Review: Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones
4.5Overall Score

Price (RRP): $399.95
Manufacturer: Apple

A couple of years ago the Beats brand of headphones switched from Monster and its Dr Dre branding to Apple. I must confess that at the time I thought Apple had bought a lemon. I and many other reviewers hated the original Beats Solo headphones, with its overblown bass and otherwise dead sound. So, now that Apple has had a chance to rework things, is it time to change my opinion? (Spoiler: Yes indeed!)

Features

The Beats Solo3 headphones are on-ear, Bluetooth connected models. In addition to the Bluetooth connection they come with a 1.36 metre cable with a standard Apple inline remote and microphone. Should the headphone’s battery run out, you can still use them wired into your device.

The review model featured a white, silver and chrome finish (it’s called “silver”), but there are lots of choices: gloss black or white, black (non-gloss), gold, rose gold, red and “ultra violet”. The finish looked excellent. The padded underside of the headband and the ear pads had a leather-look finish, and managed not to result in too much heat build-up on the ears under normal circumstances, although in warm weather things might be different.

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The headphones themselves have controls: a small power button on the right earpiece that doubles as a pairing button when held in; volume controls and a play/pause button on the left earpiece. All are easily found by touch. The play/pause key also skips forwards and backwards, and fast forwards and fast reverses in accordance with the normal button pressing and holding conventions. Five tiny lights give you a visual indication of battery charge.

A battery life of forty hours is claimed. It is charged via a micro-B USB socket. In emergencies, a five minute charge is enough to get it going for three hours. It is compatible, of course, with taking phone calls and using Siri.

Performance

So, how do they sound? With relief I can say that they sound largely as fine headphones should. The sound is reasonably balanced and detailed, and free of distortion. They haven’t abandoned their Dr Dre lineage entirely, hinting at it without delving deeply into its problems. The bass is clean and powerful and well extended into the deep, deep bass, and a little more prominent that is the norm with high fidelity headphones. I think given the target market, that’s appropriate. The treble was clearly extended, but kept under tight control. Some expected sibilant syllables were sanded off, yet cymbals were sharp and clear. On most music the result was tuneful and pleasing, rather than clinically precise. Toss in a bit of bass – I went with hip hop and electronica – and the delivery was as driving as the best of them.

The net result: headphones that suggest the street sound of the originals, without overdoing it. Which means they can be enjoyed by both normal people and reviewers.

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There’s one other improvement, at least from my point of view. Those old models crushed. They pushed so hard on my ears that I could rarely last an hour with them on before they had to come off to relieve my ears. Aside from the pain involved, the pressure inevitably distorts one’s ear canals and forces additional changes to the sound.

These headphones applied enough pressure to stay securely in place with moderate head movement, while remaining comfortable to wear for hours.

Connection security

And now, a thank you to Apple. For one reason and another, until a few months ago, I had never reviewed a set of Bluetooth earphones or headphones. The fact is, if I can have my druthers, I’d rather use wired headphones. Sure, wired headphones have their own problems – leads catch on things, leads eventually fail. But so long as the lead was in good order, you could be certain of one thing: there’d be no dropouts, no uncertain signals.

So what happens the first time I review some Bluetooth headphones? Dropouts galore. Not all the time, just when I had the player in my pants pocket and I was walking around. Okay … but what was causing it? Perhaps it was the source device (an iPod Nano is what I mostly use). They worked with a Windows computer fine, but you can’t put that in your pocket. They worked fine with the Nano from ten metres away when it was out of the pocket, sitting on a desk. When I held the Nano in my hand while walking, there were still dropouts, although fewer. My Android phone, just the same.

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I had another pair of cheaper Bluetooth earphones handy so I tried them, and they had the same issues.