The Good: Pretty design, comfortable, rich sound, big bass, durable
The Bad: Badly positioned controls, plasticky look
The Bottom Line: Great audio that’s suited to pounding rhythm, presented in a glossy skin
It is a rare company that can be bought out by Apple, yet feel no notable uplift in its prominence. But that is precisely the position in which Beats finds itself. Having already conquered the world of audio with its brash colours and multi-million dollar endorsement contracts, the new influence of Cupertino seems more like a collaboration than a parent-child relationship.
And Beats continues to operate as before. The company has just released a new generation of its signature headphones, named Solo2. But does its audio impress as much as its flashy exterior?
If you’ve watched any major sporting event in the past five years, you’ll know the Beats methodology when it comes to style. See those bold colours draped over the ears of that world class athlete? Those are they. Beats’ products are meant to be seen. While the livery of my test ‘phones is a glossy white, this plastic skin still stands out from a distance.
But the Solos are not just for show. These are headphones that work for the wearer, too. They arrive folded, taking up surprisingly little room, which allows them to fit inside the supplied carrying pouch. With both arms snapped into place, the Solos grip your head very securely. Equally, the faux-leather ear padding provides a tight seal and a comfortable listening experience. That plastic skin — ironically quite Apple-like — doesn’t feel like the most luxurious of materials, but it is actually a very practical, cleanable choice.
The other thing that stands out is the weight of the Solos, or indeed, the lack of it. As you might expect from high quality audio equipment, they are not featherweights, but they are certainly at the light end of the over-ear spectrum.
In the Box
The cable that comes with the Solos is not wired in, rather, it is plugged in to the left earcup. Solidly made, and a reasonable length, it is also home to volume and call-answer controls. The design allows for easy operation without the need for a glance, which is just as well, given the strange placement of the module — it is too close to the top of the cable for the wearer to see it.
That said, the provided carrying pouch is decent quality, and Beats helpfully includes a carabiner for easy carriage.
I have to admit, the Solos caught me off guard. I’d read the reviews of previous generations. They were less than flattering in terms of sound. But these Solo2 ‘phones sound really good.
Their most notable attribute is cleanness. Every single instrument or channel is clearly audible through the Solos, with a near-scientific reproduction of the studio recording. It’s almost too clean for the grungy, unpolished sound of 60s rock, but for the vast majority of your listening time and styles, it is refreshingly crisp. Something to bear in mind, however, is the aptness of the word “Beats” being written on the side of these headphones. For those who like pumping bass lines and thumping drums, the Solos will bring much joy. But for those of us with more acoustic-leaning tastes, the lower half of the register can seem a touch overwhelming.
As a general assessment, though, I must commend Beats for stepping up its game — these are ‘phones that should please everyone bar the pickiest of high-end audiophiles, which is particularly impressive given how affordable the Solos are (RRP £169/$199).
It is clear to see why Apple was attracted to Beats. Both companies blend beautiful hardware and slick marketing into commercial success. And although both are sneered at for their sometimes over-the-top hype, it is hard to argue with the quality of either — certainly now the Solo2 headphones are out in the wild.
Of course, those with a conservative sense of style and music might not appreciate the flamboyant looks, nor the heavy bass. While the former is a niche complaint, truth be told, the latter is actually a genuine concern. If you’re thinking of tuning in to Classic FM or just enjoying gentle genres of music, I really don’t think these are the best ‘phones for you, although they’ll treat your ears perfectly well.
For most mainstream music, though, these Beats provide a dynamic, contrasty, thrilling sound, while also being a joy to own and use.[box]