as the individual piano notes on Jack Johnson's “Monsoon,” where each key struck sounded with bell-like clarity and were easily distinguishable. Chet Baker's “You And The Night And The Music” is a laid-back, late-night jazz groove, with Baker's silky trumpet lines gliding through like the ripple of northern lights. That and Ella Fitzgerald's “Isn't It Romantic,” another slinky number, sounded clean with the perfect pearl of jazz sparkle. Isaac Hayes' cover of “I Stand Accused,” from The Isaac Hayes Movement, was one of my favorites played through the Turbines. The chocolately richness of Hayes' voice and his backing singers sounded heavenly through the Turbines, which served up the lower mids to my hungry ears.

The Turbines excel at presenting a vivid stereo image and separating instrument – this may sound like a cheap and over-obvious plug, but it was like I had a speaker in my ear and not a pair of cans blasting noise into my head. The sound was clear but pleasant, not uncomfortable compression funneling through headphones and assaulting my brain. Highs are soft, not shrill; the bass depth and response are good – not great. As I listened more and more to the Turbine Pros, I kept thinking that it would be cool to have something like headphone bifocals, where a subwoofer could join the party. I did find them a little bright, overall, for iPod playback, but that brightness fades when connected to a stereo amp or receiver (you'll need an adaptor plug) with more robust tone controls.

Final Thoughts

The Turbine Pros are surely the best ear-bud-type headphones I've heard and ones I could be happy with for years to come. The Turbines are stylish, perform strongly across the board, are comfortable and built to last. Monster touts, “Life is too short to listen to bad headphones.” I revert to Frank Zappa, who said, “Music is the best.” Music – especially the best music – should be heard on very good speakers, and that includes those of the in-ear variety. 

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