In this article, we will take a look at three selected in-ear monitors from Sol Republic, Beats by Dr. Dre and Bose.
For the curious, Sol Republic is a rather new company, founded by three industry veterans who wanted to create great-sounding, affordable headphones for the people.
Meanwhile, Beats by Dr. Dre was established in 2006 by its namesake, Dr. Dre, an American rapper and record procuder that most of us probably have heard of. Today, Beats is a very popular brand even among the non-audiophile crowd and wearing Beats is seen as somewhat of a status symbol today.
Of the three, Bose has the greatest lineage, being founded nearly fifty years ago by Dr. Bose. Today, Bose is reputed for its professional audio solutions and reportedly spends more money on advertising than all other home audio companies combined.
Now, we will take a look at the three companies' flagship in-ear monitors. From Sol Republic, we have the Amps HD; from Beats by Dr. Dre, the Beats Tour; and lastly, from Bose, the IE2. Before you read on, it is worthy to note that these three earphones all use dynamic drivers, so those looking for more analytical-sounding balanced armature earphones may want to look elsewhere instead.
With that out of the way, let us first take a look at the three products individually.
Sol Republic Amps HD
The Amps HD is Sol Republic's flagship headphones. It is available in gray, blue and black and comes with a microphone and in-line music control that you can use on your mobile phone. It retails for US$99.99 with a one-year limited warranty. Curiously, Sol Republic offers a lifetime of free ear tip replacements, so you will never need to worry about losing your ear tips any longer.
Generally, customer opinion of this pair of earphones are rather positive. It has an average four-star rating on Amazon, with most lauding its excellent sound quality for the price. However, your mileage may vary regarding the fitting of the ear-tips. Some users report that the earbuds need to be re-adjusted constantly just to remain in the ear, and the earbud design may be a little too bulky and heavy. In addition, the in-line remote seems to be designed for Apple products only, and some of the functions may not work on Windows Phone and Android devices.
According to the Sound and Vision Magazine, the Amps HD has a sound signature leaning a little the bass-heavy side. However, the bass is not as heavy to be overwhelming, unlike some of its contemporaries. The overall sound signature tends to the smooth side, so those looking for a detailed and analytical sound may look elsewhere.
Bottomline: If the eartips are suitable for your ears, then the Amps HD is a compelling choice in this price range, offering powerful bass in its class.
The Beats Tour by Beats by Dr. Dre has a similar design to the Amps HD, with a flat, circular earbud and a flat tangle-free cable. It comes with an in-line remote and microphone as well. However, it is priced at US$149.99, making it the most expensive of the bunch. It comes in two colour schemes, black-red and white. One year of limited warranty is offered by Beats by Dr. Dre for the Beats Tour.
Unfortunately, reviews of the Beats Tour are generally negative. On Head-Fi, it has an average 2.5/5 customer rating. Many claim that it has a poor build quality, with static issues and one side losing sound quickly. However, it is a non-issue to others, so once again, your mileage may vary here. Perhaps there may be some bad batches here and there.
However, the general consensus on Head-Fi, Amazon and other audiophile reviews is still that they are overpriced, offering only average sound quality for the price.
Another thing to note is that since the Beats Tour are very popular, there are many fakes going around in the marketplace today. It is highly recommended that you don't go looking around for the cheapest deal, but rather check out the list of authorised retailers from their website before deciding to make a purchase.
According to this user's review on Head-Fi, the Beats Tour sounds best with music that has forward vocals and heavy bass impact. With other genres, such as classical and trance, they do not perform as well. It is very bass-heavy compared to its contemporaries, with poorer sounding mids and highs.
This is further corroborated by a review on Ubergizmo. While it performs admirably bass-wise, when it comes to the mids and trebles, they seemed 'a bit harsh and metallic sounding' especially in the upper frequencies.
In summary, if you like to listening to Dr. Dre's kind of music (i.e. bass-heavy pop and rock), the Beats Tour may be a good option. However, if you're not a bass-head and prefer a more balanced sound signature, you may want to consider the other two options instead.
Bottomline: Unless you are a bass junkie, or like the idea of wearing Beats as a status symbol, you would do better looking elsewhere. If you do buy Beats, be wary of counterfeits as well.
Lastly, we come to the Bose IE2. It comes in three versions, the base version, the iPhone headset version, as well as a headset version for Android, Blackberry and Windows Phones. The base version retails for US$89.95 while the latter two go for US$116.95. The IE2 looks completely different to the Amps HD and Beats Tour, and is arguably not as good looking. It features a unique 'StayHear' ear-tip that you can see in the image above.
The IE2 has a one-year limited warranty (two years in the European Union).
Customer opinion of the IE2 is largely positive, with a 4.5/5 rating on Amazon.
Most feel that the sound quality are good for their price, with good bass and crisp mids and highs. Unfortunately, the 'StayHear' ear-tips don't seem to work as well as advertised, with users noting poor sound isolation due to its vented eartip design. The design of the ear-tips may not be comfortable for everyone too.
The Bose IE2 has a vented eartip design, meaning that sound can easily enter and escape. Therefore, soundstage would naturally be wider compared to the Amps HD and the Beats Tour.
The IE2 has a slight bass and mid-range emphasis, with rolled off highs, according to this user review on Head-Fi. This may make it unsuitable for listeners looking for detail in the higher frequencies.
The IE2 has a decent amount of bass, however, general reviews state that has little impact, and is a little 'bloated' and 'muddy'. This means that the bass on the IE2 does not particularly stand out, and is not precise. The mid-range is somewhat 'smoothed over', perhaps to a greater extent than the Amps HD, causing the loss of clarity.
Bottomline: The Bose IE2 offers great all-around sound quality for the price. However, those keen on detail may want to look elsewhere.
Which one should I choose?
In all honesty, choosing headphones is a very subjective process. Preferences vary among different listeners, so one man's meat may be another man's poison.
However, overall, I would not recommend the Beats Tour unless you are buying it as a status symbol. At US$149.95, it is already in a different league from the Amps HD and the IE2, but yet does not offer anything compelling to set it apart from the other two.
Choosing between the Sol Republic Amps HD and the Bose IE2 may be a more difficult choice, however. If you own a non-Apple smartphone, the IE2 could be a better option, since there is a version for Android, Blackberry and Windows Phones; while for the Amps HD, the in-line remote only works perfectly on Apple devices.
One key difference between the Amps HD and the IE2 is that the latter has a vented design, so noise isolation will naturally be poor, with the benefit of a wider soundstage. This may just be the determining factor in choosing between these two sets of in-ear monitors.
Of course, if you have the chance, it is best to audition all three sets, or perhaps even other brands, at your local brick-and-mortar store before committing. Afterall, music is a very subjective thing and the best review is done with your own ears.