Monster Cable's Miles Davis Tribute In-Ear Headphones

John Kelman By

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With 2009 the 50th anniversary of legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis' biggest selling and highly influential Kind of Blue (Columbia/Legacy, 1959), it's no surprise that folks are coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on this significant milestone. Collector's, Legacy and vinyl editions of the album have all been released by Columbia/Legacy, not to mention tributes ranging from drummer Jimmy Cobb (the only surviving participant on the original date) and his touring So What tribute band to Reggae Interpretations of Kind of Blue (Secret Stash, 2009) and Kind of Blue Revisited: The Miles Davis Songbook (HighNote, 2009). It's not exactly exploitation, but it sure is capitalization.

At the top of the potential list of "are you kidding?" releases surrounding Kind of Blue's Golden anniversary might be Monster Cable's Miles Davis Tribute In-Ear Headphones...if they weren't so damn good. Sure, those of cynical persuasion might find these not inexpensive, limited edition in-ear 'phones, with their streamlined look and gold design sporting Davis' signature and image—packaged in a large, stylish box containing, along with the 'phones, three different carrying cases (including a miniature trumpet case also featuring Davis and his signature), a wide range of ear tips, an instruction booklet, and a copy of Kind of Blue Legacy Edition—to be the height of conspicuous consumption. And that might well be true, were it not for the fact that, in a market now flooded with in-ear Headphones for iPods and other MP3 players—ranging from cheaply built/sounding (Apple's own earbuds, for example) to higher-priced audiophile buds from companies like Shure and Bose—not only do the Miles Davis Tribute 'phones sound as good as the press sheet says they do, they're hands-down amongst the most comfortable buds on the market.

The Headphones (Monster Cable tends to prefer the term "In-Ear Speakers"), along with all the other accoutrement that are really nothing more than fancy window dressing, come with a wide range of tips for ears of all sizes, but after testing many of them out, the winner has to be Monster Cable's trademarked Super Tips. While the premise isn't exactly new, the design, which makes these tips largely maintenance-and replacement-free, sure is. A foam-based tip with a silicone coating molds itself to the shape of your ear after insertion, creating a firm fit and significant noise isolation, perfect for airline travel or just plain focusing on nothing but the music. By comparison, Shure's E2c buds require periodic replacement of their foam tips and a small plastic cover that sits over the opening of the phone tube—and, with extended use, can become uncomfortable. Not only do Monster Cable's Super Tips last for the life of the buds, the tube has a small metal screen cover that never needs replacing, just periodic cleaning. And they're comfortable, too—once you get the hang of inserting them into your ear, you may not even know they're there.

The cable is, not surprisingly—coming, as it does, from the leader in speaker cable—durable, flexible, tangle-free and clearly not prone to hardening up over time as cheaper cables do; again, aimed at lasting for the long haul. The gold stereo minijack is attached with a right angle connector, so it lines up flush with your iPod, is ideal for airline use, and is so durably constructed that it can handle the wear and tear unavoidable with MP3 players. A cable clip attaches the cable to your shirt, helping to reduce stress further, and a cable slide reduces pull on the buds themselves, in addition to making them easier to wrap and store. Two small velcro straps make it possible to neatly store the 'phones away when not in use, and it's the trumpet case-shaped holder that's also the winner for storing the 'phones away in a clean, organized fashion.

All the design features are important in making these in-ear speakers a purchase that may be expensive, but will likely be the last set of in-ear buds you buy. An unprecedented one-time Lifetime Guarantee, where Monster Cable will replace the Headphones even if you break them— demonstrates the company's commitment to customer satisfaction...and its confidence in the durability of its product. With the dispensability of cheaper in-ear buds, it doesn't take a lot of math for the iPod generation to realize that, over time, they may well end up spending at least as much as the Miles Davis Tribute In-Ear Headphones...and for buds that sound far inferior and are nowhere near as comfortable.

So, superior accoutrement, design, durability, comfort and warranty aside, how do the Miles Davis Tribute In-Ear Headphones sound? In a word: outstanding. They may be designed with jazz in mind, and with Kind of Blue's particularly clean, crisp and robust sound, you need go no further than to load the included Legacy Edition onto your iPod (at a reasonable compression rate, of course; taking it down to 128Kbps and you may as well fuggedaboutit) and hit "play." It's hard to believe, with a set of in-ear 'phones, that Cobb's cymbals can sound this crisp and clear; that Paul Chambers' bass can resonate so viscerally that you feel it in your stomach; or that Davis' mid-range trumpet can sound so rich and liquid. But they do.

Pull out any well-produced CD and the result is the same: clean and smooth across the entire frequency range, with no undue emphasis on a particular area (unlike Bose's well-known roll-off). The recital hall ambiance of Keith Jarrett's Testament (ECM, 2009) sounds as present and vivid as it does over a good set of speakers in a good-sounding room; with the in-ear 'phones' noise isolation, there's an even greater sense of intimacy. Ralph Towner's 12-string acoustic guitar on Anthem (ECM, 2001) sounds as resonant and big as if he were in the room. And in ensemble records, whether it's small groups like Steve Kuhn's piano trio on Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009) or larger ensembles like Vince Mendoza's Blauklang (ACT, 2008), there's an unfailing sense of immediacy and veracity. These 'phones sound so good that they make revisiting older albums a real pleasure.

Monster Cable may be targeting the Headphones for a jazz audience, but like its target demographic, these 'phones are also comfortable outside the jazz purview. The mellotron intro to Genesis' "Watcher of the Skies," from Foxtrot (Charisma, 1973), is as dramatic as ever; Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew's interlocking, Gamelan-informed guitars on the title track to Discipline (DGM Live, 1981) full and hypnotic—and their Nuevo metal playing on The Power to Believe (DGM Live, 2003) dense and crunching; John Martyn's heart-wrenching "Hurt in Your Heart, from Grace and Danger ( Island, 1980), is paradoxically atmospheric and powerful; and Lyle Lovett's rootsy title track to Natural Forces (Lost Highway, 2009) is filled with hidden detail and in-the-pocket punch.

The Miles Davis Tribute In-Ear Headphones aren't cheap, but with as good a design as you'll find for comfort, durability and sound— and with Monster Cable's outstanding warranty—they could well be the last in-ear 'phones you'll ever need. Like the artist for whom they're named, they're eminently versatile and, while largely aimed at a specific audience, possess plenty of cross-over appeal. Miles may be gone, but if he were alive today and walking the streets of New York with an iPod in his pocket, there's little doubt he'd be wearing a set of Miles Davis Tribute In-Ear Headphones.

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