In case you’ve not noticed, I have a bit of a headphone fetish. There are probably no fewer than 20 sets sitting around my house right now. So when Monster got in touch and asked if I wanted to review a set of in-ear headphones with a $200 price tag, I was intrigued. They’re called Gratitude, but only a good listen can tell you if you’d be grateful to own them.
The Gratitude headphones are endorsed the band Earth, Wind & Fire, with the tag line of “a celebration of real music.” EWF is known for its pure instrument sounds and is often celebrated for its history of moving from classic sounds, to more electronic influence and then into a neo-classic period. That is to say that the band’s sound has a breadth that most artists simply do not reach.
I expected big things from the Gratitude headphones, and I was generally impressed. But let’s start from the beginning, with the packaging, because this over-the-top approach is the first step in the journey.
This is the box. It’s a suede-feel package that’s about the size of a hardcover book. Open it up and you’re greeted with a beautiful presentation of a stunning product:
Remove this top tray and you’ll see that there are 12 (yes TWELVE) sets of tips included for the headphones. They vary greatly in size, and include a couple of triple-flange options, the larger of the two being the ones that I chose. Much like the headphones from House of Marley, I found that these triple-flange tips blocked out sound better and created a much improved listening experience.
There are two carrying cases included with the Gratitude headphones. The one you see above is larger, and includes a magnetized flap for keeping your headphones in place. The smaller of the two is a pinch-to-open piece, akin to a change purse. It does the job just fine.
Now, packaging aside, what matters is how they sound. In the $200 price range, there are a few standout options and Monster has its work cut out for it in order to compete. The leader of the pack at this range is from Shure and it’s called the SE315. The 315s are stunningly-good headphones. They’re also a few bucks cheaper than the Gratitudes, retailing for around $160.
Sound quality from the Gratitudes is close to what you’d expect for headphones in this price range, but they won’t change your world. They’re exceptionally well-tuned to organic instruments such as drums and acoustic guitars, as well as horns and keys. In other words, if you’re listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, they sound phenomenal.
That’s not to say that they’re slouching in other areas, but you can really tell where the engineering team spend their time with the Gratitude headphones. If you’re a fan of acoustic, organic music (instead of electronic production) then you’re probably going to love these.
The 315s, as I said, are fantastic. But they do have a couple of niggling problems related to fit and finish.
Where the 315s fall short though is where the Gratitudes shine. That array of tips makes finding the perfect ones easy. The 315s never did fit my ears very well. The problem with the Gratitudes, however, is that they’re big and quite heavy. There’s simply no way that you’re going to wear these for 5 or 6 hours without physical fatigue on your ears.
Shure’s offering features detachable wires, which is a great feature to have. The Monster option opts for permanently-attached cables, but they are heavy and flat, meaning that it’s nigh-on impossible to accidentally tangle them.
There’s also no denying that the Gratitude headphones out-class the Shure offering as far as looks are concerned. If you’re cool with the rose-gold coloring, this is one classy set of buds.
The ultimate question is whether you need a $200 set of earbuds. I’m not sure that anyone actually does, but if you have the cash to spare, then the Gratitude in-ear headphones need to be on your comparison list. For a brand to which I’ve given a lot of flack over the past few years, I’ve now been impressed twice in a row. The first time was with the company’s iClarityHD portable speaker, and now I’m doubly impressed by a pair of headphones that I fully expected to hate.
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Published February 20, 2012 — 18:44 UTC