The headphone market has absolutely exploded over the past number of years and it is no surprise that numerous manufacturers have positioned themselves as the go-to brand for gamers, music lovers, and everyone in between. Monster is undeniably a major player in this market and they continue to release a wide range of products that appeal to the masses.
Their most recent effort to encourage consumers to “Live Life Loud” has been endorsed by non other than Cristiano Ronaldo, the footballer (or soccer player for us North Americans) who is an absolute superstar on the pitch; widely considered one of the best in the world. He also happens to have been blessed with stunning good looks.
The man is a marketer’s dream, and kudos to Monster for attaching themselves to his brand, which exudes a sexy, playful confidence laced with wealth and class. The challenge for Monster was clear: create a product that stays true to his brand while delivering a premium audio experience. Did they succeed? Let’s take a closer look at two of the offerings in the Christiano Ronaldo Roc Sport by Monster line, the Freedom On-Ear and the Black Platinum Over-Ear headphones which will be available online at Best Buy Canada very soon.
Straight up, these are some serious headphones. The packaging makes me feel like I’m about to open something special. Slick boxes with a subtle image of Ronaldo complete with allusions to playing hard, training hard, jet-setting across the globe, and one-of-a-kind style, I’m excited to see what’s inside. Neither disappoints.
I can say without hesitation, from a pure aesthetics perspective, Monster has crafted a beautiful line of headphones. The deep, dark finish with chrome-like features evident throughout is perfectly described as “Black Platinum.” Even with the gold accents, which would normally turn me off, both sets hint at high-end class. They have a nice weight to them that makes it clear these are no toys; the soft surfaces around the ears have a cool, smooth, leathery touch. They each break down to optimize space and the mechanism that folds feels like the door handle of a brand new car: solid, and very much in control. One look at the cables contained in their respective boxes and this is where their similarities end.
There are two distinct differences between these headphones, one being the way they are worn: over-ear vs. on-ear. The second is that the on-ear pair gets its name, “Freedom,” presumably due to the fact that it can be used in a wireless mode operating over Bluetooth.
Monster boasts that these are “the most advanced, durable, on-ear wireless headphones ever made.” I’m going to have to take their word for it, because this will be my first experience with wireless headphones, and I have no intention of handing them off to my five year-old to test their durability. For anyone who has had their headphone cable catch on something, ripping them violently off your head or out of your ears, wireless is a very appealing feature.
With wireless technology comes the need to charge your headphones, as they no longer receive “power” through a cable connected to your source device. The obvious downside is that battery will need to be recharged to continuously use them in wireless mode. A standard USB to mini-USB cable is included with the Freedom phones to make this happen and Monster suggests a full charge before using them the first time.
Thankfully, Monster has also made these compatible with a standard audio cable that you can connect to a smartphone, iPod or any listening device for prolonged use. This cable has a discrete microphone built in and provided a seamless experience on the phone for both users.
Controls for the headphones are located on the outer earpiece and allow you to adjust the volume up and down, advance tracks, pause, power up/down and pair a new device. Once I got the sense of which button I was pushing this was a convenient and easy way to control music.
From the moment I first put these on I wanted them to succeed. They are super comfortable, create a fantastic seal over my ears blocking out all other noise, and the wireless feature had me eagerly awaiting the first time I could drive them.
While I’ll admit it took a while to knock the Zoolander out of me every time I thought or said, “Black Platinum,” which in my head could only be described as a natural upgrade from Blue Steel, once I focused on the performance of the headphones the last thing I was thinking about was Ben Stiller.
Being an over-ear headphone, the moment you put them on you can feel it. There is a noticeable change in atmospheric pressure as they seal your ears off from the outside world. They have a professional feel to them and command attention from anyone who catches a glimpse of their high-end look. They come complete with their own cleaning cloth to ensure you can continue to impress.
These are wired headphones and come with options as to how you connect them. If you are listening with your phone, use the cable with a built-in mic to take calls in the middle of your session. It mirrors the functionality of the on-ear pair, and performed well in all tests.
If you are going for a more advanced application such as spinning a DJ deck or running a live audio desk, these cans also feature a swivel joint that will maintain a strong seal on one ear while freeing up the other ear to hear the room.
Break Them In!
Like all of the Roc Sport Headphones, (and arguably all headphones) these require some break-in time. Monster suggests a minimum of 8 hours, and ideally a full 20 hours of use before the drivers inside will have loosened up enough to maximize the audio quality and your listening pleasure. When I received these, I quickly checked to ensure there were no defects by putting them on for about one minute before hooking them up to an iPod with a headphone splitter and let them go untouched for the full 20 hours.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am accustomed to being disappointed with headphones, regardless of manufacturer. It’s why I still run an old pair of buds from Paradigm that are literally falling apart. They are like that old chair my buddy’s dad used forever: crooked, with wires and pieces of foam jutting out in random places, and quite possibly hazardous. That said, I love and trust them, and I haven’t found a suitable replacement. They come out victorious in every test I have done to date.
My strategy for auditioning headphones is pretty straightforward and should be taken with a grain of salt. I know what I like in a speaker, the sounds I look for and the ones I don’t. Reproducing and listening to music in a headphone is no different. I have a series of songs that I know so well that as soon as I hear something that isn’t usually there, or has been amplified differently, it stands out.
These are the songs I go to when auditioning gear because they are a part of me. Once I have run through my 4 song routine, I bounce around to some other tracks that I feel will either confirm or deny my instincts based on what I heard in my initial routine. Rarely will my initial instincts be wrong.
My 4 songs:
- Time – Pink Floyd
- Hotel California – Eagles (Hell Freezes Over)
- The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
- Canned Heat – Jamiroquai
Let me know what your 4 songs are in the comments section!
Here is what I listen for: bass that hasn’t been artificially boosted, smooth mid-low frequencies that are present and defined, and mid-high frequencies that do not pierce my ears, particularly at higher volumes. In one word: clarity across the entire spectrum. I also want an open soundstage that brings me into the music, allowing me to close my eyes and visualize where musicians are while listening. If a set of speakers or headphones can achieve this, I will gladly spend hours listening.
Speaker and headphone manufacturers tune their products differently precisely because we as humans hear music differently and may want different things from it. A simple example is that Beats by Dr. Dre, naturally, accentuates the bass in music. Others tweak the mids, while some produce a completely flat response.
Head to Head
It was an absolute pleasure putting these through their paces, and I came away a little surprised. One pair checked all of my boxes from an audio lovers perspective and I have been wearing them every day waiting for them to disappoint, which they just refuse to do.
The Winner: Freedom
While the Black Platinum’s displayed an openness that was refreshing, I found the mid-lows to be a little lacking in presence, particularly when compared to the Freedom, and the mid-highs just too bright for my liking. While it does produce a certain level of clarity in those upper frequencies, to listen to music at the volume I like, which is admittedly on the louder side, there were too many instances where the sibilance is tweaked enough to stand out as opposed to blend in to the rest of the music.
I found that if I reduced the volume to a range closer to 50-55%, this was reduced to a point where it didn’t stand out and produced a clean sound that would please most anyone. That said, if you have ever bumped the treble on your car stereo or home theatre, the Black Platinum may be a perfect headphone for you.
While the Freedom didn’t entirely eliminate the bright top end, it was not as evident as the Black Platinum. What it did do is what impressed me the most: true low-end integration, silky mids, and crisp highs with smooth edges. Nothing seemed to drastically change based on the volume, and listening to music in wireless mode presented no discernable differences to the wired mode, and was a great feature that I would use often.
The one shortcoming was a noise, not a hum or a buzz, but a noise that I can only equate to what I would expect to hear on a vinyl recording. It presented itself when the audio in a song dropped below a certain level or was between tracks when listening in wireless mode. It was not a deal breaker for me, as my ears adjusted to it and it disappeared as soon as there is something else to focus on, which the Freedom provided plenty of. If I were in the market for new headphones, Freedom would definietly be on my shortlist.
I would like to stress that when I am listening to or reviewing a product, if I don’t appreciate an element of the sound, it doesn’t mean that you would hear it the same way, like it, or dislike it. The single most important take away from this, and any review, should be to find products that sound good to you. Not to the sales guy at the store, or your self-proclaimed audiophile, audio-snob buddy who won’t listen to pop music because it lacks “authenticity.”
Listen to what makes you happy, and find the gear that best replicates the music the way you want to hear it. The Cristiano Ronaldo Roc Sport by Monster are a premium line of headphones in every sense of the word. They also offer a wireless ear bud, and if the experience with Freedom is any indication, my old buds may be in trouble.