It’s impossible to look at Scosche’s new Realm series of headphones without thinking of Monster’s Beats by Dre lineup, which three years ago created a market for pricey, iPod-matching audio gear — and a bandwagon of rivals. Since the Beats have maintained steep price premiums over sonically similar headphones, Monster’s competitors have been able to easily offer more affordable alternatives while experimenting with different form factors. That’s why companies such as Scosche have jumped into the $200 Beats-alike headphone market with vigor, and why Realm RH1056m/RH1056md ($230) and IEM856m/IEM856md ($250) have hit the market this month: they’re expensive enough to represent big steps up in price from a company that hasn’t been known for high-end audio gear, but they’re also solid enough Beats alternatives to actually be worthy of your consideration. Their names are unnecessarily geeky and confusing — once you get past the digits, each “m” version means white while “md” means black — but these are very good headphones for people who want a Beats-like experience with superior value.
Scosche’s Realm RH1056 models are the most obviously influenced by the Beats family, clearly resembling Monster’s original Beats Studio model without directly copying it. Though the proportions, the combination of a glossy plastic exterior with soft touch rubber interior, and pivoting earcup designs all owe debts to the Beats Studio design, Scosche has strategically changed the curves, tapers, or other details of each element to avoid design patent infringements. Thus, what you get for the $230 asking price—that’s $120 less than Beats Studio—is a large pair of very comparable foldable plastic headphones with chrome accents rather than semi-glossy metal, comfortable real leather ear cushions, and large circular metal plates on the sides that Scosche says were inspired by its Realm car audio line.
You also get a zippered semi-hard carrying case, two different audio cables, a 1/8” plug adapter for older audio hardware, and another adapter to let Realm work with PC VoIP and gaming apps. What you don’t get is Beats Studio’s active noise-cancellation hardware, a feature that requires two AAA batteries and prevents Monster’s headphones from working at all if they’re not switched on; you also lose out on Monster’s cleaning cloth and airline plug adapter, neither missed at all here.
The absence of active noise cancellation circuitry in RH1056 is a legitimate but not major hardware difference between Scosche’s and Monster’s designs. Beats Studio uses those batteries to reduce the intrusion of low-pitched ambient sounds into your ears, a feature that frequent subway or airline passengers may appreciate, though higher-pitched noises penetrate both companies’ earcups in much the same way.
That aside, Realm RH1056 sounds very similar to Beats Studio. Scosche has built a 40mm speaker driver into each of its over-ear cups, which deliver sound that is best described as bass- and midrange-forward—particularly well-suited to hip hop and dance tracks—with just a little too little treble relative to Beats Studio. Most users would never notice the difference, but in direct comparisons, we heard a little more detail in Beats Studio’s renditions of songs than in Realm RH1056’s, hints of extra pop and layering that serious listeners would appreciate, though not necessarily expect given Scosche’s considerably lower price tag.
One surprising area in which Realm RH1056 handily beats Beats Studio is in the cable department. Both of Realm’s main cables are flat, tangle-free cords with strain-relieving, highly case-compatible 3.5mm headphone plugs; one works with virtually any non-Apple device, and is unremarkable save for the fact that it’s hard to accidentally knot. But the second cable steps beyond Beats Studio in a couple of nice ways. It incorporates the TapLine III three-button remote control and microphone system that Scosche has carried over and improved upon from earlier, lower-end earphones.
Unlike almost all of its competitors, TapLine III places the microphone in a small capsule near the left side of your mouth, while situating the remote controls further down on the cable for easier access. In our testing, TapLine III’s microphone was noticeably clearer than the ones Monster uses in both its one- and three-button remote control cables—notably, only the former’s included with Beats Studio—and because the remote control is at chest rather than neck level, it’s very easy to see and access as needed.
As compared with Monster’s Beats Studio, which rated a flat B, Scosche’s Realm RH1056 merits our B+ rating and strong general recommendation. For $120 less than Monster’s asking price, RH1056 delivers only a very modestly diminished listening experience, a considerably improved remote control and microphone experience, better cabling, and equivalent comfort—with roughly the same quality of industrial design, albeit differently executed. Unlike the IEM856, which roundly outperformed Monster’s closest model using better components within a similar form factor, but also eclipsed it in price, RH1056 gives prospective Beats buyers a more affordable option that they’ll almost certainly find sonically comparable to Monster’s. If you’re picky enough about audio to detect the difference between RH1056 and Beats Studio, there’s a good chance that neither of these headphones will really satisfy your needs, anyway; these are a very good pick for fashion-conscious listeners with above-average listening budgets.
Company and Price
Model: Realm RH1056m/md
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, iPods