Whenever I open a new i-Whatever, I throw those crappy included headphones into my box of extra electronic junk – subsequently never using them. Music is too important to me to waste on dull, ill-fitting buds. Surely, I’m not alone in believing this. If you prefer on-ear headphones and you have $130 to slam down on some new head-cans, perhaps the new SOL Republic Tracks HD are your jam, Sam. SOL Republic is a new company formed by Kevin Lee, a major player in the creation of Beats by Dre. It’s no surprise that their headphones lean towards a bass heavy sound wrapped in a stylish design.
The Tracks HD are on-ear, like the Beats Solos. They sport a clever minimalist design that allows you to take them apart. The concept is you could customize them with different color cables, headbands, or speakers. The cable contains an inline mic with iPod controls. The mic works fine. No one I talked to complained of any problems. Normally with headphones this price, you’d receive a simple clip that keeps the line close to your body, ultimately dampening noise that travels up the cable from movement. There were plenty of times the cable bounced off my walking or pathetically dancing body, causing a noticeable tapping sound. Also, don’t crouch. You’re putting yourself at risk of catching the wire under your knee and pulling the connections out of the speakers. Remember, they are made to be removed. It’s just annoying. This can be easily remedied by using a clip from a different set of headphones if you have one.
The headband is made of some fancy, shmancy polymer that doesn’t seem to want to break. They call it Flextech. I call it awesome. I bent these backwards and twisted them up. It didn’t even misshape them. If there is anything I HATE about the Beats, it is how you can easily break the damn headband. A durable headphone these days is hard to come by.
A warning to my glasses-wearing brethren: On-ear designs may be uncomfortable. These aren’t the most uncomfortable, but long listening sessions can lead to sore ears.
The metal “V10 Sound Engines” used in the Tracks HD pack in some serious value for $130. Someone looking for a flat or “natural” sound may want to stick with the similarly priced, but fairly ugly, Sennheiser HD 280 Pros or the Bose AE2s or OE2s. Where those will give you more of a sense of being in the recording studio with the musicians, the Tracks HD create more of a feeling of being in the center of floor at a concert. Everything is big and bold. The mid tones aren’t washed away by the swelling bass like the Beats are. Their presence is well known. The highs are bright and detailed. Unfortunately, some songs that contain a lot of feedback and hum can aggravate the ears slightly. That’s not to say these aren’t good for some solid rock listening. I particularly love what they do for cymbals. They brought out a quality in the drums on my Sonic Youth albums that is lost on most sub-$200 headphones.
If bass isn’t really your thing, may I suggest trout. HA! See what I did there? These do have a ton of bass. This adds to that concert vibe I mentioned earlier. They are punchy while remaining deep. Fast moving bass gets handled quite nicely. All my speed and black metal sounded badass. Even more impressive was my electronic collection. I was more than happy to put down my commonly used Bose to listen to a shit ton of Modeselektor, Thom Yorke, Little Dragon, MNDR, and M83. You want to shake your tail a bit, toss on the self-titled The Bird & The Bee release. This albums really jumps out on these headphones. Not only are the beats smooth and the bass deep, the phones do a great job with vocals. I love what they do for female voices. All vocals sound great, but female voices really shine.
If you listen to mostly folky, organic music, these may not be for you. Same with jazz and classical. If rock is more your thing, these are a great choice. There are other great choices out there, but these definitely contend. Electronic and hip hop fans should take notice. I found myself getting lost in all my electro-infused albums from Animal Collective to Kid Cudi.
The $100 versions of the Tracks are on display at most Best Buys. If you like the sound but want a little more clarity, I suggest the Tracks HD. However, do yourself a favor and make sure your files are at least 320kbps if possible. At times, the effects of low compression rates are obvious. Besides, you spent a lot on headphones. You might as well make sure to play high quality sounds through them.