Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
While the market is flooded with new headphone companies, SOL Republic has a pedigree that deserves some attention. SOL stands for "Soundtrack of Life." The company is headed up by Kevin Lee, the son of Noel Lee. As many of you know, Noel Lee is the founder of Monster Cable. Kevin has worked at Monster Cable for years, learning not only about audio gear, but also about recordings through his involvement with Monster Cable's music releases.
SOL Republic has recently launched a line of headphones and earphones. The headphones consist of the Tracks and Tracks HD. The earphone line consists of Amps and the Amps HD. The Tracks reviewed here retail for $99 and the up-line HD model goes for an extra $30. The HD model has upgraded "V10 Sound Engines," while the base model has V8s.
The Tracks are billed as the first interchangeable headphones, which allow the user to modify both the aesthetics and sound. The Tracks feature a sleek and modern design, with a pair of "V8 Sound Engines" mounted on a flexible headband. The sealed sound engines are round and of the on-ear variety, akin to a Grado-type design, as opposed to the Sennheiser-type over-ear style. They are finished in an attractive gloss black with a stylized "SOL" logo across them. The cable is removable and features a microphone and a three-button control set for smart phones and iPods. All of these components can be swapped out. The headphones come in black, red or white, and numerous custom colors and designs are available as well. The headband is a piece of flat matte black plastic, bent into a horseshoe shape, with padding on the inside at the apex of the curve. The headband itself seems to be nearly indestructible and the design allows the sound engines to be slid off in order to swap out headbands, sound engines (from the Tracks HD) or even to do something as mundane as cleaning them.
The sound engines are relatively small with a low profile, and are round in shape. The ear pads are substantial and provided me with a good seal, while retaining the overall low-profile aesthetic. The combination of a good ear pad seal with a closed-back sealed headphone allows the Tracks to be listened to privately, with only minimal sound escaping to be heard by those around you. The design of the headphones makes them light enough to allow for comfortable and extended listening sessions. Positioning the three-button control and microphone at the "Y" of the headphone cable makes it easy to find without taking my eyes off of whatever I am doing, and allows the microphone to work well enough to let those on the other side of the conversation hear me clearly.
Read about the high points and low points of the Tracks headphones on Page 2.
• The Tracks are durable. We have been using them for a while and the combination of the low-profile earpieces and flexible, high-strength headband makes for a strong system.
• The three-button remote worked well with my iPhone. It was well-positioned and easy to use, and the microphone provided good intelligibility.
• The aesthetic design and interchangeability may be the Tracks' strongest feature, given the role that headphones have assumed as a fashion piece. The ability to swap out components in a multitude of colors provides unprecedented flexibility.
• The Tracks were not comfortable when wearing eyeglasses. This may vary with your head shape and glasses, but if you think you will be wearing glasses when you listen, be sure to try them on with your glasses before purchasing.
• A big selling point of the Tracks is their aesthetics. I found it notable that the high-gloss black finish on the sound engines attracts fingerprints like crazy.
• Audiophiles will note that the level detail in the midrange and the treble is not up to the level of the best performers in this price range.
The Tracks are easy headphones to recommend to most people. The Tracks do well with bass that goes fairly deep, with a good amount of detail. The midrange and highs were decent, with noticeable roll-off at the upper end. Where the Tracks fall short of higher performance headphones (and I presume the higher-end Tracks HD) is in their amount of resolution and detail. When comparing the Tracks to my old but six times as expensive Grado RS-1s or even Beats by Dre, the Tracks could not resolve as much detail in the midrange, although the Tracks provided more definition than Beats by Dre in the lower end and had more low-end punch than the Grado RS-1's.
The Tracks make for good everyday headphones for use in and outside of the house. Their sealed design means that they will not annoy fellow commuters or those trying to study nearby, making them suitable for travelers and students alike. The Tracks' sonic performance, coupled with lightweight durability, smartphone integration and reasonable price point, make them an easy choice. However, the ability to customize the Tracks via the SOL Republic website with a plethora of colors and designs is where the Tracks are unparalleled. I know of no other headphone company that comes close to providing its listeners with this amount of customization and, as headphones increase their prominence as a fashion accessory, the ability to customize your headphones to match your outfit or mood may become the unbeatable edge of the SOL Republic brand products.