Good headphones often come with cables, but the world of Bluetooth fixes all of that, cutting the cords and letting you listen in cable free. Sol Republic’s Tracks Air plans to deliver just that with the help of Motorola, with cans that not only deliver decent audio, but a look you can change, too.
A unique pair of headphones, Sol Republic’s Tracks Air takes the look of a regular pair of headphones, but brings with them a different design, making the earphones into separate pieces that can be removed from the band, with that headband replaceable if it breaks or you prefer a different colour.
The headphones are the important section, and for these, Sol Republic is relying on 40mm speakers working with Sol’s A2 Sound Engines, which are apparently designed for wireless audio.
Because of that, you’ll find support for Bluetooth 3.0, with aptX support thrown in, and A2DP so you can talk using the microphone found in the headset.
Near-Field Communication (NFC) is also provided, making it one of those one-touch devices, if your mobile or tablet supports NFC, while the charge port utilises the international standard that is microUSB.
The battery inside is rated for up to 15 hours talk or music playback time, while the standby time is rated for closer to two weeks, or just over it at slightly under 16 days.
The headband is unique, too, because while it’s made of plastic, it includes metal grooves for the earphones to latch on to, which will transmit and share the power and audio between the earphones.
We’re all big listeners of music, especially now that it travels with us where ever we go, thanks to the smartphones, tablets, and media players of the world.
An interesting feature that Sol Republic has thrown in is the replaceable band, which appears to be a common inclusion in the Sol Republic Tracks headphones.
Essentially, the ear pads sit in their own enclosure as per usual, but can slide up and down the length of the plastic head band. This extended range of positioning also means you can slide the headphones off of the band altogether, picking a different band and replacing it with another colour.
There is a catch to this, however (you expect that, right?) with the Tracks Air needing a Tracks Air band to maintain its wireless connection.
A regular Tracks Remix headband will work, but only if you want to keep your Tracks Air ear pads wired to your phone, since only the Tracks Air headband has the metal lining to connect the two earphones together wirelessly.
That last part — the metal lining — is really the special sauce linking the two ear pads, as it allows the two ear pads to communicate, and seems to keep both powered too, which is handy to know, since you only need to charge one to make both parts work.
Once one of them is fully charged — that’s the right one — you can turn them both on, with the power button at the top of the right pad switching on both earphones, provided they’re both sitting on the band touching the metal contacts of the headband.
The moment you switch the Tracks Air on, a guy will come over the sound and tell you roughly how much time you have left of playback from the battery. “More than seven hours of play time,” our narrator spoke to our ears after the on sound effect chimed on, telling us we could keep that microUSB charge plug away from the headphones until later that night.
Pairing is next, and Near-Field Communication makes this a cinch if you have a compatible product. If not, it’s just the usual hold-down-power-button Bluetooth pairing process that the manual can also inform you of, or, alternatively, you can plug in the cord, providing you with sound without the use of a battery, which is particularly handy if you’ve forgotten to charge your headphones and they’ve run out of power.
But that’s difficult with the Tracks Air, which we’ll get to later on.
For now, let’s tackle the audio, because that’s the reason you buy headphones to begin with.
(To hear the music we test with, head to our Sound Test page to see the Spotify playlist.)
We started with electronic for this test, because the look of these headphones seems like it was intent for the urban traveller, and when that’s us, we like to hurry through town listening to fast paced music, so that made sense to us.
As such, we started with the Mirror’s Edge soundtrack and the “Introduction” to the title handled by Solar Fields, with its multiple overlapping synth sounds with pops, catering to all three areas, highs, mids, and lows, which were deep and balanced across all. Mooro’s “M66R6” kicked off the faster and bassy stuff for us, leading into a new appearance on the list — The Glitch Mob’s “Skullclub” — with the mids sitting over everything, but the bass booming in underneath everything alongside, which will make the energy freaks reliant on this type of balance happy.
Rock and pop next, and it’s clear these headphones are made for the more popular music styles of the modern age, with solid mids and highs here, and a strong bass that echoes alongside the vocals, guitars, and synth. This was noticeable in “Radioactive” from the Imagine Dragons and Muse’s “Supremacy”, as well as Closure In Moscow’s “A Night at the Spleen.”
Softer rock was just as good, a balanced sound from the Dave Matthews classic “Crush” with a little more edge applied on the classic track from the Stones, “Gimme Shelter.”
It would be hard to be unhappy listening to the quality of sound offered from these, to be frank, with a decent sound stage, even though it doesn’t quite have the detail of other high end headphones.
Moving over to some urban music, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” wouldn’t hold us down, with strong mids and bass as we walked, just like on Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” which was a little flatter on the bass, but just as prominent when the volume was turned up.
Over in the jazz world, Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” was bright and cheerful, the saxophone higher and more noticeable over the light drums, though it was very enveloping altogether. “So What” by Miles Davis performed just as well, as did Coltrane’s “Blue Train” with solid balance across the board, and we’d be happy to walk across town listening to jazz through these any day of the week.
Finally, in the instrumentals, it’s more of the same excellence, with a lovely balance in Claude Bolling’s “Baroque in Rhythm” and Thomas Newman’s “Define Dancing.”
There’s a fair amount of volume, too, with more than enough to work with for most people. On the Android phone that we were testing with — right now, it’s the LG G3 — the meter stayed at a little over half, with the headphones turned all the way up on the ear piece. That’s a choice, too, because with volume controls on both the phone and the headphone, you can control these pieces independently.
While the Tracks Air aren’t as warm as the most recent Beats 2.0 Solo headphones, they’re still quite balanced, with strong highs, decent mids, and booming lows.
That’s a good effort from a pair of wireless cans, and even though there’s no noise cancelling here, it’s a strong effort.
The battery is also decent from the wireless too, working for around 12 to 14 hours in our tests for playback, with a bit of phone call talking thrown in there for good measure. While that’s not quite as solid as the near 24 hour effort from what Monster and Nokia did together, that’s still solid altogether.
You don’t have to use wireless, either. If Bluetooth isn’t reliable for you — like it is on some recent smartphones — you can opt for the tethered option, that is the one that keeps you plugged into the smartphone or media player. For the Sol Tracks Air, that cable is a reasonably thick main cable with a microphone provided, connecting to each can by way of a separate cable for each.
This can, understandably, appear a little clunky, as the thin wire can be seen as dangle and cumbersome, especially for an otherwise fashionable headphone.
Not helping it is the requirement of 2.5mm jack connectors, which are used to connect the cable to each can. If this wire breaks, replacing it will likely be a matter of going back to Sol or picking a new pair of cans, because while it’s relatively easy to find one 3.5mm cable going to one 2.5mm jack, finding one 3.5mm jack going to two 2.5mm won’t be easy, so just be aware of that.
We also think the microphone placement on that cord is a touch too low, because when you wear the headphones with the cord, the microphone is closer to the middle of your chest, not your neck or mouth. That’s way too low, Sol.
Controlling the headset wirelessly can be a little cumbersome, though. Officially, there are two buttons and a rocker, but only one of these buttons does anything, and it does it based on how many times you press the button.
For instance, the top button just turns the headphones on, but the bottom button — Sol’s “multi-function” button — will pause and play tracks when pressed once, skip ahead when press twice in quick succession, and go backwards when pressed three times in quick succession, and we’re talking a quick succession, because half the time we tried, it didn’t happen, and the other half, it was fine. Train your fingers to work quickly, and you’ll be happy, otherwise just rely on that touchscreen phone in your pocket.
Picking up a phone call is also handled by that one button when you have one coming in, as is ending that same phone call, but there’s nothing to not take the call, and muting happens when you press both the volume up and down at once.
Then there’s the look, which isn’t bad at all, and as noted prior, can be changed thanks to the Tracks Remix headbands, if you can find them, that is.
But the Tracks Air also features Motorola branding, which is one of those things you might not want to carry with you. Now, you might be fine with everyone knowing you’re wearing both Motorola and Sol Republic, with their respective icons listed in different places all over the ear pads and headband, but not everyone will. It’s minor, really it is, but if you have an issue with it, these headphones won’t respect that issue, and we’re really surprised to see Motorola branding at all, even if the wireless tech was worked on with Motorola.
Our one last quibble is with the fit, which is odd, to say the least.
While most headphones have a little bit of flex and movement at the cups to shift to the position of where your ears are, the Tracks Air do not, and more or less assume that those little fleshy bits on the side of your head are found dead on to the side of your head.
That’s not how our ears work, however, and there’s always a slight amount of movement a cup need to have before it presses comfortably against the ear, which can’t be found on the Tracks Air due to the inflexible nature of how the Sol cups fit to the Tracks Air band.
We suspect this will be a problem in the other Tracks headphones as well, simply due to how they mount, and until Sol builds the slide-on band slot into a moveable cup, this will continue to be an issue.
Once they’re on your head, you will get used to them, that said, but it’s an unusual fit, and we suspect this lack of movement, this inflexibility, is keeping it like this.
Our first play with a pair from the Sol Republic, the Tracks Air are great little headphones with a curious little niched feature: changing over the headbands.
Given how many people are turning to headphones as an extension of fashion, Sol Republic might be onto something here, though since you need the specialised Tracks Air band to keep the wireless connectivity, we can’t see many people doing this.
That said, if you’re looking for a decent pair of wireless headphones with a long battery life, we’d check these out, but head to a store where you can try them on first, because the inflexible fit isn’t going to be for everyone.