Once Monster dipped its toes into the headphone market, there was no stopping the cable manufacturer from releasing a bevy of earphones on the unsuspecting masses. From in-ear to on-ear to over-the-ear, you shouldn't have trouble finding a pair of undeniably stylish Monster headphones to suit your needs. The latest offering is the Beats Solo by Dr Dre, an on-ear model that features ControlTalk, which is essentially fancy terminology for an inline mic and integrated controls for the iPod. This AU$279 set offers all the bass we expected from the first two Dr Dre headphones in a slick, compact package. Unfortunately, while the low-end is satisfyingly ear-shaking, it also tends to taint the overall sound space.
The Beats Solo headphones follow in the tradition of Monster's other Dr Dre-branded earphones, right down to the black and white colour options. This set looks very similar to the original model with the full-size earcups, except the overall size of everything is noticeably smaller because of the on-ear design. The earpieces, which feature the customary red lower-case b logo stamped in a fashionable brushed-chrome circle, are circular and measure just 5.6 cm across. The earpads swivel a bit in the base for a more comfortable fit and are designed to rest on the outer ear. While we found the Solo headphones quite comfortable for an hour or two, some may experience uncomfortable pressure from this design, as we did after a couple hours.
From the earcups to the headband, the Beats Solo headphones have a nice, quality feel to them. The adjustable band is metal-coated in a soft, matte plastic and features a bit of padding on the top as well as the Dr Dre logo stamped on the outside. A single, removable cable in the Beats' signature thick, red coating attaches to the left earcup via a gold-plated straight plug. Following this 127 cm to the other end brings you to an uber-reinforced gold-plated L-plug that attaches to your audio source. The cable appears to be exceptionally durable and is not at all tangle-prone, a definite plus in our book.
The Beats Solo headphones have a couple of additional features that are worth mentioning. Foremost is that they include ControlTalk, which refers to a small square module a few inches down the cable that has an integrated mic and call-answer button for use with music phones. This button also doubles as playback controls for the iPod or iPhone, with one-click playing or pausing music, two clicks skipping forward a track and three skipping back. The module also incorporates a volume-rocker, which appears to work only with the aforementioned Apple devices. Finally, the headphones fold down into a compact form for storage and transport and Monster includes a case for these purposes as well.
While the original Dr Dre Beats headphones rather underwhelmed us in the bass department, the Beats Solo set takes things in the complete opposite direction. Indeed, the low-end can be quite overwhelming, especially on first use. Although the thumpiness mellows after the earphones have "burned in" a bit, there are still several tracks that tend to suffer from muddiness, Five Deez's "Afghanistan Dan's Skating Stand" being one example. As such, if you tend to listen to a lot of beat-heavy electronica or even dance pop (such as Scissor Sisters), you will likely be disappointed with the audio reproduction here.
On the plus side, not all songs sound overly muffled. We had a fair amount of luck with alt dance (Cobra Starship, 3OH!3), clean alt punk (No Doubt), some rap (MC Solaar, 50 Cent), and folk-like music (Dan Hicks). With these tracks, the Beats Solos offered reasonably clear audio with defined low- and high-ends and a smooth midrange. And yet it's hit and miss: T.I. tends to sound muddy, for example, and Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" is lacking in crisp response. We'd expect more of a genre-friendly pair of headphones given the AU$279 price tag. The design alone may be enough of a convincer for some, however.