Long-term readers of Playback and those who downloaded free copies of the Playback Headphone Buyer’s Guide know that we think quite highly of Monster’s Turbine in-ear headphones (priced at $150). They are generally well balanced, comfortable to wear, and quite expressive—in short, one of the better ‘phones we’ve heard at their price point. Since the Turbines have few shortcomings, and their “sins” are mostly minor sins of omission, it’s only in side-by-side comparison with even higher performance (and, of course, more costly) models that one realizes that it’s possible to push the sonic performance envelope even further than the Turbines can go. For me, this realization led to one key question: what might happen if Monster pulled out the stops to build an even higher-end in-ear headphone?
No sooner had I posed the question than I discovered, at CEDIA 2009, Monster Cables announcement of a new top-tier model called the Turbine Pro (MSRP, $299.95), which is billed as a product “designed for serious audiophiles and audio professionals.” I’ve been pestering Monster’s PR firm for a sample pair ever since. As it turns out, the final production packaging for the Turbine Pros has taken a while to assemble, so that Monster graciously loaned me a pilot-product set of Pro’s sans packaging, so that I could get a jump on listening tests.
From the outside, the Turbine Pros look for all the world like deluxe, gold-plated versions of the Turbines. If you are skeptical, as I sometimes am, this might lead you to ask: how different are the Pros, really? Monster Cable isn’t terribly forthcoming with detailed design information, but their basic descriptions of the Turbine Pros do give some hints. Specifically, the new models:
- * Feature a “low-mass, ultra-wide bandwidth driver for superior accuracy.”
- * Come with so-called Supertip ear tips that appear slightly different in shape and consistency from the ear tips provided on the original Turbines, promising “maximum sound isolation.”
- * Incorporate noticeably more substantial signal cables featuring “MicroStrand conductors with ultra-low impedance for subtle detail and clear audio reproduction.”
- * Provide special heavy-duty cable strain reliefs on each earpiece, plus a more robust fitting where the main signal cable splits at a Y-junction to provide cable runs to the left and right earpieces.
Promising though these changes might appear on paper (er, in pixels) the real question is this: how do these ostensible improvements affect the Turbine Pros sound?
I’m not ready to offer any global pronouncements on the Turbine Pro’s just yet, but on the basis of several hours of comparative listening between the original Turbines and the Turbine Pros, I’ve identified several key differences—all of them positive and musically worthwhile. First, the Turbine Pros offer a welcome, across-the-board improvement in overall detail and resolution. In simple terms, they let more musical information pass through. Second, the treble response of the Turbine Pros is noticeably more extended than that of the Turbines, making it much easier to hear high frequency harmonics or the “air” surrounding instruments. Third, the Turbine Pros offer slightly leaner bass than the Turbines (which some might not regard as a positive change), but bass that is at the same time more tightly focused, more defined and detailed, and more deeply extended (a very worthwhile improvement, as I perceive things). Put all these factors together and you’ve got an in-ear headphone that conveys that effectively conveys the liveliness and deep, subtle expressiveness of well-recorded music. In short, the Turbine Pros take a legitimate step forward from what was and is an already very good baseline model.
How do the Turbine Pros stack up against some of the better models in the $300 price class? That will be my next avenue of exploration. Stay tuned, and watch for more detailed findings and analysis in our upcoming review of the Turbine Pros, which will be published later this month on AVguide.com.