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More of a fashion accessory than a good quality headphone
on 31 December 2012
Having been a musician and a strong headphone enthusiast, owning dozens pairs of high end headphones with matching professional audio interfaces/converters, I wanted to have a extensive test on these Beats Solo HD headphones, and see what the hype is all about.
I first listened to them at various street retailers, but wanted to listen them through a better source, converter and amp so I purchased myself a genuine pair from Amazon to give these headphones a better potential, for a more thorough review.
Packaging, presentation - top notch. It's clear that Beats want to make this headphone very appealing, something once you have in your hand look pretty and you want to feel proud of. The headphone box itself is well made, nice printed outer packaging. The headphone is packed with accessories - a well made soft carrying case, the iconic red cable with inline control for iDevices, cleaning cloth, and some very well printed booklets.
Look and build quality - These I do admit are very stylish looking headphones. Combined with their brilliant marketing and endorsements, these headphone have become a great fashion trend. The design of these are very clever, with the ability to fold them for portability, put it round the neck when not listening to music (so it becomes a £100+ necklace). Build quality initially look decent but upon close look, it's rather poor. The folding mechanism is based on plastic, so after some fair usage, the plastic will wear off, making the headphone loose at the hinge. I have seen countless number of these headphone that won't keep it's rigidity, just flapping about.
Isolation of these headphone is actually pretty good. For a passive isolating on-the-ear headphone (without any active NC circuitry), these block out a considerable amount of noise. Comfort is good too.
Then to the sound. The Most important factor, being a "headphone" - Boy I'm I DISAPPOINTED with these!
The treble of these is seriously rolled off. Making these greatly lack in fidelity and clarity. The reason for this I would imagine to allow people to crank these up louder for more bass, without the high end to become shrill. However, for a headphone with 'HD' in the name, this is absolutely absurd. Soundstage is poor, so a track that should sound broad and spacious (think a concert hall) will sound very dry and close together (think of a tiny bedroom). Listening to anything with acoustic instrument is disastrous on these, it has very poor ability to reproduce acoustic instruments efficiently. Instrument separation is as bad as its soundstage. Strings sound fake, woodwinds sound plastic, vocals sound dull and recessed. People often say these have great bass - the truth is that they don't. They have a exaggerated bass that is both muddy and bloated - Because of the rolled off top, the bass will sound relatively louder. The mid bass is unnaturally boasted, so kicks will have a good thump, however the bass response doesn't actually go very deep at all. So you won't really hear a good quality sub bass of these. A kick drums will sound punchy but not deep and rich.
People who thinks that these headphone are the "best headphone they have heard", is likely not to be lying... However it's a given that they have only had 2 pairs in their like, the other pair they have heard being the iPod earbud. People will think these are great until they have heard proper headphones. At over £120, you could get some seriously high quality top performing headphones that is used by professionals in the studio. (Yes including Dr Dre himself)
The Noontec Zoro, which is styled similar to these headphones is a significantly better headphone, with better clarity, balance, soundstage. Build quality is superior too. What's more, the Zoro cost less than £50, making these "SOLO HD" a ridiculously over-priced and under-performing. At half of its price, you could get the Denon D1100, an audiophile grade phone which is leagues better in every aspect, except the amount of plastic used and shininess. At the same price, you are looking at some of the most used studio headphones in the world such as the Beyerdynamic DT770, Audio Technica M50, Shure SRH840, AKG K550 etc etc.
There is a reason that Beats headphone are very poorly regarded in the professional and audiophile world - they fail that what they should deliver - sound quality. If you want a shiny plastic headband or necklace, doesn't mind being ripped off, and have never heard a true high quality headphone, then go and buy these... However, if you at all care about the sound quality, run away from Beats as far and fast as you can!
Their clever marketing, endorsements with the combination of misinformed consumers have made these a success that is not deserved.