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Three alternatives to Beats Solo2 headphones

Kirk McElhearn | Aug. 18, 2015
Beats headphones have achieved a level of notoriety based on their style, but the sound they offer isn't for everyone. Often touted as headphones for urban music--rap and hip-hop--the Beats sound doesn't transfer well to all genres.

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Beats headphones have achieved a level of notoriety based on their style, but the sound they offer isn't for everyone. Often touted as headphones for urban music--rap and hip-hop--the Beats sound doesn't transfer well to all genres.

It just so happens Apple is giving new Mac buyers a free pair of Beats Solo2 headphones as part of its back to school campaign. But it's worth investing in headphones that offer better sound quality. (Maybe you can sell the Solo2 headphones and use that money for a different pair.)

I found the Beats Solo2 to be comfortable, and to offer good noise isolation, but, as for the sound...while some music sounds excellent--Bob Dylan with an acoustic guitar, for example--most music doesn't. The bass booms, overwhelming much of the music, in what sounds like an artificially equalized sound. It's as though I pushed the loudness button on my amp, then turned down the treble. Sometimes these headphones make it sound like you're in the bathroom of a club, listening to music through the walls. The bass can be so overwhelming that it drowns out much of the rest of the music.

I tried three other wired, on-ear headphones, at a similar price as the Beats Solo 2. I tested these headphones with a wide variety of music, from Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, to Miles Davis (both acoustic and electric) and Brad Mehldau's piano trio, as well as with classical music, from solo instruments to string quartets and orchestral works.

Sennheiser Urbanite

This $200 Sennheiser headphone emulates the big, bulky, Beats aesthetic. As Sennheiser says, it has "massive bass," but that bass compromises clarity. Aside from the booming bass, there's poor definition across the spectrum. When I set my iPhone's EQ to Bass Reducer, much of the music I listened to sounded tinny and distorted. This isn't a fault of the EQ; using the same setting with other headphones didn't result in poor sound.

It's the heaviest of the three headphones I tried, at 205 grams and it feels bulky on the head. There's no case, only a cloth carrying bag, but it has a removable flat cable, which is less likely to tangle, and the cable has an inline remote with control buttons and a microphone.

But the sound of this headphone was poor enough that I wouldn't recommend it, though if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, you might want to try it out.

V-Moda XS

We reviewed this $200 V-Moda headphone last year, and our reviewer loved it. I found the V-Moda XS to be light and comfortable, within limits. Like all on-ear headphones, warm weather is problematic, as your ears feel uncomfortable pretty quickly. But this tight fit also provides noise isolation. While the earcups are fairly small, they're big enough, and they cover my admittedly large ears quite well. So if you're listening to music while walking around the city, a lot of the background sounds get muffled.

 

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