Photo created by reddit user will_evans10199

This morning, I revisited Stereophile's office sample of Beats Studio headphones ($299.95).

At one point, my naive ears loved these headphones. Well not loved.

I had always considered them dark, forcefully colored, and weighty, but I appreciated the bulky physical presence they turned the music into. Johnny Greenwood became JOHNNY GREENWOOD. But now, with nearly three years of working at Stereophile under my belt, I have a more informed ear. The Beats Studio sound distant. They sound veiled. They sound congested. They are noisy. They lack any sort of dynamic expression. Even 2Pac lacks air and relaxation. Listening to "Dear Mama", 2Pac's contemplative and appreciative words sail over a spacious beat and deep bass blasts, but all the air between his words and the synth bass is sucked out robbing the music of the space in which one can envision 2Pac delivering his emotional confession.

Or on Aphex Twin's "Flim" from Come to Daddy, the tightly swung snare that locks the piano into a forward-moving and snappy cadence is masked making the piano seem sluggish. The song is further slowed down by an overly accentuated bass synth.

But the Beats have their positive sides: the Beats sound big. The Beats are comfortable. The Beats are pretty. The Beats push thick and daunting waves of sound into your ears. Like on Prefuse 73's remix of the Books' "Pagina Dos", the Beats transform the chopped up and stereo spanning samples into a forceful and head-bobbing groove. The Beats make beats.

Recently in a reddit conversation, a user asked how the Stereophile staff felt about Beats, their proliferation, and what it means for hi-fi. Personally, I think it's great that someone with the cultural influence and stacks of cash like Dr. Dre is introducing the idea of good sound as being dope. All any interested customer then has to do is visit the words here at Stereophile or Amazon where many of the top reviews rip these cans to shreds. There's even a hilarious subreddit devoted to the ridiculousness of Beats pandemonium titled /r/audiojerk. A fitting title, no?

But what really inspired me to write this piece is all the affordable and great sounding headphones I have been listening to over the past few months that are so much cheaper than these $300 Beets. The Logitech UE 4000 on-ears offer a controlled palette of sounds with clear projection and tactile attacks. Though they lack some detail in the treble and soft to loud dynamics, they also only cost $100. One of the database managers here in our corporate overlord office just bought some Sennheiser HD 428S cans online for only $33 (MSRP $99.95)! These headphones offer neutrality, they are open to modification, and create a lovely sense of air and height. I miss mine. Or even the thin-sounding Klipsch S4s in-ears can give you detail, hyper instrument delineation, and speed for $79.99. Each of these models offer sonic compromises, but these compromises are acceptable at their given prices.

Bring on the Beats I say. Not everyone is an audiophile. Some people just want to be Lil' Wayne. And that's cool. Some people like to spend a lot of money to make themselves feel good. And that's cool too. But for those of us who want good sound for our money, there are other options and the internet helps reveal the truths. As a young listener, I sought impact, but now I want the truth.

Jeff Joseph's picture

Can't wait to see the Progresso Soup version. 

dalethorn's picture

I have some Earpods sitting next to my Sennheiser IE800's on my desk here, and they're not as far apart as you might think. (sound-wise of course)

LA mitchell's picture

I agree, if someone wants to make themselves feel good by sepnding alot of money, let 'em do it.


Having said that, it's in my human-egotistical nature to feel superior knowing that my SENNHEISER AMPERIOR headphones sound soooooo much better! devil


Ariel Bitran's picture

I want to listen to some earpods next.

evanolynuk's picture

I once was a hater of all things beats.  I realize now that regardless of the gouging, they are moving the average person's perception of audio quality in a positive direction.  For that, I'm glad.


On the other hand, I've got a set of Spiral Ear customs that cost me virtually the same as a set of beats... I mean, we're talking about two different dimensions of fidelity here, so in that respect I'm still a bit aggitated.  

Ariel Bitran's picture

thanks for enjoying


i think that's where the cost-considering audiophile runs into their issue with the Beats: sonic value for money paid compared to PLENTY of other options. I look forward to exploring those options.

dalethorn's picture

Today I got a second chance to listen to the Beats Executive at the Apple store. First time a month ago I had a bad impression, and today what the headphone was connected to sounded awful - really muffled. So I pulled the plug and inserted it into my phone and fired up a dubstep track by Xilent. Voila! Pretty darn good. The lower bass was strong but the upper bass wasn't bloated. The highs were a little crispy, but not bad. Now all they have to do is explain...

Ariel Bitran's picture

can be rewarding with certain genres. and it's nice to hear that the upper bass was not bloated... yuck.


i've heard better things about their in-ears...

Timothy Miley's picture

I am glad to read you know how bad Beats are and I think their marketing is ripping the public off!!! Your magazine is the only resource I pay for to learn about high-end and you have the responsibility to set the public straight on what is the best audio!!!

G Marchant's picture

I've had my Studio Beats for 4yrs. They sound great if you love heavy bass. As I get older my ears have changed and I don't like that sound. I want clean and hear every instrument in my cans. 

My biggest concern and problem is the headband cracked. And originally monster would not fix or replace but they offered me a sweet deal of buying some refurbished ones for $250. I replied with a laugh and said no your kidding. I just want the $3 part replaced. They said they don't have it and won't. 

So of course I waited longer. This time I called Beats not monster. They told me it is a known problem. And their was nothing they could or would do about it. I am now in process of trying to sell mine for $150. I am done with the beats. 

Ariel Bitran's picture

the headband in our office sample is also cracked...

phat jbl's picture

I am a proud Beats Studio owner for down under. I can see what you dislike about them and I do see these downsides myself. But I am also a JBL fan and make no appologies for that. I am refering to real large scale studio monitors from the golden age of the company.

Even friends and audiophile mates of mine with more refined tastes so to speak consider anything that is "fun" and "enjoyable" to listened to for long sessions are good. I use mine for the iphone 5 where I go for long walks and when I travel on planes etc. Here in  Australia these are now $369 at their lowest from what I have seen. I bought in at $400 after pushing my local retailer for a deal while buying and espensive PVR, they were $499 at the time.

Some of todays music especially when downloaded from i tunes sounds a little raspy and thin, Beats offer a certain loudness or lower lift and high frequency taper that makes these songs better. On a cd on my main multi amp, JBL sound system with Oppo front end or Yamaha CD S 2000 modern pop is sometimes very grating so the Dre cans are pressed into service.

There are some nice alternatives on the market also agree. The Marley TTR at now $250 are tops too with little less bottom spectrum boom. Audio Technica are putting some good stuff up too. 

Well written article by the way Ariel.