Beats Studio 2013 review: A better Beats

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The Good The new Beats Studio headphones are lighter, sturdier, and better-sounding than the original Studio headphones. They offer a comfortable fit and active noise cancellation, which works well but not great. The noise cancellation is powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery that offers up to 20 hours of battery life. The headphones fold up to fit in a nice carrying case (included).

The Bad Very faint hiss from noise cancellation; if the internal battery dies, the headphones don't work; fairly pricey at $300.

The Bottom Line They may not be a bargain at $300, but the new Beats Studio headphones are lighter and better-built, and sound significantly better than the original Beats Studio model.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

Ever since Beats by Dr. Dre severed its relationship with Monster, we've been waiting for the company to come out with a new version of its signature headphones, the Beats Studio, which were released in 2008 and became a cultural phenomenon. Now, five years later, we get the new, "reimagined" Studio headphones, and they're definitely a significant improvement over the original -- both in terms of design and sound.

Design and features
For starters, the new Studios are 13 percent lighter, are built more sturdily, and have more-detailed sound. They also boast softer earcups and an "ergonomic bellow to create a flexible, custom fit for every head shape." I'm not sure what "ergonomic bellow" means, but they do seem very comfortable, offering a snug fight and a fairly tight seal without feeling too tight. I was able to wear them for long stretches without a problem. However, like any over-the-ear model, they will steam up your ears in warmer environments.

The ear cushions are now softer and the headphones are more comfortable (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

While they're still made mostly of plastic, the new Studios, which come in white, black, or red, are better constructed and seem like they'll hold up better over time. Personally, I think the white model looks the best because the darker red and black models come across as more plasticky and thus, more cheap-looking. Also, the black attracts fingerprints (a small cloth for buffing the headphones is included). I don't think it was an accident that Beats sent me the white model to review.

Beats says the new Studios have no "visible" screws, which is good, because those tiny little screws on the headband of the original made a habit out of unscrewing themselves and falling out. However, when you break the headphones down -- they fold up (though not flat) to fit in a nice carrying case -- you'll notice Torx screws on the joints on each side of the headband. That joint does have some metal in it and snaps nicely into place when you unfold the headphones.

Beyond that carrying case, you get a few other extras, including both a straight cord and one that integrates an Apple-friendly remote and microphone for cell-phone calls. (The remote features may not work with non-Apple devices but the microphone will.)

The headphones fold up to fit in an included carrying case (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

On the inside, there's a new, "improved" DSP (digital signal processor) and software that Beats has dubbed the Beats Acoustic Engine for marketing purposes. These are active noise-canceling headphones and they now come equipped with two modes of "adaptive" noise cancellation. According to Beats, one mode is for music listening and offers "balanced" adaptive noise cancellation between your music and your environment, and the other mode has stronger noise cancellation for when you're disconnected and just want to shut out the world.

Instead using a standard AAA battery to power the noise cancellation circuitry, the new Studio headphones have an integrated lithium rechargeable battery that you juice up via a Micro-USB connection (a cable is included). Battery life is rated at 20 hours and there's a five-light LED "battery fuel gauge" that indicates how much charge is left. There's also an auto on/off feature for automatic shutdown once you unplug the headphones. That's a nice feature that all noise-canceling headphones should have.

What you get in the box (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

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). And while the new Studios may not be true audiophile headphones like the Sennheiser Momentum ($350 list), they don't overwhelm you with bass. I'd describe the sound as "exciting" -- lots of detail and bass energy. If anything, there's some treble push.

Compared with the Momentums, the Studios aren't as accurate, but they're still a lot of fun to listen to, and one of the better-sounding active noise-canceling models I've heard. The Momentum headphones have less emphasis on detail, so they sound more natural.

Bass-wise the Studio pair certainly delivers -- it's powerful, but the Momentums' bass sounds better-balanced. Vocals sound more natural on the Momentum headphones (the Studios lack some of the richness that makes voices sound human).

The original Studio on the left, new Studio on the right (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

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