Monster Cable Beats by Dr. Dre studio headphones Page 4

Low-level resolution was also greater with the Phiatons. Valet's "Rainbow" opens with a whispered vocal from Honey Owens that the Phiatons zoomed in on and embraced; in fact, Owens' voice throughout the track was clearer, more human, more present—unambiguous pluses.

Looking back . . .
. . . at the listening habits I fell into with the Beats, I clearly gravitated toward music that offered aggressive imaging, an area in which the Monsters excelled. I therefore decided to do a few more listening tests, using songs in different genres of music.

I began this time with the Phiatons. "Shhh/Peaceful," from Miles Davis's transcendent In a Silent Way (lossless file; CD, Columbia/Legacy 712765), sounded just about as intoxicating and comforting as ever. I could hear the vibrant guitar, the brassy hi-hat, the locked-in bass, the gentle washes of organ, and rising above it all Davis's breathy, painfully gorgeous trumpet. I could easily follow the bass line, and no part of the musical presentation was confused or obscured. The Phiatons' right earcup was uncomfortable, however, requiring constant adjustment, which obviously detracted from my enjoyment of the music.

Through the Beats, Davis's horn was a little less brass, and a little more spitty. I was more aware of Dave Holland's trilling runs, but his acoustic bass didn't seem quite as tight, and instruments weren't as clearly delineated as through the Phiatons. There was more sizzle to the hi-hat, less clean bite. Imaging was slightly more forceful, sounds showing up suddenly and startlingly.

Paul Galbraith's performance of his arrangement of the Adagio of Bach's Sonata for Solo Violin No.1 in G Minor, from The Six Sonatas and Partitas (lossless file; CD, Delos DE 3232), opens with a bang—the solo-guitar equivalent of pounding a piano's keys. Through the Phiatons it was an awakening experience, Galbraith's breaths easily audible and in sync with the music as he wrings passionate, heavy music from his classical guitar. I had no complaints. I found myself pulled into a tranquil state, my head swaying with the music. My reverie was slightly interrupted by the pressure of the headphones around my head.

Everything sounded slightly cleaner and clearer through the Phiatons, and with that clarity came a relaxation that enveloped me as I listened, and let me revel in the music. I just wish the Phiatons were as comfortable on my head as the Beats were.

Because, through the Beats, Paul Galbraith didn't arrive with as much impact. There was a different sort of weight here, a weight that lacked the Phiatons' clarity; Galbraith's rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs weren't as easily discerned or followed, some of the notes becoming lost in the fire. His breaths sounded less like breaths—they could have been tape hiss, or sheets of paper blown in the wind—and because of this they distracted me more from the music-making. However, the music was still beautiful. The imaging, as with other recordings, was more intense than that of the Phiatons, but also less precise, which detracted from rather than added to my overall experience. Moving on to the Fuga of Sonata 1, the Beats' lack of clarity resulted in sloppier-sounding technique, and lacks of impact and momentum. By comparison, the Phiatons' sound was tighter, resulting in what seemed a more dramatic and enticing performance.

Final thoughts
Many years ago, when I was just beginning work on this review, I had both sets of headphones here in the office. Several of my colleagues gave them a listen. Everyone—everyone—liked both, and came to pretty much the conclusions I've come to. With minor differences in perspective, of course. Some preferred the Beats' generous bass over the Phiatons' solid bottom-end grip. Some felt that the Phiatons were extremely comfortable, while the Beats were too bulky.

While I was greatly impressed by the Beats' design, packaging, and aggressive imaging, I ultimately preferred the Phiatons' more musical performance. What I couldn't get over was how tightly they gripped my head. Had the Phiatons been as comfortable as the Beats, I might have purchased them.

I'm not convinced that noise cancellation is the way to go. For one thing, there's the battery requirement. I don't want to deal with batteries. And for all the Beats' invulnerability to outside noise, the Phiatons, without noise cancellation, proved just as impervious. Perhaps the money invested in the noise-cancellation technology could be better spent elsewhere.

The arrival of Jim Austin's review text of Grado's updated SR60, the SR60i ($79), overlapped with my audition of the Beats and Phiaton headphones, so I had the opportunity to compare those two premium sets with an entry-level classic. While I don't want to preempt Jim's findings—his review will appear in our May issue—I will say that the Grados' overall sound has more in common with the Beats' than with the Phiatons'. Not a bad thing. I tossed a check in the mail for the Grados.

In other news, our digital sales rep, Jon Banner, walked into the office this morning with a bigger-than-usual bounce in his step. As he stopped at my door, he looked especially chuffed. "Look what I've got!" he hollered.

On his head was a brand-new set of Phiaton Moderna MS 400s. I was a little envious. Ow!

Charley-horsed again.

Monster Cable Products, Inc.
455 Valley Drive
Brisbane, CA 94005
(415) 840-2000