Monster iSport Freedom review

If you’re looking for an on-ear headset with no strings attached that can brave the elements, Monster’s iSport Freedom might just be the best game in town.
If you’re looking for an on-ear headset with no strings attached that can brave the elements, Monster’s iSport Freedom might just be the best game in town.
If you’re looking for an on-ear headset with no strings attached that can brave the elements, Monster’s iSport Freedom might just be the best game in town.

Highs

  • Clear, precise upper register
  • Smooth, powerful bass
  • Excellent wireless signal
  • Durable, stay-put design

Lows

  • High clamping force makes extended use difficult
  • Doesn’t reach elite sonic definition
  • Bass occasionally heavy

DT Editors' Rating

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

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.

Performance

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.

Monster iSport Freedom left angle

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.

Audio

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 first song that came up in our testing was “Don’t Panic” by Coldplay which was bass-heavy, worrying us that Monster had created, well, a monster for bass heads that would pound us at every turn. However, while bass did get out of hand occasionally, most of the music we tested was fairly balanced, with just enough extra punch down low to bring some welcome excitement to our workout. Hip-hop and Reggae were rendered with thick and accurate grooves, with laidback snare and cymbals riding along the top end. There were moments in which bass guitar got slightly muddy, such as in a few classic rock recordings, but for most of our testing we simply enjoyed the Freedom’s expansive force in the bass.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Highs

  • Clear, precise upper register
  • Smooth, powerful bass
  • Excellent wireless signal
  • Durable, stay-put design

Lows

  • High clamping force makes extended use difficult
  • Doesn’t reach elite sonic definition
  • Bass occasionally heavy
Product Review

Sennheiser brings audio perfection to wireless earbuds like no one else can

Sennheiser took its time entering the true wireless earbud market, and the results are what you’d expect from the storied audio brand. The new Momentum offer seamless operation, best-in-class sound, and a high price tag to match.
Wearables

The $200 TicWatch C2 smartwatch is now being sold in the U.S. and U.K.

Digital well-being and disconnecting from your phone is one of 2018's big trends. Mobvoi wants you to think about its TicWatch C2 smartwatch as a great way to help you use your phone less.
Home Theater

The best noise-canceling headphones paint your music on a cleaner canvas

Drowning out the sound of babies, jet engines, and the outside world isn't as hard as it seems. Here are the best noise-canceling headphones, whether you're concerned with style, comfort, or sound.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.
Home Theater

New TV? Here's where to go to watch the best 4K content available

Searching for content for your new 4K UHD TV? Look no further. We have every major source of the best 4K content, along with the cost, hardware requirements, and features that make each service worth a look.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Home Theater

OLED or LED? We pick the winner in the battle of competing TV tech

The acronyms OLED and LED sound and look very similar, but the two technologies are vastly different in terms of engineering, performance, and capabilities. Which technology wins when you pit OLED versus LED in a TV?
Home Theater

Sling TV ramps up its base programming with Discovery Networks for free

Sling TV has grown a great deal since its launch. Now there are more channels and more packages to chose from, with prices to match, and more is being added all the time. Everything you need to know is right here.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

What are HDMI ARC and eARC? Here’s how they can simplify your home theater

HDMI ARC is one of the coolest TV features at your disposal. But if you're like most folks, you have no idea how it works, if you even know what it is at all. Here's our primer on HDMI ARC, as well as the next generation technology, eARC.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Avengers: Endgame,’ ‘Bumblebee,’ ‘Alita,’ and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. That's why we round up the best ones for you. This week, it's the first trailer for Avengers: Endgame, as well as new trailers for Alita: Battle Angel and Bumblebee.