Monster Inspiration headphones information: The review below is based on time spent with the passive version of Monster’s Inspiration headphones, which only use foam earcups to block out surrounding noise. We also had an opportunity to review the active-noise-canceling Monster Inspiration and produce a separate review.
Models in Monster Inspiration Series
|Monster Inspiration (Active Noise Canceling)|
|Monster Inspiration (Passive Noise Isolation)|
Since parting ways with Beats By Dr. Dre, Monster has continued to release one new headphone product after another, proving it has no intention of leaving the space it arguably helped to re-invigorate. Sonically, its latest headphone offerings have been a far cry from that of the Beats brand — which, for anyone not a fan of that signature bass-heavy sound, should be great news.
The Inspiration is a full-sized, over-the-ear headphone clearly aimed at a different kind of listener – one who enjoys a more balanced, engaging delivery of sound delivered by a headphone with some style.
There are two versions of the Inspiration: a passive noise isolation version – which essentially blocks sound by nature of a good seal around the ear – and an active noise-canceling model – which uses active electronics to block out noise. If you’re only interested in the standard, passive noise-isolation version, then you’re in the right place. However, if you’d like to read about the active noise-canceling version, you can find that review here.
Out of the box
Monster provides one of the best out-of-box experiences in the industry – and it needs to. If you’re going to charge $250 for a pair of headphones, excellent sound and comfort isn’t enough. It’s important to instill a pride-in-ownership feeling from the moment the cellophane is removed from the box, and Monster nails it every time.
In the case of the Inspiration, there was a little less for us to take in, compared to the ear-tip buffet we found packaged with the Monster Gratitude. Still, Monster offers some fun touch-points. The high-quality box, held shut by an integrated magnet, pulls open like an encyclopedia with the tug of a silk tab. Inside, one the left, is a pouch containing some product literature, a little congratulatory note from Head Monster, Noel Lee, and a microfiber cleaning cloth. Inside the deep, business end of the box is the Inspiration, folded up inside a handsome, soft leatherette case outfitted with a carabineer and an integrated handle strap.
Pulling the headphones from their pouch further reinforces the point that your money was well spent. The Inspiration have a rock-solid feel to them without being too hefty. Inside the leatherette pouch we found three individual headphone cables: one standard cable, one with a single-button inline microphone (presumably for non-iOS mobile devices) and another with a three-button inline microphone compatible with iOS devices.
While we love the selection of cables, we have to admit we were a bit disappointed not to find a ¼-inch (TRS) adapter included. These are just the sort of cans you’d like to connect to your A/V receiver, integrated amp, audio mixing board or high-end headphone amplifier, and to do that, you need an adapter.
Features and design
The Inspiration feature lushly padded and extremely soft leatherette-covered earpads, and the underside of the headband is a perfect match. You can pick up the Inspiration in either white or black – we received the black version. Our set had dark copper-brown accents on the earcup mounts and on a thin strip that runs the circumference of the earpads.
As previously mentioned, both earcups fold in for compact storage. The double-hinged joints feel robust and resilient, just like the rest of the headphone’s design.
Monster has designed the Inspiration so that the outer headband is interchangeable. In addition to the black leatherette headband already installed on the headphones, Monster includes a glossy black option that looks a bit like snake-skin. We’re not fans of the texture, but we do like the looks of some of the other 16 colors and patterns Monster shows off on its website.
One feature you will find on the passive-noise-isolation version that you do not see on the active noise-canceling model is an additional headphone cable jack, designed both to allow placement of the headphone cable on either side of the headphones. More importantly, someone else can plug their headphones in and share in the fun without needing a splitter. Clever!
In typical Monster fashion, specs on the headphones — including weight, driver size and impedance – are not disclosed. We do, however, feel comfortable saying that these headphones will work well with just about any device.
No, there’s no actual setup, but we did want to mention that the Inspiration benefit from a decent break-in period. We recommend letting them play for about 30 hours or so before you pass any judgment. In our experience, the Inspiration’s bass performance tightened up a bit after a little workout.
As with most headphones, the level of comfort enjoyed (or lack thereof) while wearing a set of cans is going to vary based on head size, ear size, ear shape and the general disposition of the wearer. Some folks like more clamping force than others and some – those without hair, for instance – will prefer a generous amount of padding on the headband while others don’t really care. With that in mind, we’ll describe our personal experience and relay that of others for a little perspective.
The Inspiration clamping down on the ears with more force than average. The benefits are an excellent seal and a reduced reliance on the headband for support. As such, those with narrow heads will probably enjoy the secure feeling the Inspiration provide, while those with wider heads may find the fit a little tight. With that said, we had a few folks with wide noggins try the Inspiration on and they had no major complaints, though admittedly the headphones weren’t worn for longer than five minutes and it is usually long-term listening sessions that can bring discomfort about.
We found the headband to be well padded enough for just about anyone, though one baldy on staff expressed distaste for the headband’s feel. We think the clamping force is strong enough that one could alleviate any undue pressure by popping the headband up so that it doesn’t exert force directly on the crown of the head.
While not clunky, the Inspiration are a heavier headphone, so they aren’t ideal for use with activity or exercise, though we think they will stay put for most folks.
As with any headphone that uses a less-than-breathable material on its earcups, the Inspiration can make for some warm ears. That’s the price you pay for excellent passive noise isolation and, from our view, it is worth it.
This performance evaluation applies only to the passive noise isolation version of these headphones. For a detailed analysis of how the noise-canceling version faired both in passive and active mode, be sure to visit our companion review here.
For this review, we tested the Inspiration with an iPhone 4s, Dell Laptop, NuForce uDAC -2, Headroom Micro DAC, Headroom Micro headphone amp, Antelop Audio Zodiac DAC/headphone amp, Anthem 225 Integrated and a Pioneer PL-61 turntable with an Ortofon OM-5E cartridge.
We’ve seen plenty of comments on headphone enthusiast message boards expressing concern that the Inspiration’s bass and treble regions might be intentionally accented, ala Beats By Dr. Dre products. Let us lay those concerns to rest: Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Inspiration reproduce exactly what is on your recordings – nothing more, nothing less – for better or for worse. Though we’ve had the pleasure of listening to some stellar-performing headphones in the recent past, we can’t think of another pair (save, perhaps, the Sennheiser HD 800 or HD 598) which were so adept at exposing poor-quality music tracks for all their limitations.
We started our listening session with Kyle Riabko’s performance of “What did I get myself into?” from Kink Live 8, a record produced by a Portland, OR radio station in its live performance lounge. We like this track for its simplicity. There’s only Riabko’s guitar and vocals accompanied by bongos and a tambourine. The closely recorded guitar is a treat for the ears and especially so when heard through the Inspiration. Each transient pluck and strum of the guitar was impeccably reproduced such that you could hear the metal of each string and the hollow, woody body of the guitar.
We then had a go at YouTube sensation Pomplamoose’s treatment of “Mrs. Robinson” as published on its Pomplamoose Covers recording. This features Jack Conte on guitar accompanied by the lovely Nataly Dawn on the vocal. The recording was made in the couple’s home and, even though they do their best to control room noise, there’s no getting around the fact that the room’s character comes across in the recording. With the Inspiration, we could practically paint a picture of the room based on what we could hear. Revealing? Yes.
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Hard to Concentrate” from the Stadium Arcadium recording put the Inspiration through an entirely different kind of audio calisthenics as it had to reproduce Flea’s complex bass guitar work while also delivering front-man Anthony Kiedis’ vocal without muddying it up. The Inspiration succeeded wonderfully, delivering tune-full, punchy bass with deep resonance without getting in the way of the rest of the recording.
Miles Davis “Jean Pierre” from the We Want Miles LP (yay vinyl!) provided a particularly fun listening experience, because all the warmth and texture of the vinyl came through (along with some typical record noise) with stunning clarity. Davis’ horn moaned and stabbed at us while guitarist Mike Stern’s nearly psychedelic approach to guitar was mesmerizing. Marcus Miller’s slap-tastic bass work wasn’t too shabby either.
As we worked our way through a wide variety of tracks, we noted that the Inspiration exposed recordings for what they were, be they well produced, heavy on bass, lean on bass, overly bright or subdued and warm. Though the Inspiration certainly have their own sound stamp, they never get in the way of the recording. In this way, they are very similar to the Denon AH-D1100.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Inspiration are pricey. At $250, they face some stiff competition from the likes of Sennheiser, Audio Technica and Denon. But the Inspiration are absolutely on par with – and in some ways, better – similarly priced models from those established headphone manufacturers. If luxurious feel, stylish design and audiophile-grade sound quality are top priorities, the Inspiration need to be on your short list for consideration. We highly recommend them and happily bestow these fine cans with our Editor’s Choice award.
- Balanced, engaging sound
- Excellent tonality
- Soft, luxurious feel
- Solid build quality
- Considerate stock of accessories included
- No ¼-inch (TRS) adapter included
- Some may feel clamping force is excessive
- Slightly heavy