Beats Solo3 Review from an Audiophile (Beats by Dre? Beats by Apple.)

Discussion in 'iPhone Accessories' started by MICHAELSD, Dec 5, 2016.

  1. MICHAELSD, Dec 5, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2016

    MICHAELSD macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

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    NJ
    #1
    Apple is really doing it: they're taking a brand that has the dominant marketshare in the headphone marketplace despite having had subpar audio quality, and greatly improving it while adding groundbreaking features that will take the competition a year or two to catch up with. It's a bit of a genius proposition: purchase the most popular headphone brand that people buy solely for the branding and marketing despite abysmal audio quality, then rebrand it so that consumers are actually getting a quality product with innovative features. The Solo3 is a solid buy for most, even if its audio presentation isn't perfect.

    Design

    Appearance
    The matte black Solo3 I'm auditioning is classy and understated. They're stylish without screaming "Beats" in a gaudy way like they did in the past. Unfortunately though, the two glossy options do cheapen the design. The rest of the options, particularly rose gold, are tastefully done.

    Build quality
    Despite being lightweight, the Solo3 manages to feel substantial. There is no flexing, and the headband seems reasonably reinforced. The earcups do rattle, but they also swivel for a better fit so it's a fair trade-off.

    Comfort/fit
    Plush leather earpads make the Solo3 more comfortable than anticipated, while also being softer than expected making the Solo3 feel more like a cushion pressed against the ears. Very surprisingly they're the most comfortable pair of headphones I own, even more so than the huge ATH-700 with its velour pads. Perfect for glasses wearers as the earpads can be adjusted in a manner that's completely unaffected by frames. The headband is also soft and grippy enough that the Solo3 will stay in place no matter what. For the purpose of this review I can shake my head in any direction and the headband won't move, which makes it reassuring for use at the gym or for a run. They're a rare combination of being on-ear, comfortable, and fixed on the head.

    My ears can tend to get red and burn a bit after having these on for a while, but the pain is mostly felt after the fact and I'm working on adjusting the fit to prevent this. On the plus side, I can wear these longer than my other headphones with less pain.

    Isolation is excellent as well considering there is no active noise cancellation. (I dislike ANC anyway as it can muck up the sound and waste battery life.) At around 60-70% volume the outside world can be mostly blocked out, at least enough so that speech is completely inaudible.

    Bonus: even the driver (the part that emits sound) is padded better than I've ever seen, if you have extremely small ears then you're in for a treat. They really thought over the comfort design of these headphones.

    Packaging
    Premium Apple unboxing experience reminiscent of any other Apple product, with a bit more flair. The single complaint I have is that the included carrying case could be a tad more padded and premium.

    Sound

    Beats' Sound Signature
    This is where the review gets a little less glowing, though bear with me. I'm an audiophile, I've studied to a greater extent than I'd care to admit what makes for good sound. These aren't the type of headphones where a listener is going to hear every little detail in a song, but that's okay for listeners who haven't owned a better pair of headphones before; for better or worse, the mass market may not notice the flaws in the Solo3's sound.

    The sound signature is a colored Beats presentation with a massive low-end accentuation, forward mids, and a very laid-back treble. But you know what? Apple's Beats sound signature is exciting, fun, and sounds good with most modern music. Mids are nicely present, so voices and guitars will still be front-and-center alongside the bass. Some songs do sound off, and no amount of EQ is going to fix those that do. Nowhere else are you going to find such an accentuated bass with forward mids, but the faults are glaring:

    Issues
    The problem is the bass and and treble aren't accurate. Not even the bass is going to sound as it was intended to by the sound producer, and some drums have a bloated if not addictive-at-times sound that makes drum kits lose their detail. If you're going to be listening to music with mostly real instruments and no modern production, the Solo3 may not be the best option. However, the bass is mostly fine though it is accentuated and loses a bit of detail in the process. The low-end also bleeds into the mids a bit too much, which causes some details like a guitar in the background to potentially be lost.

    What needs finer tuning is the treble. Cymbals that have a fine detail on a pair of better-tuned headphones can be reduced to sounding more like a hip-hop "ticking" sound. The treble is frankly abysmal. I don't mind it being so laid-back but good treble needs to retain its detail.

    There is a positive to having such a lacking treble, and that is that there's less listening fatigue. Perhaps Beats was looking out for its customers who listen to these loudly, as the lack of higher frequencies make it possible to listen to these loudly longer.

    Bottom-line
    HEY, TIM, APPLE, DR. DRE, AND JIMMY IOVINE: THE SOLO SERIES COULD SOUND FANTASTIC IF YOU FIGURE OUT A WAY TO RETAIN THE BEATS SOUND SIGNATURE (ACCENTUATED LOW-END) WHILE STILL HAVING A DETAILED BASS AND TREBLE. KEEP THE TREBLE LOWER THAN THE OTHER FREQUENCIES, BUT ACTUALLY MAKE CYMBALS SOUND LIKE THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO.

    These aren't for analytical listening, but for enjoyment they work well with most songs and genres. While most songs aren't going to sound exactly as they were intended, I'd recommend auditioning these yourself to see if it suits your personal music taste if you do listen to modern music (pop, hip-hop, EDM) alongside a mix of other genres.

    W1, baby

    Wireless Connectivity

    Works as well (better in my book since there's no cable noise... or wire) as using a wired headphone with an iPhone. Pairs instantly out-of-the-box. Pressing the button on the Solo3 while it's unpaired will connect it to a modern iPhone/iPad seamlessly within two seconds. 2012 Retina MacBook Pro is a bit more hit-and-miss as it can tend not to show up as an immediately connectable option, though I'll look into that. Rock-solid connection though. I can move to another room and experience no cutting out. I was also able to watch an episode of Halt and Catch Fire with no lag and perfectly in-sync audio.

    Side note: The Solo3 are excellent for watching movies/TV; the soundstage is precise, and not too wide or closed-in, so it provides a great surround experience that brings background details to the surface as well or better than my open-back Audio Technica ATH-700. Meanwhile the accentuated bass brings a subwoofer-like excitement to movies while voices are crystal-clear.

    Wireless Quality
    Apple worked some DAC magic into the Solo3 as they sound as good or better than they do using a wired connection. Oddly enough, I do find an extra bit of clarity using them with an iPhone 6s Plus than I do using them with a 2012 Retina MacBook Pro; it seems they both use AAC to transmit to the Solo3 but the iPhone's Bluetooth is 4.2 vs 4.0. However's there no need for ever using them wired:

    Battery Life
    It lasts as long as advertised. 40+ hours of battery plus ultra-quick charging.


    Conclusion

    Apple has managed to create the first practical wireless headphone on the market, lasting long enough to only need to be charged under a handful of times a month while also having best-in-class wireless functionality. All in an understated lightweight design that's portable enough to go anywhere and comfortable enough to wear for long periods. They put it under the Beats branding, which means a fun sound that lacks clarity particularly in the high-end. However, the Solo3 is the first very good headphone from Beats (with the first two good headphones being the Solo2 and the Studio 2.0). This gives me hope for the future of where Apple will take Beats, as they're already proving their worth and the future of the brand by releasing a headphone with groundbreaking features.

    If the Solo4 can greatly improve upon the detail of the sound quality while retaining Beats' signature fun sound, it could be an all-around winner. For now the Solo3 gets my recommendation for being a very practical daily driver wireless headphone. There aren't any other wireless headphones I'd recommend more as a daily driver, thanks mostly to the benefits of the W1 chip and portable design.



    Audiophiles:
    The sound signature of the Solo3 is unique and pleasant despite lacking clarity in the bass and treble, though it isn't isn't an unlistenable experience like the old Beats by Dre. If you find value in the features of the Solo3, these could be a fun portable pair of headphones perfect for casual listening or the gym.

    Would I have bought the Solo3 if they were wired headphones? No. But the trade-off of some clarity is worth it for what the Solo3 does bring to the table, and the fun sound isn't unpleasant. In fact, I'm growing to like it and would be completely satisfied if they figure out a way to improve clarity without losing the addictive sound signature in future iterations.

     
  2. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

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    #2
    Sound Comparison to V-MODA M-100

    I did spend some more time putting the Solo3 through its paces against the audiophile-tuned "basshead" V-MODA M-100, and the results are surprising.

    The M-100 are undoubtedly more versatile and definitely better overall but the Solo3 has even more of a fun, punchy sound. The Solo3's sound is absolutely delectable on any song by the sultry Tove Lo; the drum kit on "Habits" has a powerful kick, its presence is even more felt than on the M-100 especially at the onset of the track when it first kicks in. In fact, the Solo3 is tuned better for any type of modern production for those that want as fun of a sound as possible. Ariana Grande's music sounds much more bassy on the Beats without lacking detail as does most pop music. One particular highlight for me is just how addictive Pentatonix, an a capella group, sound with the bass tuning on the Solo3. The bass notes are so powerful that they lend an extra layer of feeling to the instrument-less tracks. Their cover of "Hallelujah" is a standout on the Solo3.

    Meanwhile, any music with finer instrumentation or detail is seriously missing having a more detailed treble and overall definition. It's clear from the first 6 seconds of the instrumental that opens Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto that the M-100 has far more grace to handle the entire album. It's the same with deeply-layered tracks like "Viva la Vida," which have to be played at louder volumes on the Solo3 to be enjoyed, while the M-100 spares very few details particularly in the live version. Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" feels like it's missing a layer of detail on the Solo3, feeling more at home on the M-100. That extends to most classic rock. Metal-heads will be happy either way though, as Metallica's "Hardwired" really kicked on the Solo3 but had better dynamics on the M-100. Same with dance music: it can really kick on the Solo3, while having better dynamics and detail on the M-100. The bass tuning on the Solo3 made some tracks like Drake's "One Dance" and Rihanna's "Work" seem a bit too unrestrained, causing them to lose some finesse in the low-end unlike the M-100 which handles both tracks with ease.

    The Solo3 has its merits for powerful sound, and at the least sounds adequate for every genre. In fact I think most bass-seeking non-audiophiles will be very pleased. Bottom line: the Solo3 has a funner sound signature but won't sound amazing for every single song or genre, for a more detailed sound that still has some bass accentuation the M-100 is the better buy.
     
  3. The Game 161 macrumors G5

    The Game 161

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    #3
    Great run down

    They do look like great option for wireless headphones. Do like how they sync through all devices. Price will put some off I'm sure. Planning on getting powerbeats to try that and go from there.
     
  4. AppleRobert macrumors 603

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2012
    #4
    I have the Vmoda m80, I tried the m100 but did not feel they have they gave me better bang for buck so I return those.

    The m80 are quiet the bargain, I have tried other headphones and they just don't deliver like those for the cost. The closest were the Sony mdr1adac/b but they were more expensive. Since they have a lightning connector option, I kept them for my iPhone 7. BUT over analog they still deliver with the dongle connection.
     
  5. Arran macrumors 68040

    Arran

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    Atlanta, USA
    #5
    Saw Solo 3 in Costco last week for $220, which is not bad since they look good. I'd be tempted if I wasn't waiting for the Airpods.

    I also see Amazon's got them down to $250 now, but Apple's still selling at $300. WTH!?
     
  6. DanielDD macrumors 6502

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Portugal
    #6
    I ordered the silver one for Christmas. I really enjoyed reading this the review. In contrast to others I've read, this one does not focus (almost) exclusively on the new wireless pairing functionalities.
    Just a quick question:
    I am by no means an audiophile. I'm more of a casual listener, but I tend to listen to a lot of Jazz, fusion Jazz, R&B. So "real instruments", as you put it, do not have the best sound on this thing.
    My current earplugs are the ones bundled with the iPhone. Do you think I am going to notice any loss in detail? Especially on the low side?
    Thanks in advance
     
  7. ipulsecases Suspended

    ipulsecases

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    #7
    i love mine , anyway . I think the sound is not as great as the one from BOSE
     
  8. The Game 161 macrumors G5

    The Game 161

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    #8
    Here in U.K they are £239 on amazon but £249 on Apple site

    Same with powerbeats3 where it's £10 cheaper on amazon
     
  9. Antgb84 macrumors 6502

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  10. heyyitssusan macrumors 65816

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    Feb 9, 2014
    #10
    When has Apple ever reduced the price or had a sale on anything?! Only when new products come out.
     
  11. MICHAELSD, Dec 11, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2016

    MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

    Joined:
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    #11
    Hi Daniel,

    Glad you enjoyed the review. I think the reason most focused on the wireless pairing is that the sound is mostly the same as the Solo2. I didn't own a Solo2 so I can't offer a valid comparison, but I'd venture to say it probably is a bit better-balanced than the Solo2.

    To answer your question, I am currently playing my favorite modern jazz track on these which is "Holding On" by Gregory Porter. The bass instrument is very well-pronounced and is perfectly detailed, the main loss of detail you'll notice is in sub-bass in songs like "One Dance" by Drake. Gregory's voice is pushed in front of the track right along with the bass, and his soulful voice comes through perfectly with a bit more oomph due to the mid-bass accentuation -- some may not like it, but it provides more of a sense of rhythm. The drums in the song provide a sweeping kick while the piano and trumpet come through cleanly and clearly. The cymbal hits are there and seem well-detailed, just less so than the rest of the instruments.

    Really the issue most will run into with the Solo 3 is that the treble is laid-back, which makes listening at lower volumes seem a bit lacking. I've found 75% (12/16) to be the optimal listening volume for power and clarity across all frequencies. I'm unsure exactly how loud that is, but it does sound quite loud to my ears so listening at that volume for long periods will cause hearing loss. I have indeed noticed pain in my ears after listening to the Solo3 at this volume for extended periods, more so the day after. I'm really curious to get an accurate decibel read because my ears do hurt again after listening at this volume, but that's more so on me for needing to listen for less hours per day.

    The Solo3 is tuned for loud listening, and the tuning is perfect for that. I think you might be disappointed listening at lower levels, but these do shine with a lot of power and clarity from 75-100% volume (100% volume is not recommended of course). Audio experts recommend getting high-quality headphones that are tuned equally across all frequencies so they don't need to be listened to loudly to be enjoyed to prevent hearing loss, and the Beats 3 are the opposite of that. But what you do get is drums that really kick and bass that will attack your senses.

    After my time listening to the Solo3 I think I can state that the best aspect about the sound is that Beats are no longer just saying marketing nonsense when they say it's tuned for emotion. You will feel the music, but that comes at the price of needing to play the Solo3 loudly for 90%, give or take a few percentage points, of the clarity you'd get from higher-end headphones

    Going from the EarPods to the Solo3, the Solo3 will feel like a whole new world. They are like a high-end pair of headphones, they're just tuned in a way that emphasizes kick/bass over clarity that begs to be listened to loudly. I have found the more I grow accustom to them and give them a fair listening experience, the more I like the sound and the more details I'm able to pick out in the mix.

    TLDR: My new consensus is 90%+- of the details are there, but with the way the Solo3 are "tuned for emotion" they need to be listened to loudly to be fully-enjoyed, which has its own set of implications.
    --- Post Merged, Dec 11, 2016 ---
    Amazon also had the Solo3 for $220 which is where I bought them from, and they still have gloss black for $220.

    They're not worth $300, but for $220 they're not the worst value. To step-up to a better wireless headphone you'd be paying $300-$400, and some may still prefer the Solo3. For example, Amazon currently has the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 on-sale for $329, which some consider the best wireless headphone but their battery life is half that of the Beats, they're not as portable, and they're not for fitness activities.

    Apple sells at MSRP, always. You can find most other Apple products cheaper elsewhere as well.
     
  12. DanielDD macrumors 6502

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    #12
    Thank you very much for such a detailed answer. You're awesome!
     
  13. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

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    #13
    It's funny because Beats advertises these for an active lifestyle and had an active collection for the Solo2 with no differences except style, yet Apple support told me they're not sweat-resistant and won't withstand runs. If that's the case, I'm gonna have to return them...
     
  14. The Game 161 macrumors G5

    The Game 161

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    #14
    if i bought these headphones i wouldn't use them for working out personally. I don' like how sweaty it gets and how it feels when sweaty on normal big headphones. it's why powerbeats3 would be my fitness earphones.

    I would likely just use them at home around the house. Not sure why these solo beats wouldn't be water resistant though when they are beats after all. why wouldn't they be water resistant when the powerbeats are?
     
  15. AppleRobert macrumors 603

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    Nov 12, 2012
    #15
    Nice thread, I will have to give the Greg Porter a go with what I own. That will take awhile, I own lots of ear/headphones. I just wait for sales or the next gen to come out then I pick up the last one to save some money. :)

    My latest are a cheap set of Philips BT ANC headphones from Walmart and I cannot believe how they sound for $39. :)
     
  16. The Game 161 macrumors G5

    The Game 161

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    #16
    Expensive Christmas but I've decided to get powerbeats3 and beats solo3 as well. No more wire crap for me
     
  17. LatinaC09 macrumors regular

    LatinaC09

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    Cleveland, Ohio
    #17
    Nice in-depth review! I got the Solo 3s about a month ago. Probably one of my favorite purchases this year! Love these things!
     
  18. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

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    #18
    Wired headphones do feel like dinosaurs now. I wish the Solo3 were more resistant to sweat as they stay on my head perfectly fine that I'd feel comfortable running/working out with them otherwise.
    --- Post Merged, Dec 14, 2016 ---
    Glad you're enjoying them!
    --- Post Merged, Dec 14, 2016 ---
    It's some great modern jazz! What are your favorite headphones?
     
  19. AppleRobert macrumors 603

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    Nov 12, 2012
    #19
    My favorite is actually the m80s, great bang for buck.

    For earbuds I really like the HTC earbuds that came packaged with the HTC10, one can buy them separate from the smartphone. Here is a listing on Amazon:

    https://www.amazon.com/HTC-Pro-Stud...F8&qid=1481734238&sr=1-6&keywords=htc+earbuds

    You said favorite, not best. :)
     
  20. betasp macrumors member

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    Jul 21, 2008
    #20
    I would love to hear you review the Plantronics Backbeat Pro. I have a pair and very much enjoy them. They do not seem to get the same press at the 'Beats' and 'Bose' models, but I feel they sound superior.
     
  21. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

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    #21
    Would love to if Plantronics provided a review sample lol. I'm impressed with the features for the price, depending on sound it's probably a better value than the Beats if branding isn't important to you. Have you pitted them against the Solo3?
    --- Post Merged, Dec 14, 2016 ---
    If you love the M-80's I'm surprised you're not a bigger fan of the M-100. Bass should be much punchier and soundstage should also be larger. There have been great deals on the M-100 that make it an even better bang for the buck lately.
     
  22. AppleRobert, Dec 24, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2016

    AppleRobert macrumors 603

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    #22
    Wrong thread. Reposted on Beats versus Airpods thread.
     
  23. thedon1 macrumors 6502

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    #23
    Beats headphones have typically had a really bad reputation when it comes to sound. It seems like these aren't horrendous and the budget Beats EP's have been getting good reviews.

    Would you say the quality of the headphones has increased since the Apple purchase?
     
  24. MICHAELSD thread starter macrumors 68040

    MICHAELSD

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    #24
    Absolutely. I'm not sure how much Apple influenced the Solo2/Studio Wireless but both were released shortly after Apple purchased Beats and both were the first Beats products to receive surprisingly positive reviews.

    I'm genuinely excited to see a brand new Solo4 and hopefully a completely redesigned Studio with Apple DNA.

    The parts of the Solo3 that I know for sure Apple designed, namely the wireless technology, is miraculous. It sounds so much better wirelessly thanks to Apple's DAC.

    The Solo3 sound crystal clear with an iPhone 7 Plus using Apple Music; they sound like a quality pair of on-ear headphones hooked up to a decent amp. I'm not sure without A/B testing if it's placebo but the 7 Plus does have a perceived better sound with the Solo3 and its W1 chip than the 6s Plus. I'd venture to say Apple worked some technology into the iPhone 7's Bluetooth so that it works better with the W1 chip.

    To be sure you're hearing the Solo3 at its best I'd recommend an iPhone 7/Plus, and listening at ~75% volume.

     
  25. Rocko99 macrumors member

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    Sep 19, 2016
    #25
    Has anyone noticed when lowering the volume via the headphone button, the sound increases ever so slightly before it's reduced? It doesn't happen while lowering the volume through the iPhone.
     

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