Over the past several years, Monster has successfully moved beyond its beachhead in cables and accessories to build not one but two wide and popular lines of headphones—one line under the Monster name and the other under the new Beats by Dr. Dre brand (co-founded by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, Chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records). In the past, we’ve reviewed many Monster/Dr. Dre models, particularly enjoying the Monster Turbine Pro Copper and Miles Davis Tribute in-ear ‘phones, and the Beats By Dr. Dre Tour in-ear and Solo HD on`-ear models. Now, Monster has introduced the Beats Pro headphones, which are positioned as the most accurate model in the Dr. Dre product lineup.
The Beats Pro tries to accomplish a lot. First off, it is said to deliver “pro-caliber sound” of “incredible accuracy”. It is also designed to be comfortable and have a seal that shuts out external sounds (in addition to providing a sealed-back design). The Beats Pros are also appropriate for a mobile environment with their rugged, folding design. At the same time they are said to have extreme power handling appropriate for pro gear. Monster has applied some effort to the styling of the Beats Pros and has also attended to several convenience features involving wiring and connectors.
The Beats Pros then are not some casual effort. But with so many goals on the agenda, do they succeed or are they simply a muddle of competing ideas?
The Beats Pros have a folding design, which allows you to swing the earcups up inside the headband. This reduces the total footprint on the headphone, although with large earcups as seen on the Beats Pro you still have a relatively thick package. Add to that the fact that these are truly full-size headphones with beefy aluminum earcups and a solid headband and you have headphones that are mobile but not particularly compact.
The other aspect of mobility for some is the ability to drive the headphone straight from a portable device. On that score I can say that the Beats Pros succeed completely. I used the iPhone 4 and had no problem driving the Pros to volumes that were too loud for comfort. I also used the Pros with several external headphone amps with success.
The input cable on the Beats Pro, befitting a Monster Cable product, is interesting and well done. The signal cord is mostly straight, with a short, coiled section at the amplifier end. The cord is about six feet long when fully stretched out, which I find to be a usable length yet one that doesn’t get in the way on an airplane or around my computer. At the same time, the coiled section means that when you extend the cable toward the full length, you’ll feel a progressively firmer tug to your head, not an abrupt snap that could break something. Monster also realizes that you may use a ¼” phone plug input at the desk, but want to connect with a mini-plug while on the road. No problem, because Monster has attached a mini-plug to ¼” phone plug adapter with a rubber link so that you always have both connectors at hand.
When it comes to sound isolation, the Beats Pros give you some reduction of external sounds, like many circumaural headphones with closed backs. So, they’re better than open back headphones but not as good as active noise cancellation devices or custom-fit in-ear models.
The odd thing is that Monster has pursued this moderate level of isolation with a supra-aural (on-ear not around-the-ear) design. What this means is that the Beats Pros put quite a bit of pressure on your outer ears. Your mileage may vary, but I would not rank this among the most comfortable headphones on the market. The rather dense foam in the earpads does seem to mold to the shape of your ears somewhat as time goes on, so the initial discomfort doesn’t get much worse after 30 or 45 minutes. But pressure is still pressure, so I definitely encourage a “try before you buy” attitude. No matter how good something sounds, if it hurts you won’t use it.
So, how do the Beats Pros sound? Well, the simple version is “different.” I highlight this because there are a lot of headphones on the market, many of which sound like variations on common sonic themes, with more or less refinement and costing more or less money. That’s nice, assuming that one of those common sonic themes happens to meet your needs; in this case Monster has served up something different. It may or may not appeal, but at least it provides a true alternative.
The two themes I see most often involve characteristic frequency response curves. One such characteristic curve can be described as “n” shaped, where the headphone highlights the midrange and has some roll-off in the bass and treble. The AKG K702, many Grados and the B&W P5 all fall roughly into this category.