I have to admit right off the bat; my experience with the polarizing Beats line of headphones is embarrassingly small. I am not familiar with any of the early units that had a pretty unflattering response from most audiophiles. But when AH friend and headphone extraordinaire Michael Liang [or HiFiGuy528 as many know him] offered to set me up with a pair of the new Beats Solo 2 ($199), I wanted to give the outlier brand a fair shake.
So today a bright blue pair of plastic beats headphones sits on the lab table next to a mix mash collection of cable, adaptors and roughed up business cards. If you have spent any time outside in an area populated with the 16-24 demographic, then you are probably vastly familiar with the aesthetics of the brand. The overall feel is a little showy – like a carnival prize you just won and now want to show off to all your friends. The functional design isn’t half bad, the plastic coated headband pad feel soft to the touch and while it isn’t leather, still fits the bill for its intended purpose. The folding design feels quite good, the hinge about halfway up the band clicks in and out of place very nicely, although there has been some reports of wear out issues with excessive use, but those that prefer a gentle approach to their gear may encounter no such fate.
The Solo 2 is an on-ear, travel solution for personal listening. It comes equipped with a travel pouch and in line controls for iDevices and Android. The former can control track selection, while the latter can control only on/off/call pickup. The small headphone connector that comes with the color-matched detachable cable which is of the 90-degree angle design and the cable itself is quite a bit shorter in length than what you would typically see on a more audiophile style headphone. It feels pretty robust and shares the same softer, rubber-like touch quality as the headband cushion. The clamping pressure of said headband is quite significant. You can currently travel to any big box retailer to do a fit test for these headphones and based on my experience, I would highly recommend it to see if you like the squeeze. I admit, my head is probably bigger than the average human but the grip to my ears was a bit higher than usual, but some might find it not so bad.
The “2” line is actually a replacement for the “HD” line of the Solo brand and also now comes in a wireless version similar to [what Sennheiser has been up to the past few months]. According to the company website the new headphone “…has been redesigned from the inside out. With updated and improved acoustics, the Solo2 lets you feel your music with a wider range of sound and enhanced clarity.” I’m not sure I get what a “wider range of sound” is, but enhanced clarity is definitely by cup of tea. Utilizing my reference rig, I listened to the little blue guys with a wide range of music including more standard audiophile test tracks. The bass was bigger than neutral, which should come as a surprise to no one. How big though? I’ve actually heard much worse. The inflation itself wasn’t so bloated that it sounded like a fat, soft, wooly train wreck. The extension was decent and pushed out on that bottom lower lip of the spectrum that I find quite pleasing. It also managed to avoid pushing too much bass boost up into the low mids, but this is the point of the frequency spectrum wear things fell apart a little. The low mids felt a little recessed or somehow effected by this bass expansion. The mid clarity itself wasn’t too far off expectations for this price range, however every once and while I would catch a tiny whiff of an odd, grainy treble texture. Listening to Beck’s new Grammy winner Morning Phase, the solo 2s clearly reflected this bass forward signature during playback, and while I still prefer Sennheiser’s Momentum response I can still see how the beats approach would be appealing to some. The extra bass attempts to recreate that visceral feeling of listening to loud, live music. Moving back and forth between my reference Audeze LCD-3s it would take a moment for my brain to reset back to neutral, and in that singular moment the solid performance of the 3’s would feel suddenly anemic for a hot second in response to the bass overload. Strange times indeed.
The headphone brand that everyone loves to hate has its place in the audio world. It no doubt can take some of the credit for expanding the overall reach and awareness of the head-fi hobby as a whole. It has made wearing a pair of $300 headphones in public cool by some measure and increased the acceptability of the lofty budgets that accompany audiophile tastes more mainstream.
The Beats Solo 2 also has a place. Nestled very close to bass lovers and warding off a wide swath of $200 competitors, the brightly colored headphone doesn’t need warm reviews to sell headphones, the lower case “b” lovingly surrounded by a flurry of bright, high gloss colors carries all the sell power necessary to keep mainstream consumers happy for the next quarter. In execution, the Solo 2 may fall short for those looking for a neutral headphone, but still brings an interesting game to those all about that bass. If you find yourself drawn to such endeavors, then by all means, make your way to any retailer to try one out first hand. The Beats line is by far the easiest headphone to sample of all available brands in the hobby, a luxury very few audiophile-oriented companies have been able to deliver on. I like butter pecan, perhaps your favorite is rocky road, but either way you won’t know until you dig your spoon in.
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00IYA2QZA/