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Money can’t buy you love, but 100 bucks will buy you a better set of headphones than we would have thought possible before we strapped Sol Republic’s Tracks to our noggin.
The Tracks feature a very unconventional design in which the ear cups slide up and down—or even completely off—a spring-plastic headband with a thick but short cushion at the top of its arc. The ear cups are large—nearly 1.5 inches thick—but generously padded. The design seems rugged enough, but it’s not very portable (even if you dismantle it, remove the cable, and stash the components inside your computer bag).
We generally prefer circumaural designs that fit around our ears, as opposed to phones such as these, which rest on them. Circumaural phones are more comfortable to wear during long listening sessions, especially if you wear earrings. They’re also more effective at both isolating you from outside noise, and preventing the music you’re listening to from leaking into the environment, which might annoy people around you. Bowers & Wilkins managed to avoid both these problems with their exceptional P5 on-ear headphones (you can read our review here), but those phones are triple the price of the Tracks.
The ear cups on Sol Republic's Tracks headphones slide up and down a spring-plastic headband.
After extensive testing, the Tracks proved to be more comfortable to wear than we had expected, and leakage was less of an issue than we’d anticipated. But the rubber material wrapped around the headphone cable made an irritating noise whenever it rubbed against our shirt collar (which was every time we’d turn our head). This problem is compounded by the fact that there are two cables, one for each ear cup. On the bright side, for Apple device users at least, the two cables come together in an inline three-button remote control with buttons for volume, pause/play, track forward/back, and (on the iPhone) accept/reject incoming call.
Turning our attention to the Tracks’ performance, allow us to emphasize what we said at the beginning: These headphones sound much better than we expected them to for the price. We’ve been using the Accidental Powercut series of albums, published by Bowers & Wilkins’ Society of Sound subscription music service, to evaluate headphones because these live dummy-head recordings were engineered specifically for headphone listening. First up was Sound of Rum’s “Rumba,” from Accidental Powercut 2. The Tracks did an excellent job of rendering rapper Kate Tempest’s rapid-fire rhymes perfectly distinct. When we turned our ears to “Ant House,” by the instrumental group Speakers Corner Quartet, the unusual combination of flute, cello, contrabass, and drums exposed the Tracks’ limited ability to produce crisp highs, especially the drummer’s rim shots and delicate cymbal work.
Listening to tracks in which individual instruments aren’t so exposed, ranging from “If This is Goodbye,” from the Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris collaboration All the Roadrunning, to “Aïr-Tombouctou,” from Afro-rock-band Toumast’s second album, Amachal, gave us an opportunity to evaluate the Tracks’ bass performance. They’re just a tiny bit flabby on this score, but the flaw is exposed only in A/B comparisons with more expensive phones, such as the aforementioned P5s.
Sol Republic delivers a solid pair of on-ear phones; we haven’t heard anything better in this price range—or even slightly above it.
Interesting looks; comfortable; great price/performance ratio.
Rubbery cable makes noise when dragged over clothing; glossy finish shows fingerprints.