Social gaffes don’t come any bigger than walking around in public with a large hemisphere protruding from each side of one’s head. Fortunately, we live in the age of phones as a fashion statement. Indeed, whether your preference is for earbuds, in-ear phones, or old-school circumaural (on-ear) headphones, there is an extensive range of designs that both sound good and look hip.
Monster Audio’s Beats by Dr Dre line-up covers all of the above bases; the company’s Solo headphones are a lighter version of its pro-level Studio models. The Solo HD Red version cranks up the cred with a funky colour scheme and a commitment to donate a percentage of proceeds to the Global Fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.
The Solo phones fold up into a bag compact enough to carry in one hand, yet snap into a full-sized, rigid, glossy plastic padded (top and sides) headband. There’s a quality look and feel to the materials. The trademark b logo on each earpiece will let everybody know just how cool you are, too.
The phones sit comfortably on the head and the earpieces swivel for a more precise fit, applying enough pressure to the outer ear to create a good seal without making the wearer feel squashed. However, be aware that although you may be cocooned in your own personal soundspace, inevitably some sound will leak out into the surroundings to annoy bystanders.
Two chunky red cables are supplied, both terminated in gold-plated plugs. The straight plug seems intended for a socket on the phones, with the right-angled plug being used on your audio device. On one of the cables, a small module doubles as a hands-free kit for mobile phones and in-line controls for an iPod or iPhone.
Powerful bass was the immediate impression when we plugged into an iPod Nano. Compared with the standard-issue Apple earbuds, on Zahara’s Loliwe the electric bass growled more convincingly, the strummed guitar sounded more realistic and three-dimensional, and vocals were huskier. The mix sounded thicker overall, though the crisp high end emphasised the guitar strumming nicely. On Lee Ritenour’s Rio Funk off Live In LA, the pitch of the synth bass drum that kicks off proceedings was clearly audible – not so with the buds. Audience applause sounded solid, whereas the Apple earbuds made it sound like cellophane crackling. However, there was again some muddying and thickness in the midrange, with a loss of detail. Solo piano (Keith Jarrett: Wrap your troubles in dreams from Whisper Not) came across as mellow and full-bodied; still, not too much clarity was sacrificed as, in the stride piano intro, the different lines and the interplay between them were evident. Finally, male vocals (Michael Bublé: You were always on my mind, from Call me irresponsible) seemed veiled and some of the nuances shown up by the Apple earbuds were lost.
The Solos are subjectively quite efficient. They go significantly louder for a given input compared with the Apple buds, but not as loud as the Sennheiser HD202s that happened to be at hand.
Overall, on acoustic music and vocals the Solos add significant weight, though at the cost of accuracy and detail. Their driving, powerful character should be a good match for pop music.
Weight ………………………. 160 g
Cable ………………….. 1 361 mm
Jack ……………………….. 3,5 mm
In the box:
- Foldable on-ear headphones
- Cable with gold-plated plugs
- Cable with gold-plated plugs and
- ControlTalk module
- Carry bag
- User guide