SOL Republic is slowly carving out its identity as a direct competitor to the Beats by Dr. Dre lineup, the reigning champion of big bass, celebrity-endorsed, and athlete-approved headphones. Booming bass and glossy finishes are staples of both brands, and the new Bluetooth audio-streaming Tracks Air is no exception. At $199.99 (direct), it delivers plenty of power, with no distortion and gobs of boosted low-end. Purists will run in fear, and deep bass addicts will enjoy the intense lows, while anyone seeking a balance between big bass and crisp highs might find that the Tracks Air often overwhelms the mix. On the plus side, a detachable cable with an inline microphone and remote control makes the Tracks Air a versatile purchase, and its solid battery life is another big plus.
At first glance, the Tracks Air looks remarkably similar to most headphone pairs offered by SOL Republic. It comes in a “gunmetal” gray or “ice” white, and the headphones use the familiar SOL Republic glossy plastic headband, which the earpieces can slide on and off of. The comfortable earpads are on-ear (supra-aural), yet they’re almost large enough to feel like a circumaural pair that closes the ear in. The right ear has all the controls—Volume, Power/Pairing button, and a multifunction button for controlling playback and answering calls. This is also where the micro USB charging port is located.
Each earpiece is emblazoned with the SOL logo and has a 3.5mm connection point at the bottom for attaching the included cable, which features an inline single-button remote and microphone. The ability to use the headphones in wired mode adds to their versatility, and when the cable is connected, the Bluetooth functionality disappears, so you’ll never unintentionally drain your battery.
Speaking of battery life, the Tracks Air gets a whopping 15 hours on a full charge, according to SOL Republic, though your results will likely vary depending on how loud you listen to your music. Every time you power up, however, a voice tells you how much battery life, approximately, you have left, such as “more than 13 hours,” or “more than 10 hours.” The voice itself can be annoying, but knowing a fairly precise gauge of your remaining battery life is useful.
The pairing process can be done via Bluetooth or NFC, if you have an NFC-enabled device, and the headphones can be paired with two devices simultaneously, eliminating the need to disconnect from one in order to pair with another. Included with the headphones: a zip-up carrying pouch, a USB charging cable, and the 3.5mm audio cable.
On tracks with tremendous sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Tracks Air does not distort, even at top volumes on both the headphones and the sound source (in this case an iPhone 5s). As we have learned to more or less expect from SOL Republic, the sound signature is booming in the lows—lovers of powerful deep bass will be drawn to the sound, while purists will recoil in horror. Most people, I’d guess, will fall somewhere in the middle—I find the bass to be a bit too much on tracks that already have gobs of low-end to dole out, but it can work out nicely on some tracks that might benefit from a little extra low frequency power.
On classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” for instance, the Tracks Air gives the lower register strings some noticeable and pleasant added richness and depth, while the higher register strings and percussion manage to retain the spotlight—the bass response here definitely creates a bit of a balance struggle between the lows and the highs, but not so much that things sound muddy or overly weighed-down. Purists may not love the added depth orchestral music gets through the Tracks Air, but many listeners will enjoy how it manages to give a little more power to the proceedings.
However, tracks that don’t really benefit from heavy bass boosting pay the price. Bill Callahan’s baritone voice typically needs little or no help in the lows—and it always seems to benefit from a bit of high-mid boost to bring out the treble edge and help it stay in the forefront of the mix. On a track like “Drover,” the boosting of lows makes his vocals sound ridiculous—all booming low-end, little definition in the mids and high-mids, and then some weirdly overly boosted highs. The drums on this track that need only a slight amount of bass boost to sound quite powerful instead get enough extra low-end to sound completely unnatural, and overpowering in the mix. Bass worshippers may love it, but it doesn’t offer an accurate depiction of the mix in the slightest.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” is a track that’s driven by the attack of the kick drum loop. If there’s the right amount of high-mid presence in the mix, it slices through everything and commands your attention. That doesn’t happen here, but the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with subwoofer-like thunder—so again, we have seriously boosted lows and not enough high-mid, treble edge. The vocals in this track come off more clearly than Callahan’s, however, because no one on this track has a deep voice like he does. Still, the balance feels a bit off.
As far as wireless range, the signal was loud, clear, and clean during testing. However, SOL Republic claims that, in partnering with Motorola, they designed a wireless headphone pair that can stream easily up to 150 feet. The typical maximum range of Bluetooth audio is about 33 feet, so this is quite a claim. Unfortunately, the claim didn’t hold when paired with an iPhone 5s. Perhaps the results would be different with a Motorola device, but that’s not mentioned in the press materials as a necessity. Did we find the range to be slightly better than the typical Bluetooth range? Yes—but not by a whole lot. We experienced significant dropout within 45-50 feet. I wouldn’t even mention this if it weren’t discussed as a unique feature of the headphones in the press guide. Basically, these offer a pretty typical, and reliable, wireless Bluetooth experience.
So, if you love seriously boosted sub-bass, you will like the Tracks Air. If you’d rather have a slightly more balanced approach to bass response in a Bluetooth pair, both the Harman Kardon BT and the in-ear JayBird BlueBuds X offer solid low frequency performance without boosting the lows quite as much at the Tracks Air. In the more affordable realm, both the Outdoor Technology Privates and the Outdoor Technology DJ Slims deliver solid Bluetooth audio with solid bass response, and for a lot less than the Tracks Air. For its price, the Tracks Air is a quality option, delivering undistorted, powerful audio in a design that will appeal to some and drive away others—and the same can probably be said for its bass response.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc