Roadrunners, these are for you.
Each model in Monster's three-strong iSport range is defined by a different noise-isolation level, and this lower-ranging Strive model is the least (the company calls it ‘partially’) noise-blocking – designed so joggers can hear both their tunes and surrounding traffic. It seems Monster has safety in mind.
Build and design
Their traffic-conscious design is thanks to a rather odd-looking ‘open’ ear bud. Instead of featuring the traditional plugs that lodge in your ear (which, naturally, physically block out external noise), each pear-shaped bud has a rubber coating specifically moulded to nestle into just the folds in your ear.
Clever, indeed. Different size moulds come in the box, so they should fit all ear shapes and sizes. They’re a bit of a fiddle to insert compared to conventional tips – it’s not exactly a quick pick-up-and-put-down design – and it feels odd not having something crammed in your ear canal.
But once you get used to this, they’re surprisingly secure and comfortable, staying firmly put during a series of exercises – even when you add sweat into the equation (which brings us onto the fact that they’re sweat-proof, too).
Their practicality extends to the cable. The last thing you want during a workout is to be disrupted by tangled cables, so the Monster’s flat cable design is sensible – as is the adjustable cable clip that keeps it all streamline.
The 3-button mic is nicely accessible - sitting shoulder-height - and your port of call for changing volume, skipping tracks and taking calls without having to reach into your pockets for your device.
It’s designed to be compatible with Apple smartphones, tablets and music players, though we found the play/pause functionality worked with some Android smartphones, too. The rest of the design follows suit.
The Strives ooze quality and style that’ll get you noticed; the solid buds are nicely decorated with a nice silver badge and black trim. Thought has even gone into the aesthetics of the supplied pocket-sized pouch.
All they need to do is impress us with their sound. And they do – mostly. With a forthright presentation and get-up-and-go attitude, they have the formula to get you fired up. It’s not always the smoothest, or most refined, of listens – especially playing low-res MP3 tracks – but it’s hard to fault their enthusiasm.
The Strives’ tone is rich and balanced, with plenty of weight in the dense electric-guitar riffs in I Believe in a Thing Called Love by The Darkness. It’s not the clearest, most expressive midrange we’ve heard at this price, but they get away with a solid, focused vocal delivery. Bass is taut and highs reasonably crisp, too.
There’s a sense of openness in the soundstage and, as is promised, road traffic is audible beneath your music (as long as the volume isn’t turned to the max).
Of course, ambient noise leaking in can distort the sound a little, but if that’s a compromise you’re willing to accept, the Strives are a decent proposition: they look, fit, and sound good.