(Editor’s Note: what follows is a blog—not a formal product review. In keeping with longstanding practice at Playback, we typically like to do “First Listen” articles to give you initial impressions when products first arrive, and then to follow up with more in-depth product reviews later on. Enjoy.)
In the last Playback newsletter I wrote a blog about Monster Cable’s Miles Davis Tribute in-ear headphone—a product I was pleased to discover was not only an appealing and unusual collector’s item, but also a genuinely excellent headphone in its own right. But in the course of preparing to write that blog, I also had the opportunity to interview Monster Cable founder Noel Lee, who supplied some very helpful insights that gave me a much clearer picture of Monster Cable’s in-ear product line.
To recap, briefly, here’s what I was able to glean through my talk with Noel Lee:
- * From a technology perspective, the top four models in the Monster line-up fall into two groups: the original Turbines and Turbine Pro Gold models constitute one group, and the Miles Davis Tribute model and Turbine Pro Copper models constitute the other.
- * The Turbines ($150/pair) are solid performers and fairly neutrally balanced mid-priced ‘phones.
- * The Turbine Pro Golds ($300/pair) share similar technology to the standard Turbines, though in more refined form, offering greater extension at the top and bottom of the frequency spectrum, and a significant increase in resolution. Lee commented that the Turbine Pro Gold has, by design, an ever so slightly euphonic quality (as in, “makes most material sound beautiful”) that may make the Turbine Pro Gold model the best overall choice for many listeners. In my conversation with Lee, he observed parallels between the sound of the Turbine Pro Gold models and the well-regarded (and commercially successful) B&W 800-series loudspeakers.
- * Both the Miles Davis Tribute model ($500/pair) and Turbine Pro Copper model ($400/pair) share technology that is different from that of the Turbines and Turbine Pro Golds, and that is geared toward providing a marked increase in overall resolution, though perhaps at the expense of a tendency to expose whatever rough edges or flaws there may be in any given recording.
- * Lee noted that there are sonic differences between the Miles Davis Tribute and Turbine Pro Copper models. Specifically, the Miles Davis model provides a judicious touch of midrange forwardness (which Lee feels is a sound that is highly complementary to the voicing of classic jazz recording of the l950’s and early 1960’s), while the Turbine Pro Copper has arguably more neutral tonal balance, with powerful bass and extended highs that are more or less evenly balanced with the Pro Copper’s articulate mids.
Not long after my conversation with Lee, a package arrived at the AVguide/Playback shipping desk, containing a sample pair of Turbine Pro Copper Edition models ($400/pair) for me to try out, plus samples of all three types of Monster Cable’s most advanced eartip designs. This was great from my point of view, in that it meant I was able to have all four of Monster’s top in-ear ‘phones on hand for comparison testing.
What’s In the Box?
Monster’s Turbine Pro Copper headphones come with two carrying cases (a flip-top magnetic closure case in suede, and spring-clasp pocket pouch), and a very extensive set of eartips (including five sizes of gel-type, double-layer Super Tips; five sizes of foam-type, multi-layers Super Tips; three sizes of conventional rubber eartips, and one pair each of conventional triple-flange eartips and foam eartips). Also included in the package is disc-like rubber eartip carrier with spaces for up to six pairs of eartips (the carrier looks a little the cylinder of a classic six-shot revolver), a shirt clip (to keep the signal cable from flopping around loose), and a ¼-inch phone jack adapter.
As a special perk, reviewers also receive a special Monster Cable headphone test/demonstration CD, which provides a variety of test tones and an assortment of musical selections spanning a number of genres.
Having spent the past several weeks working with Monster’s Miles Davis Tribute headphones (or MDs, as some enthusiasts call them), I would first observe that there is a strong family resemblance between the sound of the MDs and the Turbine Pro Coppers—a resemblance that hinges, first and foremost, on sonic resolution and plenty of it. With both designs, there is a certain purity, openness, and a kind of cohesive and “cut-from-whole-cloth” sound that I found tremendously appealing.
With some top-of-the-line multi-driver in ear headphones (that is, ‘phones that use separate, miniature bass, treble, and in some cases midrange drivers) you get wonderfully balanced full-range sound, but sometimes at the expense of subtle yet audible textural discontinuities between the ‘phones separate drive units. In contrast, designs such as Monster’s Miles Davis and Turbine Pro Copper models, which use a single, full-range, high performance driver, the discontinuity problem never arises in the first first place, which is undeniably a good thing. So, count top-to-bottom sonic coherency as a major plus for both of Miles Davis and Turbine Pro Copper models.
But the big differentiator between the models is tonal balance. Much though I admire and have enjoyed the sound of the MDs, complete with that model’s gentle band of emphasis in the midrange, it only took me an hour or two of critical listening to conclude that the Turbine Pro Copper is the more accurately balanced model of the two, and therefore the one I prefer overall. Heard side-by-side with the MDs, the Pro Copper’s seem no less articulate or compelling through the midrange, but—in relative terms—seem to have more powerful bass and somewhat more extended highs. If you are graphical thinker (as I sometimes am), then picture the frequency response graph of the Miles Davis model as having a very gentle (and subtle) rise in the midrange, with the response curve dropping back down to the baseline level in the treble region. With the Turbine Pro Copper, picture that same basic curve being flattened out—to near textbook-perfect neutrality—so that bass and highs are on the same basic level as the mids.
What this adds up to is a headphone that is very revealing, very articulate, and almost perfectly neutral—in other words, a remarkable honest transducer that appeals in much the same way that well crafted high-end loudspeakers do. The only caveat is that the Turbine Pro Copper, like top-tier loudspeakers such as the hyper-revealing MartinLogan CLX, will not and does not “sweeten up” or “gloss over” the flaws in imperfect recordings. Be that as it may, however, I’m really impressed with these ‘phones because, on good recordings, their richly detailed sound can be terrifically engaging—and sometimes downright breathtaking.
Are the Turbine Pro Coppers competitive with other top-tier models? I think they are. In a sense, they combine much of the powerful and well-balanced full-range sound of the Shure SE 530s, much of the comfort factor of the Klipsch Image X10s, and overall sonic purity as good as if not even better than that of the terrific Etymotic ER-4Ps. That, I would argue, is a formidable combination.
Next month, I plan to offer a full-length review of the Turbine Pro Copper in Playback. Until then, happy listening.