Update: At this point, you might want to look at the Beats Studio Wireless 3 if you're looking for a new pair of noise-cancelling headphones from the style-avid headphones maker. But, if you have your heart set on the original Beats Studio, these are still a decent pair of headphones that while expensive, deliver a decent audio experience.
The original review continues below…
How much is a name worth? Beats, by Apple's standards at least, is a $3 billion brand.
Costing a cool $379.95 (about £224, AU$404), I ask again: how much is a name worth? It's difficult to review the Beats Studio Wireless headphones without dwelling on the price tag. But if you're ready and willing to spend, you'll find Beats makes a mean pair of cans.
Hearing Beats Studio Wireless for the first time is an amazing experience – especially if you're accustomed to lower-end headsets. Music is crisp and sharp, even listening to less-than-lossless media. Small details come through crystal clear. That said, the Beats have a tendency to cater to the lower end of the audio spectrum, leaving some of the high and mid registers' nuances somewhat muted.
Aesthetics and build quality
Simply put, these headphones are drop dead gorgeous. The headset’s narrow bridge has a sleek black finish and sports the company’s understated logo. The underlying padding is a cushiony plastic that, while not what I’m used to, conformed to my cranium comfortably.
Moving down the arms of the headphones are expandable rails; they’re functional and slim, but nowhere near being fragile. They extend 2 inches and should accommodate a variety of head sizes. Below those are the minimalistic exterior earcups. There’s a single button located on the “B” of the left cup – a Bluetooth sync switch. Pairing took a few seconds on my iPhone 4s and, once connected, never lost the signal. You can run a standard, 3.5mm auxiliary cable, too, if you’ve yet to hop on the Bluetooth wave.
The reflective black plastic makes for a beautiful sheen, and a red accent along the rim completes the package. On the inside, leather padding helps form a passive seal, while a barrier of foam separates the driver from your outer ear. The leather helped keep my head pleasantly cool during longer listening sessions. Only once or twice did I feel the need to stop due to overheating.
Here’s where things get hazy. The Beats sound darn good. The bass pleasantly thumps and rattles the ears, while high notes delightfully twill in the latest pop songs. Rap, rock, metal, J-Pop – you name it, the Studio Wireless set can handle it.
Listening to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. The bass line in The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” made me feel like a proper Londoner, while Flogging Molly’s “Devil’s Dance Floor” reminded me how repressive “the man” is. It was downright emotional, and that is about the best compliment that a reviewer can give a pair of headphones.
However – and there’s always one of those – the way I heard these songs through these headphones wasn’t how they were intended. In fact, everything you hear through a pair of Beats isn’t true to the source. Again, the bass is enhanced to the point of dulling the mids and highs.
I didn’t find it offensive, though there are many who would. Beats would be better off making a balanced pair of headphones with an equalizer inside the Beats Music app.
There’s also a bit of sound leakage that starts to escape around medium volume. It almost goes unnoticed in quieter numbers. But turn on bass-heavy music, and everyone on the bus will know what era of rap you’re into. Despite everything, though, they sound good – just not $400 good.
But before the Studio Wireless wins your praise (or derision), there are still a few more hurdles to jump. Namely, the internal battery and feature set.
It’s no secret, making long-lasting rechargeable batteries isn’t easy. Beats’s website promises a battery life of about 12 hours while using the wireless functionality and about 20 hours while connected via the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The battery mostly lives up to the claim, but comes with a small caveat that even if the headphone isn’t playing music, the battery is still getting taxed. Pause the music but forgot to turn it off? Don’t expect the headset to turn on next time you want to use it without a slightly long, 1 hour, 30 minute power nap first.
And because the battery is internal and rechargeable, when the battery begins to degrade months or years down the road, you’ll eventually be stuck with an exuberant paperweight.
Now wait, before you go commenting about how wrong this review is and that Beats are the best thing since sliced bread, I found some pretty redeeming features.
First, they’re travel friendly. They fold up into a compact size that fits nicely in almost any carry-on. And since they’re sturdy, you can trust they’ll survive the jostle and shake of your everyday commute.
Plus, there’s active noise cancellation that’s fairly effective. Having a conversation while wearing the headphones is understandably difficult, and they drown out all but the most annoying of noises while traveling.
Again, something like a mixer or pro-bono subscription to Beats Music would’ve added extra value. But in the end, a sleek design and easy-to-navigate controls won out.
The big question: Are Beats bad headphones?
The answer here is a simple one: Beats are not a bad set of cans. The Studio Wireless is a significant improvement on the original, Monster-made models. If this were a perfect world where everything is free I would gladly take these over the majority of everything else that’s out there.
Sadly, until we see a world where cats and dogs frolic in the streets and cowboys and aliens learn to get along, the Beats face a significant hurdle: their $400 price tag.
The Beats sound almost identical to the Creative Sound Blaster EVO ZxR headphones from last year, and those were over $100 less. Kudos are in order for Beats’s beautiful industrial design, but does a sleek design warrants the extravagant price? Beats are a status symbol – plain and simple.
With an overwhelming adoration for bass, the Beats Studio Wireless headphones are resonant and intense. They produce a rich, full sound and are extremely comfortable, thanks to the supple earcups. Active and passive noise cancellation work in tandem to create an almost ideal listening environment, drowning out all but the most grating of annoyances.
They’re one of the sleekest sets of headphones, too. The reflective black exterior with red accents makes a lasting impact. There aren’t many headphones that I’d wear outside the house, but the Beats exude style wherever you take them.
Getting it out of the way, the exorbitant price tag. Sure, they sound fine and look even better. But when they’re astoundingly similar in almost every way to a $250 pair of headphones released last year, well, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Sound leakage hurts the overall package. Plus, the lack of a mixer or tie-in to Beats’s surprisingly pleasing music streaming service are potential points lost. Still, the functionality of the headset is spot-on and, for some, that will be enough.
After wearing these cans around for the past three weeks, I understand why the Beats Studio Wireless headphones are so appealing. The sound quality is better than most lower-end cans and, in the right mood, the boosted bass serves a guilty pleasure.
These are some of the best looking headphones around and are both utilitarian and understated in their design. Most headphones in this price range typically offer more features or value-added content, but if you can live without all the bells and whistles, the Beats may be for you.
At $379.95, these aren’t an impulse buy and would make for a risky present. People who don’t mind a slightly less stylish exterior are better off elsewhere, as the same audio quality can be found at a much lower price point.
The Beats are an above-par headset with an incongruent price tag that should make customers understandably leery. But if you’re about style and intensity over audio purity, the Beats Wireless Studio Headphones could be a must-own travel companion.