Review: Sol Republic Shadow wireless earphones
There’s nothing quite like being liberated from the cables that wired earphones rely on, but often the prices of wireless earphones don’t match up to the performance. Fortunately, Sol’s Shadow feels like it finds a middle ground.
Features and performance
One of the coolest things about having a modern smartphone is knowing you can take your music with you.
Don’t get us wrong, because we love the media player, and while the iPod wasn’t the only device to change the world, the whole concept of being able to carry all of your media where ever you go was brilliant.
But these days we can do more, and we can even do it wirelessly.
Yes sir, you can forget about the cables with modern day media monitoring if you want to because if you have Bluetooth in a smartphone, tablet, media player, or computer, and if you have a pair of Bluetooth headphones, you don’t need the cord and can rely on trusty wireless technologies.
One downside to Bluetooth in the music world is that it can often be expensive, with most decent wireless cans fetching above the $200 mark, with lower cost options generally lacking in sound quality.
Sol’s Shadow may buck that trend, however, offering a lot of volume and balance for a dollar figure under 200 clams. Is this a pair worth checking out?
Take them out of the box and you’ll find a pretty basic setup, with the Shadow packing the technology for wireless communication and the buttons needed in a small flexible neck wrapping rubber block.
Out of this little strip of rubber emerges two earphones on a corded leash, with one for your left ear and the other for your right, and it’s this rubber block that Sol has apparently been pulling some inspiration from the makers of space space station and shuttles, as you do.
Officially, Sol’s designers have looked at NASA’s research on human anatomy for this pair of earphones, turning their attention to a style of design called “biomorphism” whereby objects are designed from shapes and patterns based on living organisms, like that of humans and the limbs humans rely on.
You’ll find that inspiration in the rubber strip of the Sol Shadow because this strip flows around your neck, loosely wrapping to the round shape of that part of your body connecting your head to the rest of you, while the earphones sit in place in each ear.
That’s about the extent of NASA’s research, and so the rest of the technology is down to Sol, which is relying on some decent earphones, Bluetooth 4.0, apt-X support, and a hint of water resistance to keep you interested.
Testing with the GadgetGuy 2016 Sound Test, we found a decent amount of balance on offer, with some booming bass taking the fore, with the mids and highs just sitting underneath, and this was pretty easy to spot on the electronic and pop sounds of both Demi Lovato and The Weeknd.
We didn’t find a whole lot of separation in these tracks, but the audio was clear and easy to listen in with, as the earphones offer distinctive sounds regardless.
A little more fun from both Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” revealed a punchy but still rounded bass, and the balance was pretty solid and consistent here. Again, the bass takes the lead, but it’s not a strong lead, and it’s quite clear Sol has worked on keeping most of the ranges in line with each other.
Much the same could be found in rock where the raspy vocals of Thom Yorke in Radiohead’s “Exit Music” were clear despite the obvious and intentional echoing, while the thump from Muse’s bass drum in “Psycho” sets the hard rock sound off well, with a punch that makes your skin twitch and a combined balance from the instruments and vocals that feels like it is working together rather than against.
Even the older and more instrumental tracks don’t feel like they’re losing out, though they don’t quite have volume as much on their side.
Indeed, you can hear the clarity in the well-recorded tracks from Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis in our list, and the sounds are good and balanced, though because the bass hasn’t been engineered to be driven hard in the purely instrumental older pieces, the Sol recreates them with more subtlety rather than the punch you might expect from modern music.
One thing that might surprise you is the amount of sound on offer from the Shadow earphones, which are actually louder than pretty much any other pair of headphones we’ve heard in their price range.
Essentially, we were able to run the Shadow earphones at roughly one third the total volume of the phones we were testing with, and these were tested with the Apple iPhone 6S, as well as Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 and Sony’s Xperia Z5 Ultra.
In all three of these, the earphones provided ample volume, and we found that we didn’t need to inch past the half way mark at all, offering up so much sound that we were often astonished by the earphones.
The sound scape isn’t totally spacious, that said, but the volume is definitely there, and if you like to turn it up, up, up, and then some, the Sol Shadow in-earphones will cater to your needs.
Unfortunately, while the design might be inspired by something the space-faring organisation NASA has built, aspects of how the Sol have been made feel a galaxy away from the sort of things rocket engineers would make.
Take the controls which in this pair of earphones feel like they’ve been put in place by someone that doesn’t understand how humans think or behave.
Normally, controls for a pair of headphones would be pretty some, with the most forward facing button usually acting as volume up and the back button being volume down. That’s the way we generally think, because forward is up and backwards tends to get translated as down.
Not on the Sol Shadow.
On this pair of earphones, you’ll find the front button send the volume down while the back button sends the volume up.
Why? Well, we’re not too sure, to be honest, but that’s the way it is, and nothing you do or say will change it. Just keep it in mind.
You’ll also find a bug here and there, generally dealing with volume and calls, and sometimes apps. We’ve seen it on both Android and the iPhone, so regardless of which platform you’re using, there’s a good chance that you’re going to encounter it.
The bug is this: after a call, the volume generally drops to a low level for no reason, and then won’t return to its standard levels until you switch the Shadow earphones off and then back on again.
This bug arrives with another bug that causes the Sol Shadow earphones to disconnect and reconnect frequently with the host device, and this is something we ran into several times on both platforms, again with no reason.
Sol’s louder than expected and fairly clear Shadow in-earphones are easily worth checking out, offering a balance in both comfort and sound without too high a price.