Catering to the Lance Armstrong crowd (sans the cheating/retiring in disgrace part), Monster’s iSport headphone line offers a variety of flashy neon ear buds made from durable, water-resistant materials to combat the elements as you combat father time. But for those who don’t relish stuffing little pieces of plastic into their ears as they sweat to the oldies, Monster has been cooking up something brand new on the semi-sly.
The Freedom’s vivid exterior…won’t allow you to blend into the night while on a jog.
First revealed at select CE shows over the summer, Monster’s new iSport Freedom (available in October for $280) breaks the mold of sports headsets, trading the in-ear norm for an on-ear chassis that is durable, water-resistant, antimicrobial, and perhaps most impressive, totally wireless – hence the ‘Freedom’.
While we’ve had our ups and downs with Bluetooth headsets in the past, The Freedom’s premium pricing and support of the aptX and AAC codecs suggest top-tier wireless transmission and, hopefully, some decent audio as well. Wondering how all this tech would come together (and if the headset would stay on under duress) we strapped the Freedom on and took to the streets. Here’s what happened.
Out of the box
Pulling open the Freedom’s box revealed a blazing flash of neon green cans folded in on themselves and nestled in a plastic frame. As we removed the headphones from their cubby and unfolded them, we discovered a light chassis layered in supple, rubberized coating, with a black and grey plastic casing along the exterior of the headband. A twist of the band exposed excellent flexibility and resilience, and the water-resistant coating felt ready to take on whatever nature (or your workout) might have to dish out. Inside the box we also found a removable cable with a single-button inline microphone, a black vinyl carry bag, a cleaning cloth and instructions, and a mini-USB to USB charging cable.
Features and design
The Freedom’s vivid exterior is designed with safety in mind, and while it certainly won’t allow you to blend in with the crowd on a flight or a subway commute, it also won’t allow you to blend into the night while on a jog. Aside from the eye-popping green accents, there’s a thick stripe of reflective material that runs along the entire shell, transforming the headset into a glowing autonomous halo in the flash of car headlights. The interior of the frame is all green, with a slim layer of padding along the center of the band covered in water-resistant polymer.
The plastic earpieces attach to the headband on the same adjustable metal hinges we see on almost all foldable headset designs. However, the ear cups themselves rest on distinctive accordion style supports which allow them to compress at all angles around the ear for a snug, motion-resistant fit. At the interior of the ear cups are slim, rubberized pads in all black, with tread along the inside like miniature car tires. The pads are vented at the top and bottom with triads of small holes and boast antimicrobial protectant to shield you from your own dirty self. At the center of the pads rest the headset’s 40mm drivers, concealed under black mesh screens.
…they did a great job of staying put during heavy action…a difficult feat to accomplish with an on-ear design.
A neon band along the exterior of the right ear cup contains a concise and intuitive set of controls including a power/pairing button, song search, and volume buttons, all of which are molded into raised shapes for easy detection by touch. The silver disc in the center doubles as a control button as well, allowing for play/pause, as well as answering calls. Pinpoint holes for the headset’s LED and microphone rest towards the base of the cup. The left ear cup harbors the headset’s two ports, including a 3.5mm input for wired play, and the charging port, both of which are protected by rubberized flaps.
The Freedom boasts over 30 hours of runtime from its lithium-polymer battery. Once the battery is dead, the headphone is still ready for action in passive mode thanks to the included “ControlTalk Universal” removable cable. The cable is all black, and runs approximately four feet in length, with a beaded, single-button inline microphone at the top, terminated with gold plated jacks.
Comfort is always a touchy subject, as it varies a great deal from user to user. That said, while the Freedom were extremely soft and silky at first wear, for this reviewer’s ears they were obtrusive after any longer than around 45-60 minutes. They weren’t exactly painful while in place, but once removed, the cartilage at the tops of our ears heaved a sigh of relief from being pinned down with substantial force. Still, they did a great job of staying put during heavy action, which is a difficult feat to accomplish with an on-ear design.
In the field
Aside from some general discomfort over time, the Freedom performed admirably in our field tests. Unlike many wireless headphones we’ve tested, Bluetooth connection was of no issue, providing a clean and solid signal, even when we ventured away from our transmission devices.
We took the headphones on a couple of jogs, and found them just as easy to clean up as they were to keep on, though there was a lot of sweat on the pads after a good workout. We also noticed a bumping sound in the right side of the chassis every time we made contact with the pavement, but turning the music up a tad relieved most of the noise.
We tested the Freedom using both our iPhone 5, as well as our aptX-enabled MacBook over a large array of musical genres. While the sound was slightly warmer and fuller via the MacBook, the headphones delivered a similar sound signature across both devices, offering a wide stereo field with a firm and powerful low end, and a clear, accessible upper register. Though the Freedom didn’t offer the definition or presence we expect from an elite wired headset, the sound was accurate and precise, if not a bit clinical at times.
The headset’s cool, almost synthetic coloring in the midrange wasn’t especially conducive to acoustic instrumentation.”
The headset’s cool, almost synthetic coloring in the midrange wasn’t especially conducive to acoustic instrumentation, and we found ourselves wishing for more warmth while auditioning tracks from the likes of Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Acoustic guitar was clean and smooth, but we missed some of the golden touch we hear from richer headsets like the TMA-1 Studio. We also wished for more definition when it came to percussion, finding snare and toms to be two-dimensional, and cymbals washed out occasionally, due to what sounded like some roll-off in the upper frequencies.
Still, the sound signature lent itself well to almost all genres, providing a clean delineation of the instruments, and some moments of real brilliance. Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening” was reproduced with considerable detail, and we really enjoyed listening to the song build towards the climax with the myriad percussion pieces, brash horns, and electric guitar splayed widely across the sound field. And the Freedom had an easy time articulating stereo movement as well. Instruments like synths, B3, and vocal reverb moved deftly through the sound sphere, spun in precise elliptical orbits that were easy to follow.
With its flexible, nearly everything-resistant frame, solid wireless signal, and clear and accurate sound signature, Monster’s iSport Freedom feels like it’s got some serious legs in the developing market of wireless sport headsets. That said, we think the $280 price tag should buy better audio resolution, and a more comfortable fit. We really enjoyed using the headset while working out, but we’re not sure if it would extend into other uses – a problem for most budgets at the price. Still, if you’re looking for an on-ear headset with no strings attached that can also handle the elements, Monster’s iSport Freedom might just be the best game in town.
- Clear, precise upper register
- Smooth, powerful bass
- Excellent wireless signal
- Durable, stay-put design
- High clamping force makes extended use difficult
- Doesn’t reach elite sonic definition
- Bass occasionally heavy