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A surprising number of people seems happy to spend a relative fortune on a shiny new music player, only to listen with the headphones supplied in the box – a box, mind you, which was usually designed in California, made in China, and is arguably more sophisticated than the earbuds inside.

Slight exaggeration, OK, but seriously: Plugging your ears with the cheapo headphones that Apple, Creative and others throw in for good measure when they sell their digital pocket entertainers is like buying a $3,000 camera and taking pictures with a $50 lens – you just don’t get the results that your expensive toy can deliver.

Despite the armies of white-corded iPod lovers, there is, of course, a vibrant market for third-party headphones trying to bring out the best in your MP3 player, cell phone or iGizmo of choice. So far, companies like Shure, Sennheiser, Sony, and Bose have dominated this segment – but it may be time to add a Monster to the list.

The Californian Hi-Fi cable giant first made a splash with its Beats by Dr. Dre noise-cancelling headphones , developed with input from producer Dr. Dre. But the “Beats,” impressive as they are, not only cost a relative fortune – retailing for $349 in the U.S. and close to 400 euros in Europe – they are also quite big, heavy, and a bit too clumsy for life on-the-go.

So here come the “Beats” etc. “Tour” edition, meaning the mobile version of Dr. Dre’s Monster cooperation – much cheaper, if still pricey, at $149 in the U.S., as well as much smaller and lighter, since they fit in the ear canal rather than encasing the ear. The first thing you (and anybody within a mile around you) will notice is the flashy red cable – take that, Apple! And perhaps: Take that, robbers of the world, if you happen to venture into certain areas of certain cities…

beats by dre tour edition 09 468The second thing you’ll notice once you fit these mini Monsters snugly into your ears is that they deliver a very grown up sound. The bass is solid and crisp, drums kick in with a lot of energy, and whatever soundgarden you may be wandering in, you will likely find the musical landscape rich, colorful and wide open.

On the down side, the Monster buds occasionally seemed a bit harsh and metallic sounding to me, especially in the upper frequencies. Also, no matter which type of music I let them play with, the “Beats Tour” never quite managed to reach the level of sophistication that made me a fan of their bigger brothers, the over-the-ear “Beats.”

To be fair, tiny earbuds with their tiny drivers (i.e. speakers) face big challenges in delivering big sound, and overall the mini Monsters left me impressed with their performance. It’s important, though, to find the right fit – which should be no problem with the provided set of different ear pieces. In my experience, once you’ve figured out which size and shape works best for your ears, the “Beats Tour” are comfortable to wear for hours and stay in place without feeling too tight.

The bright red cable is not just eye-popping but practical, too, as it features a new, flat design – patent pending, according to Monster – which doesn’t easily tangle. So you won’t have to spend the equivalent length of a Pink Floyd anthem trying to unravel the mess the cord is in each time you pull the headphones out of your pocket.

It’s a shame, though, that Monster decided not to give the “Beats Tour” a microphone by default. The manual already hints at a “Beats Talk” version of the mini Monsters featuring an “iSoniTalk” cable with a microphone and a call answer button, turning the earphones into a mobile headset. That would be exactly what the doctor ordered for pleasant listening and communicating on-the-go, of course, but at this point (early 2009) Monster could not provide Ãœbergizmo with either a release date or a price, saying only that the “Beats Talk” would cost more than the “Beats Tour.”

Also, the mini Monsters do not provide active noise cancellation. They merely shield you from roaring airplane engines, screaming children, and boom boxes on wheels simply by sitting in the ear canal like earplugs. In my personal litmus test they pretty efficiently silenced both my rumbling dishwasher and my noisy upstairs neighbor. (Quite a feat.)

Still, if you’re looking for true silence you may want to consider actual noise-cancelling headphones instead, which exist in earbud size as well.

beats by dre tour edition 10 468Equally important, like any in-ear headphones these minis actually create noise whenever you touch the cord – moving your head may be enough. The moment the cable scrapes against your jacket, you’ll hear it. Unless, of course, you make AC/DC and Dr. Dre blare loud enough to wake up your neighbors on the bus and kill your ear drums. Not recommended.

Similarly, you can hear every step you take when you walk while wearing earbuds like these. The unwanted effect is, of course, explained by in-ear headphones being a kind of earplug, except they also play music. How sensitive you are to this effect, and whether you are able to live with it, is very much a matter of personal taste.

beats by dre tour edition 07 468Naturally, the beauty of sound, too, is in the ears of the beholder. Meaning much of what I said above is highly subjective. If you consider buying the mini Monsters, or any other pair of headphones, be sure to try them out before you buy – or make sure you can return them if they don’t please your inner musician.

One thing seems certain, though: There are worse investment opportunities these days than spending $150 on the “Beats Tour” – very able little earbuds that are a worthy companion for any music player that’s been itching to show what music it can really deliver, if only given a chance to go beyond the original headphones that have been boxing it in.

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