First Listen: Monster Cable Miles Davis Tribute In-Ear Headphones

Earphones and in-ear monitors
Monster Miles Davis Tribute
First Listen: Monster Cable Miles Davis Tribute In-Ear Headphones

Some months ago I did an AVguide news piece to preview the arrival of a Miles Davis Tribute in-ear headphone from Monster Cable, which was billed as “the ultimate jazz experience headphone.” At the time I wondered, as perhaps many of you did, whether the product was intended primarily as a collector’s item for those who appreciate Miles Davis memorabilia, or as something more.

Now that I’ve had a chance to log some quality time with the Miles Davis Tributes, I’m pleased to report that, while the package is without a doubt a desirable piece of memorabilia, it also quite definitely offers that elusive “something more” in terms of pure sound quality. But let me put that remark in context. Up to this point, I’ve reviewed Monster’s original Turbine in-ear headphones (~$150, and a fine mid-priced effort) and also the Turbine Pro Gold model (~$300, and a worthwhile step forward from the standard Turbine in terms of more extended frequency response and improved definition). But now, the Miles Davis Tribute model (~$500) has arrived on the scene, and let me tell you that the performance gap between the Turbine Pro Gold and the Miles Davis model is even bigger than the gap between the standard Turbine and the Pro Gold. Truth: the Miles Davis model really is that much better than the Pro Gold.

Of course part of what you are paying for in the Miles Davis package are the tasty extras and intangibles that make it such a collectible product. Among those extras are:

*   Three carrying cases including a Miles Davis signature canvas pouch with a spring-clasp closure (perfect for pants pocket use), a suede Miles Davis signature case with a magnetic closure flap (ideal of jacket pocket use), and—get this—a miniature black Miles Davis “trumpet case” (said to be a good model of the case Miles used for his horn) complete with a blue satin lining bearing Miles’ signature. Frankly, the latter is way too cool (and delicate) for day-to-day use, but it sure makes a neat desktop knick-knack for show and tell purposes.

*   A splendid 2-CD Columbia Legacy Edition set of Davis’ classic Kind of Blue, complete with outtakes, alternate versions of songs, and a booklet that discusses in depth the impact Kind of Blue has had over the years on the music world.

*   An extensive (and I mean really extensive) set of various eartips—including Monster’s very sophisticated dual-layer Supertips—for use with the Miles Davis Tribute ‘phones.

*   …and, of course, the Miles Davis Tribute headphones themselves, whose earpieces bear Miles’ signature plus a silhouette of the great trumpeter playing his horn.

These extras are tastefully executed (though some might find them a bit “over the top”) and a lot of fun in their own right, but—please trust me on this one—the main event is the headphone itself.

Earlier today, I spent about 40 minutes on the phone with Head Monster Noel Lee to talk about Monster Cable’s headphone lineup in general and the Miles Davis model in particular. Here’s what I learned.

According to Lee, the standard Turbine is meant to establish a solid benchmark as a mid-priced headphone, while the upscale Turbine Pro Gold is intended as a significantly higher-end step-up model. In fact, he likened the sound of the Pro Gold to that of B&W’s popular 800-series loudspeakers (one of the most popular high-end speaker families of all time), observing that while the Pro Gold offered a good measure of accuracy, it also offers—in a very subtle way—a euphonic quality that flatters most types of music.

By contrast, Lee pointed out, both the Miles Davis Tribute model and Monster’s new Turbine Pro Copper models use somewhat different technology and are cut from different cloth, in that they strive to be extremely revealing—offering sufficiently high levels of resolution that they will make great recordings sound great and mediocre recordings sound, well, like what they are. Lee likened the sound of the Pro Copper headphones to that of very high performance electrostatic loudspeakers, such as the MartinLogan CLX. In short, both the Turbine Pro Copper and the Miles Davis Tribute model are tell-the-truth headphones that let sonic rough edges, if any, fall where they may. And that, in a nutshell, is pretty much exactly what I heard when plugging in the Miles Davis Tribute ‘phones for the first time.

While the Turbine Pro Copper and Miles Davis Tribute models share similar technology, they are not identical, in part because the Miles Davis model provides a slight, deliberate, and very well-judged touch of midrange forwardness, whereas the Pro Copper is the more textbook-neutral design. Lee explained that, great though Miles Davis’ and other classic jazz recordings from the 1950s are, they do not match (in terms of sheer midrange transparency and openness) the very best modern audiophile recordings. The Miles Davis Tribute model, with its oh-so-gentle touch of midrange emphasis, is meant to help make those classic jazz recordings come alive, yet without upsetting the overall balance and “vibe” that makes them so beautiful in the first place.

Finally, Lee explained that Monster’s top headphone models all benefit from the firm’s ongoing discoveries and new learnings in the area of eartip design (which I’ll discuss in more depth in a later blog focusing on that subject alone). The upshot, then, is that top models come with a variety of eartips—some of which are Monster’s special dual-layer Supertips that provide terrific isolation and uncommonly taut, deep, powerful bass. 

While Monster’s Miles Davis Tribute headphone is appealing as a collectible, the good news it that it’s even better as a device for savoring great music--and the best Monster Cable in-ear headphone I've heard thus far (though I'm still waiting for review samples of the Turbine Pro Copper, which I look forward to trying). Watch for an upcoming full-length review in Playback.

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