At CES 2013, Sol Republic unveiled the Master Tracks, their top-of-the line over-ear headphones that sets its sights on taking over what Dr. Dre and the Beats began. Designed with simplicity in mind, the Master Tracks don't scream for attention with its matte black finish. However, the same cannot be said about its sound experience. With celebrities such as Steve Aoki, Benny Benassi, and Lil Jon as Sol Republic's "Saviors of Sound," you can't help but wonder what all this hype is about, and neither could we. Head on past the break as we go ears-on to find out if the Master Tracks are worthy of our recommendation.
The Master Tracks is Sol Republic's over-ear headphones that resembles much of what they've done with their Tracks On-Ear headphones, except on a bigger scale. Sol Republic uses an interchangeable design where the headband comes detached from the speakers themselves for extreme aesthetic customizability but also in case you need to replace a part of your cans. Instead of purchasing a whole new pair, you can just grab what you need replaced. Of course, they are sold separately. Headbands are available separately in many different colors for $30, and so are the detachable audio cables with an inline remote and mic which are being sold for $20.
In the packaging, you will find the mic with remote cable for use as a headset, a water-resistant carrying case, a 1/4 inch stereo jack adapter, a SOL sticker, and the headphones themselves, which come detached. The whole presentation was sleek and designed to match the high-quality top-of-the-line feel.
The detachable feature is pretty straightforward. To put the Master Tracks together, simply match and slide the appropriate speaker onto the corresponding side, where the left speaker will go on the left and the right speaker goes on the right side of the headband. Both the headband and speakers are labeled accordingly. Surprisingly, there was no click or snap that indicated whether or not you securely installed the speakers but rest assured, they aren't easily falling off anytime soon. The last step would be to plug each 3.5mm jack into both the left and right speakers to start listening. Obviously, since there are no cables running along the headband, the Master Tracks require having both 3.5mm jacks plugged in for stereo sound.
For transport, you can place the Master Tracks inside the water-resistant carrying case that is provided. Along the inside of the bag, there is a felt-like cloth lining the entire bag to ensure that your headphones don't get scratched while in it.
A peculiar issue I had with the Master Tracks at first was that the right and left labels are very small and hidden on the bottom of each speaker where the 3.5mm jacks plug into. On top of that, the R and L letters aren't very easy to spot to begin with. My solution to this was that if the headphones were backwards, I would be able to see the X3 and Sol Republic logos, while normally, I wouldn't.
Lastly, the mic and remote cable is fairly standard. Its three button remote is easy to press and has a nice clicky tactile feedback to let you know you pressed it down far enough. Sadly, the cable themselves were not as exciting as I would have expected a high-end headphone to come with. Perhaps a braided or flat cable would have been better, but these normal ones work as they should nonetheless.
The headband is constructed out of an advanced polymer compound that Sol Republic calls FlexTech which they claim to be "virtually indestructible" and backs it up with a 1,000 day guarantee. While we have no way of testing its indestructible claim, we found that through daily use and even attempting to bend them to widths that is impossible for a human head, there was no cracking, snapping, or much of anything in response. Its gunmetal finish provides a simple and low profile look that wouldn't draw any attention to yourself and with the matte finish, it stays finger-print and smudge-free most of the time. The Master Tracks will soon be available in white and metallic blue color finishes if you're not one that would settle for casual, safe styling.
The cans on these headphones are made from plastic and have the same gunmetal finish as the headband. On the sides, the Sol logo rests on what appears to be aluminum with a similar matte finish as the rest of the headband. We would like to point out that on the Sol Republic Tracks, the entire headphone is constructed out of plastic.
The leather on both the top of the headband and the speakers are soft and smooth, making them extremely comfortable on your head and ears. However, it's depressing how prone to wear the leather on the speakers are. In just over a week of use, the leather on the right speaker has significant wrinkling on the outer sides when they were smooth and perfect out of the box.
The Master Tracks has the largest cans of Sol Republic's lineup and fits comfortably, so much that even after hours of use, I didn't have to take them off or did it even bother me. I have large ears and still had no issues with fit. For this, we have to thank the swivel that the cups are connected to which allow them to move up and down to better fit the user's head shape. Moving the cans along the headband requires you to simply slide them up and down to the appropriate length and should fit most users' heads without a problem.
Personally, I would have preferred to have slightly more padding along the top of the headband to improve comfort and wearability, especially for long periods of time because while the speakers could cover my ears without much problem, I experienced some uncomfortable pressure on the top of my head.
Now, for what you've been wanting to read (or skipped down to). Sol Republic is focused on the hip and lifestyle side of things, where you would expect the likes of dub step, hip-hop, rap, and the likes to be the Master Tracks' forté… and you would be right. The Master Tracks produces solid bass that hits hard as you're raving to Skrillex's and Klaypex's bass drops but at the same time, Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift's highs and mids have clarity and are crisp. For a perfect balance, the peppy guitar and bass of Bon Iver intertwined nicely with the calming vocals. What surprised me the most was when I put the Master Tracks up against Knife Party's Bonfire. I literally got goosebumps from hearing how clearly and hard each sound hit.
The Master Tracks pumps out quality audio but also at a very respectable volume. With the volume close to max, because max would just be crazy, the bass to the highs remain consistently clear without close to any distortion.
While there is no active noise-cancelling on these cans, with the volume turned up around a quarter way to half way, most of the background noise can still be blocked out. I could barely hear a person standing right next to me talk at times. As for keeping the sound to yourself, the Master Tracks has a hard time preventing noise leaks, which obviously only gets worse as you turn the volume up. For normal volume levels around the 1/4th mark, the amount of noise leaked is very minimal but can still be an annoyance in a quiet environment.
Sol Republic has created a nicely constructed pair of headphones that truly appeals to the intended demographic of hip hop, EDM, and bass heavy enthusiasts who need the satisfying bass drops without a similar bank balance drop. With its $199 price tag, the Master Tracks is comparable to the Beats Solo HDs and the more recent competitor, Logitech's UE 6000. Despite some questionable design quirks, we still recommend giving the Master Tracks a look for its impressive sound quality and easier to swallow price point.