Spike TV has been running their Hire a Vet initiative for a while now, a program that tries to provide actual resources to help returning troops find jobs instead of merely spouting the usual vague "Support the Troops" rah-rah you hear in the media. Now Spike has partnered with Monster (the audio company, not the career resources company that owns this site) to release a special camouflage edition of their DNA On-Ear headphones that are being sold exclusively at Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile stores.
The headphones sell for $229.99 and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to IAVA, Goodwill Industries and Got Your 6. That's a $30 premium over the regular Monster's regular DNA headphones, so what do you get for your $200 + $30?
If you've been in the market for a set of headphones over the last few years, you know about Beats by Dre. Up until this year, Beats were manufactured and distributed by Monster but they broke up with Dr. Dre and Monster's been looking to find new products that can recapture some of that lost market share. The DNA headphones line were designed and released under a marketing partnership with Viacom, the owners of MTV and Spike.
Beats are either revered for or marred by a booming low end that sounds impressive at first listen but introduces ear fatigue pretty quickly. Interestingly, Beats has backed off the low end with the new Beats Executive, their first post-Monster release. Monster has wisely looked to create a totally different sound with DNA: these aren't an imitation or knockoff of Beats but something totally different.
Personal taste is the #1 factor in choosing a set of cans. It's impossible to be the single gold standard is audio reproduction, so it's best to just pick a direction and execute it as well as you possibly can. Aside from sound quality, you also have to consider comfort, durability and design.
I spent some time with the DNAs and compared them with the headphones I use for home and studio listening: Bowers & Wilkins P5 ($299), Sony MDR-7506 studio reference headphones ($130) and InCase Reflex ($80). None of these have the active noise cancellation made popular by the Beats Studio ($300) or Bose QuietComfort ($300).
The DNA headphones have several thoughtful features that make them great travel headphones. They're plastic but very sturdy and fold up to fit in a travel bag. They come with two separate cables, one designed to control an iPhone, iPod or iPad. You can plug those cables into either the left or right headphone, a huge plus for left-handed users. Those two plus allow you to share your music with a friend by letting them plug into the second outlet: no cable splitter needed. Best of all, if the cables ever fray or break (a problem familiar to anyone who travels with headphones), you can just swap them out for a new one.
That leaves the sound. Monster has gone for something pretty flat here. Not flat like "boring" but flat like "play the recordings with as few changes as possible." If you're used to the super-smooth Bose sound or the bass-heavy Beats, you're going to be shocked at how different these sound. I was surprised at how similar they sound to the Sony pro studio headphones, a pair that's revered for its neutral sound reproduction. The Sonys also used to be revered for their sturdiness but the last few pairs I've owned have always lost their earpads five minutes after you throw them into a carryon.
They're also a lot sturdier than the InCase headphones, which have been my fallback pair for less-than-safe conditions ever since I picked them up off the clearance table at Urban Outfitters. The only time they get smoked at my house is when I compare them to the B&W P5's, but here's the deal: the B&W's are a very tight fit and lots of folks find them to be incredibly uncomfortable. And while they have an A+ industrial design and unbelievable sound for their $300 price point, they're also relatively fragile and require a lot of care when traveling.
The iPhone cable (with microphone) works great and comes with an extra-long connector that actually manages to work with all the iPhone cases in my house. They're not inexpensive headphones but they're not cheap headphones either. If you're looking to give a gift, the presentation box looks great and there's lots of information abou the Hire a Veteran program printed right on the package. They're durable, portable and versatile and offer much better audio quality than you might expect from a piece of gear that's co-branded with a TV network. Thumbs up.