Nokia Purity Pro by Monster: Top-end tech meets solid sonics [Review]

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While they might have a prouder company image in the mainstream, Monster Cable isn’t a go-to headgear company for aficionados of sound, either for listening or producing. Within the last few years, however, with some rethinking of how and for whom they develop products, Monster has released a few headsets that definitely show that the Beats By Dre lineup (production of which has since switched to HTC) was more of a jump-start than a permanent direction for the company. While absolute value for money certainly still isn’t a goal, products like the Diamond Tears on-ears and Miles Davis Tribute in-ear monitors prove that $300 give-or-take can actually give you $300 give-or-take sound.

So, why all the talk about Monster for a Nokia product? Well, other than the fact that they do sell the Purity Pro, Nokia seems responsible (as I can make out by the end of my review period) only for the aesthetic design and the feature set, both of which I will discuss thoroughly. Monster is a headphone manufacturer and Nokia is not; Monster likely took care of all the under-the-hood work, such as package design, sonic quality, and the actual production of the device; in other words, Monster set the bottom line for Nokia to build on in order to satisfy Nokia’s demand for a unique headphone accessory. At its core, it is very likely that this is a Monster device through-and-through, simply sold as a Nokia accessory.

The Nokia Purity Pro Wireless Headset by Monster is a circumaural (over-ear) headset designed for portable use with a significant number of features to match, including active noise cancellation, a fold-able design, Bluetooth and ControlTalk functionality, and several others. It retails for about $350 on Amazon in the U.S. and was officially launched in April of this year. Do you get $350 worth of gear in the package, though?

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Design

The packaging makes it clear that Monster did the dirty work in creating the Purity Pros. Eggshell-gloss blacks, ultra-organized packaging, and see-through components get you amped before you even put the headset on (I assume this loaner model had been passed around a few times, explaining the hastily-applied wrap on the headset itself to prevent dust from collecting on it). It’s the same story once you take the plastic wrapping off. And by that, I mean it is, erm, radical.

Nokia and Monster obviously had good intentions when designing the headset’s style. I would assume the goals were set to a dialog similar to this: “Hey, design guy, take two rectangles, a circle, and one color and make a headset out of it. Call me in two weeks.” That’s a pretty honest description of this abstract, if not avant-garde, piece of hardware. 

Allow me to relieve those who are looking past how nice the overall design is and looking straight into a yellow that can only be described as yellow, if you catch my drift: The Purity Pros are available in black and white as well. For those who actually think this color is pretty or cool somehow (It’s obvious that I personally detest the shade), a fourth color, red, provides yet another option.

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Features

Nokia is pretty well-known at this point in time for cramming tons of features into their products, and this headset is no exception. Rather than simply being a Bluetooth pair of headphones, which already lands it in a high-price and high-caliber category, the Purity Pros function as a command center for music playback, talk, and text messaging. Buttons on the backside of both cups control volume, play/pause, and volume; and when a call or text is received (depending on your Windows Phone [or other Bluetooth-paired cell] settings), you can answer and make calls or hear and dictate text messages.

On the left cup is an NFC pairing tag that, when communicated with by a NFC-enabled device, automatically pairs the two devices. Though you may only use it once to pair your single phone, it’s nice to have the convenience of skipping the menus on the phone to set it up for the first time, and your friends who have Bluetooth-capable devices and want to try out your crazy-looking headset might appreciate it as well.

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When you fold the collapsible headset, the device powers off; when you unfold it, it powers back on and re-pairs instantly with the previously connected device. The Purity Pros also utilize active noise cancellation via the built-in microphone to tune out turbulent noise (large crowds, computer fans, jet engines, etc.), and this is switched on and off via proximity sensors built into the ear cups; put the headset on, and the ANC follows suit.

Basically, I don’t think anyone at Nokia is capable of mentioning every feature of this deceptively minimal-looking headset in a single breath. The physical Purity Pro package also includes a neoprene carry case, USB cord, charging adapter, and a ControlTalk Universal cable in a matching color. More on these later.

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Build Quality

Though it’s a little early to mention the explicit count, I suspect one of the two major shortcomings of the Purity Pros is a feeling of rigidity, something which Nokia products usually tend to have much of. The lightness of the device (280g) combines with the very flexible plastic headband, exposed metal components, and “looseness” of the pivoting ear pieces to give the user  the feeling that extra care should be taken as to avoid putting too much pressure on any part of the headset. The play/pause button is also rather flimsy.

The individual materials, however, seem likely to withstand the test of time. The pleather earpads seem thick enough to survive frequent use over several years, and the metal hinges are sturdy. The plastic used across most of the headset is thick and scratch-resistant, but still doesn’t feel like it is of the same caliber as the polycarbonate material used in the Nokia Lumia lineup. Overall, the handset as a whole still doesn’t feel as solid as it should.

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Non-sonic Performance

The Purity Pros provide a good amount of clamping force for most ears, and the headband is equipped with a matte rubber grip; though the latter tends to mess up hairdos, it offers an extra barrier of protection from the headset simply falling off of your skull. The pleather ear pads don’t offer very much cushioning, but this shouldn’t be a terrible issue for most, considering the speaker drivers and their covers are angled in to the shape of the ear properly.

As mentioned before, unfolding the headphones and placing them on your head trigger both the power and the ANC, respectively. Booting it up for the first time prompted me to turn Bluetooth on in my phone and pair. The ANC kicked in after a brief second, calming the whirr of computer PSU fans around me in my office. I used the NFC tag on the left ear cup, accepted the pairing on my phone, and the cheeky voice confirmed a connection instantly.

When it comes to ANC, there is one unquestionable king: the Bose QuietComfort 15. I won’t compare it sonically in this review, but anybody can visit their local big-chain electronics retailer and try a pair on. The roar of the commercial air conditioning and shoppers becomes whisper quiet the moment they’re in place.

In comparison, the Purity Pros sound half as effective as the QC15, meaning that you can imagine the headset being right in the middle of “QC15 off head / QC15 on head” if you were to go and try the QC15 in a store. You might think, just for a split second, that the $300 Bose would be a better deal; but, you have to recall everything else that the Nokia provides, the tricks in its sleeves that sort of put the Bose to shame. Bluetooth is the big one.

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You can’t realize how useful a wireless headset is until you try it; you wind up using it every day. It’s not just about the cable, though not having to deal with the physical connection between the audio source and headphones is a boon. The back side of the Purity Pros have buttons for volume, track skipping, and a play/pause control which also acts as a controller for accepting and declining calls, or sending and receiving texts.

And yes, you can leave your phone in your pocket to talk on the phone and listen/reply to text messages. My Lumia 920 is set to prompt me for messages when a Bluetooth device is connected. Sensational is a good word for this, both in how blissful it is to use the headphones this way and in how confused nearby folks will be when you talk into thin air. Ever since I returned my review unit, I’ve been just a little bit frustrated every time I realized I had to pull my phone out of my pocket, wake it up, mess with the screen, and put it back when I needed to pause a track or reply to a text message. Just reach up… and push….

I have to keep reminding myself I don’t have $350 to spend right now.

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The headphones are quoted for 24 hours of continuous music, so if you are just an occasional listener, you might not have to worry about charging the Purity Pros for days of use, perhaps even a week or so. When you do need to charge, it only takes about an hour with the included adapter, but you don’t even need to do that much, considering how most of us aren’t blasting tunes all day quite literally.

There were two particular issues in this category, all of which were resolved through some online research and customer support, but nonetheless were hassles within an otherwise flawless experience. The included cable seemed to not cooperate with my PC’s sound, causing distortion and an imbalance to one side; chat support explained that the type of cable included was designed to work only with Windows Phones. That means that, if you want to listen to any other device (be it a PC or phone), you’ll need to find a standard 3.5mm cable to attach to the Purity Pros. This could be a bit of an issue if a user were to run out of a charge without a WP8 device in his/her pocket, or for my own situation, and Monster should have included an extra, standard cable, as many manufacturers do.

The other issue was not one that I was concerned with, but I had accidentally come across the matter after reading others’ reviews of the Purity Pros; there seemed to be no way to force noise cancellation off, as it is an automatic feature on the device. However, I came across a Nokia support forum discussion that had uncovered a “cheat code” to force ANC off: Pressing and holding the Previous Track and Volume Down buttons simultaneously will shut it off with a confirmation tone. Perform the same maneuver to turn it back on.

Though I also needed support to tell me to restart my Lumia 920 to get it to play music through the Bluetooth headset, I have run into the same issue before and after reviewing the Purity Pros with other Bluetooth devices, meaning that this particular problem is due to a software glitch either by Microsoft or Nokia.

If you were paying me to find any more sore spots here, I would only be able to point out that there is about a one-second lag from pushing a button and having it perform the desired action at my phone’s end. Also, the volume on the Purity Pros is a separate value than that of the source device’s volume. These aren’t really cons, but there you go.

Sound

If there’s one thing I can guarantee about this headset’s sound, it’s that it doesn’t make the Purity Pros worth their MSRP on their own. You’re getting a typical V-shaped, fun-designed, non-euphoric, however-you-want-to-put-it headphone for sure. Before I go into detail, though, I should reaffirm that not all headphones need to sound like a pair of Senny’s, as well as that these are wireless headphones (and thus I tested the pair without a wired connection virtually exclusively) and are already competing in a very obtuse price-to-performance category of headgear.

Let’s start from the low-end. Of course there is some emphasis here, though nothing close to terrible. Sub-bass is adequate, and the mid-bass to low-mids have a more significant bump than the former. For the most part, the lows give off sounds almost exactly between the muddiest and punchiest of lows, leaning toward the latter. There is very little leakage into the midrange.

The mids on their own, as mentioned a moment ago, simply let the bass and highs have all the fun. Dustin Kensrue (of the alt-rock band Thrice) sounds quite a bit more timid than I have known him to be when I have the Purity Pros on. The detail itself is also lacking; voices sound too brittle at times, too raucous at others, and sometimes just about perfect. The bright, proud female vocal lead in “Gold Dust” by DJ Fresh is the best example I could find, if not the only one.

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I do seem to prefer brighter high notes than most, so when I listened to how perfect they sounded to me, I knew I had to correct for my preferences; the highs tend toward sibilance when tracks have a lot of high-note traffic. Other than that, the treble can be clean and sparkly, though, very obviously, they will still sound artificial and lack top-notch detail. If each range of sound got a score, I would rank this section at the bottom due to how it can cause congested, irritating, fatiguing sound.

Past here, there’s not much more to write about. Soundstaging is very so-so, lacking in pretty much every department and dimension (excluding height, surprisingly). Individual instruments are a struggle to pinpoint. As I have mentioned before, the ANC helps, but won’t block out noises that are intermittent and change in pitch, such as crowds and music (but why are your headphones on in front of a live band, anyway?)

I’m led to believe, even, that the Purity Pros are simply a clone of the Monster Inspiration headphone. Though there is the obvious lack of wireless-headset feature parity, there’s a lot to point out. The rectangular earpads, the perfect-circle headband, and, most importantly, the V-shape signature and its quality traits act as evidence. However, without the DBL charts in front of me (mostly because Monster refused to provide me with any), this is subjective, though I have tried a pair of Inspirations myself and found them very similar…

Verdict

3.75/5

Pros: *Once you go wireless, you might never want to go back. *Colors for suit-and-tie types, colors for whack-jobs. Your choice. *Many who already find V-shaped headgear appealing will have no problems with this set. *Days of battery life for normal use.

Cons: *You might find out for the first time just how deep your wallet is. *The included accessories and instructions could use some work. *It might not be your typical Nokia in terms of durability. *Don’t let the word “Purity” fool you; expect midrange performance.

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If I were buying a typical, wired, matte-black, available-at-local-retailers pair of cans, I wouldn’t pay more than $75 for these. The sound simply does not align to the price. But then, you start stacking everything else on top. Wireless… NFC… ANC… Microphone for calls/texts… (some) Great colors and looks…. The Purity Pro headset is the sum of its parts, and for that, I can commend the designers who created it.

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to satisfy quite a few audiophiles and the like. At the same time, the folks who enjoy this kind of sound are the kind that would like to avoid paying the MSRP price of $350, and there are plenty of options out there. The Beyerdynamic DT770 is just about half as much; heck, if you like the Purity Pros and can find an extra $50, you can get the HiFiMan HE-400s and already be in open-ended, planar-magnetic craziness.

The features, though, are obviously what seemed to matter most here. Nokia is an innovator as much as Barack Obama is the U.S. president, and it shows. Frequent fliers, tech nerds, and Nokia fans are sure to want to get their hands on this pair of headphones. It is a jack of most trades, and a master of one or two. If you can afford the purchase (and look past all the Beats-by-Dre-esque genes), this is a top pick for a portable headphone.

 


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