And the Beats Roll On

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Recently, I wrote a review about the Beats Studio and Beats Tour around-ear and in-ear headphones from Monster and Dr. Dre. Well, the Renaissance doc has teamed up with the sound monsters again to bring you an on-ear headphone called the Beats Solo (left). There's also a new artist in town, whose in-ear headphones might just make your HeartBeats go Gaga. Let's plug in and see how these offerings stack up. Beats Solo

The experience of opening the Beats Solo is similar to opening the larger Beats Studio. In both cases, you can tell that a lot of thought has gone into the packaging, which is encouraging. If a company puts so much thought into the box, you can only imagine what they've put on the inside. The headphones themselves look very much like the around-ear version in a miniaturized form. They have a matte finish, which looks great and isn't as prone to collecting fingerprints as the glossy Studio headphones. The headphones are lightweight, but feel quite sturdy. The padded headband is made of metal, as are the joints that allow you to fold the headphones for storage. The earcups have a slight bit of give, allowing them to conform to your head for a more customized fit. The cushions are thick and comfy, and do a great job of blocking out environmental noise. As for comfort, the headphones just seemed to vanish during a lengthy listening session.

So what about sound quality? Frankly, they sound pretty darn good. Because the Beats Solo are passive headphones (no battery required) I didn't encounter the occasional bit of slightly-audible hiss that you often find in noise-canceling headphones. Yet, these phones blocked out noise practically just as well, allowing me to keep my volume dial on the low side while still enjoying all of the details in my music. The noise isolation works the other way around as well - my coworker could barely hear a thing when I had a very bass-heavy track cranked up to full volume. Most people considering these headphones are probably after something that can deliver strong bass. And boy do these deliver. At top volumes, the headphones actually vibrated with the bass, sort of like having subwoofers attached to my head. Despite this vibration, there was actually no distortion of the audio, which is an impressive bit of engineering. The headphones don't quite deliver the same sort of treble experience, but overall they have a nice frequency response with a good amount of detail, making them good for general listening, and especially well-suited to hip-hop and other similar styles of music. If you like to have your home subwoofer shake your floor and walls, then you'll love the Beats Solo.

These headphones come with a single detachable cable, instead of a pair of cables like the Studio version. However, Monster didn't skimp and they included the cable that has the integrated "ControlTalk" microphone and control button. This lets you use the headphones not only with your favorite MP3 player or CD player, but also your iPhone, Blackberry, or other smartphone to make phone calls, control playback, and adjust volume. The ControlTalk module is a pretty simple affair. It's a small dongle integrated into the cable that has 3 buttons and a hidden microphone. The center button lets you answer and end calls, play and pause music, and skip tracks. The other two buttons let you adjust playback volume. The module is easy to use, and the buttons have a softness to their click that doesn't provide too much resistance. Quality of the mic was good, with the person on the other end of my call able to hear me clearly without any problems.


The headphones fold up for easy storage

Other virtues of the cable are that it's single-sided, which keeps it out of your way and also keeps tangles to a minimum. The build-quality is second-to-none, as you'd expect from Monster. It's a nice thick cable with a rubberized coating, keeping it durable and flexible. I'm a sucker for high-quality cables in my headphones, and this is one area where Monster always excels. The standard 3.5mm plug is compatible with pretty much any device with a headphone jack. The plug is angled for strain relief, which might make it difficult to plug into very deep headphone jacks or into devices that have bulky cases on them. Most users won't find any problems - I have a hard plastic case made by InCase on my iPhone, and I didn't have any trouble getting plugged in.

The headphones come with a soft and thickly-padded carrying case that will protect your headphones from just about anything, encouraging you to bring you with them along wherever you go. I've used practically every pair of headphones Monster has to offer. For me, when looking at design, build-quality, audio-quality, noise isolation, comfort, and price, I'd put the Beats Solo at the top of the list. Whether you're looking for some stylish and comfortable general-purpose headphones, or something to rattle your skull with bass, you'll find it in the Beats Solo. They're available in both black and white versions, giving you a choice of style.

HeartBeats by Lady Gaga

Grammy award-winner Lady Gaga is known just as much for her unique sense of style as she is for her music. The same can be said for the new HeartBeats in-ear headphones, designed by Gaga herself. Available in black, silver, and red versions, these headphones let you glam up your listening, so you can make a fashion statement from head to toe.

Reviewing this new set of headphones was interesting to say the least. The design is reminiscent of a small piece of the globe from EPCOT Center, and made one co-worker stop in his tracks when he walked by my desk and saw them in my ears. Overall, this isn't a bad thing. If you're the kind of person who loves attention, then you'll love the fashion-forward look that the HeartBeats offer. For me, the triangular shape of the housings made it a bit difficult to find a snug and comfortable fit. With that said, I'm a guy, and from what I understand these headphones were made with the ladies in mind, so you Gagas-in-training may have an easier time since women tend to have smaller ears.

The headphones come with a variety of soft silicone eartips that you can use to find the best in-ear fit. Finding a proper fit is not only important for comfort and noise isolation, it's paramount for getting the best audio quality you can out of the headphones. I encourage you to try out every pair so you get the best performance. Once I had the proper fit, I found the sound quality on the HeartBeats to be pretty similar to the Beats Tour in-ear headphones from Dr. Dre, but a little lighter on the bass.

The headphones offered plenty of midrange and treble, with good detail. While not as bass-heavy as Dre's headphones, there was still enough bass to keep most listeners happy, especially if you'll be listening to more upbeat genres. High-volume performance was excellent, with only the tiniest bit of distortion creeping in at volume levels that were much too high for comfort. At normal volume levels, I had no complaints at all.

The cable is the same lovely flat cable that you'll find on the Beats Tour. As I said in my previous review of Beats, "Think Fettuccini." The cable is soft and ultra-flexible, but feels really strong and durable. A small clip is included that lets you attach the cable to your clothes for additional management. The flat design really does help to reduce tangles, and also provides something a little different and cooler than the traditional round cable. I'd love to see this cable design work its way into more headphones on the market. The standard 3.5mm plug is compatible with pretty much any CD player, MP3 player, computer, or electronic device you run across.

For storage, the HeartBeats come with a shiny triangular case that mimics the design of the headphones themselves. The case is semi-rigid to protect the headphones, and has a mini side pouch inside for storing extra eartips. The HeartBeats are also available with the integrated ControlTalk module if you want the phone and music control capabilities. Overall, while I may not be the target audience for these headphones, they do offer a unique design that's unlike anything else on the market, with good sound quality to boot. If you've been dying to get your hands on the headphones that you've seen Lady Gaga wearing in her music videos, here's your chance.

The unique triangular HeartBeats case

Final Thoughts

Both the Beats Solo and the HeartBeats have great aspects that would make them worthy additions to your headphone collection. The Solo offers all of the great sound quality and comfort of the Beats Studio in a more compact and lightweight design, while the HeartBeats offer quality audio with hip, modern flair. Whether you're looking for rumbling bass or something to match your mood and your outfit, there's sure to be something you'll like about the Beats Solo and HeartBeats.