Beats on-ear Bluetooth headphone has lot going for it, but there are better values out there, including the more expensive Studio Wireless.
Earlier this year I reviewed the Beats Solo 2 , the significantly improved successor to one of the world's most popular headphones. I liked the Solo 2 and think it's one of the better on-ear headphones that costs about $200 (£170, AU$260), although it helps if you appreciate a zippier, more "exciting" sound profile.
So why am I not quite as enamored with the Solo2 Wireless, which looks similar to its wired sibling but weighs slightly more due to some extra electronic components and rechargeable battery built into the headphone?
Well, for starters, the price. This is a $300 headphone -- UK and Australian pricing hasn't been announced yet -- which is a lot to pay for headphone, wired or wireless. When you get into that price range, your expectations tend to go up and while you may not expect greatness, you certainly expect something close to it.
The Beats Solo2 Wireless doesn't quite get there. It's very good for a Bluetooth headphone, but it doesn't reach the "excellent" level of the Apple-owned brand's bigger and more expensive brother, the Studio Wireless . ($380). The reason for that is partly because it isn't as comfortable and partly because it doesn't sound as good.
To be clear, that doesn't mean the Beats Solo 2 is a bad headphone. In fact, as I said, it's quite good in a lot of ways. But there are arguably better wireless headphones for the money, including the Studio Wireless.
I usually don't spend a lot of time comparing an on-ear headphone to an over-ear model, but I suspect a lot of people will be trying to decide between the more compact Solo 2 Wireless and the larger Studio Wireless.
That compactness has some advantages. This is a lighter headphone than the Studio Wireless and folds and stows away in a smaller carrying case. Yes, it's more travel friendly, but it also isn't as light as some competing on-ear headphones, such as the $250, £220, AU$329 Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth (the Bose is lighter by about 2.2 ounces or 62 grams).
It's also worth mentioning that because Beats Solo 2 Wireless offers a very snug fit -- the headphones do stay securely on your head, even while running -- they end up pressing down on your ears somewhat firmly.
While I found them relatively comfortable for an on-ear model, a couple of other editors in our New York offices found their fit a bit too snug (both experienced a bit of a pinching sensation). By comparison, while the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth wiggles around a bit when you shake your head vigorously, we all thought it offered a more comfortable fit.
I also liked the fit the Studio Wireless better. However, I do prefer the fit of over-ear headphones in general, so I come into the review with a slight bias.
As far as features go, like most Bluetooth headphones, you can stream audio from up to 30 feet (10m) away from Bluetooth-enabled devices and there are controls on the earcup to raise and lower volume, as well as take calls and skip tracks forward and back. As noted, a cable is included for wired playback in case you run out of juice.
This model doesn't offer the active noise cancellation included with the Studio Wireless (there's also no AptX support, though I don't think that's a big deal). In fact, Beats has truly used the Solo 2 as its foundation for this headphone and when you connect a headphone cord to it, it sounds almost identical to a wired Solo 2, which is to say, quite good. That's something the Bose can't boast. When it's in wired mode, its sound quality falls down. The sound quality of the Beats doesn't.
As for battery life, it's rated at 12 hours, which is less than what the larger Studio Wireless offers, but is still pretty decent. A set of LED lights on the earcups act as a battery life indicator and you can also see how much battery you have via an indicator on your phone or tablet.
As with all stereo Bluetooth headphones, this model has a built-in microphone for making calls, and call quality was good, though the step-up Studio Wireless has a small advantage in this department.
A good Bluetooth headphone is one that sounds like a good wired headphone and the Solo 2 Wireless succeeds in this regard, retaining many of the qualities of the wired Solo 2. But it does lose a little something in wireless mode. It's got a slightly harsher edge and isn't quite as clean or as tight in the bass.
When I wrote my review of the Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth headphone, I said we liked the Bose a little more because the Bose offered more balanced sound with more warmth in the midrange. While the Solo 2 produced more bass, instruments sounded a little more distinct on the Bose and the overall listening experience was more pleasant to our ears.
I also reiterated that the Beats Solo 2 Wireless is a strong Bluetooth headphone -- and its faster sound may suit some listeners' musical tastes better -- but we came away liking the sound of the Bose a little more. It just sounds a little more clear and open.
Of course, everybody's sound and aesthetic tastes are different, and some people will like both the look and sound of this Beats better than the Bose.
At the end of the day, my gut feeling about this headphone is that I'd rather spend the extra $80 to get the Studio Wireless, a more comfortable headphone and a notch up in terms of sound quality. Yes, this is a smaller, less bulky headphone and some people will find its compact size appealing. But at their current price points, the Wireless Studio is arguably the better deal, even thought it's more expensive.