So today at Best Buy, I ended up impulse buying a pair of Sol Republic Tracks Ultras. I knew it was a bit of a gamble, as $180 is almost Grado sr225i money, and all the reviews I found on it were by folks only plugging them into an ipod, but I figured I could at least remedy that problem if I gave em a go and wrote my own review. Here are my thoughts.
Opening the Box
So once you battle the bizarre packaging, the way Sol Republic present these cans is pretty damn cool. The headphones are designed so that each piece is completely independent, and it shows immediately as everything comes taken apart.
Pull everything out and what you get are two "Audio Engines", the headband, cable, and a neoprene soft carry case. Everything looks nice and high quality, and it's pretty easy to figure out how to put the things together.
What immediately jumps out the most however, are the cans themselves. For the Ultra version at least, they are mostly made of aluminum, with a nice texture on the outside and the logo milled into the metal rather than printed or stickered on. They are also remarkably solid, with no indication of any creaks or loose parts inside when you handle them. The whole thing almost seems unibody as I can't for the life of me find a screw hole to try and disassemble them, however if they can be disassembled I could see them having similar mod potential to Grados.
Moving on, everything else is pretty nice as well. The detachable cable is dual 2.5mm jacks to a single, angled 3.5mm and has an inline remote for cell phones and mp3 players. One warning, these DO NOT include a 1/4 inch adapter, and it took me trying four different adapters before I found one that worked with it. I imagine it has to do with the inline remote. It is also a little short for my tastes at about 4ft.
The band is a very slick looking translucent blue plastic, with satin black painted in the inside, and a very squishy, white, leatherette cushion affixed at the top. The box claims it is near unbreakable, which is neat should the claim hold true.
Assembly is, as I mentioned before, pretty easy. Every piece is labeled with a clear and easy to find L or R and assembly is entirely toolless. I worry a little that the cans are held on purely by rubber in the drivers gripping the band, but we will see how it holds up. Fully assembled they are pretty good looking, but that's to be expected as the whole brand seems to be aiming for "trendy". Furthermore, they are also extremely comfortable, especially for on-ears, with almost no fatigue after several hours.
How They Sound
As I mentioned just a line a go, these headphones seem to have been designed with trendiness in mind, and we have all seen how poorly that goes with headphones, so I was a little wary of how they were going to sound, but I gotta say I am very very very pleasantly surprised. To test them I first plugged them into my Nexus 4 to try some un-amped 320kbps mp3. This seems to be the intended natural habitat of the Tracks Ultras and they excelled quite nicely.
I started by listening to a few tracks from Clarity by Zedd, an album which any edm enthusiast will agree has some of the best production values heard in years. Synths sounded clear and distinct from each other, though the mids could be just a tiny bit more pronounced. Vocals were excellent, especially in tracks like Spectrum and Clarity where the vocal emotion is the highlight. Bass was well defined and punchy, but not quite as impactful as I would have liked, which was odd as I expected exaggerated, thumpy bass from a pair of flashy fashion headphones like these.
Next for the phone test I switched to some tracks from Childish Bambino's Royalty mix tape, curious how the bass would sound when it was less artificial, and to further explore the excellent vocals the Tracks Ultra seem to produce. The headline track We Ain't Them delivered wonderfully and I can say the Tracks sound just as good with rap as they do with sung vocals. Again however, bass was present and sounded good, but didn't hit me quite the way I wished it would.
Done with my phone, I moved over to my desktop setup. For reference, I'm running PC digital audio to a Schiit Modi DAC, then to a vintage Sansui Receiver. On my desktop, I listened to many of the same tracks, or similar ones, in the hopes the better output devices would help the bass, unfortunately they did not. There were however a few noticeable tracks.
Listening to The Fight of Moses Early & Sir Arthur McCloud by The Prize Fighter Inferno yielded some of the most clear and beautiful sounding acoustic guitar I have ever heard, and further investigation showed that these headphones really love string instruments.
Another highlight was listening to some Alexisonfire, a band that tends to lose itself among it's own mids, with lots of electric guitar and guttural yelling. Through better output setup, the mids stayed very nicely separated from one another instead hindering each other as they do on low end headphones.
All in all, these cans are far from perfect, but damn if I am not impressed by these things. I went in with low expectations and came out liking them more than my Beyerdynamic DT990s. There are of course a few complaints such as the short cable, problems with 1/4 inch adapters, and lack of bass power, but all in all I plan to keep using them on a daily basis. They are definitely worth the $179 price tag in my opinion, and should be considered as a decent option in the ~$200 price bracket.
All in all, 8/10.
Let me know if there's anything I missed or if anyone has questions, thanks!