I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile, but I do love music. Like many of you, I care about the audio quality my MP3 player delivers. And though this New York Times piece bemoans the stepback in audio quality most people experience today, audiophile Jon Zimmer is correct that there are many ways to get better sound out of your existing player. One of them is to buy better earbuds.
I've long appreciated the care that went into the Beats by Dr Dre line of headphones and earbuds by Monster Cable. You may scoff at Dre’s actual involvement in the project, but the end result was some pretty sweet headphones, which is all that matters. Not content to stop there, Monster is now bringing other musicians into the “Beats” fold. Lady Gaga was next in line, and her HeartBeats in-ear speakers (opens in new tab) reflect the nature of the artist: singular style that looks vaguely painful. All the best suffer for their art, right?
The HeartBeats are not supposed to be mere re-brandings of the Beats by Dr. Dre pair, they are meant to reflect the audio quality the Lady herself finds most pleasing. After using these for a few weeks I can say that if I know nothing else about Lady Gaga right now, I know she enjoys her bass.
Sound Quality & Fit
The HeartBeats are no doubt a step up from mid-range earbuds and offer superior sound under optimal circumstances. The bass is more than solid, sometimes thumping hard enough to make my earlobe vibrate. This sometimes had the effect of overcrowding the mid and high ranges — vocals, guitars, and piano weren’t as present or popping when the bass was very strong. But if you’re always trying to wring every drop of bass from your player, then these earbuds will work for you.
I did mention that the great audio happens under “optimal circumstances”, which includes those times the earbuds actually stayed in my ears. Unlike Monster's Turbine Pro Gold in-ear speakers, the HeartBeats only came with three sizes of round earbuds and not the Super Tips or the cone-shaped ones I like best.
I’ll admit, I have smallish, hard-to-fit ears, so this problem is a constant one. But beyond the eartips, the whole shape of the HeartBeats conspired to keep them from staying firmly lodged in. The triangle-based design has a fairly wide chamber that doesn’t taper enough to the tip to sit well in my ears. I did have better luck once I twisted them around a bit and made the edges of the triangle sit better with my natural contours, but that made the cord stick out weirdly.
Knowing that I have a weird ear, I asked some friends to try the HeartBeats’ fit. 4 out of 7 people who tried them had no problem. Since all Monster eartips fit different models, I put the cone-shaped tips on the HeartBeats to see if they stayed better. Good news is: they did and I finally experienced the best of the audio quality. Bad news is: I don’t see a way for consumers to order just the tips from Monster.
Style and Design
No evaluation of the HeartBeats would be complete without mentioning the design. The earbuds come in three colors – black, silver, and red – and all evoke a pair of jeweled earrings due to their cut triangle design and metallic sheen. My first impression of the design was that it made the buds look like they’d be painful to wear. However, this is mostly illusion. My ear did get poked a bit by the corners when trying to find the best way to situate them in the beginning, but that only happened once. Like Lady Gaga, the HeartBeats won’t permanently scar you even though they look like they want to.
While I find the design fun and like the way it makes them stand out, I prefer traditionally-shaped buds for the simple reason that they fit my ears better.
Like the Beats by Dr Dre in-ear speakers, the HeartBeats have a flat, tangle-free cord. In my experience, the cord does stay remarkably free from entanglements and is pretty easy to manage.
Beyond the three eartips, these premium earbuds also come with a carrying case. Following the triangle motif, the zippered, leather-esque case is also three-sided and sports the same pattern as the buds themselves. I’m definitely a fan of this, but wish Monster also included a small case to snap on to the earbuds for when I drop them in my bag or pocket to protect them as I don’t always want to store them in the case.
If you’re looking to step-up from the headphones that came with your MP3 player, or even a mid-range pair that lacks the bass response you crave, then you should definitely take a look at HeartBeats by Lady Gaga (opens in new tab). At around $100 they’re a good price for premium audio quality. But if you traditionally have issues getting earbuds to stay in, these probably aren’t the pair for you.