Provides: Audio reproduction and iDevice control
Developer: SOL Republic
Minimum Requirements: Audio device with 1/8″ stereo minijack
At Appletell, we’ve suggested numerous times that you upgrade beyond the horrible headphones that came with your iDevice. Trouble is, we’re often recommending headphones that cost $200 and up. That’s not always a viable option, so I was happy to discover you can get the audio improvement you need out of SOL Republic’s $100 Tracks headphones without sacrificing the functionality of iDevice control.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Tracks is that they look more like a hair band fashion accessory than a set headphones, especially considering they’re available in black, red and white.
Guys, don’t let these put you off…there’s nothing “girlie” about the sound, or even about the band itself. It’s exceptionally durable, making a good option if you’re always shoving them into a book bag or suitcase. That’s important, because if you’re replacing earbuds with them, you’re going to need to account for the extra storage space that over-the-ear headphones requires.
The Tracks are also notable for the fact that the cans can be removed from the band itself, so you can actually swap out the band to match your outfit, or whatever (oddly, I don’t see that you can purchase multiple band colors when buying, or even buy them separately). In addition, the cable that connects to the cans is removable. If something should go wrong the cable, you can just get a new one instead of buying a new set of headphones. Most users will never take advantage of this, but it’s good to know the option is there. The only drawback to it is that you’ll have wires hanging from both ears, which isn’t usually needed with over-the-ear headphones.
[Update: We’ve been informed that additional color headbands will be available in the near future. Also, The Sound Engines are interchangeable (hence, the detachable cord). Both the HD Sound Engines and the colored headbands will be available in retail outlets.]
Apple, Blackberry and Android users will get additional functionality out of the speaker cable controls, with iOS users able to control volume and track selection. The center button for taking calls and pausing music rises well above the volume/track buttons, allowing for easy control without seeking it out. A microphone is also included, but because of the positioning, I found I had to hold it close to my mouth to get good voice reproduction.
But all of this so far is just bonus material. What matters with headphones are comfort and sound quality, and SOL Republic delivers more in both aspects than you’d expect from $100 headphones. The cushions sit directly on your ears, and are fairly comfortable while muffling external noises. A pad at the top of the band rests comfortably on your head, as well. The cushions aren’t as soft you’d expect by looking at them, but the Tracks are still comfortable to wear for prolonged listening sessions.
The audio reproduction is solid, if not spectacular. The Tracks do a good job of picking up the detail you’re losing with Apple’s earbuds, and the mix is fairly well balanced. But at times, the music can sound a bit harsh; clinical, perhaps. They’re fine for rock music, games and movies, but I didn’t like them for classical music, where they gave the feel of a performance in a hall not tuned for symphonic sound. There was also some distortion when the volume is cranked up, but that was well past the level of hearing safety, anyway. You should have no need to turn these up that loudly.
The SOL Republic Tracks, at $100, are a great option for iDevice and Mac audio. You won’t be exercising in these, of course, but they work well for long commutes, flights, or working at your desk. If you want to spend $30 more, you can upgrade to the Tracks HD, which offer the V10 High-Definition Sound Engine vs. the Tracks’ V8 Sound Engine. But there’s something satisfying about keep the price down to two digits, and the sound is good enough here to keep you happy beyond your next iDevice upgrade.
Buy the SOL Republic Tracks