Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gadgets and Gear: Headphones

Since my last post in the Gadgets and Gear section I have been looking to upgrade my headphones and it was a lot harder decision that I originally thought it would be.

I had just a few requirements for new headphones. They had to be Over-Ear design, had to have good passive isolation to outside noise, had to be comfortable for long listening sessions, and they couldn't have the over blown bass that is so popular these days.

It has taken me 8 months to find a set that fit the bill and while they don't make every point on my list they come close. I tested every set of headphones that I could find locally and they all fell way short on at least one and usually most of my requirements. They either had no noise isolation at all (open back design) or were terribly uncomfortable on my ears. The only real contenders were the Bose QuietComfort 15 and the Sol Republic Master Tracks XC.

The Bose headphones are $300.00 and active noise cancelling which is more than I wanted to spend and not a feature I wanted. The Sol Republic were almost as much ($250.00) and were difficult to find.

I had just about resigned myself to sticking with the headphones I had now (Philips O'Neill Snug's) and coping with the poor sound isolation and uncomfortable fit when while walking though a local store I found a set of Sol Republic Master Tracks (not the XC) on clearance for 75% off. Now the standard Master Tracks are different from the XC even though they share a series and look. The XC are studio tuned and have a much flatter sound pattern than the Master Tracks which have a bass heavy design like most modern headphones.  That being said, for 50ish dollars I couldn't pass it up.

The Master Tracks are comfortable, sound great, and do an admirable job of passive sound isolation. I have been using them for a few days now and I think they are a good compromise. The bass is a bit heavier than I would like, but the mid and highs are great. I haven't tried them with my FiiO E11 amplifier yet because I haven't needed to. Straight out of both my iPhone 5 and my Note II the sound is loud, clear and crisp.

I can wear them comfortably for 4 hours or so, after that I need to look for a break. The pressure from the headband becomes a bit much and the ear cups begin to get too warm for comfort. That is however about and hour and a half more than I can get out of any other headphones or earbuds I have.

Sol Republic headphones all share a similar design where the band is separate from the "speakers" and the band is interchangeable with other headphones and a large selection of custom headbands sold by Sol Republic. In the photos of my set, you will see a replacement band I purchased (also on clearance for $8.00) because I wanted a more disposable headband than the original which was much nicer than the normal bands with a full wrap around it instead of just a pad underneath the band.

They come with a remote control cable, 3.5mm to 1/4" adaptor and a (rather cheap looking) vinyl carrying bag. The only thing I could ask for (especially at the original $200.00 price point) would be a better carry case. I will be putting these headphones in to gear bags and backpacks and something to better protect them would be appreciated.

Sol Republic's web site does offer accessories and parts, however a better case is not one of the options. You can purchase new cables, headbands and even replacement "speakers" from the website as well as get a custom made set of headphones.

Should you be in the market for a nice set of headphones I can and do strongly recommend the Sol Republic Master Tracks.

This post was written while listening to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey soundtrack through my iPhone 5 and these headphones, It was a pleasure I hope to enjoy again and again.

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