It's been a long time coming, but a day after Beats officially announced its sale to Apple for $3 billion, it released the successor to its on-ear Solo, one of the most popular headphones in the world. The new, improved Solo 2 carries a list price of $200 in the US and £170 in the UK, and comes in a variety of glossy colors. (Australian details aren't available yet, but the US price converts to about AU$215.)
The Solo 2 looks a lot like a mini version of Beats' revamped over-ear Studio (2013) headphone. For starters, the earpads have been redesigned with swankier materials that make the headphones slightly more comfortable and should hold up better over time. Those pads do offer a slightly tighter seal to prevent sound leakage, as well as better noise isolation form the outside world.
Like the new Studio, the Solo 2, which weighs in at 7.2 ounces (205 grams), is built more sturdily and has no visible screws. The curve of the headband has been changed to deliver a snugger, more ergonomic fit too. At times, it can feel a little too snug, and while this is relatively comfortable for an on-ear model, it's certainly not the most comfortable on-ear I've tested (I prefer the Beyerdynamic T51p and Bose OE2, which has been updated to the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear). And for the record, I found both the over-the-ear Beats Studio and Studio Wireless more comfortable.
The headphones fold up (but not quite flat) and come with a soft carrying case and a detachable cord with an inline remote and microphone for making cell phone calls. (It's worth noting that the cord color matches the headphone color, which wasn't the case for the Studio Wireless I reviewed.) This on-ear model doesn't have the active noise-cancellation of the step-up Studio and Studio Wireless models.
I personally wasn't a fan of the original Solos and thought they were overpriced and lacked clarity. As with the new Studios, Beats has tamped down the bass a little and gone with a somewhat more accurate sound profile with better detail -- that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of bass, but it isn't as hyped.
After I tested the headphones for a few days, I handed them off to Steve Guttenberg, who writes our Audiophiliac blog. Steve had a similar view on the headphones and felt the bass was better balanced with the midrange and treble than it used to be (in the original Solo). But, he said, no one would accuse the Solo 2 of being mellow.
For starters, it's very up front and in your face (we refer to this as a fast, or forward headphone). Also, you don't have to crank the volume to feel the bass, it's all there, even at hushed, late night volume levels.
Steve said the Solo 2's bass prowess was evident when listening to the the Nine Inch Nails' "Hesitation Marks" -- the visceral impact pulsing through the album was "super impressive," even compared with one of our favorite over-the ear-headphones, the Audio Technica ATH-M50x.