Toward the end of 2008 Monster Cable announced the release of ambitious new in-ear headphones called the “Turbine In-Ear Speakers,” priced at $150. Three things caught my attention in this announcement.
First, Monster stated that the Turbines were “personally designed by (Monster CEO and founder) Noel Lee, undergoing three years of rigorous research, development, and refinement.” Frankly, it’s uncommon for the heads of large companies to take such a personal, hands-on role in creating individual new products, so I was eager to see how Lee’s brainchild would sound.
Second, the Turbines were announced with the same price as another new high-performance in-ear headphone from Monster (namely, the Beats by Dre Tours reviewed elsewhere in this issue), which led me to wonder if the products might be one and the same. The answer—as you’ll see if you read both reviews—is that they are actually quite different (though both have merit).
Third, I was struck by Monster’s promise that the Turbines deliver sound comparable to that of “full-size high-end speakers”—a claim I’d ordinarily be inclined to discount as mere marketing hyperbole. At CES 2009, however, Noel Lee spoke convincingly of his desire to offer the Turbines as a means of making legitimate high-end sound accessible to a new generation of listeners who want portable solutions and who could not manage the costs or space requirement associated with traditional high-end loudspeakers.
Does the Turbine meet Lee’s ambitious goals? In many ways, I think it does.
Consider this headphones if: you know and love genuinely accurate sound, or if you are the sort of person who enjoys “going deep” to savor the rich inner details and textures that can spell the difference between good recordings and great ones. In many respects, these no-nonsense in-ear ‘phones can compete with models twice their price.
Look elsewhere if: you seek headphones that add subtle (or perhaps not-so-subtle) sonic colorations calculated to appeal to specific tastes or sonic preferences. Like faithful and factual news reporters, the Turbines consistently “tell it like it is,” without injecting sonic editorial embellishments of their own.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced in-ear headphones):
As is often the case with accomplished full-range loudspeakers, the sonic goodness of the Turbine headphones starts right in the heart of the midrange (where most of the music really happens), and then spreads outwards from there to encompass high and low frequency extremes. When you first put the Turbines on, you’re likely to notice how smooth and evenly balanced their midrange frequencies are, or to note their easygoing, unforced clarity (sonic details unfold naturally without histrionics or artificial highlighting). Next you’ll notice how the Turbine’s bass provides rich yet taut and powerful foundational support for the music, while steering clear of pockets of boominess or bloated excess. Finally, you’ll find the Turbine’s highs are clear, extended, and reasonably detailed, yet without applying false layers treble “sheen” on top of high-frequency harmonics. In short, the Turbine’s core sound is accurate, well balanced, and fundamentally “honest."