Monster Inspiration Active Noise-Canceling Headphones

Monster-Inspiration-Noise-Canceling-headphone-review-small.jpgThe new Inspiration headphones, Monster’s successor to the wildly successful Beats by Dr. Dre, come in two variations: the passive version ($269) and the active noise-canceling version ($329) reviewed here. These headphones were designed by Monster after Monster and Beats parted ways, and I requested the active version in order to do a more direct comparison with the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones.

Additional Resources
• Read more headphone reviews from’s staff.
• See a review for Astell&Kern’s hi-res portable music player.

Upon first sight, it was immediately apparent that Monster spent a lot of effort creating a visually attractive and unique product. Both versions of the Inspiration have rectangular ear cups in a full-size, over-the-ear design, so even the passive version provides some degree of noise isolation. My review pair was finished in white with a brushed-aluminum trim. The headband and ear pads were finished in white leather. The active version of the Inspiration is also available in titanium or silver, while the passive version is available only in matte titanium. While multiple color options are not unusual, the Inspiration headphones also feature interchangeable headbands. A variety of headband options allows for easy customization and the ability to change the appearance of the headphones in just a few seconds.

The Inspiration comes nicely packaged with a soft clamshell-type case and three different detachable, color-coordinated cables. In addition to a straight cable, there are two microphone-equipped ControlTalk cables; one is optimized for iPhones and the other is universal. Upon removing the headphones from their case, I unfolded the ear cups and noted that the hinges were substantial and solid in feel. I inserted the Apple version of the ControlTalk cable into the left ear cup and turned on the noise-canceling function by sliding a switch on the back of the right ear cup. A green LED on the switch lights up when the noise-canceling circuitry is activated. I appreciated the fact that the Inspiration would continue to work even when the batteries were dead (or the noise-canceling circuitry is switched off).

Upon first placing the Inspiration headphones on my head, I found them to pinch my ears. I slid them back and forth a bit to position the ear pads around my ears. When properly positioned, the Inspiration provided enough noise isolation to make a sizable dent in road noise. Turning on the noise-canceling circuitry made an even more significant reduction in the background sounds. My listening began with the active circuitry engaged. I immediately noticed a presence in the midrange that was absent from the Beats headphones, but the emphasized bass was also present, although with more detail and control. When I turned off the active circuitry and listened in passive mode, the overall presentation was more balanced without the dominating bass.

Read about the high points and low points of the Monster Inspiration on Page 2.

Monster-Inspiration-Noise-Canceling-headphone-review-small.jpgHigh Points
The Inspiration provides a sonic presentation that will please many listeners with strong bass without overpowering the midrange.
The ControlTalk system combines a microphone with easy-to-use controls for iPhones and other devices. Users of other devices can select the cable best suited to their device.
The Inspiration headphones are attractive and will likely appeal to many for aesthetic reasons, in addition to their performance. The interchangeable headbands will add appeal for the growing segment of the population that considers headphones to be a fashion accessory.

Low Points
The Inspiration required careful positioning to prevent the ear cups from pinching my ears. I found that I had to slide them back and forth to get the pads to surround my ears rather than rest on them.
The clamping force was too light to keep the headphones in position during exercise.
The case was not particularly well-designed, and it was not as easy to get the Inspiration packed and unpacked as some other headphones.

Comparison and Competition
The primary competition for the Inspiration is likely to be the Beats By Dr. Dre Studio headphones ($299). The same engineers were behind the design of both headphones, and both cater to a style-conscious user. Bose’s Quiet Comfort 15 Acoustic Noise-Canceling headphones ($299) are popular among those whose emphasis is on finding an over-the-ear noise-canceling headphone, rather than on style. Lastly, the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 ($299) and SOL Tracks ($99) lack noise cancellation but target the style-conscious crowd with their interchangeable metal shields and headbands, respectively.

The Inspiration headphones address the rapidly growing group of listeners who consider headphones as much a fashion statement as a piece of audio equipment. The ability to change the Inspiration’s appearance by swapping out headbands will appeal to some and should not have any negative impact on those who are not interested in this feature, as it does not add any weight or have any impact on sonic performance. The shape of the ear cups looks good but may be uncomfortable for some, so be sure to try them on before buying. (This goes for any headphone, for a variety of reasons.)

The voicing of the Inspiration headphones appears to be targeted at neither audiophiles nor bass worshippers, but rather those who enjoy strong bass, yet are looking for something more sophisticated. Those looking for accurate frequency response or audiophile levels of resolution will be better served by seeking a headphone that is voiced accordingly. The bass is bumped up enough to satisfy bass aficionados and should be able to produce pleasing visceral impact with house music, dance music or any other bass-heavy music. Unlike some other headphones with emphasized bass, the Inspiration’s bass performance does not overwhelm the critical midrange region. The ability to choose between active and passive modes is a nice feature, as it let me choose the sound profile best suited for my mood and music. Overall, I found the performance to be enjoyable and engaging with a variety of music.

Additional Resources
Read more headphone reviews from’s staff.
See a review for Astell&Kern’s hi-res portable music player.