Beats Solo2 Headphones Review
Style on the outside, substance on the inside
Beats Electronics has taken over the music world, and at first glance it's easy to see why. The audio company (recently acquired in a landmark deal by Apple Inc.) specializes in colorful, stylish headphones that are just as much of a fashion statement as they are audio tools.
While they might look almost exactly the same as their predecessors, the Beats Solo2 on-ears (MSRP $199.95) are a huge improvement upon the original Solo on-ears by way of a subtler soundscape, with considerably less bass boosting. There's still plenty of low-end love here, but the overall sound grants respectable emphasis to the entire audible spectrum.
You're still trading comfort for style, however, as the inflexible hard-plastic design is a bit like high heels for your head. For many, though, Beats represents a fashion phenomenon that absolutely eclipses most of the headphone industry, and it's a price they're willing to pay.
If you want $200 sound, the Solo2 on-ears deliver. If you want $200 sound and comfort, you're better off spending slightly more for something like our current top-ranking Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro headphones.
Pain is beauty
Beats offers the Solo2 headphones in six colors: red, white, gray, blue, pink, and their iconic black-and-red. The design emphasizes simplicity, so the adjustable headband is clean and mostly seamless. Like most Beats headphones, these things are sleek.
The detachable 1.361m cable (in a matching color) is sturdy and tangle-free, so you won't find yourself tearing apart a fussy knot whenever you want to listen to music. The only other feature here is Beats' "RemoteTalk" controller, which rests a few inches below the left ear cup. The controller allows users to adjust the volume, pause/play music, skip/scan tracks, and answer phone calls. Since there's only three buttons on the controller, there's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to mastering all of the command combinations. RemoteTalk is only compatible with iOS, so Android users will still have to take their phone out of their pocket every time they want to answer the phone or jump to another song.
The Achilles' heel of the Solo2 over-ears is their vice-grip tightness. The stiffness of the ear cushions combined with the overly-snug fit made them difficult for long-term use. They will, however, stay firmly in place for the hustle and bustle of subway commutes. For longer journeys, they can be folded and zipped up in a round carrying case. In my time with the Solo2s, I got the impression that they were built to last. The tight, uncomplicated design feels naturally durable in a way that busier over-ear headphones do not.
Ultimately, you'll have to decide whether style or comfort are more important to you. The Solo2 on-ears certainly look good, but the level of comfort here doesn't match the looks. Simply put, these headphones are hard on your ears.
High-profile audio that lives up to the price tag
Whether or not you like Beats as a brand, there's no denying that the Solo2 headphones are pure performers—regardless of genre. Strip away the marketing and the flashy colors and you're left with a sound that's all business.
You'd never want to use the Solo2 on-ears for studio mixing, and audiophiles will likely shun them, but they're perfect for most listeners. A mild over-emphasis of bass tones gently tapers into slightly quieter mid and high-mid frequencies, very closely following an equal-loudness contour. This means that naturally harder-to-hear instruments—bassoons, tubas, trombones, cellos—are given a little extra "oomph," helping them to stand out alongside the usual show-stealers: vocals, cymbals, and guitars.
We also tested a surprising lack of distorted elements considering the smaller speaker size and compact form factor. Other than the deepest, most imperceptible low-end notes, music playback is entirely free of audible distortion. Crisp, ringing trebles and quaking crescendos of bass have ample room to whisper or roar without risk of clipped notes or glossed-over harmonic details.
If you intend to bring the Solo2 on-ears along during a commute, or you're a frequent flyer, you'll be glad to know that they do a decent job blocking out ambient noise. Provided you get a snug fit—which, with the way these cans clamp, should be easy—you'll notice that mid- and high-range frequencies like squeaking tires or tired squealers are dampened considerably. Deeper sounds, such as rumbling airplane engines or big rig horns, will still blast through at full volume.
The only drawback to the way these headphones operate is something that's intrinsic to their design. This on-ear style tends to clamp hard, forcing speaker drivers against your temples and offering up a soundscape that feels shallow compared to the roomier feel of over-ears. The quality of the sound itself is still terrific, but it's something that's worth keeping in mind if you've never owned a pair of on-ears before.
A solid marriage of style and sound
If the Solo2 on-ears have a single drawback, it's the uncomfortable fit when you wear them for extended periods of time. The audio quality here is terrific, but the fashion-forward on-ear design makes long-term listening a risky endeavor.
While there's something to be said for the almost cult-like fashion statement attached to Beats headphones, it's a shame that the Solo2 on-ears aren't more comfortable, since they actually sound better than they look.
As good as the audio quality is, the price (about $199 online) is a little high for the caliber of design and materials. If you're looking for a combination of premium sound and comfort, there are cheaper options like the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, which can be found online for as little as $175.
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