Beats Audio headphones tend to divide opinion like Moses parted the sea. We gave our ears a workout to review Dr Dre’s latest offering – the Beats Studio Wireless headphones – to see if they’re really worth 330 smackers.
Beats Studio Wireless headphones: Design
Beats Audio speakers were always loud, aesthetically speaking. Whereas most audio manufacturers worried about sound quality, Beats Audio pursued design and marketing to devastating effect. They’ve sold in volumes most other manufacturers can only dribble over.
Bright garish colours and the Beats Audio logo became a hit with fashion conscious music listeners and we’re partial to the bold hues, but the ‘Titanium’ gunmetal grey headphones (pictured) look sleek and less showy. More mature, perhaps. You can still go for a fairly in-your-face white, blue or red.
Spongey lining on the Studio Wireless’ headband ensures they sit comfortably on top of your head, while the ear cups press inward with enough force to keep them secure (although this depends on your noggin more than anything).
Even spongier padding around the ears helps block noise out and helps keep your ears from getting tired of wearing the Studio Wireless Headphones over a prolonged period. Comfort and style is where the Beats Studio Wireless scores highly.
Build quality is another plus. The whole unit is solid and fairly weighty, giving you confidence that the Beats Studio Wireless would survive a drop. When adjusting the headband, the cups click into place with reassuring assertiveness. The ability to fold them into a small area is another big plus.
An illuminated series of dots indicates remaining battery life, which is said to be 20 hours in wired mode (you get a 3.5mm connecting cable in the box) or 12 hours if going wireless. Ample to get you through a day of listening, then.
Setting up the Beats Studio Wireless headphones is easy as pie. Simply turn the speakers on using a button on the right speaker cup and then press the Beats Audio logo on the left. Choose to pair up in the phone or tablet’s Bluetooth device in the list and voila, job done.
Beats Studio Wireless: Sound quality
Let’s start with the good. Okay, now we can move on. The Beats Studio Wireless headphones are average and that is being generous. We appreciate the bass and mids are relatively balanced, allowing the treble to break through. But it all sounds flat and uninspiring. There’s virtually no soundstage.
Country music seems to defocus the vocals, drum and bass lacks hard-hitting lows and dance gets a bit head-ache inducing after a couple of minutes. Hip-hop tracks fare better, thanks to punchy mids, but even then it all sounds very lifeless, closed in and artificial.
Guitar music is handled best, but still way below what you would expect at this price. The Police’s Message in a Bottle, for example, is handled with confidence – although the treble feels a bit forced in places.
Sennheisers give a warm sound, while Audio Technica is great for those who like a lighter, punchier touch. Grado brings music to life. There’s something different in the sound of Beats Audio’s competitors you can cling onto. With the Beats Studio Wireless, the sound quality is just too bland to fall in love with.
If you want sheer volume and little else, there’s plenty of it. Loud is an understatement. Not that blasting our ears with mediocrity was high on our priority list.
Adaptive Noise Cancelling is designed to eliminate background noise, which it does relatively well for constant noises like the hum of a train engine, but not so well for random spikes of sound like a voice. We’re not talking Bose levels of eerie silence, but a solid effort.
Adaptive Noise Cancelling does, however, add a constant hiss. It’s most prominent when things go silent – like the pause between songs – but you can still make it out when a song is in full flow. Making things worse is the fact you are unable to turn Adaptive Noise Cancelling off, so you have to either get used to the hissing or slowly go insane.
Then there’s the built in microphone which, when paired up with Bluetooth, means every text message will be read out to you. On a Windows Phone, at least. We can cope with this aspect, as the microphone proved faultless during testing, but the annoying click noise you get when the mic kicks in is unpleasant.
Beats Studio Wireless: The competition
£330 opens up a lot of doors for alternatives to the Beats Studio Wireless. If you want wireless headphones with active noise cancellation, the Bose QuietComfort 15 are better at blocking noise out, offer better sound quality and are around £110 cheaper.
Alternatively, the aging Grado SR80i headphones are in a different league – if you don’t mind sound leakage and a cable they’re a bargain at less than £100. Or the Audio Technica ATH-M50, which also sound fantastic. Hell, our aging ATH-ES7s cans are better. Most Sennheisers are worth a look, too.
Bottom line: The Studio Wireless headphones are, sadly, mediocre when it comes to audio quality. At this price bracket it makes them extremely poor value. They aren’t the worst sounding headphones in the world, but that’s not even a statement you should have to levy at something that costs £330.
If sound quality is your primary concern, these headphones are a one star product. If, however, you want noise cancelling and wireless technology in a comfortable package, we’ll stretch to a second star.
Look elsewhere and you will end up with a far better sound. Or Sellotape a Beats Audio logo printout on your ears if you want to impress fellow Beats Audio lovers and save yourself a lot of money.