Although Monster's older – c'mon, favorite – kid, Beats By Dre, has moved out of the house, that won't stop it from trying to strike gold again.
Monster Inspiration Lite, the fashionable on-ear flavor in the Inspiration series, rocks with the familiar genes of style and booming sound. At $269 (about £234, AU$338), are these new, US-exclusive headphones appealing enough to attract more than just the chic geek?
Similar to Moto 360, the forthcoming Apple Watch and other svelte devices, Monster's going for the high-class crowd by touting the Inspiration Lite headphones as a "catwalk-ready fashion statement". Now, there's a phrase to polarize the crowd. Wherever you fall on the fashionista spectrum, there's a lot to like with these headphones.
The Inspiration Lite evoke a fresh and futuristic vibe, one that confidently says "forget everything you think you know about how Monster designs headphones". Our review unit is coated in the "Titanium" color palette, which for Monster is full of black, dark grey and blue tones.
Starting from the top, the leather headband is topped with an additional strap of stitched leather. It has a little too much slack on our model and it occasionally popped out of its housing, a small oversight that deflates my enthusiasm for the design.
Branching out from the leather headband, the unit shows off its brushed metal side arms, the design high-point of the Inspiration Lite. On the inner-side of the sidearms is where the hinges are hiding. While the headphones as a whole may at first feel rigid and bulky, they fold at the earcup to be surprisingly compact.
I make it a point to bring it up in every headphone review that I have a large head. My girlfriend can put most headphones on without adjusting the headband a notch, but I, unlike Ms. Perfect Head, need to stretch them out to at least 75% of their largest size. Thankfully, the Inspiration Lite adapts like a champ. Not only does it adapt, the rectangular earcups provide enough padding to make them a comfortable choice for a short 15-minute train ride or for say, long enough to write this review or fly across the country.
There's a 3.5mm input on each earcup giving you the option to choose which side the cable is on. Whichever input you don't use, anyone with a wired set of headphones can conveniently plug in to listen to what you're listening to. It's called MusicShare and it's a simple, but much welcome feature.
Additionally, the 3.5mm audio cable is flat and has the complete offering of inline controls with a mic, a cable with a 2.5mm connector for in-flight use and a microfiber cloth for wiping away fingerprints. There's also a little bag in the box that you can use to tote the Inspiration Lite around in.
Much like you would with a pair of shoes, Monster recommends "breaking-in" these headphones with a 20-30 hour trial run. There's quite the debate on this topic. Some say (including most manufacturers) that speaker hardware ripens over time, but others conclude that it's mostly marketing mumbo jumbo that we accept to be true. This rigorous in-depth testing even proves it to be false.
After days of listening and testing, I can't confidently say that I noticed a difference in the sound quality at all. But to be honest, I didn't feel that the sound needed to mature. The Monster Inspiration Lite performed admirably with whatever I threw at it. Treble shines brilliantly, backed by a healthy dose of bass that doesn't muddle the overall sound. Vocal tracks and instrumentals each sound as they should.
Although I got to listen to a ton of stuff, some key listening samples included "I Say A Little Prayer" by Burt Bacharach and "Fresh Born" by Deerhoof to get a representation of their range.
The passive noise cancellation offered from the closed-back design along with the padding kept things pretty quiet. Noise leakage is minimal, in case that's a concern.
The Inspiration Lite offer a slick design and, unlike most headphones, they look good on my head. Sound quality is rich, no matter whether you "break-in" the headphones or not. Their comfort and portability made them a good travel companion.
These headphones suffer from an inflated price tag. The Inspiration Lite don't possess the killer features necessary to win the crowd, who for roughly the same money can find other options stocked with wireless or noise cancellation capabilities. Considering this and minor flaws in build quality, at most, $199 seems like a more acceptable price point.
The Inspiration Lite are a victory for Monster and a confident entry in its post-Beats era. Monster's teams have wrapped good design and balanced sound into this set of on-ear cans. But with such a high price tag considering the feature set, you might want to wait for the price to drop a bit on these otherwise recommended headphones.