The new Inspiration headphones, Monster's successor to the wildly successful Beats by Dr. Dre, come in two variations: the passive version ($269) and the active noise-canceling version ($329) reviewed here. These headphones were designed by Monster after Monster and Beats parted ways, and I requested the active version in order to do a more direct comparison with the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones.
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• See a review for Astell&Kern's hi-res portable music player.
Upon first sight, it was immediately apparent that Monster spent a lot of effort creating a visually attractive and unique product. Both versions of the Inspiration have rectangular ear cups in a full-size, over-the-ear design, so even the passive version provides some degree of noise isolation. My review pair was finished in white with a brushed-aluminum trim. The headband and ear pads were finished in white leather. The active version of the Inspiration is also available in titanium or silver, while the passive version is available only in matte titanium. While multiple color options are not unusual, the Inspiration headphones also feature interchangeable headbands. A variety of headband options allows for easy customization and the ability to change the appearance of the headphones in just a few seconds.
The Inspiration comes nicely packaged with a soft clamshell-type case and three different detachable, color-coordinated cables. In addition to a straight cable, there are two microphone-equipped ControlTalk cables; one is optimized for iPhones and the other is universal. Upon removing the headphones from their case, I unfolded the ear cups and noted that the hinges were substantial and solid in feel. I inserted the Apple version of the ControlTalk cable into the left ear cup and turned on the noise-canceling function by sliding a switch on the back of the right ear cup. A green LED on the switch lights up when the noise-canceling circuitry is activated. I appreciated the fact that the Inspiration would continue to work even when the batteries were dead (or the noise-canceling circuitry is switched off).
Upon first placing the Inspiration headphones on my head, I found them to pinch my ears. I slid them back and forth a bit to position the ear pads around my ears. When properly positioned, the Inspiration provided enough noise isolation to make a sizable dent in road noise. Turning on the noise-canceling circuitry made an even more significant reduction in the background sounds. My listening began with the active circuitry engaged. I immediately noticed a presence in the midrange that was absent from the Beats headphones, but the emphasized bass was also present, although with more detail and control. When I turned off the active circuitry and listened in passive mode, the overall presentation was more balanced without the dominating bass.
Read about the high points and low points of the Monster Inspiration on Page 2.