My experience with Beats headphones was, in the past, limited to trying them out in stores where a dozen headphones were available to plug into your portable device. They were overly bassy, far from neutral, and the sound was such I didn’t spend much time with them.
Following Apple’s acquisition of the company, Beats released the Solo 2, which has gotten good reviews from both audio publications and headphone geeks. So I decided to try them out.
The $200/£170 Solo 2 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is similar to the Solo: it’s a wired, on-ear headphone. The fit is tight, allowing the earpads to block out a lot of ambient sounds, and also preventing too much leakage from what you listen to. These headphones fold, and come with a rudimentary pouch that zips shut. The cord, which is plugged into the headphones, allowing for easy replacement, has an iOS device-compatible microphone and remote. You can control volume, skip tracks, fast forward, rewind, and take calls.
I found the Beats Solo 2 to be fairly comfortable, for this kind of headphone. Some people may find them too tight; they may also be too warm in seasons with higher temperatures. But I found that I could wear them without noticing them.
As for the sound, well… It’s not that much better than the other Beats I’ve heard. While some music sounds excellent – Bob Dylan with an acoustic guitar, for example – most music doesn’t. The bass booms, overwhelming much of the music, in what sounds like an artificially equalized sound. It’s as though I pushed the Loudness button on my amp, then turned down the treble. Sometimes these headphones make it sound like you’re in the bathroom of a club, listening to music through the walls. The bass can be so overwhelming that it drowns out much of the rest of the music.
Some examples, which came up while listening to my iPhone in shuffle mode. Public Image Ltd.’s Careering, from Second Edition, with Jah Wobble’s powerful bass becomes muddled. Even Brad Mehldau’s piano trio, in a song like Anything Goes, from the album of the same name, sounds wrong. The bass is so loud – and this is an acoustic bass – that it kills off the drums, and masks the piano. Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill sounds pretty good in the early part of the song; these headphones do have very clear midrange and treble response. But once the bass comes in, the song lacks character and sounds like it’s being played on a boombox. And some live Grateful Dead recordings from the Europe ’72 tour sound good until Phil Lesh plays some of his heavier bass runs; then they get muddy. And pretty much anything by The Cure, from their album Faith, is hard to listen to.
Some music sounds good. When the bass is mixed low, these headphones feel fairly neutral. For example, The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street has very discreet bass; the songs on this album sound fine. Solo piano sounds acceptable, and Dylan’s Girl from the North Country, with Johnny Cash, sounds good, though there is an odd feeling of resonance that sounds artificial.
But too much music doesn’t sound good; I would need to switch the EQ on and off to use these headphones. And if they need EQ, then they’ve failed.
If you look on Amazon, you’ll see that these headphones have overwhelmingly good reviews. I suspect that the people reviewing these headphones positively are those who seek out a bassy sound, rather than a more neutral headphone.
For what these cost, you can do a lot better. Unless you want this particular style – if you want to be seen wearing Beats – you’re better off getting other headphones that sound better.