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dalethorn's picture
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Sol Republic Master Tracks stereo headphone review

Youtube review:

Sources: iPhone4 alone, iPhone4 with v-moda Verza DAC/amp, various computers using the HRT Microstreamer DAC/amp and the Microstreamer's headphone out.

First impression of the Sol Republic Master Tracks ('SRMT' from here on): Bass! The kind you don't have to argue about. It's there in quantity for any need you might have. That aside, I see this SRMT as 2 headphones in one (a bargain BTW) - the extra-bass model for gaming, TV action film, house and other bass-centric music, and the hi-fi model (using bass reduction) for symphonies, folk and acoustic, jazz, rock/pop/metal, and other such delicate genres. Unless otherwise noted, all comments below apply to the SRMT using bass reduction, since I listen to music only, and my tastes are mostly towards neutral reproduction.

The SRMT sounds to me like a blend of two other headphones I have - the Marshall Monitor and the Beats Mixr. The SRMT's bass is extra strong like the Mixr, and when bass reduction is used, still has a stronger bass (including the deep bass) than most so-called high fidelity headphones. The rest of the range above the upper bass sounds more like the Marshall - darker than the Mixr, especially in the "presence" region or lower treble. Most other reviews I've read of the SRMT don't describe the sound very precisely, comparing to other known references like the Mixr, or even the old school headphones like the Sennheiser and Beyer models. I have a feeling that any critical reviews of the SRMT by the best-known establishment reviewers will find the combination of extra strong bass and some shyness in the lower treble - that will take points off of their ratings for this headphone.

In my case, using bass reduction for critical listening at home, the balance is perfect, or as near perfect as anything else I have, and that's excellent. The sound overall has a darker tonality than the average headphone, including the Beats Mixr, and it's about the same as the Marshall Monitor. The reasons I believe the SRMT is a 2-headphones-in-1 bargain is because 1) The SRMT's sound using bass reduction is excellent, with no bothersome peaks or dips anywhere in the music frequency spectrum; 2) The sound played flat (no EQ) provides the extra bass that gets lost in many portable use situations - outdoors or on public transport for example; and 3) Where most "bassy" headphones don't have the extra strength in the deep bass that they have in the upper bass, and using bass reduction with those headphones results in a weak lower bass, the SRMT's lower bass remains solid with good impact. The only other headphones I recall having this good of a bass response are the v-moda M100 and the Beats Mixr.

The overall sound of the SRMT is very smooth from top to bottom. Unlike some reviewers who go into minute detail about the many aspects of sound the customer is likely to experience with their new headphone, I stick to the things I can explain - the things that anyone can hear on their music player, computer, or portable headphone amp etc. Besides having a bass response that's solid and detailed (given the things I noted above), and a midrange that's just right (neither forward nor recessed), the SRMT's treble is also ideal - just strong enough with enough detail for reproducing the fine upper harmonic detail in voices and instruments, but not so strong as to make sibilants or other treble irritations from lower-quality music tracks bothersome. I rarely say anything about amps except that they improve the sense of space or "air", but with the SRMT and my USB DAC/amps, the highs dried up more than when playing with the iPod alone, and I got better results with the FiiO E07k through the 'Aux' port.

The SRMT's soundstage seems at least average, which is good for a closed-back headphone. Isolation also seems average for a closed headphone, and the leakage is low - low enough that playing the SRMT at a moderate volume level in a cubicle next to other cubicles in a quiet office should not be a problem. The music track examples listed below will tell my impressions of the SRMT's sound with that particular music. If you should happen to read other reviews on the SRMT that describe either the mids or treble as recessed, consider that those reviewers are playing the SRMT with the bass full up and that I'm using bass reduction. The reason I'm not reviewing the sound of the SRMT played flat (no EQ) is because many other reviewers have already done that, and I want to provide an alternative for customers who'd like to have a headphone like the SRMT, but wouldn't like extra-strong bass.

The SRMT comes in several colors, and my video review shows the plain black version I purchased. The SRMT seems to be mostly plastic, including the headband I think, but the headbands are user-replaceable and are easily found at retail stores. I consider the build quality to be as good as the sound - excellent. The earcups are circumaural (around-ear), and they fit around my average or larger size ears with great comfort. There are 2 main classes of circumaural earcups in my experience - the large round cups like the Beyerdynamic DT770 and other Beyer series, or the Soundmagic HP100 and HP200, to name some examples. Then there are the smaller oval earcups/earpads like the Sennheiser Momentum, the Phiaton MS400, the v-moda M100, and the SRMT. The SRMT fits me better with greater comfort than any of these other small oval earcup/earpad designs.

The headband clamp is fairly light for this type of headphone, and it's also very secure on the head, but the snug and secure fit may have a price - in very warm weather the earcups may feel overly warm. The 4-ft. straight cable is detachable and double-side entry, and the 2.5mm plug that goes into each earcup looks like a stereo plug, although the extra connector may have something to do with the start/stop and volume controls. The other end for the computer or music player is an Apple-style right-angle miniplug. The SRMT doesn't come with any sort of carry case, just a thin plastic-coated bag that won't protect the headphone from anything. If you need to take this headphone with you to various places and you don't want to wear it around your neck (that works very well BTW), I'd advise taking it apart - earcups and headband and cable - and packing them into whatever protective container you can find.

In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the SRMT compares with each individual track. I copied these examples from my Beats Mixr review and then went through each one in a listening session, checking for any differences I heard from what I reported for the Mixr, and found only one or two minor differences - an excellent result. The SRMT is now one of my 4 favorite headphones, which includes the Beats Mixr, the Marshall Monitor, and the v-moda M100.

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Review part 2 - music track examples

Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth should have good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals should sound natural, without favoring either. The SRMT plays this perfectly.

Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz with a Bebop flavor): The piano that leads off should sound realistic, and the sax should sound soft. The SRMT plays this music extremely well.

Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice should be crisp and well-balanced, and there should be a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The SRMT reproduces the space and detail very well.

Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): Another track with plenty of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice sounds good and the tambourine in the background is clearly identifiable.

Crystal Castles - Wrath of God (Electro-Pop): The moderate level of bass in this track should reproduce with good detail, and the ambient electronic effects should maintain their separation and never congeal into a glassy, hard, or "ringy" sound as some headphones might produce if they have uncorrected resonances. The SRMT does this one just right.

DJ Shadow - Building Steam With a Grain of Salt (Electronic/DJ): This track opens with what sounds like very high and very low piano notes, and those high notes particularly might ring a few resonances in lesser headphones. The SRMT handles those notes well, and reproduces the ambient voices with good tone and balance.

Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses (Pop-Rock): The moderate level of bass in this track should reproduce with good detail, and the percussion and voice should be crisp and well-balanced. The SRMT makes this sound like what I imagine the original producers heard when they mixed it.

Halie Loren - Sway (Jazz vocal): Bass instrument(s) here may sound boomy with some headphones, but the SRMT handles this perfectly. The trumpet should sound natural but soft, and the voice should have the right presence without sounding recessed or too forward. The SRMT does a great job in both respects.

Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion hits hard here, and the SRMT handles it well. The bass tones beginning around 0:45 into the track are the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind that require good deep bass response from a headphone, and the SRMT reproduces those deep notes even with bass reduction enabled as described above.

Kaskade - 4am (Electro-House): The bass that kicks in around 1:01 into the track is subtle, but the SRMT gets it right. The percussion and female voice should balance well with neither overwriting the other, and the SRMT aces this.

Katy B - Perfect Stranger (R&B-House-Garage): The heavy bass that begins at 0:27 into this track is played very well by the SRMT. The voice is slightly forward, but it doesn't overpower the instruments or get lost in the mix. The SRMT balances the different elements in this music extremely well.

Machine Gun Kelly - All We Have (Rap/Hip-Hop): The heavy bass beats that begin at 0:23 into the track should sound like drum impacts, although they're not sharp impacts. The male and female voices should have a good balance and not overpower the music or sound recessed. The SRMT plays this as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

Massive Attack - Angel (Trip-Hop): This track begins with a steady low-frequency sound and some solid deep-bass impacts. The voices should blend well with the music and have just the right presence, although the recorded quality of the instruments isn't great. The SRMT plays this as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

Morcheeba - Bullet Proof (Trip-Hop): Bright percussion and medium-strength bass impacts make up most of this, with some dance-club spoken intonations thrown in. The SRMT renders the percussion treble correctly (not too bright, not harsh), and the voices sound just right.

Peter Tosh - Get Up Stand Up (Reggae): The bass here has a decent but moderate impact, and the lead and backup voices have good separation that's not too narrow or wide. The SRMT renders the bass with good detail and the voices sound very natural.

Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are also some "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The SRMT reproduces all of these sounds faithfully.

Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op3 No2 (Classical, Piano): Grand piano played mechanically from an original recording by the master himself. The bass is light here, but the piano tone is good quality, and the SRMT plays these notes very well.

Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the SRMT renders the tones and transients superbly.

Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The SRMT delivers the impacts with proper weight, and makes the horns sound real.

William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string(?) tones beginning at 0:18 are subtle, but clearly reproduced by the SRMT. The bass isn't very strong, but still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, sounds so perfect that this track could easily have been mixed using the SRMT headphone.

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RE: Review part 3 - video review

Youtube review: http://youtu.be/tfTSKADMyeI Note: The 3-part posting was made necessary because the forum software would not cooperate with my iPad in formatting the text correctly.

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RE: Review part 3 - video review

Great review Dale! I just got the WESC Chambers RZA Premium Headphones and I thought of those just as you did with the SRMT's tonal balance - A bit bass heavy but very good throughout so when you use a bit of bass reduction they sound very hifi (it reduces down better than the VModa M-100 did for me). I'm rather blown away by the quality of the RZA for the price (originally £250, now down to £50! on Amazon). It has:

Two cables (one with Apple controls)

Dual sided inputs (the other one can be used to share music)

A hard case

Active noise canceling (which can be turned off)

Folding mechanism (like Beats Solo)

 

Have you heard this one Dale? If not I highly recommend it. I will be reviewing it as soon as I have time.

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RE: Sol Republic Master Tracks stereo headphone review

The WeSC thing is all over the place - I see one on Amazon UK for £50 and one on Amazon US for $190. I can't believe I will get a high quality active noise canceler for £50. I don't want to review an item unless it's stable.

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RE: Sol Republic Master Tracks stereo headphone review

The price for this one came down here in only the last few days, but I'm wondering if it's the brand and celeb name that make it fail in the UK. I mean at £50 they must be pretty near cost price. I do like the quality of the sound, especially if you EQ it, but the amount of noise cancelling isn't brilliant and the tonal balance has so far been easier to compensate for with the ANC on so I will have to get some rechargable batteries :P.

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