Monster Inspiration Headphones Review

These aren't your daddy's headphones, unless he's that cool dad with your favorite rock star, famous athlete or movie star on speed dial. Monster's Inspiration headphones offer a sleek design that's also customizable, making your typical Bose cans look dated. The Inspiration also deliver powerful active noise-cancellation technology and deep, thumping bass. Find out if that's enough to drown out the competition.

Design

In a word, the Inspiration headphones are gorgeous. The combination of black leatherette, metal and just a touch of plastic is stylish with a futuristic twist, but still manages to exude a classic timelessness. The top of the headband comprises a removable leatherette strap with crisp stitching and an embossed Inspiration logo. The bottom of the band is lined with a thick layer of pillow-soft foam.

The dark, titanium-brushed stainless-steel ear plates look lovely, with a silver, diamond-cut Monster logo running up the sides. Our favorite part is the tiny screws stamped with the Monster emblem above the metal hinges. The headphones can fold upward for quick, easy storage into the included black-nylon carrying case. The Inspiration are also available in white or silver.

The ear plates are surrounded by a glossy, black-plastic rectangle that makes up the exterior of the ear cups. Like the headband, the ear cups feature a thick band of foam. The power switch to activate the active noise-cancellation technology sits on the right ear cup. The 3.5mm audio port is on the bottom of the left cup.

The right ear cup conceals a pair of compartments for the two AAA batteries necessary to power the headphones' active noise-canceling technology. A quick downward tug removes the ear cup, while a small push affixes it back in place.

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Customization Options

Headphones are more than audio-output devices; they're also fashion accessories. Capitalizing on the trend, Monster allows listeners to modify the Inspiration's look using swappable headbands. Priced at $24.95 each, the bands come in an assortment of colors, including red, green, silver or dark brown.

There are also different fabrics, such as denim and leatherette, as well as patterns like the shiny faux-alligator Raptor band. There are even editions that feature flags from the United States, France, Italy, Australia, China, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Switching headbands is a fairly simple process. We slid one edge of the band up to dislodge one end of the band. From there, we simply pulled the rest of the band upward, disengaging the five magnets from the metal strip on the base of the cans.

Comfort

After wearing the supra-aural (over-ear) Inspiration headphones for 2 hours, we found they were pressing uncomfortably against our ears. It's fine if you're not wearing dangling earrings, but if you are, you'll feel your jewelry pressing into the sides of your head. With or without earrings, we prefer the fit of the Beats Executive and the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones.

At 10.9 ounces, the Inspiration are slightly lighter than the 11.6 ounce Executive. For comparison, the Bose QuietComfort 15's plastic resin frame weighs a slight 6.4 ounces.

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Audio Cables

You'll never have to worry about replacing cables with the Inspiration headphones. Monster was kind enough to pack three audio cables. There's the iOS-exclusive ControlTalk cable and the ControlTalk Universal cable that handles Android and other devices, including our Nokia Lumia 928. Lastly, the company bundled a regular cable devoid of an in-line mic or remote for straight listening.

The ControlTalk remotes have three buttons: two for volume and a large middle button that handles the bulk of the work. Commands entered via a series of button input on the large, silver, middle button include Answer/Ignore Calls, Pause/Play Music and Skip Tracks Forward or Backward. The buttons gave a rapid response to our presses, delivering small audible clicks with each press.

Noise-Canceling

The Monster Inspiration headphones utilize a pair of microphones to capture and eliminate most external noise. The cans delivered one of the quietest listening experiences we've heard, next to the Bose QuietComfort 15s, without music. There's an initial small hiss that melts into the background almost immediately.

Despite the noise-canceling technology, we still heard faint conversations in our quiet office setting. We also heard the loud cadence of a woman's pair of heels as our colleague walked through the office. When we switched to the QC 15, conversations were reduced to soft background noise. However, the clank of a fork hitting a dish nearby was still audible.

The Inspiration headphones held up well against the din of the New York City subway. They significantly reduced the volume of a lively conversation taking place next to us, as well as a barbershop quartet that serenaded our car. The QC 15 did a better job of keeping things quiet, shutting out most noises and making others sound distant or as if they were underwater.

Audio Performance

The Inspiration know how to bring the boom. Thanks, in part, to their 40mm full-range drivers and Pure Monster Sound technology, the Inspiration pack a punch accentuated by aggressive bass and snappy mids.

As we discovered when listening to Jill Scott's "Making You Wait," the bass is fuller and more aggressive on the Inspiration than on the Beats Executive headphones. The QC 15 had the most definition, but sounded colder than the other cans. The Inspiration shine on the mids, as evidenced by the warmth in Scott's breathy, flirty delivery. Vocals were slightly muddy on the Executives, while the QC 15 delivered a cooler, yet more accurate sound.

We enjoyed a more balanced performance from the Inspiration on INXS' "Need You Tonight." The snare drum was nice and crisp, and didn't distract from Michael Hutchence's hypnotic vocal or the frenetic guitar riff. Compared to the Executive and the QC 15, the Inspiration had better definition and gave a fuller, louder performance.

Similar to the AKG K495 NC headphones, the Inspiration can play without active noise canceling (ANC) engaged. Switching the technology off makes for thinner-sounding audio. It cuts the bass level slightly at the expense of the rest of the track, which sounds hollow. In a sound-off, we preferred listening to the AKG K495 sans ANC, as it delivered a fuller listening experience.

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Battery Life

Monster claims that the Inspiration headphones, which are powered by two AAA batteries, will last over 40 hours on a charge. That's on a par with the AKG K495 and better than the QC 15 and Executive, which last 35 and 25 hours, respectively. We used the Inspiration on and off over an 8-hour period with the ANC showing no sign of quitting.

The party doesn't stop when the batteries do, however, because the Inspiration headphones can play tunes without them. Both the Executive and QC 15 go silent as soon as their batteries die.

Phone Calls

Phone calls placed and received on the Inspiration sounded crystal clear on both ends.

The active noise-canceling technology eliminated most of the street noise and made our caller sound like he was walking right next to us. On his end, our caller reported loud, clear audio with some background noise, including car horns and police sirens from the NYC traffic.

Verdict

Targeting a music lover with a more refined fashion palette, the Monster Inspiration headphones offer a sturdy yet elegant design that's very customizable. For $269, listeners can expect loud, full audio with balanced mids and sometimes overly aggressive bass. You'll also get a pair of cans with over 40 hours of powerful ANC-induced quiet on a pair of AAA batteries.

However, the Inspiration don't quite offer the level of definition we'd like. The $299 Bose QuietComfort 15's provide sharper audio with noise cancellation that blankets the world in near absolute silence. Overall, though, the Monster Inspiration are very good midrange headphones for music aficionados who want ANC and a hipper look.

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