First Impressions: Beats by Dre Tour & Monster Cable Turbine in-ear headphones
Two products that had their “official” debuts at CES 2009 were Monster Cable’s Turbine in-ear headphones ($150) and Tour in-ear headphones (also $150) from Monster’s sister brand, Beats by Dr. Dre. The identical prices might lead you to wonder if the two products might be one and the same—separated only by packaging differences and “badge engineering.” The answer, however, is that the Turbines and Tours are in fact significantly different, though both—in my opinion—have real merit. The fact is that both models were pre-announced well before their CES debuts, so that I have had review samples of both in hand for quite a while. I thought I might offer first impressions of both, to give you a preview of full-length reviews that will appear in Playback 18 (our upcoming March issue).
The Tours follow hot on the heels of the full-sized (and Monster Cable-built) Beats by Dr. Dre over-the-ear headphones, which have to some extent become an iconic product within the hip-hop community (the headphones make cameo appearances in videos on a pretty regular basis). In theory, the Tours are meant to embody the sound of the bigger Beats, but in an “earbud” format. In practice, however, I think the Tours succeed precisely because—and I mean this in the nicest possible way—they don’t sound exactly like the bigger Beats. You see, the full-size Beats headphones are plenty exciting to listen to, but they have two quite noticeable bumps in their frequency response curves—one in the bass region and the other in the upper midrange/treble region. The Tours have those same two points of emphasis, but in a much subtler and more subdued form, which—for me—is a change for the better.
But if the Tours are good (and they are), then the Turbines are even better. These little in-ear ‘phones offer robust physical construction (the Turbine’s solid metal housings are patterned after the beefy “Turbine” RCA jacks that Monster uses on its high-end audio cables), tonal neutrality, lively dynamics, and a good measure of resolution and detail. What’s more, I think they can compete with models priced over one hundred dollars higher. It’s said that Monster founder Noel Lee personally had a hand in voicing the Turbines, and if that’s so then my respect for Mr. Lee has grown by leaps and bounds.