Review: Beats Solo 2 On-Ear Headphones

Overear solo2 black standard cord OMy 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.

I Bought a Pair of Beats Headphones, and They Don’t Suck

61 y2xoA UL SL1266I bought a pair of Beats Solo2 headphones, in black. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) The don’t suck as much as I expected. In fact, so far, I kind of like them.

The only problem is that the bass is exaggerated, but only on tracks where the bass is already strong. The mid-range and high-end sounds are fine, but if you have some music where the bass is pronounced, it’s a bit jarring.

I have to say, their PR is especially annoying. It sounds a bit like what audiophiles say about expensive cables:

“The Solo2 headphones have a more dynamic and wider range of sound, with a clarity that can bring you closer to what the artist intended you to hear. You’ll feel the higher fidelity audio no matter what type of music you play.”

I’m not sure if I’m going to keep them; I bought them from the Apple online store, and have a 30-day return window. But, so far, I do like them. They’re comfortable, they fold up quite compactly, and they have block out a lot of sounds.

If I do keep them, I’d probably want to set the EQ on my iPhone or with iTunes to Bass Reducer. I don’t like using EQ, but in some cases it’s useful.

Itunes eq

As an aside, I tried the Sennheiser Momentum on-ear headphones, which are similar (and about the same price here). They sound flat and drab.

In any case, I’ll post a review of the Beats Solo2 headphones soon.

Philips Releases First Headphones that Only Work with iOS Devices

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 2.04.23 PM.pngWhen Apple added the ability for headphones to connect to an iOS device’s lightning connector, they opened the door to stupidity. Now, Philips is the first company to embrace that stupidity with their Fidelio M2L headphones. According to the company, they:

“deliver Fidelio’s signature sound in high resolution directly to your iOS device, without distortion or crosstalk, thanks to a Lightning connector and built-in DAC.”

The problem is this: you can only use these headphones with an iOS device, and only a recent one that has a lightning connector. (It’s not clear if they work with older 30-pin devices through an adaptor, but it’s possible that they do.) So, if you’re listening to music on your iPhone, and want to switch to, say, your laptop or iMac, you can’t. You can only use them with devices that have Apple’s lightning connector. You can’t lend them to a friend with an Android phone, or a laptop, and you can’t use them with your computer, whether it’s a Mac or PC.

I understand the logic: because of the built-in DAC, and the capabilities that Apple offers, this is interesting. But it’s a huge failure if the headphones only work with a limited number of devices. Also, what happens when Apple switches from the Lightning connector to something else? Will they work with an adapter?

I think it would be foolish to buy these.

Headphone Review: Sennheiser PX 100 II-i


Buy from Amazon.com

For the past few years, my headphone of choice for listening to music on my iPods was the Sennheiser PX 100, a lightweight, inexpensive headphone with surprisingly good sound for the money. A month ago, however, the cable just before the jack broke, and it was time to replace them. The PX 100 has had excellent reviews for years, and was well appreciated by users and journalists alike, but is no longer made. I turned to the PX 100 II-i, a third iteration of the model, which is the most recent version of the headphones, released last year.

Like the original PX 100, the PX 100 II-i is a folding headphone, with a small on-ear earcup. It’s light, there’s no pressure on the ears, and they are fully open: you can hear everything around you. This headphone is excellent for listening when you’re outdoors, where it is important to hear sounds, especially if you’re walking in the city. They do not, of course, limit any sounds, so if you want headphones that do this, you will need to look elsewhere. (I’ll be posting a review of a recently purchased noise-canceling headphone soon.)

The sound quality of this headphone is, as I’ve mentioned, excellent for its size and price. New with this model is an inline remote control that works with iPods and other iOS devices (as well as Macs, and, perhaps, other computers). You can change the volume, and pause what you’re listening to, and, with a double-press, skip to the next track. This remote is also a mic, if you have an iPhone (which I don’t).

However, a valid question is whether it is worth some $25 more just for this remote. (The Sennheiser PX 100-II is currently selling for $65 at Amazon; it is the same as the PX 100 II-i, but without the remote. The PX 100 II-i sells for $90.) I find the remote useful when I’m listening to music both outdoors and even when I listen to my iPod in bed. My iPod touch has an external volume control, but my iPod classic does not. In addition, the controls are positioned about 8 inches from the headphones, so they are easily accessible. Nevertheless, it’s a bit of a premium to pay just for a couple of buttons. (Though it’s certainly more useful if you have an iPhone.)

My only gripe is that the cord itself is rather flimsy, and I’ve already gotten it snagged on doorknobs a few times. It comes out of just the left side of the headphones, unlike the PX 100, which had a double cord that met in the center. That is a bit odd, as all my other headphones have a central cord; that may explain, in part, why I’ve been clumsy with it.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the PX 100 II-i. I use it often – either when listening to my iPod outdoors, on my daily walk, or, at times, when watching a DVD on my laptop. The sound is clean and crisp, though the bass is weak, which is to be expected from such a small headphone. (I don’t listen to a lot of bass-heavy music.) If you want good sound in a light, folding headphone, the Sennheiser’s PX series is great choice. Either the PX 100 II-i with the inline remote, or the PX 100-II without it, will provide you with great sound and comfort.

Note: no review unit was provided; I paid for these out of pocket. For the record, I have another Sennheiser headphone – HD 580 – and I’ve only once been disappointed by Sennheiser’s products.