Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones lineup is found on the heads and around the necks of athletes giving press conferences and pop stars in music videos, and it would easy to write them off as overpriced, celebrity-endorsed plastic. That would be a mistake, as the latest Beats Studio Wireless reminds us. At $379.95, these Bluetooth headphones are a bit overpriced, and they have some issues with distortion at maximum volumes, but at reasonable listening levels they deliver the thunder many listeners crave from their headphones, all inside a comfortable, good-looking design that just might make you feel like an NFL star or a rock god. Listeners seeking a pure, balanced sound should look elsewhere, like at the less expensive Editors’ Choice Harman Kardon BT, but bass lovers craving round, rich lows coupled with crisp highs should read on.
Visually, the Studio Wireless continue the now-famous look of the Beats brand, with red cables and the lowercase “b” logo. The headphones are offered in many color schemes, from solid black with red highlights to black matte, titanium, or solid red, blue, or white finishes. The circumaural (over-the-ear) design features plenty of cushioning so the ears or scalp never feel too much pressure.
Like Apple, Beats has become a master of packaging. Open the zip-up protective case that the Studio Wireless easily folds down into, and your nose is greeted with a new-car smell. Each cable is neatly wrapped and cuffed in cardboard that tells you its purpose, and peel-off stickers on the earcups explain the controls.
The left ear’s out panel houses the Play/Pause/Bluetooth pairing button and volume controls. The volume adjustments work in conjunction with your Bluetooth device’s volume rather than independently as many Bluetooth headphone pairs do, which makes for a more seamless control experience.
A connection port for the included USB charging cable sits on the right ear’s side panel, and which can plug directly into a computer or the included wall charger. The Studio Wireless ships with two audio cables for wired listening: one with an inline remote and one without. Plugging them in automatically kills the connection to your Bluetooth device.
However, plugging the cables in does not disable the power. In fact, you cannot listen to the headphones passively at all, which is a substantial knock on their versatility. Regardless of whether you’re streaming Bluetooth audio or listening through the cable, you are using the battery’s juice. Beats estimates the battery life as ranging anywhere from 12 to 20 hours depending on how much you stream music wirelessly or listen through the audio cable. Small LEDs on the left ear cup show how much battery life you have left.
Aside from the annoyance of having to use power in order to listen to the headphones in wired mode, the Studio Wireless is a well-designed headphone pair that comes with some excellent accessories. You even get a cleaning cloth and some Beats logo stickers.
The Studio Wireless includes also some so-so noise cancellation circuitry. It’s not bad, but it definitely creates a bit of added hiss, and it should be thought of as more of a bonus than a major feature. Unfortunately, you can’t disable it, though you can use a mode that only uses the noise cancellation and kills any streaming playback.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Studio Wireless makes its abilities apparent immediately: This is a pair that produces booming lows, and they are intense. This track begins to distort at absolute top volume, which should never happen in this price range. To be fair, they get incredibly loud compared to the bulk of the competition, and you shouldn’t be listening at those levels to begin with. At what would be top volume on most competing pairs, the Studio Wireless does not distort, and you will always have a sense of intense low frequency presence across the volume range, counterbalanced by some tweaked, sculpted high-mids that help vocals and transients stand out.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover” is not the type of track that benefits from the Beats sound signature as much as other genres might. His vocals, which need no help in the bass department, actually sound fairly crisp and clear here. They get some bass boosting for sure, but it’s not overwhelming, and the guitar strumming benefits from the sculpted high-mids. The issue on this track is the drumming, which sounds a bit overwhelming; the lows are so boosted that the drums stand at the forefront of the mix at times, sounding thunderous and far heavier than they sound through a more balanced pair of headphones. They don’t exactly do battle with the vocals for your attention, but they do sound less natural and more theatrical than anyone seeking an accurate mix will be looking for.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop’s attack is delivered with a snappy edge that helps it slice through the mix, while the sustain of these hits packs a noticeably enhanced bass-boosted punch. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate this drum loop are also quite present, but they seem to have slightly less intensity to them than the lows and low-mids that enhance the drum loop itself, and while the sub-bass frequencies are represented, the lows and low-mids rule the mix. Thankfully, the vocals and higher-register aspects don’t drift into oblivion; there’s plenty of high-mid sculpting here, as well.
Classical tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ “The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” receive an added dose of bass response that will sound exciting to some; you can hear the lower register strings and deeper bass notes with more intensity, but they never overtake the mix, and the vocals and higher-register strings still remain the focus of attention. Classical music purists, however, will cringe at the balance.
Obviously, if you’re looking for a true-to-life, less-sculpted sound signature, the Beats Studio Wireless is not the answer. This is for bass lovers who want the booming lows to be balanced by sculpted high-mids. It’s not an accurate sound, but it’s a popular one, since it ends up highlighting transients in the higher frequencies and the depth of lower register content. There are far less bass-boosted pairs out there, however, like the Panasonic RP-BTD10. If you like the idea of big bass, but wish to spend a bit less than the high-priced Studio Wireless, consider the AKG K845 BT or the Harman Kardon BT.
In this price range, we like the Parrot Zik a bit more than the overpriced-feeling Beats Studio Wireless. It sounds exciting, and it delivers clean audio along with thoughtful accessories. But ultimately, you pay a bit of a surcharge for the Dr. Dre branding and the look of the headphones themselves, which have become ubiquitous to the point of iconic in the company of athletes and music stars. If you love the look, the Beats Studio Wireless sound won’t disappoint, assuming you’re looking for big bass, but if you’re less interested in the branding, there are more affordable models that get the job done just as capably.
|Active Noise Cancellation||Yes|
|Connection||Stereo 3.5mm, Bluetooth|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc