A full disclaimer before we get into my impressions: I was fortunate enough to get these as a gift. If you’ve read enough here or listen to the Snatch Gaming podcast, I think you’ll recognize that I am always very careful to consider the price of a game or item when evaluating it. This case will be no different, at least to the best of my ability given the circumstances.
I know two things about Beats headphones: An enormous amount of people use them constantly, but there also exists a subset of people that think they are a cheap product disguised in an attractive package (insert Apple joke here). This made me curious as to the actual quality and what my personal impression of them would be. They are insanely popular as we all know. Sure, it’s not surprising that hardcore audiophiles and headphone enthusiasts would hate them. That’s just the way it goes in every product space. Those with more knowledge of and preference toward lesser known brands tend to scoff at the “cool” choice that many normal folks make, and view that product with an extremely critical eye. It’s human nature really, but surely given Beats’ popularity there has to be some people on the cutting edge of audio tech who believe that these are the real deal. Also, with a relatively expensive MSRP, there’s got to be at least some quality components inside……….right?
First, for what it’s worth the packaging and presentation are top notch. You can really see Apple’s aesthetic influence here, with a box size that matches the price point but is also fairly economic. A simple, no fuss quick start guide is also included. All materials are high quality and serve their purpose without being wordy or bulky. Of course that’s factored into the price of anything you buy, which brings us to the price itself. The Solo 3 carries a $299 MSRP and can be had on sale for a little cheaper, usually around $260. There’s no mincing words here: these are expensive. In fact they’re expensive enough to put a lot of people off entirely, which makes their popularity and success that much more admirable from a business standpoint. But from a consumer standpoint we don’t care about all of that. The fact is that as popular as they are, Beats have significant detraction among those that really care about sound quality, so it would take some impressing for me to feel that the MSRP is justified. More on that later…..
In the box you have the aforementioned quick start guide, auxiliary and charging cables, and the unit itself that comes inside a carrying case. I thought the case was a nice touch that I wouldn’t assume to be in the box, but again, you pay for these things. I was actually a little shocked when I realized the unit would fit in what amounts to a fairly small travel pouch. The headphones can be broken down and folded on each side which effectively lets you “stack” both ear pieces inside the band that connects them. It’s a really nice design that makes the unit much easier to transport and lets you worry less about damage it might incur. The only goofy thing about it is I couldn’t get the damn things back into the case after I took them out, especially if I tried to put the cables in there too. Likely a “me problem”, but worth mentioning. Portability kind of goes out the window if you’re fussing with the case for two minutes.
The big deal with this iteration of the Beats brand is the W1 technology courtesy of Apple. This allows for a gargantuan battery life of 40 hours. Also if the headset is dying or dead, a 5 minute charge results in 3 more hours of use, a very handy feature in a pinch. My primary use for these is PC gaming, so the ease of integration with Apple products doesn’t matter to me so much, but it was still simple to tether to my computer’s Bluetooth. These are two features that most users praise these headphones for regardless of their feelings on any other aspect, and I have to largely agree from a general standpoint. If nothing else it’s a relief to know I won’t be fishing very often for a cable to charge these.
From a comfort standpoint I found the Solo 3 to be better than expected. As these are “on-ear” headphones they don’t form around your ears like the Turtle Beach 420X. Instead they rest……well, on your ears. I don’t mind the design at all, and even though they never looked very comfortable to me when seeing others wearing them, I have to say that first hand they feel good. The ear cups are cushioned nicely and the inside of the band has a nice squishy pad as well. Some people have complained that these fit tight, and while I do think they’re a little less comfortable than the 420X I would still say they’re at least acceptable. Interestingly enough, even though my noggin is on the small side I was surprised I didn’t have to expand the headband at all and went with the smallest adjustable size possible. People that are a little smaller in stature may want to take note that the smallest size might still be too big to fit comfortably.
So how do these headphones that Apple wants three Benjamins for actually sound? Well, I would first remind people that these are my initial impressions. I haven’t put the Solo 3 through its paces extensively. With that in mind I have to say that so far I’m somewhat disappointed. The first game I tried with these on was Crypt of the Necrodancer, a kind of rhythm rogue-like with a thumping electronic soundtrack. I figured with the game being so music-centric that it’d be a good first test for these headphones. Over time I’ve heard the main menu theme through my junky old speakers, my new Logitech Z323, and now the Solo 3. The difference in the first two was notable. The overall quality was simply better. Going from the Z323 speakers to the Solo 3 however, I noticed two things:
1) A more nuanced sound. I was now hearing small layers of music in the background of the track that I didn’t know were there.
2) The song sounded noticeably different. The effect was much the same as when you hear a new song in a bar or walking down the street, enjoy it, and come home to find out that it sounds a little different than what you thought you heard the first time. I didn’t care for it. It just sounded off. The version I had heard with the Z323 was mostly the same, just better. It sounded good through the Solo 3 as well, but also changed for the worse.
The other game I tried was The Binding of Isaac, a game with a pretty eerie soundtrack that picks up in momentum when warranted. I thought it’d be a different kind of test for the headphones and was hoping for a little increased atmosphere with the better sound quality. Honestly? Everything sounded pretty much the same as it always has. No worse, no better.
This is probably a good time to mention that of the 30+ reviews I’ve read and watched pertaining to this product, none of them mentioned gaming. This is important because it’s quite possible that gaming is just not within Beats’ wheelhouse. They were originally conceived by Dr. Dre of course, whose mission was to provide consumers a line of headphones that replicated the quality heard in an actual studio recording. In other words, these are for music first and foremost. As for wireless headsets designed for gaming, there are many you’ll find to be recommended in gaming circles and none of them break the $200 mark as far as I can tell, let alone approach $299. Maybe gaming really isn’t Beats’ forte, but should headphones that cost this much have any glaring weak spots?
There are a few things going on here: Did I pick the wrong games? I personally don’t think so, but I’m still looking forward to trying them with Enter the Gungeon and a few others. Sadly I don’t have a modern AAA game like Battlefield 1 which would clue me in a little more to how well these really do capture game soundtracks. I don’t know how hopeful I would be though even if I could perform such a test. The sound just seemed flat and two-dimensional in general. After being pretty impressed with the Turtle Beach 420X for my Xbox One, I had high hopes for what purports to be a premium pair of headphones. If a sub-$150 headset designed for console gamers had wowed me, it would stand to reason that the most popular headset on the market would blow me away, even (especially?) at twice the price. Unfortunately this just wasn’t the case.
I guess I have to ask myself this question: If someone told me these were a $60 pair of headphones upon trying them out, would I be shocked at the impressive sound quality? The answer is simply no. These only sound okay. That’s it. It seems that fans of hip hop and dance music tend to be pretty big advocates of Beats due to their bass-prioritizing sound. Personally I listen to more rock than anything else, and have also been known to permanently decrease the bass in my car’s radio settings. Given that, it’s probably not too surprising that I don’t love the sound on these. The question, posed in similar fashion as above, is do you want to spend over $250 on headphones you might not love?
All in all I have to say that after trying them out for myself it’s quite clear that people don’t criticize Beats just for the sake of being haters or slamming something that’s popular. There are real downsides to these headphones, and it’s quite clear that $50-100 of the price you’ll pay is solely for the sleek look and to keep up with the Joneses. Now on the other hand, their connectivity, range, and battery life crush everything else on the market. It’s not even close. I was more than satisfied with the 10+ hour charge life of the 420X, and that seems extremely reasonable for any headset. 40 hours is insane, and probably a godsend for people who use headphones consistently. That’s not me, but again it’s still nice to know that I won’t be worrying about how much battery is left in them every time I put them on. Also, once I connect them to a couple of Apple devices in the house I’ll get that much more use out of them and with little to no fuss.
To be quite honest if you need a pair of headphones dedicated to your gaming needs, I would steer very clear of the Beats Solo 3. At their price point they should be a more than satisfactory option regardless of what you’re listening to. Music, movies, podcasts, audio books, whatever, they should all sound extremely good. That isn’t the case at all with these and even for someone that loves music, it will still depend on your taste. So we basically have an expensive headset that will satisfy half of one demographic. For everyone else this is probably a $150-200 unit that you will pay a premium for due to brand recognition and hype.
As others have concluded, this is a somewhat overpriced but very good multi-purpose headset. If you straight up lack a pair of headphones for general use, these are pretty good if you have the coin. The technology in them is incredible in some aspects, and can’t be had anywhere else right now. If gaming is but one use you have for them, they work just fine. Just don’t expect more than a jack of all trades, master of none. The sound profile of Beats are clearly for a specific group of music fans. Everyone else will need to have at least a few uses for them in order to take advantage of their versatility, and you’ll still pay a little more than they’re worth. If you’re a gamer I would look elsewhere. There are many wireless headsets available that will do the job, and you will find recommendations in every price range. As for the Solo 3, only invest if you need them for gaming AND a handful of other things.