I'll start out by saying I collect mid-priced headphones(between $50 - $300). It may be an odd hobby, but it gives me a certain perspective that others may not have. I'm also an engineering major, and I found the general lack of objective, in-depth headphone reviews on Amazon to be disconcerting. So, here I am, taking a shot at reviewing some of the headphones I either own or have spent a lot of time listening to.
I've devised a simple six-song test and rating system, where 0 - 2 is abysmal, 2.1 - 4 is poor, 4.1 - 6 is mediocre, 6.1 - 8 is above average, and 8.1 - 10 is excellent.
The songs are very diverse; I was trying to represent a wide range of genres. They are "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac(encoded in 256 kbps Ogg Vorbis), "Every Planet We've Reached is Dead" by Gorillaz(256 kbps .ogg), "Concerto Grosso #26 in D major" by Handel(256 kbps .ogg), "I Know You Are, But What Am I?" by Mogwai(500 kbps .ogg), "Afro Blue" by Triplexity(192 kbps .ogg), and "The Patient" by Tool(500 kbps .ogg).
I listened to everything on an iAudio 7 with the equalizer set to flat and all the sound effects turned off.
The Chain(6/10) - bass is nice and deep, slightly exaggerated, but still pleasant to listen to. Distortion is present, but very minimal. Mid tones and highs are somewhat underrepresented and bland, but otherwise sound decent. Instrument separation is a bit muddy. The main negative here is the sound stage, which is tiny.
Every Planet(8/10) - lows and highs both sound very smooth and rich in this song. Mid tones, as before, are underrepresented and bland. Instrument separation is good, but the sound stage is very underwhelming.
Concerto(6/10) - the bass in this song is deep and vibrant. Lows are nicely responsive. Mids and highs don't have quite the balanced presence they should have. Instrument separation is fairly muddy. Once again, the sound stage is lacking.
I Know You Are(7/10) - bass, as expected, is nice and vivid. Distortion was too high near the beginning of the song, but gradually leveled off. Highs were nice and crisp, but mid tones were lacking. Instrument separation, as was the case with most other songs, is a bit muddy, and the sound stage, while not as bad in this song, is still mediocre.
Afro Blue(8/10) - the lows in this song were pleasantly punchy, and the highs were fairly crisp and smooth. Mid tones were muddy, however, as was the overall instrument separation(no surprises here). The sound stage is similar to what it was in "I Know You Are, But What Am I?"; it is more present than in most songs, but doesn't have the fullness I would expect of circumaural headphones at this price.
The Patient(6/10) - right off the bat, the bass guitar in this song sounds great. Treble is decent, but underrepresented, as are the mid tones. The primary complaint I had in this song was actually not the sound stage(which isn't emphasized anyway), but the instrument separation, which I felt was greatly lacking in precision.
Overall Sound(6.8/10) - the bass from these cans is overall clean and pleasant. Somewhat exaggerated, but not greatly so. Distortion, while present at times, is also in small amounts. These aren't the subs-attached-to-your-head that some might expect before having listened to them. Treble sounds above average, but slightly underrepresented. The mid tones even more so - to the extent that they come across as bland. Instrument separation is also a bit muddy(although not too terrible). Another reviewer commented that these headphones were designed to sound slightly muddy, but I find this hard to believe, since the advertisement on Amazon claims "precise audio clarity". But as I've mentioned time and again, the biggest drawback to these cans is the sound stage, which just wasn't there. Overall, though, I would give these headphones an above average score in terms of sound quality.
These are a closed-air, cirumaural design, and a very attractive one at that. I like the styling very much. Lines on these phones are aggressive, but clean and elegant at the same time. They are also very comfortable. They're lightweight and have plenty of padding. My only complaint here is the headband, which I felt was too rigid, and didn't conform to my head as much as I'd have liked. I also like how mobile these are - they fold up, and come with a nice case to carry them around in. Great for traveling.
They are also built pretty well. I would rather see more aluminum at this price, but the plastic they're composed of is nice and solid. They seem durable, and I doubt they would fall apart anytime soon.
Noise isolation in these Monsters is accomplished via the closed circumaural design, which features plenty of thick padding, and active destruction of outside sound waves entering the headphone. I am a fan of the former; the latter, not so much. In my experience, active noise cancellation interferes with sound quality, not only because of the waves that must be emitted to interfere with incoming ambient noise, but also because an external headphone amplifier can't really be used with noise-canceling headphones due to their built-in amplifier, which is typically not of premium quality. It's difficult to judge on a case-by-case basis, because the built-in amp can't be removed, but going by the sound produced by the Monster Beats, I don't think they're an exception to this rule.
All of that aside, the Monsters were definitely designed to be noise-canceling, so I won't dock points for that. What I will take off points for is relative effectiveness, which I didn't feel was where it should be, all things considered. They do block quite a lot of noise, but plenty of noise still bleeds through. I've heard noise-canceling headphones that are considerably more effective. Then again, I've also heard much worse, and these, in my opinion, are above average.
Monster Beats by Dr. Dre are a good, above-average sounding and noise-isolating pair of headphones that feature a comfortable, highly stylish, and mobile design. This doesn't come close to justifying their high price, however. Sound quality should be significantly higher in this price range. But as always, different people perceive sound quality in different ways, and I highly encourage you to listen for yourself to a wide range of headphones before spending money. Those interested in good, deep bass at or under the price of the Monsters should also listen to various Beyerdynamic headphones, and the ATH-D40fs model by Audio Technica.