Beats by Dr. Dre Solo Review

beats by dr dre solo review

Beats by Dr. Dre Solo

“We think this set of headphones is first class...”
  • 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
MSRP $199.95
Beats by Dr. Dre Solo

Introduction

In 2008, ever-popular audio accessory giant Monster Cable announced a partnership with legendary hip-hop producer Dr. Dre aimed at delivering a new line of custom headphones designed to bring studio-quality audio to the masses. It would appear that the company’s goal to create a new breed of headphone listener has been successful, as today, the Beats by Dr. Dre brand is wildly popular and steadily putting the pressure on some of the other hip headphone makers like Skullcandy. With the Solo, we’re happy to report that Monster and Dre provide a high-quality set of headphones that sounds every bit as slick as it looks, and even offers iPod control and iPhone talking features that are oft-looked over by other headphone manufacturers. Though not without their glitches, the bottom line is as follows – the Solo’s benefits far outweigh their limitations and are a solid buy at the asking price of $199.00.

Out of the Box

The Solo headphones come attractively packaged in a high-gauge box that is as solid as the headphones themselves. Opening the bright red box like a book reveals the headphones folded and packed in a padded oval soft-case on the right side. The manual, a Monster-branded headphone cable and a micro-fiber cleaning cloth are seated on the left. There are no adapters or extension cables included with the Solo, so you’ll need to purchase them separately if you plan on using them with a home audio receiver, in a recording studio, or through an airline audio connection.

Beats by Dr. Dre Solo Our first impressions of the Solo are that they are very well-built and apparently well-conceived. The use of wide-banded, high impact plastic and metal along with solid hinges and fittings makes for a lightweight pair of cans that doesn’t feel cheap.

Features and Design

The Beats By Dr. Dre Solo headphones are available in two shades: Black and what we like to call “iPod white.” Our white pair sported light grey trim and subtle red accents along with a not-so-subtly-red Monster-branded headphone cable. These on-ear headphones feature extremely soft and breathable leather ear-pads, fully articulated earcups for flexible positioning and a lightly padded headband that, while seemingly skimpy, serves its purpose very well. The headband is also highly adjustable to accommodate a large range of head sizes.

The multipurpose headphone cable is about one meter (3.3 ft) long and connects to the left side by way of 1/8” mini-jack. The other end of the cable is a three-conductor 1/8” mini-jack that supports the cable’s built-in microphone and iPod control functions. On the microphone itself we find a single metallic “select” button along with a + and – key for volume adjustment and track advancement.

Beats by Dr. Dre Solo Performance

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.

Beats by Dr. Dre Solo 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.

Conclusion

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.

Highs:

  • 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

Lows:

  • Bass overwhelms some midrange response
  • iPod control feature not functional on older iPhones
  • Limited range of accessories

Editors' Recommendations