Beats Studio Wireless Headphones review: A pricey Bluetooth headphone with premium sound

The circular call answer/end button (with the Beats logo on it) is the middle of the left earcup and doubles as a one-button remote for music playback. Tap it once and it pauses your music. Tap it twice quickly and it advances to the next track. Three quick taps sends you back a track. Volume controls are also on the the same earcup, above and below the one-button remote.

Last but not least, there's an auto on/off feature for automatic shutdown once you unplug the headphones if you have them in corded mode. But beware of leaving them connected to your phone in Bluetooth mode and not turning them off. They will most likely run out of juice overnight.

Performance

The original Studio model led to the rise of headphones that overemphasize the bass and wasn't really true to its name ("studio" headphones are supposed to be accurate). As with the updated 2013 wired Studio model, Beats has gone to a better balanced sound profile that doesn't overwhelm you with bass.

I described the new standard Studio (2013) as "exciting," with lots of detail and bass energy. If anything, that headphone has some treble push. That hyped sound can be advantageous for mobile listening, where ambient noise can creep in and compete with your music. (Note: the headphones do leak some sound at higher volumes.)

The Studio Wireless also has some excitement to it, but it's a little more subdued of a headphone with less push to the treble, which gives it a smooth, fairly accurate sound. The bass is punchy without feeling over accentuated and the midrange (vocals, acoustical material) is forward leaning, though only slightly so.

Beats Studio Wireless Over-Ear Headphone (Matte Black 2013)
These guys measure up well against other higher-end Bluetooth headphones. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's a pleasant headphone to listen to, and one you can listen to for long periods, but it's not necessarily one that makes you hear things in your music that you haven't heard before.

Of course, for those folks who don't use so-called premium headphone on a regular basis, the experience may be quite different. But having listened to my fair share of high-end headphones, the Beats Studio Wireless isn't terribly special -- at least when compared to decent wired headphones in the $200-to-$400 price range.

But the key here is that this is a wireless Bluetooth headphone, and there isn't too much out there that sounds really good in the Bluetooth realm. For the money, I like the Harman Kardon BT, but its metal design and fit aren't for everybody. Another comparable model in this price range is the Nokia Purity Pro by Monster, which offers very good Bluetooth sound for around $350. And then there's the $250 Bose AE2w, which is arguably the most comfortable of the bunch, though a little gawky from a design perspective. (See CNET's list of top wireless headphones for the current hierarchy.)

I spent the most time comparing the Studio Wireless to the $400 Parrot Zik, which offers more high-tech features, including touch-sensitive controls, automatic pause when you take the headphones off your ears, and an app that allows you to tweak the sound profile. (Another comparable model in this price range is the Nokia Purity Pro by Monster, which also offers very good Bluetooth sound for around $350).

I like the Ziks' sound, but I thought the Beats Studio Wireless sounded a little more natural, with tighter bass (all these types of headphones risk making your music sound digitally "processed"). I also thought the lighter Beats headphone was more comfortable to wear. Though it's a relatively large headphone, it is usable at the gym and is more stable on your head than the Zik, making it better for active wear (no, it isn't sweat-proof, but it seems to handle a small amount moisture without a problem).

If you're wondering if this headphone sounds better in wired mode, the answer is no. Headphones that feature active noise canceling and Bluetooth tend to be tuned for listening under those conditions, and I thought these sounded more vibrant in Bluetooth mode.

It is worth mentioning that, just like most of the other noise-canceling headphones we've tried, the Studio Wireless' built-in electronics introduce a small amount of hiss to the sound that's barely audible in quiet rooms. Of course, you don't need noise cancellation in quiet rooms, but you can't turn the noise-canceling circuitry off and get any sound out of the headphones; it has to be engaged for them to work.

I should also add that the noise canceling isn't as effective as that in the Bose QuietComfort 15, which is better suited for airplane use. The noise canceling in the Beats offers more modest muffling (while you're listening to music). It worked well for me when I was on the noisy streets of New York, providing a little extra layer of noise cancellation on top of the passive noise cancellation that its snug over-the-ear design provides.

Conclusion

I don't know too many people who would call the Beats Wireless a bargain at $379.95. For what they are, they should probably cost less, but the market is what it is, and plenty of people seem willing to ante up the dough for Beats-branded headphones (and Bose headphones, for that matter).

On a positive note, these Beats are significantly better than the original (circa 2010) Studio and the old $279.95 Wireless on-ear. So while you're paying a premium for the brand, I think the majority of people will be very pleased with both the sound and fit of these headphones. And if I were choosing between this and the standard Studio (2013), I'd pay the extra $80 to get the wireless option. You don't lose anything on the performance front, and the convenience of cutting the cord is worth it, even if the price seems steep.

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