We like our music loud and loaded with bass. At least that's what the recording industry seems to think: Popular releases from artists such as Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West reliably push the VU meters way into the red. Many consumer-level headphones are designed to reproduce that very sound.
I spent a few weeks taking note of the headphones I see the most on the street, at the gym, on the bus, or on the train here in San Francisco. The ones I spotted most often go very heavy on the bass and the overall volume, and some handle the challenge better than others.
The following headphones can turn your smartphone into a powerful jukebox for livening up your commutes and workouts, so long as you don't demand pristine audio quality.
Beats Studio ($300)
The Beats Studio model is the latest in the highly successful (and visible) line of Beats headphones. Somewhat bulkier than earlier Beats products, the Studio set features black leather pads, which I found to be comfortable as well as effective at blocking out ambient noise. The headband is shiny plastic with a rubber pad on the underside.
The cable is detachable and features the familiar volume controller and microphone. The middle button pauses the music and turns on the small microphone for voice calls. Holding down that button activates the voice-command function on your iPhone or Android device. On the outside of the left headphone is a button that allows you to mute the sound quickly.
The Beats Studio headphones are easily the loudest of all the models in this roundup. That's partly because they are chargeable and self-powered (so they don't rely completely on the small amplifier in your phone), and partly because they are tuned for high-volume playback.
They're a bit of a blunt instrument, but they're still good 'phones. Not surprisingly, they produce a punchy, bass-heavy reproduction of your music. On the hip-hop recordings I used for testing, the bass was massive and deep, but it did not sound blown-out or messy. It seemed to confine itself to a defined space in the frequency range. You'll find no shortage of headphones on the market today that allow the bass to blow out the rest of the mix, but the Beats Studio set isn't among them.
When I listened to rock such as tunes from The Strokes and Steely Dan, I noticed that the kick drums and bass guitars in the low-mid range were punchy and well defined.
The Studio headphones are less impressive in the mids and highs, as they reproduce those sounds with a decent amount of presence but fail to generate the kind of definition and clarity you hear through other headphones such as the Sennheiser Momentum set.
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