It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a pair of Beats headphones. So long so that my last pair says “MONSTER” on them still. In my hands are a similar, but different, pair of Beats Solo headphones. Now part of the Apple family and shorn of the cable that used to connect them to devices, Beats by Dr. Dre Solo2 On-Ear Sound Isolating Bluetooth Headphones feel more free. Are they as good as the price tag would imply? Read on to find out.
Beats by any other name
Beats have gone by many names over the life of the brand; They were Beats by Dre and Monster Beats among others; the biggest news for the brand came last year when Tim Cook’s unstoppable juggernaut of Apple Inc. decided that they were going to acquire Beats as part of a greater streaming music strategy; despite having the largest music distribution platform in the world Apple has been losing marketshare to competitors like Spotify, Google Music, and Songza. The Beats streaming catalogue and app appear to be Apple’s entry into user-controller streaming–something that may compliment iTunes Radio… for those in who have it. For those of us up here in the Great White North iTunes Radio never materialized, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares considering even Apple super-fans have moved on to services like those listed above.
Solo Wireless Vs Solo
Along with the purchase of Beats streaming Apple also picked up Beats headphones, much like the Beats Solo Wireless headphones that are clamped on my ears as I write this. I’d be curious to know how Jony Ive contributed to the decision; Beats are iconic–you know them when you see them. Despite many imitators on the market, no one has really captured the imagination of passionate fashion/music fans quite like Beats; that said, the iconic look is a bit… not-Apple? I’m not sure what it is. Bright colours and glistening surfaces aren’t something that Apple shies away from. Perhaps it’s the sharp angles, the seams, and the fact that they’re not milled from a single block of ah-loo-min-ee-um, but Beats Solo Wireless Headphones still feel very much like a Beats product, and not an Apple one.
Unboxing Beats Solo Wireless
The packaging on Beats Solo Wireless is just like my old Beats Solo headphones: a large obelisk of soft-touch black paper. The sleeve slides off to reveal a book-like structure that snaps together with seams that tuck tightly into each other. Inside, a black neoprene bag hold the folded up headphones. They fold out on two hinges revealing the arched shape of the Solo Wireless. Soft rubber ear cups and a soft rubber headband are supple to the touch; the space between is interrupted by the hinges I just mentioned; they’ve been reinforced since my very first Beats Solo. I had to have my first set replaced (by Monster, at the time) because the hinges were a point of failure, with plastic snapping when pressure was placed on them. This new model is like my replacement, with robust metal hinges flexing with reasonable tolerances.
My cursory inspection of the headset was put on hold for a moment; under the neoprene oval carrying case are two cables: the red USB Micro cable used for charging the unit. The terminations on this cable are straight-up and direct; the can be pulled out of the A or B side of the USB connection just by tugging on them. Not so with the stereo mini cable; like the Beats Solo headphones I picked up so many years ago, this cable has a 90º termination on one side; connect that to your phone (let’s face it, we’re all listening on our phones, now, right?) and you’ll have a hard time yanking the cable out. My old headphones have saved my iPhone from being tossed across the room a few times; that’s a hardy cable. I believe the cable that comes with each pair is colour-matched; I had a Blue pair of Beats Solo Wireless, and they came with a Blue Cable. There are four different colours of Beats Solo Wireless available from Best Buy: black, white, red, and blue. having had the white models in the past I’m going to go ahead and not recommend those, and instead suggest the red or blue; they’re sexy and flashy. White gets dirty, black is boring. Be exciting.
Test driving Beats Solo
These headphones came to me by way of the Best Buy reviewer for the French side of the blog, so I didn’t really get a pristine unboxing experience (and I took some time to wipe the headphones down–I’ve never been a fan of sharing headphones). The upside was that they came with a charge. I still took the time to charge them all the way up before trying to pair them. Without reading the manual I took a guess that you could put them into pairing mode by pressing and holding the power button–and sure enough you can. There’s a battery monitor on one side that has five lights (Select starship Captains will only see four, though) that flash when you’re in pairing mode. It took attempts to pair it up with my iPhone, which may have more to do with my neighbours having their Samsung sound bars permanently in pairing mode. I’ve taken to playing Rammstein through a Russian Roulette choice of Bluetooth outputs at odd hours in an effort to combat that particular bad habit.
I test drove Beats Solo Wireless in three different ways:
- as music headphones for my 256Kbps AAC iTunes Match music collection
- as gaming headphones for Mortal Kombat X portable
- as a communication device for FaceTime Audio calls
I spent some time listening to a variety of artists from my collection; I’ve been on a real Bastille kick lately, listning to the hard-to-find Other People’s Heartache Part 1, 2, and 3. These three albums were pulled due to copyright issues years ago, but they’re a great mix of remixes that really highlight the capabilities of a speaker or a set of headphones. There are ripping bass lines, spiralling highs, and powerfully present midrange through 18 songs over 65 minutes–it’s a damned good listen if you ever get the chance. Listening to these three albums with the Beats Solo Wireless Bluetooth Headset was mostly positive, with a few caveats.
The hallmark of Beats used to be capital-B big bass–that has not changed. You can use the EQ on your device or in your app (the Beats App has an EQ built in … not that we’d know as it’s currently not available in Canada). The difference here is that the build quality on the Solo Wireless is better than on my Solo headphones. Whereas the old Solos felt like the driver was made up of crinkly material, the driver in the Solo Wireless feels a lot more solid. There’s no echo in the ear cups on the new model like on the old model, and the new material on the ear cups is more breathable; while I felt like I had equivalent noise separation, I didn’t feel the same claustrophobic boom with every step while walking.
And walking is something you’ll probably want to do with these when you have them on. The biggest irritation that I have with my current headphones is snagging the darned cable on everything. Not having a cable there at all is pretty awesome.
Like most headphones you’ll find decent highs here, along with the aforementioned boomy lows. The midrange suffers a bit, but you can EQ that out if you’re really concerned about it. Music is an enjoyable experience through these headphones.
Gaming is likewise pleasant; a game like Mortal Kombat X really shows the value of heavy bass; hearing Ed Boon (yes, it’s still him) holler “GET OVER HERE” and “C’MERE” is enjoyable through the Beats Solo Wireless.
Disappointing Voice Calls
The only place I was less than satisfied was with the audio calling feature. While the headphones have great controls (centre button on the left side plays/pauses/picks up/hangs up, and the buttons above and below control volume) it’s missing an externally facing mic for noise cancellation; this is a problem I’ve had with every headset since I got my iPhone 5 (and now my 6). The noise cancellation is so good on the handset that not having it makes everyone complain that you sound weird. Additionally, the noise reduction caused by the headphone seal makes it feel like you’re talking underground. All in all, like any other headset, I can’t recommend this for long, drawn-out conversations.
Amazing battery life
The battery is the major win here, getting more than all day battery life; I ended up charing them after four days of intermittent use. That, to me, is more than acceptable; if I have to charge my headphones half as often as my phone I feel like I’m doing alright.
I don’t have my Apple Watch yet, so I didn’t get a chance to test them out with that device, but I’m looking forward to trying it out soon.
Have you given Beats Solo2 Wireless a shot? If so leave your feedback about them in the comments below.