I had a chance to meet with Noel Lee, the founder and head engineer at Monster Audio for a preview of some upcoming projects that I'm not supposed to talk about yet. Noel built a massive business from scratch, starting with the idea that a good audio setup requires higher quality cables. He later gave Dr. Dre his start in the audio business as the original manufacturer of Beats by Dre headphones.
Since Beats left Monster, it seems like Lee's been on a mission to compete on both fronts. Monster makes several lines of lifestyle headphones that out-bling almost anything on the market, but they've also put out the DNA line that can compete with any headphones at their price point and the excellent iSport workout earbuds. Let's just say that some of the new products sound even better.
I'll be reviewing the new products once they're released, but, in the meantime, I've spent some time with the Monster Superstar portable wireless speaker and the Monster Powercard portable backup battery.
The Superstar (which lists at $149, but you can easily find it at $130) claims to be the world's smallest audiophile speaker. Shaquille O'Neal has endorsed the speaker, which I guess is supposed to suggest the gigantic sound from the small speaker, which weighs just 7 oz. and measures 8.1" wide x 5.5" tall x 1.9" deep. It uses the Bluetooth aptX streaming protocol and connects easily to one device at a time. It also works really well as a speakerphone.
There's a rubberized skin that covers the back of the speaker that clever acts to amplify the sound coming out of the device (same principle as those silicone horns that you attach to your smartphone). The back-facing radiator is designed so that you can set the Superstar on its back on a wooden table for some extra bass kick. Also clever and surprisingly effective.
A possible flaw in this system is that rubberized cover tends to slip. You can easily push it back into place and Monster provides a travel back to minimize the amount of slippage it might encounter in your bag. Still, I can imagine that it might drive some folks crazy.
And yet, the Superstar pumps out a LOT of volume without distortion and it really does offer outstanding sound for its size. If you're willing to spend more that $100 on a truly portable speaker, this is worth a look.
The Superstar is currently available with in silver, blue or black with neon green trim. Monster promises models with neon pink and orange trim, as well as a white one with gold trim.
The Powercard markets itself as a "credit card-sized" backup battery. That's a statement that the folks at media and politician fact-rating news site Politifact might call "mostly true." It is the size of a credit card, but it's also the thickness of twelve cards and it's not really going to fit in your wallet.
It's a 1650 mAh battery and, while that's smaller than a lot of other batteries on the market, it really does seem to charge a phone more quickly and I've consistently gotten almost two full charges of an iPhone 5S from a fully charged Powercard.
The retail price is $49.95 but they're consistently available for $40 online. The Powercard comes in five colors and there's a included micro USB charging cable.
Neither of these are what you'd consider frontline Monster Audio products, but they're both products created with an attention to detail that's evidence of Monster's strong ideas about how things should sound and how they should work. More to come from them here at UTR over the next few months.