For quite some time now, Beats has been one of the most highly visible brands in the world of consumer audio, and considering the company has recently been acquired by Apple, it isn’t likely that will slow down any time soon. While many are speculating about what the future holds for Beats, this pair of headphones isn’t going to answer any questions, as the release date makes it clear that these were in the works well before the acquisition.
As the name indicates, the Beats Solo 2 are a sequel of sorts to the very popular Solo headphones. As with any pair of headphones from this company, it’s expected that you’re paying a little more for branding and style (a sore point for many audiophiles) but that isn’t everything. There are two questions here: First, are they worth the asking price? Second, are they a significant improvement over the original Solo headphones?
What’s In The Box?
This has always been a style-focused brand, and that influences the box as much as it does the headphones themselves. Slide off the outer portion of the box, and the box that contains the headphones is solid red, aside from a slight bit of embossed branding on the very front. Open up the box, and the first thing you’ll see is the soft carrying case. The headphones themselves are already inside the case, and everything else is underneath: 3.5 mm audio cable, carabiner, and a packet containing the manual, warranty info, and a sticker.
Build & Design
The Beats Solo 2 headphones come in a variety of colors. For this review, we’re looking at them in blue, though black, white, silver, red, and pink are also available. The finish is very shiny, though it didn’t seem to attract nearly as many fingerprints as I initially thought it would. Still, if you want these to look their best, you might want to keep a microfiber cloth handy to keep them clean. As is usually the case with headphones from this company, these headphones feature no visible screws and use a flush hinge design.
The inside of the headband has a very nice feel, almost like leather, though it’s clearly plastic. Putting them on, the Beats Solo 2 were fairly comfortable, though the fit was snug. It wasn’t enough to be uncomfortable, though your mileage may vary. If you’re thinking about picking these up, you might want to see if you can try a pair on first. After an hour or two, the headphones felt less comfortable than they had at first, but after a five minute break I was able to resume wearing them and they felt comfortable again.
Though they don’t feel brittle, the Beats Solo 2 are far from the most flexible-feeling headphones we’ve tried. They fit snuggly inside the included soft case, but at a price of $199, we really would have liked to see a hard shell case to keep the headphones protected.
If you’re looking for Bluetooth, you’re going to need to look elsewhere in the Beats line, as the only connectivity you’ll find in the Beats Solo 2 is the 3.5 mm audio cable with built-in mic and remote. Luckily, unlike a few other brands out there, the cable uses standard 3.5 mm jacks on both ends instead of any proprietary connections, so on the off chance that the cable dies on you, you can easily replace it with another cable.
The built-in remote is of the three button variety, though how much functionality it offers depends on the device you’re using. Only the middle button works on Android devices, providing the same functionality as a one-button “clicker” style remote. If, however, you use an iOS device, all the buttons will function as expected. Call quality was fine with the built in mic, though these probably aren’t a pair of headphones you’ll want to wear for making calls around the office.
Plenty of self-styled audiophiles like to look down on the audio quality of Beats headphones, as is always the case with popular companies. For quite a while, there was some good reasoning for that, but lately the company has been making quite a few steps in the right direction, and as a result, the sound quality of the Beats Solo 2 is not to be dismissed easily.
In testing I played CDs and lossless audio files from a computer through a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 audio interface for purposes of testing fidelity. Though it would be an odd choice for such a style-focused brand to ignore mobile devices, I also streamed songs from Rdio on my Moto X to make sure that volume was adequate. It was.
One of the main things Beats headphones are known for is boomy, overpowering bass. That is not the case with the Solo 2. While bass is certainly strong and well represented, it doesn’t overpower the mids as was the case with older headphones from this company. Bass also seems to be focused lower on the frequency scale, rather than the focus on the 100–500 Hz range, which can lead to unpleasant boominess.
The mids are slightly scooped, but not nearly as much as I was expecting from my experience with older Beats headphones. Overall, the midrange is open and balanced sounding, though depending on the song, I did notice the occasional touch of harshness in the upper mids.
The highs sound slightly rolled off, though not so much as to lead to a muffled sound. Cymbals and other high end details are well represented, but it sounds like the absolute highest highs are subdued to make for a more pleasant listening experience.
Soundstage is decent — nothing felt closed in, though I was never surprised by the sound either. Overall this is a nice sounding pair of headphones that eschews absolute accuracy for a more hyped sound. The sound is somewhat “excited,” with clear emphasis on the lows and highs, though they don’t go anywhere close to as far as older Beats headphones did.
If you’re worried about angering your immediate neighbors while cranking your tunes on the Beats Solo 2, don’t be: sound leakage is almost nonexistent here. The headphones also do a good job of keeping out outside sounds, though obviously no active noise cancellation is present.
There is no doubt about it: this is a solid, good sounding pair of headphones. But in a world where solid, good sounding headphones are a dime a dozen and this particular pair costs quite a bit more than a dime, they’ve got to do more and, in a way, they do. If you’re looking for a pair of Beats headphones, you know what you want, and the Solo 2 are a good pair of Beats headphones. Still, give them a hard shell case and knock $50 off the price, and we’d be a lot happier.