Beats by Dr. Dre Solo £150
5th May 2011 | 11:28
Can the hip-hop god and Monster deliver godlike sound?
Unless you've been hiding indoors for the last 12 months, you'll probably have noticed a lot of people walking around wearing headphones with a distinctive 'b' logo on them.
Monster's Beats by Dr. Dre headphones are a triumph of marketing. After the launch in 2009, they're now stocked in almost every high street in the UK. Branches of HMV have entire sections devoted to them.
The trademark red audio cables that come with Beats headphones have become almost as iconic as Apple's white iPod cables in just a short space of time. It's a meteoric rise to prominence that simply must be down to them being the best headphones in town. Right?
Well they certainly look good. The packaging they come in screams 'premium' and the build quality of the headphones themselves is second to none. Even before you put them on your head, they look and feel the part.
They fold up nicely for easy transportation, and come with a padded carry case.
You also get two audio cables – one standard 3.5mm cable and another that's compatible with ControlTalk. With ControlTalk you can use the inline remote on the cable to play/pause your music and toggle volume up and down without putting your hand in your pocket. This requires the presence of an Apple iPod, iPhone or iPad though.
There's also an inline microphone so a call to your iPhone mid-song will result in music being paused and you being able to have the conversation through the headset itself.
It all works marvelously, and in many ways it's a flawless product. It's just a shame they don't sound half as good as they look.
The marketing spiel on the side of the box, supposedly a quote from Dr. Dre himself, says: "People aren't hearing all the music. With Beats, people are going to hear what the artists hear and listen to the music the way they should: the way I do."
The problem we have with that is that it's utter nonsense.
On first listen, the Solo headphones sound distinctly muddy. We allowed plenty of time for the drivers to 'burn in' but in practise after a few weeks of daily use, performance has not improved in any meaningful way. The low end is very weak, which means bass heavy music can sound very hollow. This is particularly surprising from a brand that's associating itself with a hip-hop producer.
The midrange also lacks meat, while the high end simply doesn't deliver the high fidelity you'd expect from such a pricey set of cans.
The ear cups are not large enough to create any sort of seal over your ear, either, which instantly causes a further loss of definition. The sound leakage that results will annoy the person sitting next to you on the bus, too.
The Solo's don't sound awful by any means. But we're talking about a £150 pair of headphones here - you'll pay more than that on the high street, too. Not only that, they're endorsed by one of the biggest names in music and claim to deliver studio-quality sound. They don't.
We found that they're actually quite hard to keep on your head as well. A sharp head turn will at the very least shake them from the sweet spot over your ears. At the worst they'll half fall off your head, get tangled up in your hair and make you look like an idiot.
But the sheer number of people out their rocking these headphones in the spring sunshine suggests that that none of these flaws particularly matter. You only need to see how many people are satisfied with the mediocre bundled iPod earphones to see that sound quality is not much of a consideration for the mass market.
They look great. They're sturdy. And they've got Dr. Dre's name written all over them. For many people, that's enough. But if you truly care about sound quality, you should probably look elsewhere.