AUTHOR: Ron Burke
I’m always baffled at the gym when I see people using a variety of run-of-the-mill earbuds, or worse, full audio cans while they work out. I think about what sweat is collecting in those headphones, or how fast those ear buds are going to burn out, and I start to wonder if people realize that sweat can ruin an audio device. When I started my workout program I started looking for something purpose built for the job. Lightweight, fits my ears no matter how hard I worked out, and would deliver some excellent tunes, and with a reasonable price. After watching sweat drip off of a pair of Beats by Dre at the gym, I added “Sweat resistant” to the list. Knowing Monster’s commitment to sound engineering, I figured there wasn’t a better place to start than their recently-released Monster DNA Fit line – a True Wireless set of headphones purpose built for the task at hand.
Before we get into the technicals I want to point something out. As much as I love Dr. Dre and his music, he didn’t go to college to be a sound engineer. No, he had to partner with somebody to bring Beats by Dre to life, and that company wasn’t Apple. It was, as you’ve likely guessed, Monster, and they’ve been delivering excellent sound on multiple fronts ever since. I’m not taking anything away from that line of headphones – they’re great, but Apple has done next to nothing with them since their acquisition in 2014. Meanwhile, Monster has continued to iterate on their audio lines over and over, with this newest line being the latest in a long procession of ever-improving audio solutions.
As soon as you crack open the box you’ll be greeted with a nice thank you from the Founder and CEO of Monster, Noel Lee. Under that lies a small packet that contains the warranty, instruction card, and of course, the device itself. Lifting that reveals the case, and a small box underneath. Inside the box lies the charging cable (more on that in a second – it’s surprisingly worth discussing), as well as a dozen ear tip options. This provides a comfortable tip for just about any ear canal size, so if you don’t find these comfortable out of the box, you’ve got options.
It’s odd to mention, but the power cord on this device is a much appreciated inclusion. It’s USB-C, of course, but it also has an attached adapter to flip it between USB-C and USB-A. This little bit of added flexibility has allowed me to charge it off my laptop when my USB-C connection is connected to my docking station, and I know I can always plug it into a charging brick no matter which type I have on hand. The cable is textured instead of braided, which had the odd effect of making it hold its shape. Mine had settled into an odd coil as I had looped it up when I was done charging. A few light presses on the angles and it was right as rain, but I do worry about what that bend is doing to the cable. Speaking of bends, they certainly spent the engineering hours on the stress relief ends on this cable. Rubberized, they extend a fair distance into the cable itself, and then open up in a Y pattern in such a way that ensures that portion of the cable stays true. That rubberized protection connects directly into the metal portion of the end, ensuring the whole thing stays safe for as long as you choose to use the cable.
The case is equally as interesting. Measuring 4.53” in length, 2.69” in width, and 1.59” in height, it’s bigger than many charging cases for this purpose. Instead of tall, Monster went wide. At first glance you might immediately balk at the overall size – I know I did. What I found, however, is that it slips nicely in my pocket without adding a ton of bulk. Much of that also has to do with the unique coating on the outside.
The exterior of the case seems to be covered in a sort of nylon braided mesh, not unlike a carbon fiber interweave. This particular model is white on the outside with a light gray interior, though you can also get a black exterior with a red interior if you are inclined. No matter which color you choose, it looks slick. The door is hinged on the rear, held in place by a strong magnet. Opening it up reveals the ear buds, naturally, but also hides a small set of C-shaped nubs in the hood of the case that ensures the DNA Fit stays in place.
As you’d imagine, the case charges the DNA Fit earbuds, providing an hour of power on just 15 minutes worth of charging time. All told, the case will hold about 34 hours of charge time to pass onto the earbuds, and the earbuds provide 8 hours of constant use. I’m trying to get back in shape, but I don’t think I’ve got 8 hours of non-stop workout in me these days, but it’s nice to know my earbuds will outlast me. It’s also nice to know that, if I’m inclined, I can also use wireless Qi charging on the case as well, meaning you can skip the cable at the expense of a little charging speed.
When you’ve worked yourself to death, you are sweating from every pore, and your clothes are soaked through, the last thing on your mind is proper electronic maintenance. In point of fact, many of the earbuds and headphones on the market offer no water resistance, meaning they are likely to be damaged by rain or a handful of vigorous workouts. Whether they stop working or not is luck of the draw, but without some sort of protection, the clock is ticking. That’s where the IPX rating comes in.
IPX, or ingress protection code, indicates just how well a device is sealed against the elements. Can it repel water? What about dust? The higher the rating the better, with most products in this category falling into the IP0X range, meaning they have no protection. For those who do offer protection, it’s often IP3X or 4X at most, meaning they are sealed from anything 2.5mm or 1mm and larger, respectively. The Monster DNA Fit is IP5X rated, meaning that some dust smaller than a millimeter could get through, but never enough to damage the device. On the liquid side, it means it can handle a sustained low-pressure water jet spray, as well as water splashes from any direction. Translating that to the real world leads me to the biggest surprise on these devices – how to clean them.
Straight from the manufacturer, when you get these things grimy and gross from sweat, you’ll simply rinse them under running water. You didn’t misread that – just put them under the tap to clean them off and then let them dry and you’ll be ready for your next workout. Their IP5X rating ensures they’ll repel the water from hitting the internals, ensuring all the sensitive bits stay protected. You’d need to hit IPX ratings of 7, 8, or 9 to go swimming with them, so don’t go crazy, but it does mean you should wash these every once in a while.
Aesthetics and specs aside, it’s time to talk about how well they work. Putting these in my ears, I tucked the longer tail behind my ear, securing them in place. There is a 0% chance these are going to come out regardless of what sort of motions I make during my workout. I tested this by ripping off a few spin hook kicks at a heavy bag. It’s a huge ballistic motion with a very impactful stop. I could explain it more, but let’s allow martial arts superstar Scott Adkins do that for us, shall we?
Now, I can’t throw a 540 as well as Scott (and I look insane even trying), but I can land that hook kick in a real engagement. I threw that kick and many others as hard as I could, pouring on everything I had for nearly an hour. Not even once did I have to adjust the Monster DNA Fit. Every impact, every squat thrust, every back kick, every pushup was taken in stride. By the end, I was disgusting to be around I’m sure, but the DNA Fit shrugged it off.
The only complaint anyone could really levy against the Monster DNA Fit is that it isn’t as comfortable as Monster’s own DNA Go. Those are shockingly comfortable, though they lack many of the other great features that make the DNA Fit unique. These fit the entirety of the ear canal, not unlike a set of in-ear monitors, so it takes a moment to get used to having something that fits every millimeter of your ear canal. This can be a bit of a change for newcomers to this kind of earbud, but once you get used to how they fit, you’ll know they are snug.
Moving onto noise cancellation, if, like me, you can’t stand the music that gets shoveled into your earholes during any trip to the gym, you’ll appreciate that the DNA Fit has active noise cancellation. Using three microphones on each earbud to detect the noise, the DNA Fit isolates and eliminates the noise from the overall sound envelope. Despite the blaring and thumping of DJ Whomever, the DNA Fit was able to block out all of this, letting me enjoy the music that keeps me moving during my workout. I pulled these out during a recent plane ride for a quick test and found that they also dusted the whine of the engine on the Boeing 747 without breaking a sweat.
In addition to noise isolation mode, there is also a transparency mode. Transparency mode is for when you want to listen to music, take a call, or otherwise use the DNA Fit, but still need to be aware of your surroundings. As much as you might not want to hear the streets of LA or New York, you probably should be at least aware of vehicles, sirens, and other sounds that might require your attention. The same goes for jogging, riding a bus or tram, or anything else where a disturbance might be something to know about before it becomes a problem. Transparency mode, often called “social mode” will let some sounds from the outside filter through, often by turning off active noise canceling and dropping the volume a bit. I don’t know if Monster is using their microphones in this way, but if I were to hazard a guess, the same trio of microphones on each earbud that filters for active noise canceling are being used to capture the outside world and funnel it in, albeit at a lesser level.
Speaking of high tech, the Monster DNA Fit also contains Qualcomm’s aptX lossless audio tech. In the very highest of high end headphones you’ll find this tech helping bring sound quality that would otherwise be exclusive to a wired solution. Qualcomm has nailed it with their latest iteration, dubbed aptX, providing a lag-free premium sound whether it’s a phone call, music, game, or anything in between.
One thing to note, there is no risk to trying out the Monster DNA Fit. They carry a 30 day money back guarantee, so if you aren’t 100% satisfied with them, you have but to send them back for a full refund. When you have decided they work for you, you are covered for a full two years from the date of purchase. Here’s the thing, though – that’s standard for most earbuds in the industry, so let’s talk about what’s different.
The Monster DNA Fit is priced at $179 MSRP, though when I look at the time of writing they are on sale for just $89.99. That’s impossible to beat, but let’s take it back to the beginning and compare it to the Powerbeats Pro. Yep – back to those Beats by Dre. The Powerbeats Pro are priced at $249.99, and currently on sale for $179.99. At the teardown level they are almost exactly the same in terms of technology, but it’s very clear that Monster has come to play. The Powerbeats Pro doesn’t have the same ANC technology, nor does it offer the same water or sweat resistance that the DNA Fit does, but it’s not stopping Apple from charging a premium for less features. The Monster DNA Fit was already a fantastic pair of earbuds, but at this price, it’s a no brainer. For me? They are an absolutely necessary part of my workout, and one I’m certain will hold up to literally anything I can throw at them.