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Beats Solo 2 review: Beats' next-gen on-ear headphone steps up its design and sound

Beats' successor to its bestselling on-ear headphone is a distinct improvement over the original, both in design and sound quality.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

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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.)

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Beats Solo 2

The Good

The Beats Solo 2 on-ear headphones are sturdier and better-sounding than the original Solos, with somewhat more balanced sound and strong, tight bass. They offer a relatively comfortable fit and have an inline remote and microphone for making cell phone calls. The headphones fold up to fit in a nice carrying case (included).

The Bad

Fairly pricey; some people may find they fit too snug.

The Bottom Line

These Solo 2 may not win audiophile hearts and ears, but for its intended audience -- namely, folks who are looking for a fast, exciting headphone with lots of high-quality bass -- this is an excellent on-ear headphone.

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.

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The Beats Solo 2 comes in a variety of colors. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Beats Solo 2: Hands-on with Dre's latest on-ear headphones (pictures)

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Performance

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 .

"The M50x has plenty of oomph," he reported, "but the Solo 2 makes an almost physical connection with your ears, you feel it as much as hear it." That said, the M50x's stereo imaging is more spacious and open, the Solo 2 seems cramped by comparison.

The sound of another highly rated on-ear model, the V-Moda XS , was closer to the Solo 2's. The XS' treble detail was less aggressive and sweeter -- the XS has more of an "audiophile" sound -- but the Solo 2's richer balance flattered vocalists (the XS's sound thinned the voices) and the Solo 2's low bass oomph outpaced the XS's.

Depending on your sound tastes, you may prefer one over the other (we found the V-Moda XS a little more comfortable to wear), but it's hard to declare a clear winner on the sound front.

Stepping up to the more expensive Beyerdynamic T51p you get even cleaner, more refined sound. The Beyerdynamic has the best balance of overall detail and resolution without any of the Solo 2's aggressive edge. The T51p's bass -- deep, solid and full -- is also slightly better and its low-end oomph on EDM and rock is quite impressive.

That model has a colder, metal design, but as I said, it's a bit more comfortable headphone overall and has a higher-end look and feel. (Note: It's also available as the T51i, a version geared toward Apple iOS users).

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The headphones fold up to fit in an included carrying case. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

Beats has been gradually updating its product line after severing its partnership with Monster in early 2012. It's moved away from its bloated-bass roots and staked out a more refined sound while upping the build-quality of its headphones (that said, while they seem sturdier, they're still a mostly all-plastic design).

These Solo 2 may not win audiophile hearts and ears, but for its intended audience -- namely, folks who are looking for a fast, exciting headphone with lots of high-quality bass -- this is an excellent on-ear headphone.

Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.

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Beats Solo 2

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 8
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