Michael Phelps' Olympic headphones (Verdict: Gold)

Michael Phelps' Olympic headphones (Verdict: Gold)

Summary: If they're good enough for Michael Phelps, I figured that I'd give them a listen. I was pleasantly surprised, but regrettably they did nothing for my performance in the pool.

TOPICS: Apple, iPhone, Reviews
Review: Sol Republic Tracks HD headphones - yes, the ones that Michael Phelps wears - by Jason O'Grady

Being an Olympics geek I thoroughly enjoyed the Summer Oympics and a definite highlight was Michael Phelps' gold medal in the 4x100-meter medley relay to make him the most decorated Olympic althlete ever with 22 total medals (18 of them gold).

For the 2008 Beijing games Phelps revealed that his pre-swim playlist contained a lot of hip hop, including performers like Young Jeezy, Twista, Usher, Outkast, Eminem, G Unit. At the 2012 summer games in London Phelps tweeted that he was jamming to Young JeezyLil WayneLil JonAviciiAfro Jack and Diddy ahead of his record-setting race.

Being a tech nerd, I couldn't help but wonder what headphones Phelpsy was wearing when he came out of the "ready room" before each race at the London games. They're called Tracks HD from SOL REPUBLIC ($129, Apple Store) and they're infinitely better sounding than the stock Apple earbuds that Phelps wore at the 2008 games -- which isn't saying much. As it turns out they're pretty great sounding headphones and I can understand why Phelps digs them.

Michael Phelps' Olympic headphones (Verdict: great for hip hop) by Jason O'Grady

I decided to give the Tracks HD a listen to see what the hype was all about. Initially I thought that they were lacking something at the high end but then I realized that I was listening to some low-resolution MP3s. When I opted for higher bit rate music, things improved tremendously and bass was more responsive and the highs were crisp.

In my testing I realized what a difference the iOS Music apps's equalizer presets can make. I usually keep my iOS EQ on "flat" but it makes some of the bass-heavy music on Phelps' playlist sound mediocre at best. Hip hop sounds much better on the Tracks HDs on the iOS "Hip Hop" EQ preset. Avicii and Afrojack benefit tremendousy from the "Electronic" preset, but I found myself liking them on the "Deep" setting too. I've also been listening to The Who's My Generation, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and the Black Keys El Camino on the Tracks HD and they sound phenomenal.

The Sound Engine speakers themselves are available in two flavors: the V8 ("Tracks") provide deep bass and high clarity and the V10 ("Tracks HD") offer deeper bass, higher clarity and crisp vocals. (Sol will soon be launching a professional–grade V12 "Tracks Ultra" model).

The V10 Sound Engine speakers are quite comfortable and slide on and off the acrylic headband making them easily adjustable. The Sound Track headband is extremely durable and can almost be twisted into the shape of a pretzel without breaking, making them perfect for tossing in your messenger or gearbag.

Phelps sported his Tracks HDs in a couple of different color combinations at the 2012 Olympics but I particularly dig the white Tracks HDs because they go great with summer duds and look pretty killer too.

Update (2012-0815): Sol Republic has released a special edition deadmau5 Track5 HD on-ear headphones ($149) featuring artwork from renowned digital artist Joshua Davis (below).

Sol Republic: deadmau5 Track5 HD on-ear headphones


Topics: Apple, iPhone, Reviews

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  • Nah

    All of those headphones are gimmicks. Some artist puts their name to average cans and chumps buy them! Do some research there are great headphones for less and Sennheiser Hd518s would smoke them all.
  • Come on with the designer cans already.

    Just because headphones look good, doesn't mean that they sound any better. I dare any of those lousy designer phones to outdo a good pair of Sennheisers, Audio Technicas, or Grados.
  • Modular Construction

    I like the SOL headphones modular approach. If for example if the cord gets damaged, it can be replaced. This of course presumes that they price the part fairly. I also like that they work with my iPhone including the ability to use them for calls. I do not have enough experience with other headphones to make a fair comparison to what else is out there on a strictly sound quality basis although the SOL Tracks HD headphones sound fine to me.

    I do have a question though possibly related to headphone performance or compatibility. I use Sennheiser PX 100 Collapsible Headphones when I do not want to use my computer speakers. I previously used a very old pair of Sennheiser headphones with a detachable cord, but got tired of jiggling the plug to get a good connection. That is not a complaint as the cord must have gotten caught and pulled many times over the years since the early 80's. My newer Sennheiser headphones have worked well since 2009.

    The SOL Tracks HD headphones also work well for listening to music from the computer. If listening to a movie on the computer however I have had some where the dialog was very difficult to hear with the SOL headphones, but sounded fine with the Sennheiser headphones. I suspect it is the particular way the sound is encoded, but did not find an output option, e.g. in Daum PotPlayer, that sounded right with the SOLs. According to Piriform Speccy my playback devices include Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio and AMD High Definition Audio Device. Is this a headphone issue or a question of not choosing the proper audio renderer option. Generally I have Daum PotPlayer select it automatically and could not find a better choice. I hope this not too far off topic, but the issue seems somewhat relevant to headphone choice and use.