Beats Studio (second generation) over-ear headphones

These stylin' Beats headphones are comfortable and sound good, but are they worth $429?

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Beats by Dr. Dre Studio
  • Beats by Dr. Dre Studio
  • Beats by Dr. Dre Studio
  • Beats by Dr. Dre Studio

Pros

  • Comfortable and compact
  • Excellent detail
  • Long battery life
  • Volume range

Cons

  • iOS-only
  • Glossy finish
  • Very expensive

Bottom Line

The Studio headphones produce detailed and dynamic sound within a compact and comfortable frame. They provide effective ANC, and a battery which keeps them running for a very long time. However, the $429 price might just be too much to ask.

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The second generation of Beats Electronics’ Studio over-ear headphones (just ‘Studio’ for the purposes of this review) continue the company’s tradition of balancing sound quality and fashion. While audio is the focal point of the device, there is just as much emphasis on style, shape, size, colour scheme and fit. The end result is a pair of headphones which merge detailed and dynamic sound with a comfortable design. There are a few lingering issues, but none as significant as the huge $429 RRP.

Build and aesthetics

The Beats Studio headphones are among the most comfortable sets of headphones we have worn; we got through three-to-four hour music and movie sessions with ease. The soft, leatherette-encased foam surrounding the earcups sits pleasantly around the ears, creating a seal along the contours of the head with just enough pressure to remain still and avoid the clamping squeeze which many over-ear headphones can produce.

Inside each earcup is a thin layer of foam, which covers the drivers to keep your ears cushioned rather than rubbing against plastic. Due to the closed nature of the earcups, the headphones do generate heat over time. We noticed our ears getting warm after about 20min of use; it’s definitely not unbearable or ‘hot’, per se, but may prompt some users to take more frequent breaks.

The headband uniting the two earcups is mostly firm, but flexible enough to stretch and fit on larger heads, and the size adjustments are generous. Just above the size adjusters is a joint which allows the earcups to fold inwards when storing the headphones. The underside of the headband (the part which sits against the top of the head) has a little less padding than we would have liked, and is enclosed within a grey, rubber-esque casing.

Beats headphones are generally praised for their aesthetic design, but we thought the Studio were both a hit and miss. The headphones are reasonably compact for an over-ear design; their shape and size means they fit snugly around the head rather than appearing clunky like the Polk Buckle headphones. Put simply, they don’t look like you’re wearing a helmet.

None

On the other hand, we really disliked the glossy plastic finish on the exterior of the black unit we reviewed (also available in red and white); it makes the premium audio device look like a cheap low-end pair of headphones, particularly when coupled with the plethora of fingerprints it attracts. We would have preferred to see a matte finish applied instead.

The Studio headphones definitely require mindful handling; after all, they’re made of plastic, which by the looks and sound of it, could crack under unwanted pressure. We recommend carrying them in the pill-shaped case with which they are sold rather than tossing them in a backpack alone. As well as preserving their build, doing so will ensure the expensive headphones don’t pick up any scuffs or scratches.

In addition to the carry case, the Studio headphones ship with two auxiliary cables, one of which has an in-line controller that works with Apple’s iPhone, iPod and iPad ranges. It features three standard buttons and a microphone. Note that the large Beats branding on the left earcup is a button which mutes the sound while you hold it down without pausing the music being played.

Sound quality

The Studio headphones sit within the mid-to-high range of the retail consumer market, despite what the more premium price tag may suggest; they aren’t ideal for enthusiasts, and you wouldn’t actually use them inside a recording studio. That said, they are capable of impressive, well-rounded sound using the integrated Beats Acoustic Engine software.

High-range frequencies are crisp and appropriately-pitched, and mid-range is full. While in the past Beats has been criticised for having either far too much bass or not enough compared to other frequencies, the second generation Studio headphones have dynamic and powerful low-end performance, but not so much as to overpower the mids. Overall, there is no major bias towards any part of the spectrum, making them ideal for the day-to-day music lover who is willing to pay for the fashion as much as the sound.

Accuracy and clarity is the Studio’s real strong point. While listening to Relient K’s Must Have Done Something Right, we immediately noticed the excellent balance of vocals, keys, and bass guitar from the outset, which is maintained when the drums and guitars are introduced. Similarly, the headphones did a great job at reproducing the series of electronic beats within Andrea Roma’s Sorority Sisters, which skips across a series of frequencies; even the intentional static-like buzz at the start of the song was present. We like that the headphones are able to deliver individual sounds in a segregated manner, allowing us to distinguish between all instruments and beats. This level of detail was retained at high volumes, too.

While detail is close to perfect, we did notice that very busy songs (particularly of the metal variety) challenge the Studio headphones at high volumes (85 per cent and upwards). For example, while listening to Whitechapel and Within the Ruins, mid- to low-range sounds seemed to clash at times, rather than being delivered separately. This wasn’t an issue in more mellow songs, though.

The overall volume output of the Studio headphones is excellent. We usually found ourselves using them with our source set to around 50 per cent, although 30 per cent was suitable for quiet environments. From about 80 per cent, the headphones cancelled all external sounds during our commutes for a more immersive listening experience.

The Studio headphones use adaptive noise cancellation (ANC) which, in combination with their enclosed earcup design, effectively eliminates ambient sounds. Unfortunately, though, the ANC itself produces a soft hiss which can be heard at low volumes of about 20 per cent. We found this annoying when listening to chilled music.

Battery life

A key change implemented in the design of the new Studio headphones is the inclusion of an in-built lithium-ion battery; owners of the previous version of the device were forced to physically swap out batteries. Beats claims the Studio headphones will provide 20 hours of playback. While our tests missed that mark, we found the headphones capable of surviving a whopping 18hr 15min with our music source set to about 50 per cent volume.

Not only does the battery have plenty of grunt, but it also charges extremely quickly. Using the bundled 10W AC adapter and Micro-USB cable (which plugs into the bottom of the right earcup), the headphones will go from naught to full in 1hr 17min. This is an excellent result and makes the headphones ideal for travel. Better still, a five-light LED battery indicator (situated near the charging port) allows you to keep track of how much juice is left.

While we were initially very sceptical due to the range of criticisms Beats has attracted in the past, we found that overall, the Studio headphones are a nice set of active noise cancelling headphones that produce detailed sound. They are also very comfortable to wear. However, we can’t get over the price, which we think is too high compared to other headphones we have tested.

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