Beats by Dr. Dre Executive headphones review: Better Beats but not Bose killers

Features
Beyond the active noise cancellation, the headphones ship with a two-pronged airline adapter and two different headphone cables (yes, the cables are detachable). One is a standard straight cord while the other has an Apple-friendly inline remote with a microphone for making cell phone calls.

You get two cable options; one has an inline remote with a microphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Some of the inline remote's features, such as volume control and skip track forward and back, won't work with Android and BlackBerry devices. But you can answer and end calls, as well as pause and play your music. As the manual says, remote functionality will "vary by device." The microphone did work well in my test calls.

Performance
In reviewing noise-canceling headphones, there are two parts to the performance section. First, there's the noise cancellation, and I'd rate the Beats as OK but not great; it's not up to the level of the Bose QC15s' noise cancellation.

The biggest issue: while the noise-canceling circuitry muffles exterior sound well, it creates a very faint but audible hiss. You won't hear it when you're playing a typical tune at a moderate volume, but it surfaces during quieter moments on tracks (or when the music's off).

With virtually all noise-cancellation headphones, you can get a sensation of pressure in your ear. This doesn't bother me, but a few of the editors in our office are very sensitive to it and hate noise-canceling headphones as a result. The sensation of pressure wasn't particularly acute with the Executives, but it was present.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As for sound quality, I thought the Beats were quite good for a noise-canceling model. They deliver plenty of good, meaty bass but don't over-accentuate it like other Beats models. In that regard, they have a slightly flatter, more balanced sound, though I wouldn't call them warm; they still have a somewhat aggressive profile, just not as aggressive as your typical Beats headphones. This may be an effort by Beats to appeal to a more "business-class" customer who listens to a wider range of music and requires a more versatile headphone.

With active noise-canceling, you do lose some clarity, and while these offer good detail, they're just not incredibly clean-sounding. The Bose QC15 earphones aren't an audiophile's dream, but they do offer a cleaner, smoother sound that I preferred. I also found them lighter and more comfortable.

Tastes vary, of course, but the long and short of it is that Beats hasn't beaten Bose. At least not in the performance department.

Conclusion
I liked the Beats Executive headphones. Overall, they're well-designed, fit comfortably, and have a sturdy feel and slick look. I also thought they sounded good for a noise-canceling model. If someone were to give them to me as a gift, I'd definitely use them.

However, if I had $300 to spend on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, I'd probably lean toward the Bose QC15s. You also have the Monster Inspiration headphones at this price point -- I like the Inspirations' sound slightly better but the Beats Executives are slightly more comfortable and fold flat -- as well as the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 headphones, which are also very good, but arguably not quite as good as the Bose QC15s.

In the end, the Beats Executive model is definitely worth a look if swanky noise-canceling headphones are what you're after. But you should ideally try them alongside a pair of Bose QuietComfort 15s before you buy them.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Beats Executive (Silver)

Part Number: 900-00047-01 Released: Oct 16, 2012
MSRP: $299.95 Low Price: $199.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct 16, 2012
  • Color gray
  • Weight 12 oz
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Additional Features Built-in microphone
    Noise canceling circuit
    Volume control
    Noise-canceling circuit
    iPhone/iPod/iPad compatible
    Foldable design
  • Type headset
  • Headphones Form Factor Ear-cup
  • Connector Type mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm