As we auditioned the Solo headphones, we paid attention to not only their audio performance, but their effectiveness as an iPod interface and iPhone talk device.
As the first notes of music poured out of the Solo, it was clear that we were dealing with a premium headphone. There’s a distinct difference between the dimensionless sound of a cheap pair of headphones vs. the richness and depth you experience from a well-made set. Thankfully, the Solo falls firmly into the latter category, offering up depth, warmth and detail rather well.
On Steely Dan’s “Cousin Dupree” from the Two Against Nature album, dueling keyboard licks vie at each other from opposite channels. As they bounce back and forth between the left and right headphones, they paint a wide soundstage into which instruments are incrementally dropped into the mix as the track progresses. As each instrument pops in, lesser-quality headphones will start to get muddy and the detail and separation amongst the players is lost. Not so with the Solo – every instrument seemed to occupy its own space while playing nicely with the others.
Listening to Marcus Miller’s Live and More album, the room’s acoustics were immediately apparent. The subtle reverberation caught by some of the stage’s ambient microphones came through with a clarity that we’ve experienced with very few headphones. Marcus adjusts his bass rig’s volume frequently, often testing the limits of the dynamic range of any pair of headphones. The Solo managed to hold together extremely well, showing no signs of stress or distortion. Kick drums were also surprisingly punchy – perhaps too punchy at times, depending on your taste in bass. It is safe to say that if you prefer big, “in-yo-face” bass though, then the Solo headphones will satisfy.
The high frequency response of the Solo was surprisingly smooth and warm as well. Most headphones deemed appropriate for use with hip-hop, techno or R&B tracks are generally big on bass and screechy treble while neglecting the midrange region in which vocals usually reside. But although he may be a hip-hop producer, Dr. Dre clearly has some good ears on him. We stressed the cans with some overtly bright big-band brass and some pretty etchy violin in an effort to force the Solo into some uncomfortable territory. In all cases, the Solo did a great job of staying true to the recording, perhaps even slightly muting extremely high frequencies – an effect we found very appealing.
Though the Solo headphones provide a vocal reproduction that rivals many other models in the same price class, there does seem to be a loss of air around the vocals that comes at the expense of the prodigious bass response. Though a minor quibble, those who really appreciate the openness of the human voice might find that the Solo units tend to take a slightly muted approach.
In terms of iPod and iPhone functionality, we were generally pleased. Our test phone calls came through the Solo with clarity and realism that you just aren’t expecting from your smartphone. The recipients of our test phone calls were not able to distinguish the difference between using the iPhone’s mic vs. the Solo’s microphone – a nice plus. However, the Solo headphones are very effective as a sound isolating device and as such, it’s hard to hear yourself speak. We’ve all been party to a conversation with someone who insisted on wearing their headphones while they spoke. It’s generally embarrassing to witness someone with no clue as to how loud they are speaking. Keep this in mind when taking your phone calls with the Solo, however, and you should be fine.
Our only real gripe with the iPhone/iPod connectivity features is that some of the remote controls are non-functional with older iPhone models released prior to the 3G range. Though annoying, it is certainly not enough to sway our opinion of the Solo headphones and more likely a limitation of Apple’s design rather than Monster’s.
The Beats by Dr. Dre Solo headphones from Monster are a pleasant addition to an otherwise overcrowded market. Bearing this in mind, their high-grade construction, quality materials and detailed, accurate sound capabilities are sure to please all manner of listeners. Though the bass may be a little heavy for some and the iPod/iPhone functions don’t work for all models, let’s be honest: We think this set of headphones is first class, indeed.
- Big, clean sound
- Extremely sensitive
- Comfortable for long-term wear
- Effective sound isolation
- Convenient built-in microphone for use with iPhone and limited Blackberry models
- Bass overwhelms some midrange response
- iPod control feature not functional on older iPhones
- Limited range of accessories