What would it take to get you to spend $350 on a set of headphones? I’ve been asking myself that very question over the last two weeks, and I think I may finally have an answer. The question wouldn’t have even come up if I hadn’t been sent Monster’s newest Inspiration headphones, which — as you may have guessed — retail for that exact amount.
all photos by Kevin Stanford
I approached the package unwrapping with some trepidation … what if I liked them? Granted, these were sent to me as a review sample that I would be allowed to keep, so whether I liked them or not, they were mine. But as with everything else review, by the time I was done I needed to be able to answer whether or not I would be willing to throw down my own money to purchase a pair of these.
Why should $350 seem like so much money to someone who has grown jaded about dropping insane amounts of money on mobile phones and other electronic devices over the years? I’m not exactly sure. But at some point past $250, they crossed a certain threshold for me. For me to ever be able to justify purchasing a pair of headphones such as these, I’d need to feel compelled to use them (because they were that good, not just because they cost that much), so they’d needed to live up to more than just a few expectations.
As expected, the packaging was suitably impressive and yet properly minimalistic. The box was held shut with a magnetic clasp, and when opened all paperwork and a microfiber cleaning cloth were tucked neatly inside an open paper pocket. On the right side, the headphones were packed inside their black travel case. Initial impressions were good.
Before pulling everything out and jumping in, I paused to reread the letter I’d been sent before the headphones arrived, a letter that was also included in the headphone’s packaging:
A Note of Inspiration from the Head Monster
Once in a while, a product comes along that changes the game.
Monster built a legacy on sound, from our Turbine in-ear headphones to the game-changing Beats™ by Dr. Dre. Innovations in audio technology provide a powerful foundation for what we do, but it’s our passion for getting the experience right that sets us apart. We make headphones that celebrate the details in your music that other headphones lose, so you get the full impact of the music.
Now we bring you Inspiration, one of the most rewarding music experiences we’ve ever created.
Serious Audio. High Style.
Our Monstrous team has made a headphone unlike any other, designed with serious audiophiles and music lovers in mind. We built it to deliver silky, transparent highs, breathtaking mid tones, and powerful bass – all with no audible distortion. Then we matched its extraordinary audio performance with a clean, cool style you can take anywhere.
And because music and style are so personal, we decided everyone should be able to make Inspiration their own with a wide array of interchangeable headbands. Take one off, slip another on, and express yourself like never before.
Inspiration is also available in an Active Noise Cancelling version that’s perfect for travel or noisy environments, but at Monster, we’re audio purists at heart. I wanted to start you on the headphones I wear: Inspiration with passive noise isolation. It gives you the truest possible representation of your music while still locking out unwanted distractions.
Monster is passionately dedicated to making your music sound as real and fresh as it did when the artists created it, and we’re very proud of what we accomplished with Inspiration. I hope you find them as inspiring as we do.
The Head Monster
First out of the box was the travel case, an 8″ x 5″ x 3″ vegan leather affair that had a 2″ clip on the end; the clip is easily removed if you don’t want it, but it might prove handy if you don’t have room for it in your bag when traveling.
And then the headphones. Opening the case, my eye was caught by the brushed titanium covering the ear cups — all hard, angular, and folded upon themselves. The headphones are also available in white or silver; I think the titanium ones are the least blingy, which is exactly what I prefer.
My pair of Inspirations came with a matte black headband, but inside the box there was also a shiny black mock-croc replacement; “Inspiration” is stamped in the plainer band, but not in the shiny textured one. There are quite a few choices of other headbands in an assortment of colors and textures available directly from Monster; so far they retail for $24.95 each.
The Inspirations are an over-ear rectangular design, with ear cups that measure approximately 3.5″ tall x 2.5″ wide. The right ear cup holds the two AA batteries (included) used for noise cancellation…
… with the switch for it on the back side of the right ear cup — just where you would expect it to be when searching for it with your thumb.
The left ear cup has the removable headphone cable port. The ear cups are cushy foam that has been wrapped in a thin black
Both sides of the headphones are branded Monster, and both sides say “Inspiration”, so these might be branded a little more heavily than some would want.
The headphones have retractable arms so that they can be sized up or down to fit almost anyone.
There are three tangle-free flat rubber coated cables included: a straight 3.5mm to 3.5mm, a ControlTalk Universal cable, and a ControlTalk for Apple. The Universal cable has an in-line mic with controls for “Android, tablets and other devices”. The ControlTalk for Apple has an in-line mic with controls for iPad, iPhone and iPod.
If you are listening to audio from your laptop, both of the cables with controls will start and stop the music, and if you are on a mobile phone, either cable with controls will start or stop the music so that you may speak to your caller.
If you are using a MacBook, iPad, touch or iPhone, you can use the outer two buttons on the ControlTalk for Apple cable to adjust the volume; the middle button will pause the music, or with a series of either two quick presses or three quick presses, you can advance to the next song or skip to the previous.
On their own, the headphones are extremely comfortable and they sound very good. But it’s when their active noise cancellation, a feature that combats background noise, is activated that the music playing sounds — for lack of a better word — incredible. Don’t get me wrong, these headphones can be used without turning on the noise cancellation, and if your batteries die you won’t be without music, but when that little switch is thrown, it is a pretty impressive difference.
I have listened to all sorts of music while testing these headphones … The Black Keys, The Dead Weather, Muse, Manchester Orchestra, Broken Bells, Radiohead, The Platters, Nine Inch Nails, Snow Patrol, Aaron Neville, Joy Division, Kaiser Chiefs, Pink Floyd, Average White Band, Depeche Mode, Jay Z, The Band, Robert Earl Keen, Golden Earring, Basement Jaxx, Bauhaus, Awolnation, Gorillaz, Def Leppard, and even Aldo Nova — and every artist that I ran through them sounded better. Every song, even Beyonce’s obnoxious “Get Me Bodied” — which is so bass-heavy against her shrill vocals that it rarely sounds good anywhere except inside a club — well, these headphones did not fail me.
The sounds produced by the Monster Inspiration headphones are so clean, rich and deliberate, that listening to songs I’ve heard a million times is a different experience, a better experience. If you were sitting next to me right now, I would slip them on your head so you could hear Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sensoria’ the way it was meant to be heard — thumping like it would have in a 1980s nightclub!
So if you ask me would I drop $350 on these were I not allowed to keep them? No. But only because they can be had for $50 less on Amazon. =)
Monster Inspiration Headphones are available directly from the manufacturer and from other online retailers.
MSRP: $349.95; Amazon [affiliate link] has them for $299.95. You can order in titanium, white or silver. Additional headband straps are available directly from Monster for $24.95 each.
What I Like: Clean design with rectangular ear cups; brushed metal on the ear cups is a nice highlight to all the black; you can swap out the headbands for personalized colors and textures, active noise cancellation technology; can be used even if the ANC batteries die; these sound incredible with the ANC switched on
What Needs Improvement: They are not cheap, but they may be the best headphones I have ever used
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample