Sol Republic Master Tracks Headphones
I’ve reviewed more than a hundred headphones, but the Sol Republic Master Tracks is the first to require some “assembly.” No worries; Slip the headband through the ear cups’ slots, plug in the cable, and you’re done. The whole operation takes about a minute.
It’s unusually light, just 8.6 ounces, but the Master Tracks feels substantially built and can take rough treatment in stride. Sol Republic claims the padded FlexTech Sound Track headband can shrug off heavy abuse: Twist it, bend it, drop it, and it’s not going to break. The headphones come in Gunmetal (gray), White, or my favorite, Electro Blue.
Specifics about the headphone’s X3 Sound Engine driver technology are scarce, other than that it’s a proprietary design. The elongated oval SonicSoft ear pads do a good job sealing out environmental noise, and the pads don’t leak sound, so you won’t disturb anyone nearby with your tunes. The pads’ pressure against my ears was a little higher than average, so comfort was good, but not a strong suit. The upside to the tight fit is the headphones stay put when you move around.
The 46-inch-long Y cable has a microphone and controls for iPhones. Identifying the left and right ear cups is a bit of a challenge; the tiny L and R markings are tucked away on the cup bottoms, and the L and R markings on the headband aren’t in plain sight; they’re hidden under where the ear cups sit. To see which was which, I slid one ear cup down to reveal the headband’s L or R mark. Getting the correct orientation isn’t just important to hear stereo accurately; the left and right drivers are only angled correctly when you haven’t reversed the channels.
Master Tracks aren’t the most accurate-sounding headphones I’ve heard, but that’s not a bad thing. Some audiophiles are starting to acknowledge that headphones with an obvious bass boost sound more like what speakers sound like in a listening room than more accurate designs, and the bass boost lets you play the headphones at a lower volume without sounding thin. That said, the Master Tracks just got better and better when I pumped up the volume on rock music. Treble detail is slightly rolled off, and the bass bulge and warm midrange flattered most music genres and movie soundtracks.
Sol Republic’s CEO Kevin Lee crafted and refined the sound over the last couple of years. He says, “It’s easy to make a headphone sound good with good recordings, but it’s hard to make it sound good with bad-quality recordings.” That’s true, and since so many contemporary recordings are heavily compressed and processed, Lee’s approach makes a lot of sense. The Master Tracks is a party animal, and these strengths really come to the fore when watching movies.
On the Shackleton DVD, a wonderful biopic about the Anglo-Irish explorer’s trek to the South Pole in 1914, the headphone brought the soundtrack to life. The atmosphere belowdecks on the cramped ship, wind, and surf were all vividly rendered, and some of the sounds seemed to come from well outside the ear cups. Dialogue was rich and full, but male voices were too chesty at times, compared with what I heard from my Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones. Not that I found the extra fullness all that distracting; I’m sure some listeners will appreciate the Master Tracks’ warmer than neutral tonal balance on movies.
All in all, I liked the Sol Republic Master Tracks’ rugged construction, sleek style, and powerful sound. That said, sticklers for accuracy might prefer the ATH-M50 or Sennheiser HD 598 headphones.
Type: Closed-back, circumaural (over the ear)
Weight: 8.57 ounces
Sol Republic • (877) 400-0310 • solrepublic.com