Monster’s Beats Tour Earphones in Review – Made for today’s music

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The Beats Tour, Monster’s second foray into quality mid-priced inner earphones, is a departure in sound, design and construction from their first, the Turbine; a product which is backed and co-produced by American hip-hop artist, Dr. Dre. At 150$, the Beats Tour tips the scale toward the more expensive side of portable earphones, but in many areas, stands tall even amidst stiff competition. However, at around the same price, the Tour’s closest competition comes from the Monster Turbine.

Monster, unlike other manufacturers, rarely advertise an earphone’s spec as a measure of sound quality, thus the Beats Tour hasn’t any information on frequency response, sensitivity, drive load, etc., printed on its packaging – rather, the company want you to enjoy the music rather than a bunch of printing which at times, can be misleading. TMA would also like to remind you that many horrid-sounding earphones have wonderful specs like 18Hz-22KHz, 110db sensitivity and the like. A spec is no more than the merest of guidelines.

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Monster’s homework was properly finished, including annotation and documentation, when their Beats Tour model was sent out the door. There are no traces of any last-minute design indecision in their product – it is a beautiful creation. Sheathed in a tasteful black art sleeve, the Tour’s red cardboard box is adorned by just three trademarks: Beats, Dr. Dre and Monster – a distinct marque of simplicity and elegance which is sorely lacking from many of Monster’s competitors.

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Monster have obviously spent time designing an easy-to-open package which isn’t going to cut fingers. It is also unlikely to be carelessly tossed out. A concealed magnetic latch, fastens the box together and opens to reveal the Beats Tour earphones, a carrying case and the adage, ‘Sound matters.’. As first impressions go, the Monster again deliver quality, attention to detail, and startlingly good looks.

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While the packaging, design and layout are impeccable – truly first class among portable earphone products – Monster’s accessory kit is somewhat underwhelming. Inside are 3 single and 2 triple flange earpieces – a fit kit which may or may not agree with your ears. It is similar to the Turbine kit, but with the addition of an extra triple flange, is slightly better adapted for different ear sizes and shapes. While soft, the silicon flanges are bulbous and may force undo pressure upon the inner ear. Both my wife whose canals are wide, and myself,  found our ears sore after only 20 minutes with the single-flange ear pieces. The triples worked for neither of us and unfortunately, don’t lend themselves well to modifying into dual flanges as the silicon is extremely soft and thin, easily tearing near the subsequent flange. Just as I lamented in my Turbine review, it is sad that Monster have not included a foam or hybrid foam earpiece into their kit.

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Monster also include a semi-hard case which is far more useful than the Turbine’s snap-to-close toss pouch. The Beats Tour fits perfectly inside, protected in the zippered clamshell with enough room to spare for extra ear pieces. There is no airplane adapter, splitter or extension cable and again, no foam ear pieces.

Cable and Construction
One of the most striking aspects of Monster’s Beats Tour is its cable. Red like the box, the thin, flat, and patent-pending, it is a portable-perfect 1,2 metres in length. Monster also claim that it is tangle-free (a promise which many companies make), a boast which I can attest as near-fact; no matter how hard rolled the earphone into a nasty yarn-like ball, the Tour never tangled. A good five minutes of the same changed nothing, and neither did haphazardly tossing the earphones around my laptop bag during a day’s long commute in Seoul.

However, my wife is that much more determined than I am. She tangled the cable – a miracle – using her intuition and probably some glue. This is the first earphone cable which I can confidently say is nearly tangle-proof.

Similarly, it is soft and not too energetic, creating very little noise in comparison to the Turbine’s cable. Microphonic sounds are largely dull echoes which are much less-intrusive than the sounds generated from many competitor’s cables, including Monster’s own Turbine.

However, the flat cable is both heavier and wider than its competitions; two factors which contribute to some annoyances while out and about. Using Monster’s earpieces, it weighs down the housing and can drag the earphones out of fit. Fortunately, the Beats Tour can be worn over-the ear, though fit and isolation may be impeded as the sound-tubes are angled for perfect use when worn straight down. All considered, Monster’s new cable, though not perfect, is far better than that of the Turbine.

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As for housing, Monster once again strike upon a quality design. As mentioned before, the sound chamber and tubes are housed in a sturdy turned-aluminium barrel. These are fastened to the cable with a strong, polished polymer carriage. This design, like the Turbine is unlikely to break despite receiving a load of abuse. Like the Turbine, however, there is no strain relief anywhere along the cable, a fact which, when contrasted against its sturdy build, puts the Tour at a disadvantage. Despite being famous for cables, Monster’s efforts in earphones seem paltry.

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Onto the Sound
Dr. Dre and Monster reckon that with the Beats Tour, I will hear what I have been missing in my music, especially with today’s “sonically demanding hip hop, rock, and R&B that crush ordinary earbuds”; a commentary I would fully have believed – that is, if I hadn’t been using extraordinary earphones until now. I upgrade immediately. In fact, the last bundled earbuds which I used came with my Sharp Auvi MD-DR7 Minidisk: the extraordinary Sennheiser MX300, phones that crush almost any OEM earbud out there.

Prompted by their suggestions suggestions, I prepared a list of modern Rock, Hip Hop and R&B: three genres that sound great with the Beats Tour.

Snow Patrol – Eyes Open

  • You’re all I have – The Beats Tour makes this song feel like it is played in a music store: powerful, upfront and lively. Bass weaves through guitars and drums for a deep rendition of Snow Patrol’s song. Vocals are in line with the Tour presentation, slightly recessed but well placed with the music but could be considered laid back.
  • Hands Open – Nothing is polite or recessed, guitar, drums and bass are all well-textured, loud and forward. Bass, though not incredibly deep, is awash with motion. It permeates the song through the Tour crashing wave-like, tangibly felt and heard. Guitar presence is among the most well-rendered parts of Hands Open with lower edges gaining power from the forward nature of the Tour’s bass.
  • Chasing Cars – In the same strain as Hands Open, Chasing cars is perfectly balanced with balanced presentation of all instruments and vocals.  perfect but bigger than life. Not clear, full of impact and bounding with musical stride.

Jackson 5: The Ultimate Collection – Though not modern, its re-master fits well with the sound signature of the Beats Tour.

  • I want you back – The Beats Tour retains the original lo-fi 1969 feeling which has rough edges despite the poor remastering. Though a perky listen, the music is simple and consists of few elements. Bass and vocals shine with the Tour, though vocal is still recessed when compared to instruments.
  • I’ll Be There – This slower song song shows what the Tour is perfect at – paced, melodic pop music. From drums to chimes and imaging – the song is pristine with engaging, but slightly recessed vocals and clear instrumentation.

Ice Cube – Raw Footage

  • I got My Locs On – The ‘duff duff’ bass of American rap is phenomenal with Monter’s Beats Tour. In faster music, the Tour are outpaced, but the slow, heavy beats of Ice Cube expand outward with finely cut fringes in a perfectly timed, tangible bass. Again, though vocals are recessed, primary and secondary singers’ voices maintain clarity and taut edges strong edges. The soft bass and polite signature of the Tour are great – even better than the Turbine for this recent Ice Cube release.
  • Gangsta Rap Made me Do it – Again, similar to the above, The Tour finds its legs. ‘Duff duff’ bass is perfect with reverberating edges whose slow, deep wells draw the Tour into its own territory.

Streets – The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living

  • Never Went to Church – Though the Streets music is rife with extremely forward vocals, instruments and Geoffrey Skinner’s voice are harmoniously balanced in a presentation which has no rival among earphones in the price category.

The below selection of hip-hop, rock/metal, R&B and movie soundtrack doesn’t sound great with the Beats Tour:

Metallica – … And Justice for All

  • One – A Metallica icon – aggressive and well-written, it’s guitars have breath and edge, but vocals and bass are recessed to the point of lacking raw detail which permeated the band’s 80′s music. Ulrich’s drums are for the most part well breathed, but lack definition and tend to fall into one another.
  • Dyer’s Eve – is one of heavy metal’s fastest songs with precise, yet lightly brushed drums and kick bass which require a certain amount of sonic finesse.  The Tour’s bass presentation is too slow to render anything better than a congealed, yet deep throbbing which hits the listener in jarring waves.

Danzig – II: Lucifuge

  • Snakes of Christ – Sadly, this song’s excellent melody and timing lose emotion with Monster’s Beats Tour. Drums are excellent, but staging echo, guitars and vocals are too polite, withdrawing the metal from the music.
  • Blood and Tears – Timing and staging are excellent. Drums wrap around the back of the head while voices float in the rear right shadowed by offensive guitars. This song was admirably performed with the Beats Tour, but sadly, retained the soft edges which make this earphone best for slow music.

MC Solaar – Mach 6

  • Hijo de Africa – MC Solaar is not another duff duff rapper. His lyrics and music is fast – sadly, to the detriment of the Tour’s performance, too much a departure from American Rap. Male vocals are recessed and too polite for for this song while bass, unperturbed, booms too heavily. Fortunately, female vocals are detailed and lovely.

The Braveheart Soundtrack

  • Wallace Courts Murron – Where the Beats Tour excels is the joyous introduction, but as the deepest notes descend into the song, the Tour barely vibrates in the song’s most awe-inspiring portion. Poor performance.
  • Gathering the Clans – Once more, melody is captured well, but the deepest bass of the song simply falls flat, failing to deliver a sense of excitement and apprehension which this song evokes.

Analysis
In a summary, the Beats Tour is an excellent sounding earphone – if it is fed pop, slow hip-hop, modern rock and the like. It is especially tuned for music which has been engineered with forward vocals, fast, high-pitched bass impact, and overall loudness at its core. In other words, what Dr. Dre must be hearing in his studio.

For modern music, its presentation is like an advertisement that punches large and full of life. Music that is engineered with especially forward mids isn’t jarring, but flows, catching bass and treble in a great symphony. Every contemporary popular music type I tested was the same: spot on. Though the Beats Tour hasn’t the widest headstage, instruments, vocals and placement are impeccably rendered.

Problems, however, arise from the ever-present signature of the Beats Tour. Because it is engineered for a certain sound (and what seems to be a select group of music), it is like an equaliser setting that fits a song or an album. If you change your music, you need to change your equaliser. The same is true for the Tour – it is great, when used on a certain album or artist, but lacks personality, depth, and edge that make other musical genres tick. My favourite music, trance, isn’t spacious or nearly detailed enough in the low frequencies to be fun. Bass edges aren’t defined nor quick enough in recovery.

Jazz and classical can also be lumped together with trance. Any instrument that needs crisp lines to convey meaning to a listener is too polite, probably owing to the tendency of the Tour to favour duffy rather than resonant bass.

Finally, other than Jackson 5, older music which was recorded prior to the love affair with compression of today’s music, lacks a middle which the recessed mids of the Tour simply can’t satisfy. Therefore, Metallica and Danzig were generally passable, but not exciting and the Braveheart Soundtrack which hinges on resonant bass and crisp instruments was a doleful performance. The biggest surprise was MC Solaar’s hip-hop, a genre which Dr. Dre must be familiar with. It simply wasn’t the same music as it is with many other phones.

For the sake of comparison, the Beats Tour is like a better sounding Crossroads Quattro – thick bass, smallish soundstage and overall inarticulate midrange. However, the Beats is by far the better sounding earphone – if it is used with the genres which it can champion.

If you like bass, but like music outside of the three prescribed genres of hip-hop, rock and pop, you may want to look elsewhere. Another earphone which has great bass definition is the Monster Turbine, but a properly amped Audeo PFE is also a good choice as is the RE2 from Head-Direct.

Stage and Hiss
The Tour, like the Turbine is not an earphone which excels in presenting  a wide musical stage. Rather, it does a decent, though not exemplary job of separating instruments. In the same price range, the Phonak PFE will perfectly disappear, leaving less of an impression upon the music, where the Tour exerts its compressor-like influence on tunes. This is not a bad thing, but for the person who desires crystal clarity and trance-like staging, the Tour is a phone to skip. It does not hiss out of the iPod touch 2G, though picks up a fair amount from certain amplifiers and is annoying out of the rubbish headphone out of the MacBook Pro. There is no reason to expect anything else. The Tour performs similarly to many dynamic-driver competitors.

After countless hours with the Tour, it was time to see if dedicated amping would pull additional detail from the Tour. The short answer is no. The Tour performs its best with an amp, but there is not a big change like with the Phonak PFE. If anything, treble rings a little more clearly and headstage tightens, but bass performance largely is the same. This is both good and bad. For those who want to use their great portable amps with the Tour, there is only the smallest of improvement to be had over a quality DAP’s headphone out, but at the same time, there isn’t the need to purchase an expensive external amp.

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Out and about with the Beats Tour
The Tour, like Monster’s Turbine doesn’t block external noise as well as some other earphones, even when using foams. However, external noises are sufficiently attenuated to be able to enjoy music at reasonable levels. Even in the loud underground of Seoul where the beggars peddle their disabilites to commuters; even when everyone around is speaking on a mobile phone – even there, I didn’t have to raise the volume of my iPod touch. Isolation is adequate for those who need it. But, the Tour will not cope with much louder venues.

For isolation, the Klipsch S2, q-Jays, UE 700 and Audeo PFE will effectively block out the majority of background noise at any volume level.

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Conclusion
So, the 150$ question is, has Monster made the ultimate earphone? Well, that depends on you. If you like the music at which the Tour excels: slow hip hop, pop and contemporary rock, the Tour is a great-sounding phone; it strikes forward-vocals in a controlled pace and jives with the duff duff bass of recently mastered recordings. For that music, the Tour may be one of the best earphones in the <200$ market. Similarly, its unique cable is completely manageable; it doesn’t tangle, nor make as much noise as most competitors. Since it can comfortably be worn over the ear, its weight and lack of a cinch are forgivable.

However, Monster’s disregard for cable protection is a shame; earphones need to be adequately sheathed with bumpers and stress reliefs as cables often die and users are forced to buy replacements. This cable company has still not managed the formula for the perfect headphone cable – a fact that still has me scratching my head.

Ultimately, the Tour, like any earphone, is a consumer device and it has been made with consumers in mind who may not have been introduced to higher-end earphones. Thus, cabling issues are up for moot. Despite its flaws, the Tour is excellently designed, and in a non-gaudy, highly stylised facade, the Tour is dressed to impress.

In terms of sound, Phones like the Audeo PFE, Monster Turbine and q-Jays are more aptly suited to please in a variety of genres. The problem is that, after being impressed by the packaging and housing quality, the Tour is a great product if reviewed within very stringent guidelines. If your musical tastes venture out of the narrow band of genres at which the Tour excels, purchasing the Beats Tour could be a mistake. If you are looking for powerful, yet detailed bass with great highs and rich mids, Monster’s own Turbine is a better performer across a myriad of genres, though may not handle duffy music quite as well. In the end, the Beats Tour is left with Turbine envy.

For this reason, more than any other, the Beats Tour scores a Tap from TouchMyApps.

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App Summary
Title:Monster Beats TourDeveloper:Monster Cable
Price:$149.99
  • Lovely package
  • Great carrying case
  • Decent selection of ear pieces
  • solid construction
  • Unique cable
  • good sound quality with modern pop music
  • no stress relief or bumpers along the cable
  • fit kit lacks foam pieces and silicon flanges may be uncomfortable
  • cable is heavy and has no cincher
  • sound is good for a limited array of music types

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