About 30 years ago, Monster began to carve out a name for itself selling cables-on-steroids to musicians. Recently, they’ve decided to take on the likes of Bose and Audio-Technica with a line of hip-hop inspired headphones called Beats by Dr. Dre.
In between the series of massive, battery-operated over-ear models and in-ear buds sits the Solos, a folding, on-ear set that seems to hit all the key points for a stylish set of traveller’s headphones: Fly looks? Check. Portability? Yeah. Sublime, bass-infused sound? In spades. It even has a microphone. In fact, the only thing missing here — except for in one component — is Monster’s legendary build quality.
It’s difficult to avoid being hit in the face by the Solos’ styling. The white shell, grey interior and red highlights set the Solos abruptly apart from other headphones, and lend them a youthful look. The ‘phones also manage a seamless look when worn, a pretty neat trick for something with so much articulation (more on that later). Combined with the Solos’ slim profile, the design elements make for an on-ear set that might actually complement your wardrobe rather than conflict with it (they’re also available in black, if white isn’t your thing; although if it isn’t, you’re probably really pissed at Apple).
The comfort level is pretty high — after a longish break-in period for the ear cushions, I’ve been able to walk around with the Solos on for hours with discomfort setting in around hour four or so. The fluid way with which the earcups are allowed to position themselves while worn helps. The suede-ish covering on the band’s cushion is a nice touch. And while these guys aren’t noise-canceling, the cups do a good job of muffling outside noise.
None of this really matters though, if music through the Solos sounds as if the earcups were packed with mulch — and I’ll preface what comes next by saying that I happen to like bass-weighted sound; I’ve long been drawn to some of the lower-end Bose stuff because of that leaning.
With that disclaimer in mind: The Solos sound fantastic. The sound is fairly unusual: It’s undeniably bass-heavy — but in a way I’ve not experienced with other ‘phones. The bass seems to have a warmth and silky texture to it that’s lacking elsewhere (including in any comparable Bose models). And while the mids and treble are somewhat undercut and a little muffled, the result doesn’t seem — at least for me — to be unpleasant; and a little eq treble boost seems to mitigate any issue here. These aren’t the ‘phones I’d choose for enjoying one of Beethoven’s piano concertos, but they’re sublime when slurping up fare like a little Flo Rida or Massive Attack’s Heligoland. Of course, as with its appearance, the sound might not appeal to everyone.
Monster did a solid job of making the Solos user-friendly. They fold neatly at joints halfway up the band to fit into the supplied neoprene case. And not surprisingly for a company that made a name for itself producing audio cables, the link supplied with the Solos looks robust enough to bungie jump with with (not a suggestion) and is gold-plated on both ends. A giant volume rocker/play button/microphone handles control duties and works well even with gloved fingers.
But here’s where the Solos show their only real weakness: Besides the massive, industrial-quality cable, these aren’t the most robust headphones out there. During testing, both earcups managed to dislodge themselves from the main band, requiring a little straightforward but careful leveraging with a small screwdriver to pop them back; The top button on the volume rocker switch lost its rebound snap; and the hinges have progressively become noticeably less crisp.
Still, the Solos will pretty much plaster a smile on any member of the always-on-the-go-pump-up-the-bass set. As long as they’re careful with gear.