If you follow all things Windows Phone you’re no doubt aware that when it comes to premium accessories, it’s fairly slim pickings out there. Like all things for our beloved ecosystem though, one OEM is taking things seriously enough to push manufacturers for accessories designed to work perfectly with Windows Phone; Nokia. Through partnerships with JBL, Monster and Fatboy, the Finnish giant’s sponsored accessories are squarely aimed its own Lumia line of course, but as they’re designed to work best with Windows Phone you’ll still get a great experience from your HTC 8 series or Samsung Ativ phones.
All of which brings us nicely to today’s review, the Monster/Nokia Purity Pro headset. This isn’t Monster and Nokia’s first dance together, the ‘Purity’ brand has already been applied to another set of over-the-ear cups and also to a set of ear buds, and yet those forays into the brightly coloured accessory world have been met with some mixed reviews, and in my personal opinion the wired Purity HD earphones leave a lot to be desired. We initially went ‘ears on’ (last time I use that phrase I promise) with the headset at the Mobile World Congress this year, and came away impressed, but a little bewildered by the initial cost of entry. Now we’re lucky enough to say we own a pair and have spent a week using them out and about to gauge just whether or not you can justify the relatively high price point.
Design & hardware
Once you crack open the seal on the Purity Pro box you'll find a useful soft case, a micro USB charger, a 3.5mm male to male cable and of course the beautiful headphones themselves.
There's no getting around the fact that these are visually striking headphones, when collapsed and viewed from the side on they are gorgeous to behold (in this reviewers opinion). Yet once they're on your head you realise just how large they are, and it's a bit daunting at first, the cups are fairly large themselves giving the whole set quite a wide presence. In fact I think that once they're wrapped comfortably around your ears you start to look a little like a cyberman, which you can choose to view as positive or negative.
Available the Lumia yellow, red, white or black you can decide just how much you want to stand out for yourself. I chose black but honestly I'm wishing I'd gone for the white pair as I think they are both a little unique but just understated enough.
Speaking of understated, I want to give recognition to Nokia for putting the Bluetooth button/light on the underside of the right hand cup, it means the light isn't piercingly obvious unlike many other wireless sets I've seen around London.
Other than the Bluetooth button you'll find play/pause, skip buttons on the left cup, volume controls and a microphone on the right cup (we'll come back to that later). These buttons feel great and are raised enough to make them easy to find, but not so much as to ruin the design.
You'll also find the NFC tag, micro USB charging port and wired 3.5mm jack on the left cup, completing this generous array of features.
If you're wondering why there's no power button the answer is simple: the headphones turn on when you open them out and turn off automatically when you fold them together. It's an elegant design choice and at present feels solid like this mechanism will stand up to several years of punishment.
Battery life is outstanding, lasting way over two weeks of average use (and you can use the 3.5mm jack when there's no battery) and NFC paring works absolutely flawlessly.
In fact, there's only really one complaint I have with the entire package, when you've been using them a little while under any kind of exercise the cups get warm. I'm not talking just a little warmth either, at times these could genuinely be advertised to Eskimos as ear heaters. The more I test them however the more I think this is the result of the cup design insulating all the heat you’d normally lose from your ears. It’s not a deal breaker at all but you should be aware of it if you plan exercising much or having a jog along the beach on a hot summer's day.
Lastly, you'll have no concerns over comfort, there is a little pressure on the top of your head as after all there is a lot of tech up there, but it's extremely minor and can be alleviated by adjusting the cup positions. I had no problems (other than heat mentioned above) whatsoever using this headset for hours at a time.
This is where the Purity Pro's live or die, everything else is a nice to have and worth nothing if the sound doesn't hold up.
Well, I'm pleased to say quality is excellent. Be aware that, like most speakers, there is a break in period with the Purity Pro's, but I'm quite confident in saying that after one night of fairly constant use (I played about 2 albums) they were reaching their full potential.
I'm quite varied in my musical taste, and I know Monster have a reputation for producing very bass-keen products which concerned me when I enjoy a lot of acoustic and more chilled music.
Yet I'll start with the bassy tracks, throwing on some electro-house these cans are just terrific. "Don't you worry child" by Swedish House Mafia soar, although you'll need to turn the volume up to feel the full punch of each crescendo. More progressive tracks like "I remember" from Deadmau5 float along and immerse you with the mids being well balanced and every high-end riff picked out perfectly. In fact if you're anything like me you'll probably miss a train stop when you close your eyes to pretend you're somewhere else.
Listening to dub step or drum and bass does feel like a slight ear invasion but that's a good thing, you'll feel every wub and drop in a way that very few ear buds could ever hope to match. Whilst on that note, listen to a Skrillex track on this set if you want to push them a little.
The even better news is that when faced with a softer composition like Ben Howard, the headphones sound just as good, if not better. Mostly that's thanks to the active noise reduction which phases out background noise allowing you to enjoy all the nuances of the artist. You won't be completely deaf to the outside world and individual voices are still discernable, but the average hum is suitably blocked.
Speaking of the noise cancellation, it's cleverly disabled when you take the headphones off your ears, reducing the noise from the speakers when round your neck, and making you feel that much more surrounded when you put the set back on. Even better news is that there is little to no sound leakage from these cups once they’re properly seated over your ears, I was pleasantly surprised that when I turned the volume right up with someone else using the headset I could barely hear a note.
Finally those who enjoy their bands and live music will be pleased to know that the detail of every instrument can be heard on each track, though there's a slight warmth to the sound, which I'd say even makes my live recordings sound that tiny bit better.
Whether over Bluetooth or directly by wire, the audio quality is stellar and you’ll be hard pressed to find any difference between the two. You should be aware though that if you connect over Bluetooth you won’t see the audio enhancements your device provides; Beats audio on HTC and Dolby Pro logic on Nokia Lumia devices. I simply can’t consider this a negative point for the headphones though as it would be the same for any device connected via Bluetooth. If those enhancements are very important to you, be prepared to have the connecting wire on your person (or look for another pair of headphones).
Pairing over NFC couldn’t be easier, just tap the devices together, accept a prompt on your phone and you’re golden. But if you don’t have NFC you won’t find it difficult to hold down the Bluetooth button and wait for the audio prompt to connect your device. The Purity Pro headset actually talks to you (in soothing tones I might add), telling you when it’s connected, what the current battery level is, and when it’s ready to pair.
In fact, these headphones will connect to anything with a Bluetooth radio, including the Microsoft Surface. I found that one of the best use cases here was to pair with the surface and watch a few episodes of something from Netflix. If you’re in the UK using the TV Catchup app effectively turns the Surface & Purity Pro combo into a near perfect portable TV combination, as we all know the Surface’s speakers are normally incredibly poor.
When it comes to connectivity though, these headphones go one step further in the way they communicate to your device, which brings us nicely to phone operation.
Just like the old Bluetooth headsets you saw attached to the ears of ‘busy’ individuals last decade, the Purity Pros have their own microphone allowing you to receive and make calls using just the headset.
The play/pause button doubles as a menu key, press once to receive a call, double tap to redial, or press and hold (then release after the tone) to start a Windows Phone voice command. Yes, you can use the TellMe integration to initiate a call by voice, to compose a text message, instruct the phone to read out a text message, or to interact with your favourite apps.
I’ll be honest, initiating apps through this method is just awesome. Instructing our app to read back the latest headlines for instance just makes sense. I can get the latest Windows Phone news without ever touching my phone. I also like being able to voice dial and start searches in this way, only the text messages don’t make sense for me.
Trying to compose a text message via voice can be quite frustrating, even though Microsoft have recently made huge improvements to the TellMe service, it’s not perfect yet. Also, walking along responding to a text or telling apparently no one to “read it” is going to look like you’ve lost your marbles. Yet I can see this being a great feature if you’re a cyclist, I already find the voice SMS features work fantastically when driving, and so I can see how the same would transfer to those on two manually driven wheels.
My only complaint is the microphone itself. It has a tendency to pick up all the noise around you as well as your own voice. For voice calls, this is ok when you’re walking down the street because the background murmur can be ignored, but when you’re inside it is worse as every single echo is picked up by the Microphone, I had to switch back to just using the handset in these instances.
The Purity Pro headphones provide all of the features above to any Windows Phone 8 or 7 device (note that 7 doesn’t have app voice commands), and will even connect and work for audio with devices based on other operating systems. However, they are Nokia made, and so the best experience right now is with a new Nokia device.
The Nokia difference
If you chose to pair these headphones with a Nokia Lumia device running Windows Phone 8, then there are a few more options that are presented through Nokia’s accessories app.
You’ll find a few neat features in this app, including the ability to turn off the double press to redial option, as well as voice commands after a long press. With a Nokia Lumia you can also enable the Purity Pro headphones to connect to two devices at once. That means that your phone will connect in a voice only mode for calls and texts, whilst another device will take the media playback capabilities, an impressive feat even if managing these connections can be a little difficult at times.
Finally, you can choose to pin out the Purity Pro accessory to a dedicated live tile. Not only does this launch you right back to the headphones settings, that live tile will be updated with the current battery level of the headphones, not that you’ll ever have to worry about the battery in these things, but it’s a very cool feature.
I love these headphones. Whilst I’m not certain that the sound quality is as good as you’ll get if you were to spend this kind of money in your local Bose retailer, it absolutely holds up and you certainly won’t be regretting your purchase after that initial break in period.
Of course, the entry price is steep, right now Amazon are listing Nokia Purity Pros at £180-£210 ($349 in the states) so they are an accessory you’ll want to probably outlast your phone itself.
What really sells this beautiful set of headphones though, is everything they do above and beyond your traditional wired cups. Not only is going wireless liberating in a way that anyone who’s ever threaded something down their shirt will understand, but the ability to interact with your Windows Phone in an (almost) hands free way wherever you are really enhances the experience.
Bottom line, if you care only about the best sound for your money, go somewhere else. Yet if you’re really invested in the Windows Phone ecosystem, or just picked up a new Nokia Lumia device, and can see yourself using the full feature set I’ve discussed here, I simply cannot recommend them enough.