Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Solo

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When I first saw the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Solo ($199 MSRP) I thought they might be the most beautiful headphones I’d ever seen. The fit and finish is stellar; the styling superb; they fold beautifully; the cable is pure sex; they’re comfortable … the Solos are just gorgeous. At the time I thought, “These may be the headphone of the year!”

Except for one little thing …

To My Ears They Sound Wretched!
Seriously … what are Monster and Dr. Dre thinking?

The Beats by Dr. Dre Solo is a bass heavy headphone. I’ve got no problems with that, in theory. With regular speaker listening, you get a significant amount of visceral input from the low notes through your body. For example: chest and nasal cavity compression is audible; as is bone-conducted sonic impact. With headphones, you don’t get these. (You get a bit of bone conduction with full-size circumaurals --- tap on the skull bone behind the flap of your ear, it’s quite audible.) So I agree that headphones should have some artificially high bass boost beyond what’s technically correct to compensate for these visceral input losses. As an example, Jerry Harvey has a particular low-frequency profile he prefers, and I agree with his tastes. Mead Killion at Etymotic bumped up the lows in the ER4P over the more technically correct ER4S because people wanted more lows. So, yes, more bass can be a good thing. But let’s look at the Solo relative to some other headphones.

Fig 1. Shows the frequency response of five headphones with varying amounts of elevated bass.

The frequency response of the five headphones is corrected so they are all at the same level at 500Hz --- roughly the middle of the mid-range. The Sennheiser HD 800 (green) and Etymotic ER4PT (blue) are roughly neutral headphones for comparison purposes, and you can see their bass is fundamentally a flat line. Jerry Harvey's JH Audio JH16 Pro (purple) is a bass heavy headphone with what I would consider an excellent emphasized bass profile. From 500Hz to 100Hz the bass energy rises about 5dB over what would be technically considered flat, and remains elevated to below 20Hz. The Monster Turbine Pro Copper (orange) is an even heavier bass emphasis headphone. Here, I think the bass emphasis is clearly higher than what would be needed to compensate for visceral bass loss. Nonetheless, I think these are really nice sounding cans for those who want more “whump” in their tunes. I’ve got no problem with that. (Review on Coppers coming soon.)

But then we come to the Solo’s unusual measured response. Bass is generally considered to be 160Hz and below; the Solo’s response is a relatively narrow hump elevated 5dB roughly from 100Hz to 300Hz. The really meaty bass response most people want elevated is in the lowest two octaves between 20Hz and 80Hz. Here the Solo falls off dramatically to rather more normal levels. This is not a bass emphasis headphone, to my ears this is a murk emphasis headphone that sounds like being beaten to death inside a cardboard box. I experienced the coloration of the bass as extreme. I’ve heard one-note bass before, but on the Solo I had a hard time making out any particular notes at all.

The bass doesn’t appear to be the only problem in the measured data. The mid-range is a roller coaster of coloration, and the highs have all but gone missing to my ears. The Solo is roughly 10dB down relative to the other cans above 6kHz.

Come On!
Over and over I’ve heard that these cans are tuned to the satisfaction of Dr. Dre. I know he’s in the studio listening to his own music and approves the EQ that goes on the disc. Why, oh why, would he want to re-EQ the work he already did in the studio with the far from flat EQ on these cans? I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.

Here’s a quote from the Solo page on the Beats by Dre website:

“The music you listen to in your headphones should capture all the sonic details the artist wanted you to hear.”

Wait … wut? The artist produces his/her best work, and it’s a good idea to completely change it’s EQ on the Solo to give the listener what “the artist wanted you to hear”? This just doesn’t make sense.

Here’s what’s worse: Monster has done more than just about anybody to popularize headphones. The PR machine is well tuned and working very well. I can buy the Solo in my local Staples now. Normally I would love that idea. Bringing another level of headphone listening to consumers by pitching the idea that a $200 pair of headphones makes sense is a great idea … except when it’s not. It seems to me that the only thing the Solo is doing is telling folks $200 buys you a listening experience somewhere near what you can get on an airline headphone.

Argh! Why are you guys doing this? What a waste of what could have been a beautiful headphone; one that could do good things for headphone listening. I know some of the engineers over at Monster; they know how to do good work. The Coppers are good, and the Jamz are, too. Please, please, please, Dr. Dre, let the engineers make good sounding stuff to pump your music through. Monster and Dr. Dre have the opportunity to evangelize great listening experiences on headphones like nobody else. I cheer when I do hear good sound from Monster headphones because I know they will get those cans way out into the public consciousness. In this case, I am very sad because it seems to me people are not getting the experience they could for $200.

Quote from splashscreen on the Beats by Dr.Dre site:
“People aren’t hearing all the music.” – signed Dr. Dre

No, I don’t think they are.

Quote from Monster website:
“Life’s too short to listen to bad headphones.”

Indeed. I definitely do not recommended the Solo.

If you have an interest in headphones like these, check out the Skullcandy Aviators. They sound GREAT!

Here's the video ... wait for it. :)

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415 840-2000