As many of you already know, Monster had a partnership with Beats to manufacture Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, which now come in a variety of styles and sizes. Not too long ago the two companies severed ties, but that hasn't stopped Monster from making new headphones, and its Inspiration models compete directly with models from its old partner.
The Inspiration comes in two versions -- the $299.95 (MSRP) model with "passive" noise cancellation reviewed here, and a $349.95 model with active noise cancellation. They each come in a few different color options and the way to tell the two models apart is that the active model has a shiny finish on the earcups while the passive model has a matte finish. Both types feature a swappable headband cover so you can customize the look of your headphones; Monster includes an extra headband cover in the box and you can purchase additional headbands for a ridiculous $30.
I've been using the "passive" Inspiration for several weeks, though my first review sample was only 90 percent cooked and not a final product. The shipping product I received indeed sounded slightly better, with slightly tighter bass.
The first thing you should know is that these certainly don't have the same sound profile as the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, which accentuate the bass and treble. Instead, the Inspirations accentuate the midrange and come across as warmer and more natural-sounding. They don't quite have the accurate tonal balance of studio headphones, but they're closer to studio headphones than the Beats. That said, the sound has still got some nice zip to it. By that I mean the Inspirations' sound isn't laid-back. It has a slightly aggressive edge yet at the same time it's smooth enough not to induce listening fatigue.
While the bass doesn't go incredibly deep, there's plenty of low end to go along with good clarity. Overall, the Inspirations sound punchy, seeming designed to make your music pop and sparkle, though not particularly airy. They're well suited to a variety of musical genres.
I liked the Inspirations a lot -- and liked their design, including the square earcups. So did CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg, who writes the Audiophiliac column. The build quality seems quite good (though CNET editor Justin Yu wasn't certain the hinge design would hold up well over time) and I appreciated the fact that the headset has an integrated microphone for making cell phone calls. By comparison, one of our favorite over-the-ear models, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headset, doesn't have the integrated microphone but it does offer slightly more refined sound and costs significantly less.
I found the Inspirations comfortable -- the earcups are nicely padded -- and was able to wear them for an hour straight without a problem. That said, in warmer environments, your ears will get steamy, and the headphones are heavy enough and tight enough that you'll definitely feel them on your head. On the plus side, while these will leak a small bit of sound, they leak much less than the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. That's probably because you get a good, tight seal from the earcups.
Like the over-the-ear Beats, the Inspirations are designed for both home and mobile use, and my iPhone had no problem driving these headphones. The headphone cord is detachable and Monster includes three cords with the headphones along with a nice carrying case, which the headphones fold up to fit into.