We have been eager to get our hands on a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre Solo HD headphones for sometime now. We had passed on testing the original Solo’s, when only a short time after the announcement of the Solo HD came to pass. So what is the difference between the original Solo and Solo HD? Not that much honestly, but the tweaks that collaborators Monster and Beats by Dr. Dre did incorporate into the Solo HD do put these portable headphones in a class of its own.
Once again there is no skimping on design when it comes to the Beats by Dr. Dre line of headphones. Everything is done with a polish and finish exemplifying the brand and the people they are marketing this product too. The pair of Solo HD’s we got to test was the Solo HD (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition headphones. The packaging is the same like the big brother Studio – the box slides out and is easily opened with a fabric latch exhibiting the beauty beneath the flaps. Inside the box are some random pamphlets, a neoprene carrying case, a Monster ControlTalk cable, and a Monster Clean Cloth to keep your Solo HD’s in tip top shape. The case is not hard like the case included with the Beats by Dr. Dre – instead it’s soft and less bulky with a handle to for easy carrying. So the plus side with this case is that you can smoosh it into your over-stuffed bag since it’s not a hard case. The downside though, is that you’ll have to be careful not to put it next to something heavy or you might break your headphones.
The Solo HD’s are indeed red all over but they do have have lots of gray too. The glossy finish is supposedly scratch resistant too. They have the ‘b’ logo on both earcups and the Solo HD logo on both sides of the headband. There is also an ‘R’ and ‘L’ as well, so you are sure to wear them correctly. The earcups swivel and are padded and contour to your ears very easily. The padding rests on the outer parts of your ear, and the inner portion of the earcup has no thick padding, but just some thin cotton material which lets the music go directly into your ear canal. This is done for the best noise isolation as possible and also to prevent music from leaking out for others to hear. As a result, you can also pick up subtleties in the music that you may miss with a different type if earcup. It holds the sound in as if you’re surrounded by walls. Lastly, the tri-fold design makes the Solo HD easy to travel with. I will say that although I have no intention of breaking the Solo HD headphones, they do feel somewhat flimsy in regards to construction. The previous Solo’s did have construction problems with the headband’s arms breaking easily – whereas the Solo HD’s are flexible enough for you to twist them – but we wouldn’t advise doing that purposely.
The Solo HD are not really meant to be a smaller version of the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones, but for the price they are meant to sound damn good and they awesomely do. They don’t have as intense bass reproduction that the Studio headphones have, but they have a richer more balanced sound that many folks will enjoy. The rich bass is still there and is not lost on many songs that use it throughout their music, but it is at a much more tolerable level. The highs and lows are all exemplified and smooth sounding. In comparing the Solo HD to the comparatively priced Bose On-ear headphones they were definitely richer and didn’t let the sound escape as much as the Bose did. In addition noise isolation was also poorer on the Bose in comparison to the Solo HD. While listening to the Solo HD, we had people shouting at us but we didn’t have a clue because we couldn’t hear them and we were too enraptured in our music – and this was even without active noise cancellation. We were able to immediately tell the differences between lower and higher bitrate songs when using the Solo HD. Just like with many of the other Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, 320kbps shined, where as 192kbps sounded fine, but not great. And with weaker bitrates, you could even pick up a slight static sound. With a higher bitrate, you could hear the quality of the instruments and bass/treble/midrange reproductions without having to turn the volume up. But the best aspect of the Solo HD is that no matter what bitrate you’re listening too, everything is just balanced. The voices of Andrea Bocelli and Sarah McLachlan sounded velvety smooth, while songs from Journey and Whitesnake sound like a rock concert going on in your ears, but without the massive headache afterwards. The same can be said with instrumentals – the Sophie’s Choice theme in part has wind instruments and orchestrations that are sometimes not reproduced with the same quality from headphones to headphones, but the Solo HD’s clearly delivered.
Even though the Solo HD’s are very comfortable, we think they could have been even more so. The padding on the ears are just fine, however we would have liked a bit more padding on the top portion of the headband. After many hours of wearing it, they start to feel heavy and create a bit of pressure on the top portion of your head. Also, our hair tended to get caught in the tri-fold design – oh, the mishaps of having long luxurious hair.
A nice feature and basically the one significant difference between the original Solo’s and the Solo HD is the inclusion of the ControlTalk cable. Yes, now you can bob your head up and down the street with your Solo HD’s and answer and control your iPhone too. The ControlTalk cable features a call answer button and a built-in mic. If you’re using an iPhone or one of the recent generation iPods, than ControlTalk also lets you control music and video playback. ControlTalk lets you answer or end a call, decline an incoming call, play or pause a song or video, skip to the next or previous song or chapter, scan forward or backward through songs and video, and also control the volume. Callers sounded immensely clear in to both earcups and sadly my mother never sounded so clear and crisp as she nagged me on the phone. The headphones/ControlTalk cable isn’t the thin tangle-free cable we have become accustomed too on the DiddyBeats and HeartBeats, but this cable should have a hard time getting tangles in it as well just because of the thickness of it.
The Solo HD’s are a welcome upgrade to the previous version of the Solo. They now have a glossy finish whereas the original pair had a Matte and more easily scratchable finish. The ControlTalk cable is also a welcome addition, making it convenient to use with your iPhone, and lastly, the sound is richer and more balanced than previously before. The overall construction of the Solo HD headphones still leaves me a bit wary and nervous, but I’m hoping that it’s just in my mind and that I’m just being overprotective. The Solo HD headphones were designed for the fashion-conscious consumer who enjoys looking good while listening to music that makes them feel good. Whereas the Beats by. Dr Dre Studio headphones are geared for the serious audiophile or consumer also moonlighting as a DJ, the Solo HD works as a more subtle version of that mega-headphone. With each purchase of the Solo HD (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition headphones, $5 is donated to to the Global Fund. Currently, they are retailing for $199.95 at the Apple Store. The non-charitable version of the Solo HD is retailing for $199.95 as well.
The Good: Great sound reproduction. Rich and balanced bass/treble/midrange. You can easily hear the difference between highs and lows. Inclusion of the ControlTalk cable extends the functionality for iPhone & iPod users. Design aesthetic is top notch. Bass reproduction is not super deep and overwhelming that it drowns out the rest of the music.
The Bad: Tri-fold design is still a bit flimsy. After many hours of wearing they can start to become uncomfortable. The high price may still be a hindrance to some.
Update 2/21/2012: Check out our Beats Wireless headphones review