Recently we reviewed the Beats Pro headphones -- monster cans from, er, Monster that rattled our eyeballs clean out of our skulls. They were huge, and cost over £300. Happily, those looking to permanently impair their hearing also have the choice of these -- the Monster iBeats by Dr Dre in-ear headphones. They cost a much more palatable £80, giving them great I-just-bought-an-iPod-and-I-need-something-better-than-these-horrible-white-earbuds upgrade potential. But are they worth it? We'd better review 'em and find out.
Engine of war
The headphones themselves look pretty tasty. Each 'bud puts us in mind of a very tiny turbine engine. Ours came in a tasteful black finish, but chrome, black and black-aluminium versions are also available. Whatever colour you opt for, there's a strip of red that surrounds the back of each bud, forming the Beats 'b' logo.
One bud has a blue strip around the front, while the other has a red strip, which looks cool, and might help you remember which is left and which is right (though little 'L' and 'R' symbols are also stamped on). Ultimately, this detail will be obscured by the side of your face. All things considered, though, these are well-designed, distinctive-looking headphones.
There's no fancy earloop involved in getting these things inside your head -- simply stick 'em in. There are upsides and downsides here. On the one hand, there's no faffing about tying your arms up in loops trying to get the things on. Pop them in and away you go. On the other hand, these are pretty weighty earbuds, so they don't always stay securely in your ears. The brutal power of gravity may well cause them to slide out over time -- a loop would've solved that.
If you're using an iDevice that supports phone calls, part way down the red cabling there's a remote with two volume keys, a 'call answer' button and a microphone around the other side, so you can take calls without removing your phone from your pocket. Lots of headphones offer this feature, but it's still pretty useful.
So how do the iBeats actually sound? Well... reasonable is the answer. These mini buds aren't a patch on the larger, more expensive Beats cans, but they sound on par with other headphones in their price range.
Beats are famous for their low-end kick, and while these buds deliver a decent thump, they won't liquify your eyeballs (our benchmark for technological excellence across the board). Listening to Pendulum's The Tempest, we felt every kick drum, especially as we cranked up the volume, but there's not a great deal of clarity in the low end, so things can sound slightly muddy.
What the iBeats do achieve is a nicely balanced sound -- we never noticed the bass obscuring too much of the mix in general. Listening to Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, mid-tone sounds such as the persistent grimy synth and the vocals themselves never became too noisy or overly loud.
Indeed, these buds perform well at high volume. Where we'd see many headphones losing their grip and introducing distortion, the iBeats keep everything more or less in check, which leaves you free to jump up and down on your bed singing along freely.
You won't be able to pick out every minor hi-hat tinkle and cymbal sizzle with these headphones, but for that kind of clarity you're looking at more high-end cans anyway.
You might find headphones for around the same price that offer similar or better sound quality, but it has to be said -- with these headphones you're also buying into the brand, and the style. The distinctive red cabling will make an impression even if most of these buds stay hidden inside your lugs or beneath your beautiful flowing locks. With reasonable sound quality, these buds are an attractive proposition, and a decent upgrade from the default white Apple headphones that plague every new iPurchase.
If you fancy something with more loops and less sheen, but arguably better sound quality, check out the lovely Sennheiser OCX 880s.
Edited by Emma Bayly