Radical design, not-so-radical comfort
Basic headphone design can get stale after a while. I mean, when you think about it, over-ears have a band, ear cups, and cable; even if there are minor changes over the years, the basic function of headphones are seldom altered. The Tracks line of headphones are a bit different in that they can be removed from their band routinely—it may not sound like much, but it does open the door for more possibilities.
While the Master Tracks currently don't have any alternate bands or drivers on the Sol Republic website, it's not inconceivable that it might in the future to increase the longevity of its product. Comparisons of me and Vizzini aside, having easily replaceable parts is a huge plus. So if your cable causes you to grumble and swear at its breakage, tear it out and throw it away.
I will caution you to try to find a fit that works without trying to squeeze your head too firmly, because the band does not lock—it's a true slider. This will have a few consequences, but nothing too major. First, you're going to notice that a bit of extra pressure will ride on your pinna and not your skull. That in turn will make long-term wear of these cans a bit uncomfortable.
Decent option for the younger crowd
As far as consumer headphones go, the audio quality of the Master Tracks should satisfy anybody looking for a portable upgrade to entry-level cans. They may not be an audiophile's cup of tea, but they'll do well in an office or other setting with low-ish noise.
I will point out that the performance is tailored a bit towards younger listeners, as it emphasizes bass notes strongly as well as cymbal shimmer. These are not something that an enthusiast would probably want to keep by the computer: There's a bit of distortion in the deepest notes, and there is some underemphasis in high notes of a piano, synth, or flute, but overall nothing too grating or apparent.
These are also not the greatest cans in terms of isolation, but they work better than they appear—high-end noise will be all but muted, even if low-end noise like engines and voices will reach your ears almost undiminished.
Durable smartphone headset
So how does this all translate into normal use? Well, you're buying a set of cans that look really cool, are far more durable than they appear, and will sound great—until you've reached your limit in terms of comfort.
For some the comfort thing is a deal-breaker because—while the foam isn't stiff—the pressure that the band puts on your outer ear gets more and more intolerable over a long period of time. Thankfully, the ear cups don't tend to slip or get caught in long hair, but it's a problem that dampens the overall experience.
However, that's not to say that these are bad headphones—quite the contrary. Because they will survive the most common breakages and can be used with a smartphone, many consumers will find the Master Tracks to be a serviceable option for portable listening, even if things like the Y-shaped cable and the comfort may be a notable drawback to some.
Their predecessors made a splash at events in the past, but the Master Tracks might not be the headphones you're looking for if you want to dip your toes in the high-end of audio products. I'm not saying they're without their bright spots, but these are best suited to listening with a smartphone on a commute or outdoors.
Sol Republic's Master Tracks are definitely attractive and versatile with their ability to be disassembled, but it may be a while before they offer replacement drivers. Still, being able to repair your cable for $19.99 is a great feature that protects your investment in your cans, and definitely takes away much of the stress of casual use.
If you're looking to buy cans for yourself or someone who's fashion-minded, these are far from a bad bet. Just be aware of the comfort issues, and you'll be golden. For two hundie-sticks ($200), you can pick these up from the store, though their price varies online.
So a review is fine and well, but if you hunger for a bit more justification of our stance on the Master Tracks—here are the numbers. Honestly, they could be a lot worse, and most of the shortcomings aren't necessarily centered in the data, so the performance is decent for a portable consumer option.
Strong bass, cymbals
Many consumer-geared headphones tend to shoot for a certain type of response that resembles an equal-loudness contour, which emphasizes bass notes quite heavily, as well as the 8-10kHz range. The theory here is that to the human ear, this curve is closest to what will make every sound equally as loud as the others, but it varies from person to person. The Master Tracks do something very simliar, though not exactly—they definitely underemphasize the 2-7kHz range a bit, meaning harmonics and some of the highest notes and percussive sounds will be a bit quieter than the rest of your music.
Fans of a flatter response and those looking for headphones to mix music on should probably keep looking, as these will not offer you the type of frequency response you require. You could theoretically equalize your music to get closer to a flat response, but it's a lot of effort for something that would be better handled for cans designed for that purpose.
Distortion shouldn't be a huge problem for most as it's mostly present in the low end—where our ears are much more forgiving of this sort of thing. However, audiophiles will be quick to point out it does hold close to 1% even higher than 100Hz, so it is notable if not quite annoying.
There are no problems with added noise above the masking threshold, so you can expect to have no added garbage to your music. Even if you were to give yourself near-instant hearing loss by blasting music at 124+dB, the level of distortion remains under 3%. Regardless of the theoretical capability, don't test this out for yourself—this is a painfully bad idea.
Blocks out high end noise, but these are not high-end isolators.
As far as over-ears go, these actually block out a considerably high amount of outside noise in the high end. Noise from cars, buses, and the metro will reach your ears, making sounds close in frequency masked. It's tough, but try to fight the temptation to crank your tunes to drown these sounds out.
However, these headphones do a great job corralling their own sound, so you should feel confident that you aren't pestering everyone else around you with your music—even if you listen a bit loud.
Meet the tester
Staff Writer, Imaging@cthomas8888
A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.See all of Chris Thomas's reviews
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