Big Hype, Big Sound: Monster Turbine Earphones in Review
Monster make Earphones!
Known the world over for car audio cables, Monster are now gunning for the growing portaphile audience who demand their mobile audio to be pristine. The Turbine, is Monster’s first high-quality earphone and is a fabulous entry into the crowded inner earphone sub-genre. Monster’s competition are the stalwart sellers: Shure, Westone, Etymotic, Sennheiser, Futuresonics, Bose, Apple, Phonak, Klipsch, Sleek and many more. For Monster’s Turbine's Fanfare thread at Headfi.org, click here.
The Turbine at 179$ USD have outclassed many inner-ear phones at any price. No other product has come in such a sturdy, well-laid out box that is both easy to open and great for keeping accessories safe and clean. Instead of sharp plastic moulds, the Turbine phones are laid out like kings in a sturdy and velvety carboard box and graphic art sleeve. A usable soft-sided folding earphone case is also included but does little to protect the Turbine other than from scratches. Overall, the package has looks good and adds to the feeling of quality that helps the purchase seem worthwhile.
Silcon flanges are becoming staple kit in low and high-end earphones. I see them all over. Flanges are magic-makers as they are cheap, not easily destroyed and washable. Since the Turbine sits inside your ear canal, it blocks out a certain amount of noise, allowing you to lower your music volume, save your ears and listen to your music – not your neighbour’s essay on the state of the automotive industry.
Monster include five sets of silicon flanges, some triple and some single. They are soft, flexible and comfortable. Also, the flange mouth is not as wide as many competitor’s designs which is a relief for those with smaller ear canals! Remember, with inner-ear phones, if you cannot get a good fit, you cannot get bass. With a good fit, the Turbines provide quality bass healthy portions.
Saying that, I will admit to only using the silicon flanges for about a week before changing to my old Etymotic ER4 foam-based ear-tip. It was not easy since Etymotic uses a smaller sound tube, so I had to first remove the inner rubber support tube and then crop the foamie slightly so that its end would not bunch up inside my ear, creating a boomy, bassy mess. Monster should include foamie based ear pieces for those like me who prefer a plush fit and a slightly different sound! (More on that later).
Monster Design – Turbine Driver
In purely aesthetic terms, the Turbine is beautiful. The outer cork-screwed casing is cold brass and the inner sound tube portion is a turned aluminium – it is a carnage of industrial design and attention to detail. Lovely! The Turbine earphones are easy to insert into the ear, but hard to tell apart. The left and right units are identical in shape, and other than slight colour difference indistinguishable one from the other. In other words, without adequate lighting, you won’t know which piece to insert into which ear – resulting in hearing your music backwards!
Monster Cable – Frightening
Sadly, the cable is a bouncy, microphonic mess in comparison to the wonderful Turbine design. If you wear the cable hanging down, earphone style, you will hear all your footsteps, the sound of clothing, rucksacks – anything and everything, snagging its way into your music. Looping the Turbine cable over the ear eliminates most of the microphonics, but the cable, full of flex and energy, may bounce off from the top of your ears, recreating annoying touch-sounds. Finally, strain relief at the most sensitive parts of the earphones is ignored. From the straight-angled plug to the tiny rubber bead that secures the cable at the base of each driver unit, the solidly constructed earphones are hamstrung by a frail but charismatic achilles cable. For the price, I would have expected better; and, from a cable company, this complete lack of protection isn’t acceptable.
Monster Bass – Subwoof[ears]
Firstly, Monster’s claim that the Turbines perform like subwoofers is a bold statement about in-ear technology. Because all earphone and inner ear phone units sit inside the ear, no vibrations, (tingling mids or thumpy bass) make it to the outer ear which is not the case with a real subwoofers. That said, the Turbine plays music deeply with well-resolved bass and a great emphasis on depth and detail. This is not another adolescent and ‘thumpy’ earphone for the casual listener. Though no in-ear or circum-aural phone can mimic the impact of a subwoofer’s bass on your body, the Monster Turbine produces top notch bass that is engaging and profound and easily matches the quantity of another king, the Futuresonics’ Atrio.
Monster Mids and Highs
Despite the raw bass power and resolution of the Turbine, vocals and energy from other frequencies are not muffled or distorted. Music is not too warm or dark and is not polluted by a bad echoing inside the driver unit. The midrange is beautiful – music is rendered in lively tones with just the right amount of colouration and treble shine, though not too much. The Turbine drivers must be exceptionally thin and light in order to achieve such a powerful and natural sound. However, customers who are really into vocal music may be put off by the slightly tepid mids of Monster’s Turbine.
Monster Speed – Monster Attacks and Decays – This Monster Loves Music
The Turbine sound is full of deep and punchy resonance, but retains the speed and detail I have come to expect from more expensive armature based canal phones such as the Etymotic ER4 series and the Audio Technica CK10. While not as detailed nor quite as fast, the Turbine has a fuller, more immediately attractive sound. My favourite music is Trance and I am well versed in the world of Armin van Buuren, Paul Oakenfold, PVD, Markus Schulz and many other DJ’s progressive and original works.
Trance is a fast paced music that relies on all wavelengths of sound to achieve euphoric and sometimes eerie audio experiences. Bass, treble, speed, attack, space and separation – all are important. In every one of these areas, the Turbine excels. Bass is a no-brainer – these are bass kings. But for a dynamic-based in-ear phone, the Turbine is fast and controlled. My previous Denon, Atrio and Victor suffered from either slow bass that congealed in between beats or violent reverb that gave me headaches. The Turbine is a little less focused than the latter, but at the same time, an easier, less fatiguing listen.
Just to be a well-rounded reviewer, I tried some old favourites: U2, Nick Cave, The Cure and Depeche Mode along with some popular music: Daft Punk, Justice and some 90’s dance tracks. Everything sounded great from my iPod touch and especially on heavily voiced tracks, I found the Bass Reducer setting to be a great middle ground for my tastes.
Monster’s Turbine is an incredible earphone for trance music. Its bass is bit, but not bloated, and it has pace and is smooth. Its full sound may be too much for some people, but I think it will capture most headphone fans' imagination. That said, it fails ever so slightly in one area: sound stage. In my experience, dynamic based earphones have provided a wider and sometimes taller spacial situation of instruments and sounds, if worse instrument separation than balanced armature based inner-ear phones like the Etymotic ER4 or Audio Technica CK10. However, I was surprised to find that the Turbine had a more closed-in feel than other dynamics, no matter which silicon tip I used. When I hacked my Etymotic ER4 foamie, I discovered a wider stage and more lucid bass than I had discovered with the silicon flanges. Alas, foamies are not included in the package but I am told that Monster are listening to Turbine users and may include foamie eartips in future packages – let’s hope they do.
When my Turbines arrived, I was ecstatic but tense: would they be another marketing toy? A big-name company bringing big hype, but low-quality to the masses? Luckily, the Turbine is neither. It is fun, detailed, well constructed, and does my favourite music very well. They are also praised by people who don’t care for trance or hip-hop: jacks-of-all trades that don’t suffer when compared on sonic virtuousness with their competition.
However, for the price of 179$ USD, I would have expected a much better cable. Futuresonics Atrio cable is easily one of the best cables included on an earphone for under 200$ but the total price is as low as 130$. I was excited by the great packaging and layout of the Turbine, but what a listener really needs more than a box is assurance that their product will last, without interruption, till they feel it is time to upgrade.
With those caveats aside, the Turbine is well worth its MMSRP of 179$ USD and is a welcome entry into the rabid and competitive world of inner-ear phones and is an easy Grab! Be sure to read our Interview with the Monster – David Leung Project Engineer of Monster says words about the Turbine earphones.
Monster Turbine High Performance In-Ear Speakers ($149.99)