Time to Rethink Beats, the Solo2 is Excellent

This story originally appeared at InnerFidelity.com

A Fresh Look
With almost a quarter million views, a lot of people have experienced my opinion regarding the original Beats Solo in this video. I've been quoted in the New York Times, Huffington Post, and numerous places elsewhere expressing my distaste for their products. I now find myself with the unenviable task of reversing my opinion, at least in part, with the introduction of their new Beats by Dre Solo2—a very fine headphone indeed. Unfortunately praise doesn't seem to get the attention that negative criticism does, but I'm going to try. With the release of the Solo2, Beats deserves an open minded second look, and with this—and some subsequent reviews and opinion pieces—that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Beats by Dre Solo2 ($199.95)
It's fairly safe to say that the original Beats by Dre Solo is one of the most—if not the most—popular headphones in the world. I found its performance abysmal. This saddened me tremendously because I felt that a whole lot of people bought the Beats Solo on the basis of claims that you would be getting the music as the artist intended, but their experience would be fairly poor. This would leave a bad impression in Solo owners minds that really good sound on headphones (which is what they thought they were getting) was no big deal when, in fact, really good sound on headphone is a pretty terrific experience. Solo users just weren't getting it, and didn't know they weren't getting it. A sad state of affairs for headphone audio.

Well, I'm very pleased to report that the new Solo2 does, very much, deliver on the promise of great sound on headphones. And with it's introduction we will see many people in the general public having their first experience with very good sound on headphones. Beats has not only developed an excellent headphone at a very good price, but with it they will now likely become the most important source of terrific user experiences with headphone audio. Thank you, Beats by Dre, the new Solo2 is one of the best things to happen in the world of headphones this year...and maybe ever, in my opinion, due to the incredible market share that will be enjoyed by this model.


Physical Description
The Beats by Dre Solo is a moderately larger than average, on-ear, sealed headphone, and is available in the six colors shown above. Materials are mostly synthetic, though there are some strategically placed metal parts (headband slider, hinge detents) but there is very little of it showing in the completed product. The synthetic materials seem to be very well chosen, however: ear pad cushions apear to be a high quality protein leather; the cushions themselves are memory foam with just the right degree of softness; the gray headband pad is a soft, grippy material that seems to work very well; and cable and connectors feel substantial and durable. The only minor niggle is that the gloss black plastic of my pair, while appearing to be a quality material, picks up fingerprints instantaneously. I suspect this will be less of a problem with the lighter colors, but it's pretty obvious with the black.

The quality of construction seems very good as well. Adjustment sliders are appropriately detented, and adjust fairly easily but stay in place securely when adjusted. The headband folding mechanism holds the arms open in place firmly with little if any creaking, the detent mechanism is positive and nicely adjusted. The earpads swivel at a central point, and range of movement, though relatively small, seems very well suited to the task. Some modest creaking exists when manually moving the ear cups, but I experienced no noise when worn.

The comfort of the Beats Solo2 is quite good. The headphones are light weight and the shape fairly ergonomic. The headband does touch in a relatively small patch on the top of your head, but the light weight and the nicely firm clamping force tend to have most of the support provided at the ear pads. The ear pads are fairly large (2.65" x 3") with a good size hole in the middle (1.4" x 1.6"). The top surface of the pad is quite flat and the softness of both the protein leather and underlying memory foam are seemingly ideal as the combination was very comfortable for me.

At 53" the included cable is, what I consider, just the right length for a portable headphone. The 3.5mm plug going into the left ear capsule does insert into a small recess, so aftermarket cables will need to have a plug housing diameter of 0.23" (5.85mm) or less. The 3.5mm plug at the player end of the cable has a 90 degree angle, which does provide for a small amount of "reach" through protective cases, but I would have liked a little more. Plugs on both ends of the cable are plastic, but nicely designed and executed. The three-button Apple-compatible remote is a bit unusual, but works quite well. The central button is indeed a button, but the outer button are actuated by squeezing the remote end. I had no problems correctly identifying and actuating the buttons accurately. Cable, plugs, and three-button remote are color coordinated with the chosen headphone color. The Solo2 folds to a compact size and can be stored and transported inside the included soft-sided case.

I've broken this part out separately because I find the styling of the Beats Solo2 rather...um...humorous. Not that they look funny, they don't. In fact, they look quite handsome in an understated way. The Solo2 says to me, "Hi. I'm a headphone." No flashy bling; no celebrity pretentions; it doesn't scream to be worn as a necklace. It's just a nice, conservative headphone.

"What's so funny about that", you might ask? Well, for the last five years or so, headphone manufacturers world-wide have been attempting to play catch-up with Beats. The rallying cry has been "We've got to make cool/fashionable/celebrity-endorsed headphones to do it!" Sennheiser stepped up their game with the Momentum—a very good looking headphone; B&W's offerings are sophisticated and sexy; Sony's MDR-1R is a terrifically good looking headphone. Headphones today look much different than they did ten years ago, and it's almost entirely due to the sense of having to compete with Beats, as I see it. Beats market dominance in the past has had very little to do with sound quality—the original line-up was pretty mediocre in that department—and has had everything to do with the coolness factor. What's so funny to me is that everybody has stepping up their game with stylish headphones and striking designs, and now Beats is producing what I can only see as a fairly ordinary, though tasteful, product. Beats, it seems to me, has just juked everyone out of their sneakers again.

And then, as if pouring gas on the fire, the Beats Solo2 sounds absolutely terrific! Which we'll talk about on the next page...

Beats by Dre