That red cord. You’ve seen it. Maybe it was at the gym; maybe it was on the bus — but you’ve seen it.
With their Beats By Dr. Dre line, Monster has done what they do best: take a commonplace item, and turn it into a status symbol. How? By making their offering retail-level luxury, so to speak. They price things juuuust cheap enough that brick-and-mortar stores will still put it on their shelves, but expensive enough (that is, more expensive than most of their Best Buy competition) that many shoppers would inherently assume that they’re the best available.
But you, dear friend, know better. You know that more money doesn’t necessarily mean better performance — and you have the Internet! We took one of Monster’s latest addition to the Beats By Dr. Dre line, the PowerBeats Sport Headphones (complete with in-line iPhone/iPod controls!), for a spin. How’d they do? Find out after the jump.
For the price ($179 MSRP, around $150-160 in most online shops), the PowerBeats sound good, but not great. The bass is surprisingly strong, while mids were a bit weak — combine the two, and vocals often seemed a bit muddled. I’ve owned plenty of headphones that cost less but threw out better sound (like the $79 Klipsch IMAGE S4s, or any of Nuforce’s recent sub-$100 stuff).
As the “Sport” bit dropped in the name implies, the PowerBeats are built for activity. A soft plastic arm wraps around the top of your ear, keeping things from slipping out whether you’re running on a treadmill, bicycling, or wrestling bears. I’ve probably ran around 20 miles total with these things on, and they absolutely perform as promised here. Unless you straight up punch the cord or something, these things aren’t going anywhere.
One of the bulletpoints Monster offers up here is “passive sound isolation”, which is really a fancy way of saying that the fit is intentionally not 100% air tight. Why? Because if you’re running, you’re likely running on roads. Roads have cars, and cars tend to honk before they hit you. If you’ve got a 100% air tight fit, chances are good that you’re not going to hear the honking. Though I do feel that this affects the sound a bit, they’ve done a good job of limiting noise leak and the like while still allowing some level of ambient noise in.
A few months back, Monster started adding iPod-compatible in-line music controls to a number of their headphones. On most of their offerings, the controls are built into a simple rectangular box. Here, they decided to get a bit fancy. Unfortunately, said fanciness didn’t really work out in their favor.
You see, both the top and bottom of the control are tapered, buttonless surfaces. To crank the volume up, you squeeze the top — conversely, you squeeze the bottom to turn things down. Here’s the catch: while the top control is wider than it is deep, the bottom control is almost exactly the same on both dimensions. The problem with that? It’s really, really difficult to tell if you’re squeezing the bottom control the right way without stopping whatever you’re doing to look. Given that the entire reason for the in-line control existence is quick, sight-less control of your music, it sort of defeats the purpose. Having to stare down at your controls while you’re on the last leg of your treadmill sprint because you can’t find the damn “Volume Down” button sucks.
So, the question that it all boils down to: should you buy these?
If you’re looking for amazing sound for the $180 price tag, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for that combination of decent sound and a pair of headphones that cling to your head like a baby koala, these are a reasonable option. Alas, the wonky design of the in-line control really hinder the product as a whole.
Own the Powerbeats? Let us know about your experience below.