Review: Sol Republic Master Tracks
Apart from Sol Republic's products, you're unlikely to find headphones offered as "do it yourself" kits with light assembly required. That's part of the appeal of Master Tracks ($200): unlike rival options, this pair of headphones arrives broken down into parts such as a headband, two ear cups, audio cabling, and a headphone adapter. The idea is that you can slide the cups onto the included band -- or buy an extra one in a different color, available separately -- then plug the cords in, and you're good to go. You can also swap the cords with options sold separately for additional color customization. At this price point, these headphones are competing in the premium fashion space popularized by Beats Electronics' Beats by Dre line.
Despite their high price, Master Tracks are made substantially from plastic. They feature a minimalist design that doesn’t feel cheap, but isn’t as polished or cohesive as some of the best fashion headphones we’ve seen. For instance, the headband is a simple flexible piece of plastic enhanced with padding at the top. Each of the ear cups sits independently inside the box, waiting for you to slide it onto the appropriate side of the headband; the cups and band are labeled so you know where to attach the parts properly. They’re made of the same matte plastic material, with the cups in contrasting colors, and thick cushions that fit around your ears. Finally, there’s the cabling, which actually plugs into both ear cups; each has a port at the bottom. A plastic remote and mic are found at the intersection point of the cables.
We were less impressed with Master Tracks’ audio performance than the unique design. Many of the headphones at and around this price point offer good looks, but lack in the sound department, and this pair is no exception. Compared to Incase’s Sonic Over Ear Headphones, which sold for $200 when introduced in 2011 before dipping to $150 and $80, the audio performance is quite similar—good, but definitely not great. Overall, we’d describe the Master Tracks’ audio as rather flat and midrange-focused. Although the treble is a bit stronger than what Sonic offered, the Master Tracks fall sonically behind the $130 over-ear Realm RH656m/md from Scosche, which offer more dynamic and detailed sound in an on-ear rather than over-ear design. On a more positive note, Master Tracks’ microphone performance was comparable to, if not a bit better than, that of Apple’s EarPods and other three button remote-laden mic accessories; phone call audio sounded quite clear.
If you’re looking for a pair of over-ear headphones with color customization options, Sol Republic’s Master Tracks are good enough to be worth considering. The audio isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it’s respectable enough to rival fashion-forward headphones in the same general price range—you’ll get better sound for the dollar in options such as the aforementioned Realm model. Interchangeability is Master Tracks’ top feature, as the ability to swap out components so easily is novel enough to earn these headphones our general recommendation, though the need to spend more money for customization is unfortunate given this model’s $200 price point and the low cost of packing in extra parts at the factory. Still, if you don’t want or can’t afford a pair of Beats, this is a good pair to consider as an alternative.