Monster's Turbine Pro Gold In-Ear Speakers: Are These Earbuds Worth $300?

If the huge spike in iPod touch app downloads is to be believed, many of you got a new portable media player for the holidays. And even though iPods don't have the best audio quality compared to other MP3 players, the touch is a sweet little machine that's hard to resist. However, the earbuds that come with it just won't do.

If you have an iPod chances are you love music. And if you love music, you want to hear all of your songs the way the artists intended, right? It doesn't take a hard-core audiophile to appreciate deeper, richer sound. But in order to get it, you may have to spend some cash.

That's where the Monster Turbine Pro Gold Professional In-Ear Speakers come in. These premium earbuds deliver high-end audio that improves the sound coming out of any MP3 player. Which they should for almost $300.

For that price you get a set of earbuds that go way beyond the norm. First, it comes with six sets of ear cushions. Three rounded (small, medium, large), two cone-shaped (medium, large), and one pair of squishy Supertips that are meant to mold to the contours of your ear.

I prefer the cone-shaped ones as they sunk deep into my ear, blocked sound really well, and never felt like they were in danger of falling out. They are so effective that I feel a pressure change each time I put them on. (I'm also now far, far too familiar with what's hanging out in the deep parts of my ear canal. Ick.) The Supertips didn't do much for me -- my ear didn't ever quite adjust to them -- so I'm glad Monster includes so many different types. You also get a small bag for holding all of the cushions and a second bag for storing the speakers themselves, which is a must for premium headphones.

Still, is any set of earbuds worth that kind of money? That depends on whether they can truly deliver superior sound.

So I put them to the test. I tried them on two different MP3 players -- The Zune HD, which has similar sound quality to the current generation of iPods, and the Sony Walkman X Series, a player that already has superior audio quality -- and put them up against the earbuds that came with the Zune and my personal pair of Sony MDR-EX51LP Fontopia earbuds ($40 - $50).

First I tested them with the Sony Walkman, listening to "November Rain" by Guns N' Roses. Sound quality was great with the Turbine Pros in my ear. The audio had depth, so it was easy to hear the vocals and guitars in the high range and the synth orchestra behind them. The flute on that track was more present than I was used to (a good thing), and overall the audio sounded clear and present.

The Sony earbuds, which used to be my staple pair, also did well in delivering good quality audio, but I noticed that the sound was flatter when compared to the Turbine Pros. Plus, the treble tended toward the tinny.

The free Zune earbuds obviously couldn't stand up to either of these, but it's interesting to note how much the audio quality went down between the Sony pair and the free pair. The sound was muddy in the middle, basically shoving all of the audio elements into a narrow, vaguely muffled middle range that, while not destroying the song, definitely impaired my ability to enjoy it.

I switched to the Zune HD and listened to the opening from 9 to 5 -- The Musical. The Turbine Pro speakers greatly improved the Zune's audio quality, and I particularly noted how much more in front the soloist's voices were in the 9 to 5 track compared to the chorus, orchestra and sound effects. There was definitely more depth to the audio with this pair.

Once again the Sony earbuds did a decent job, but the resulting audio was a bit flat and the soloist's voices didn't pop the way they did with the Turbine Pros. Not surprisingly, the Zune headphones weren't quite as bad on this PMP as they were on the Walkman, but once again the difference between them and the $50 Sony buds was pretty vast. The opening of the song contains some left/right only audio elements that didn't come through as clearly with the free pair as they did on either of the other two.

It's obvious that you want to upgrade from the free pair of earbuds that come with most MP3 players (one exception being the Sony Walkman, which we talked about in our review). Even a $50 upgrade will make a big difference, but you won't get real clarity and depth of sound unless you upgrade more. Are the Turbine Pro Gold in-ear speakers worth $300? If you care about audio quality and love music: Yes.

I would even recommend these over the Beats by Dr. Dre over-ear headphones (also made by Monster). They both deliver superior quality, but the Turbine Pros will take up less room in your bag and you won't look like you just stepped out of a recording studio.

The bottom line is this: Monster's Turbine Pro earbuds will vastly improve the quality of the music you listen to no matter what kind of MP3 player you buy. Once you hear your favorite song through them you will not ever want to go back. If you're the type of person who splurges on the best widescreen LCD television so you can experience HD video content or has a multi-speaker setup so you can experience theater-like sound at home, then don't settle for "good enough" audio from your iPod.