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The Doctor is in | B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
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The Doctor is in

A Review of Monster Beats Headphones by Dr. Dre

By Kevin Reylek

Dr. Dre, one of the world's most influential hip-hop artists and producers, has teamed up with the good folks over at Monster to create high-quality stylish headphones specifically designed to take advantage of the painstaking detail that goes into the music of today's digital artists. Available in around-ear and in-ear models, I took both for a spin to see just what the Doctor has delivered.

Beats Around-Ear

Beats Around-Ear

The first model in the Beats series is the around-ear version. These traditional-style cans feature active noise-cancellation technology, an integrated digital amplifier, and a comfy design that fully surrounds your ears.

The attention to detail that goes into these headphones is apparent before you even open the box. The unboxing experience is "Apple-like" starting with top-notch quality and layout. Inside are the headphones, a rigid carrying case with a nice soft-touch feel and an inner pouch for accessories, a couple of cables, connector adapters, an anti-microbial cleaning cloth, and a pair of AAA batteries.

Getting the headphones up and running is quick and simple. The battery cover is found in the left earcup. A simple twist and it pops off for installing the batteries. To turn on the headphones, a switch on the right earcup has a red LED that lights up when the headphones are turned on. Once on, the extra-large drivers and noise-cancellation technology are ready for action.

The Beats feature a sleek design with soft around-ear cushions
The Beats feature a sleek design with soft around-ear cushions

The noise-cancellation in the headphones works quite well. Hearing my surroundings while wearing the headphones was pretty difficult, even with no music playing. A handy feature related to the cancellation tech is a built-in mute button that allows you to listen to your surroundings without having to remove the headphones. The soft, thick ear cushions provide some natural noise isolation, as well as a comfortable fit. Even during long listening sessions, I didn't experience any fatigue. These are made for all-day use

The headphones have jumbo-sized drivers and a built-in digital amplifier designed to give music plenty of punch. They definitely deliver in that department. I was able to set the volume level on my music player lower than usual without missing any details. The headphones performed well with a variety of genres, but really shined with bass-heavy tracks (Such as those produced by Dre). While bass in these headphones is strong, mid-level and treble frequencies are well-represented.

One area where I'm a bit of a stickler with headphones is with the cable. The Beats more than exceeded my expectations in this area. The headphones actually come with 2 cables, which are easily swapped back and forth. One of the cables (black in color) includes a built-in mic/button combo unit for use with smartphones such as the iPhone or Blackberry. The other (red in color) is a standard cable for use with a variety of players.

Convenient detachable cables let you go wireless for audio-free isolation
Convenient detachable cables let you go wireless for audio-free isolation

Each cable has a robust build quality with a soft and flexible coating. The cables also use what Monster calls their "Quadripole" construction, which provides improved balance and clarity while reducing signal loss. Each cable has a gold-plated 3.5mm connector for use with a wide variety of devices. I did a brief test of the built-in mic and control button with an iPhone, and found the call quality and use of the button to be as good as or better than any other smartphone-compatible headset I've used. An added bonus is you can wear the headphones without any cable at all for music-free noise isolation.

The bundled accessories provide a bit of icing on the cake. The 1/4" adapter and airplane adapter make it easy to connect to higher-level audio gear or in-flight entertainment systems. The carrying case fits the headphones snugly and contains a small inner pouch for keeping your accessories handy. The cleaning cloth is very soft, and is treated with AEGIS microbe shield technology to keep your headphones clean and shiny.

Beats Tour In-Ear

Looking for something a bit more compact and lightweight for day-to-day use? The Beats Tour is an in-ear set that offers sleek looks and strong audio, just like the around-ear Beats. There are actually 2 versions of the in-ear Beats. The standard Tour model is for music playback only, while the Beats Tour Mobile includes a built-in mic and control button for smartphone use. For this review, I used the base model.

The compact and stylish Beats Tour in-ear model
The compact and stylish Beats Tour in-ear model

The packaging on the Beats Tour is of the same high quality of the larger model. While there aren't as many accessories included in the box, it was still a treat to open it up to find the headphones, a small but sturdy carrying case, and a variety of interchangeable silicon eartips. The case is a miniaturized version of the around-ear case, offering nice protection for the headphones with a little pouch inside for carrying extra eartips.

A variety of extra eartips provide a perfect fit for the best audio quality and noise isolation
A variety of extra eartips provide a perfect fit for the best audio quality and noise isolation

Since these are in-ear models, they don't have the luxury of huge drivers and an integrated amplifier like the large model. Instead, they use efficient, responsive magnetic drivers in order to deliver a full frequency response and lots of detail. Like the larger Beats model, I found the Tour to work well across all genres, but really shine when it comes to bass-heavy tracks. (If you're a hip-hop listener, listen up.)

Like other in-ear headphones, finding a proper fit is not only key to comfortable listening, but it's also instrumental to sound quality. Luckily, 5 different sets of eartips are included; 3 pairs of single-flange and 2 pairs of triple-flange. I tested out the headphones with each pair before settling on the larger set of triple-flange tips. These provided the best fit and seal for me, your mileage may vary. The right fit creates a seal in your ear that acts as an earplug, which improves audio quality and helps to block out ambient noise. If you do pick up a set of Beats Tour headphones, make sure to try out all of the included eartips to find which ones suit you best.

The Beats Tour have a unique cable design that's unlike any other headphone cables I've seen. The cable has a flat profile (think fettuccini) and a soft, flexible, and durable "Duraflex" jacket, designed to prevent tangling. The cable has a soft-touch feel, and despite its thin, flat design it feels incredibly rugged. And try as I might, I was not able to get these to tangle the way I would any other set of in-ears. The cable also features patented magnetic FluxTube and micro-strand technologies to reduce interference for the highest-quality audio. The gold-plated 3.5mm plug provides wide compatibility with a variety of devices.

The headphones curl up in their compact case
The headphones curl up in their compact case

Final Thoughts

So how do the around-ear and in-ear models compare? Both are stylishly designed and slickly packaged. The around-ear model offers better ambient noise reduction, largely thanks to the active noise cancellation technology. The in-ears still blocked out a high degree of sound, but the around-ear model had the edge. Sound-wise, both models offer a full frequency range, but really shine when it comes to bass. For portability, each model comes with a convenient case for easy storage and travel, so the "winner" really depends on your needs. If you're a frequent traveler, constantly finding yourself on planes, trains and buses, then the around-ear model is probably a better pick. If you lead more of an on-the-fly lifestyle where you need big sound from a small package, then go the in-ear route. Whichever way you choose to go, you know your tunes are in the Doctor's good hands.

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