Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Solo

When I first saw the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Solo ($199 MSRP) I thought they might be the most beautiful headphones I’d ever seen. The fit and finish is stellar; the styling superb; they fold beautifully; the cable is pure sex; they’re comfortable … the Solos are just gorgeous. At the time I thought, “These may be the headphone of the year!”

Except for one little thing …

To My Ears They Sound Wretched!
Seriously … what are Monster and Dr. Dre thinking?

The Beats by Dr. Dre Solo is a bass heavy headphone. I’ve got no problems with that, in theory. With regular speaker listening, you get a significant amount of visceral input from the low notes through your body. For example: chest and nasal cavity compression is audible; as is bone-conducted sonic impact. With headphones, you don’t get these. (You get a bit of bone conduction with full-size circumaurals --- tap on the skull bone behind the flap of your ear, it’s quite audible.) So I agree that headphones should have some artificially high bass boost beyond what’s technically correct to compensate for these visceral input losses. As an example, Jerry Harvey has a particular low-frequency profile he prefers, and I agree with his tastes. Mead Killion at Etymotic bumped up the lows in the ER4P over the more technically correct ER4S because people wanted more lows. So, yes, more bass can be a good thing. But let’s look at the Solo relative to some other headphones.

Fig 1. Shows the frequency response of five headphones with varying amounts of elevated bass.

The frequency response of the five headphones is corrected so they are all at the same level at 500Hz --- roughly the middle of the mid-range. The Sennheiser HD 800 (green) and Etymotic ER4PT (blue) are roughly neutral headphones for comparison purposes, and you can see their bass is fundamentally a flat line. Jerry Harvey's JH Audio JH16 Pro (purple) is a bass heavy headphone with what I would consider an excellent emphasized bass profile. From 500Hz to 100Hz the bass energy rises about 5dB over what would be technically considered flat, and remains elevated to below 20Hz. The Monster Turbine Pro Copper (orange) is an even heavier bass emphasis headphone. Here, I think the bass emphasis is clearly higher than what would be needed to compensate for visceral bass loss. Nonetheless, I think these are really nice sounding cans for those who want more “whump” in their tunes. I’ve got no problem with that. (Review on Coppers coming soon.)

But then we come to the Solo’s unusual measured response. Bass is generally considered to be 160Hz and below; the Solo’s response is a relatively narrow hump elevated 5dB roughly from 100Hz to 300Hz. The really meaty bass response most people want elevated is in the lowest two octaves between 20Hz and 80Hz. Here the Solo falls off dramatically to rather more normal levels. This is not a bass emphasis headphone, to my ears this is a murk emphasis headphone that sounds like being beaten to death inside a cardboard box. I experienced the coloration of the bass as extreme. I’ve heard one-note bass before, but on the Solo I had a hard time making out any particular notes at all.

The bass doesn’t appear to be the only problem in the measured data. The mid-range is a roller coaster of coloration, and the highs have all but gone missing to my ears. The Solo is roughly 10dB down relative to the other cans above 6kHz.

Come On!
Over and over I’ve heard that these cans are tuned to the satisfaction of Dr. Dre. I know he’s in the studio listening to his own music and approves the EQ that goes on the disc. Why, oh why, would he want to re-EQ the work he already did in the studio with the far from flat EQ on these cans? I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.

Here’s a quote from the Solo page on the Beats by Dre website:

“The music you listen to in your headphones should capture all the sonic details the artist wanted you to hear.”

Wait … wut? The artist produces his/her best work, and it’s a good idea to completely change it’s EQ on the Solo to give the listener what “the artist wanted you to hear”? This just doesn’t make sense.

Here’s what’s worse: Monster has done more than just about anybody to popularize headphones. The PR machine is well tuned and working very well. I can buy the Solo in my local Staples now. Normally I would love that idea. Bringing another level of headphone listening to consumers by pitching the idea that a $200 pair of headphones makes sense is a great idea … except when it’s not. It seems to me that the only thing the Solo is doing is telling folks $200 buys you a listening experience somewhere near what you can get on an airline headphone.

Argh! Why are you guys doing this? What a waste of what could have been a beautiful headphone; one that could do good things for headphone listening. I know some of the engineers over at Monster; they know how to do good work. The Coppers are good, and the Jamz are, too. Please, please, please, Dr. Dre, let the engineers make good sounding stuff to pump your music through. Monster and Dr. Dre have the opportunity to evangelize great listening experiences on headphones like nobody else. I cheer when I do hear good sound from Monster headphones because I know they will get those cans way out into the public consciousness. In this case, I am very sad because it seems to me people are not getting the experience they could for $200.

Quote from splashscreen on the Beats by Dr.Dre site:
“People aren’t hearing all the music.” – signed Dr. Dre

No, I don’t think they are.

Quote from Monster website:
“Life’s too short to listen to bad headphones.”

Indeed. I definitely do not recommended the Solo.

If you have an interest in headphones like these, check out the Skullcandy Aviators. They sound GREAT!

Here's the video ... wait for it. :)

Monster Cable Products, Inc.
455 Valley Drive
Brisbane, CA 94005
415 840-2000

Gatepc's picture

I've listened briefly to these headphones and found them horrible.They have a very unbalanced sound too them that is immediately noticeable. I think that people best stay away from these headphone at this price you can get some nice solid performers. If you like bass the ATH-M50s perform well at around $110 online.

As for me I think I'll stick with my AKG 702s and Little Dot III headphone amp for a while.

Yoga Flame's picture

That was a great review. I loved the video.

aardvark sandwich's picture

This is one of the better headphone video reviews I've seen, I have to say.

murdock's picture

great video review..... I do agree, they look great. I am not as harsh on the sound quality as Tyll, but for the price I would definitely look elsewhere

LFF's picture

I agree with what you said. These are among the worst headphones I have ever heard. I think a pair of ibuds (the free ones...that come with your ipod) sound better.

murdock's picture

It seems Monster/Beats by Dre have such a bad rap in the audiophile community. I am not saying that I disagree with much of the chatter about them, but are there any items in their line that get your seal of approval?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
... I think the Turbine Copper and the Lil' Jamz are good if you like things on the bass heavy side.

And I haven't heard the SoloHD or Beats Pro yet ... damn PR people wouldn't send me a pair. :(

murdock's picture

The Pro's are their premium model...and honestly, despite the obvious bass heavy voicing, they sound fantastic. Of course, having been a bass player, I really look to hear the instrument, most specifically the plucking of an actual string as opposed to just air being pushed out at me. The Pros certainly delivered for me and are super popular around our office. The biggest problem I found with them is that they are just too uncomfortable. The ear cups are more on-ear than around (but its close, almost like they mis-measured), they apply too much pressure on your ear cartilage, and the headband, although padded, has a definite 'edge' which is uncomfortable.
If you don't plan on wearing them for 4+ hours at a time, and you get them at the right price, I would highly recommend them.

sgrossklass's picture

- dupe, please ignore -

sgrossklass's picture

Might be just me, but I have a very hard time keeping the reference (thin) graphs apart. I'd also consider finding some way of trimming the excessive frequency axis range, graphs ending mid-air aren't too "pro" looking.

No idea what's used to generate these here (Excel?); if in doubt I'd resort to trusty Gnuplot - it may not be the very definition of ease of use, but can do a lot. I could provide a sample script of mine if it's of any help.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Unfortunately, Excel log scales can only be done in powers of ten, so if I start at 10 Hz I have to have it stop at 100,000 Hz to get the above 10 kHz data.

Eventually, however, we'll have a tool like HeadRoom's that allow graph comparisons. It may take a year or so, but we'll have it eventually. That one will be a bit better laid out, and will have various interactive features like being able to zoom in on areas of data.

JIGF's picture

Most honest review ever. Not afraid to tell it like it is.

Analogue-Lunatic's picture

...which is almost the same type of reaction when I demoed a pair of Beats Solo HD. They sound just as murky as the original Beats Solo, with even less bass extension. The midrange, although a bit less recessed, is still seriously colored on those Solo HDs. And why the heck that they're asking $200 for them? Even a cheapo $30 sealed headphone sounds better than this steaming pile.

n_maher's picture
FrimanizzlE's picture

Your best review ever....!

Didnt know head-fi could be this fun....;-)


dalethorn's picture

I don't know how a seriously bass-heavy emphasis around 100-150 hz could ever be a good thing in a high fidelity general-purpose listening context. An emphasis that makes for 'warmth' like the Grado 500 seems OK for some music at least, but going beyond that to seriously bass-heavy? What are we talking about then? At that point you're blocking the lower midrange if not a lot of the sound above that too. There must be a term for something that's not hi-fi, but lo-fi doesn't work since these rather gross distortions are deliberate.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
John Grandberg's picture
Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre don't use "fancy equipment" to determine how headphones should sound. They just KNOW. "The way we hear music is almost the opposite of the way these sound companies hear music,” says Jimmy.
woody's picture

that is a funny review tyll. thanks for letting us know how you really feel ;)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
No worries, mate. Wouldn't want it any other way.
Gil G.'s picture

i almost fall of the chair at the end! the best looking headphone, and the worst sounding one (for the price, until now)

jazzfan's picture

Wow Tyll! If only the reviewers over at Stereophile would stop pandering to the manufacturers and start telling it like is, especially when a simple listen clearly reveals how bad things are.

Another great job!

Charcoalgriller's picture

You probably don't listen to bass heavy music like skrillex. Today's bass heavy music; techno, dub step, etc takes advantage of these 'phones, and the kids under 25 WILL buy them. The techno music today is HUGELY popular with the under 25 set, and these 'phones will give them what they are looking for. It is not for music that we are used to, it emphasizes oversized bass waves and highly distorted treble. The same way Bose can command thousands for their little squawk boxes marketed to yuppies, Dr. Dre is aiming at these kids. No, I'd say he knows exactly what he is doing. It's too bad for good audio, and lots of other, non-audiophiles will probably get a pair of less-than-worthy 'phones before it's over. Thanks for trying to warn people.

Coop's picture

I have a great love for bass-heavy music and I have listened to these headphones.

Even with the 'intended genre of music' these headphones are easily outperformed by... Well, pretty much anything in its' priceclass and a couple of classes below. These headphones can even make lo-fi and distorted sounds like Skrillex sound bad.

If you seriously think these make your music sound good, you probably upgraded from standard iBuds. Do yourself a favor, next time you see a decent hi-fi store, step inside and try out some AKGs, Beyerdynamics or Sennheisers. These are common brands, not hard to find exotics. Look at models roughly half the price of the Beats Solo, listen to them, if you still like the Beats better, see if an eardoctor can fix it, if you still like them better after that, you might just have weird taste :-)

But all joking aside, seriously try some other headphones and be amazed :-)

LytleSoudn's picture

I am giving a talk at the National Hearing Conservation Association meeting in New Orleans in February on the potential of insert earphones producing listening levels that are hearing hazardous. I am using what were the top six insert earphones at the time I proposed the paper back in September. I am doing measurements on KEMAR with the best fitting ear tips and with custom molded tips as well.

While I am not talking directly about earphones, I'd like to use the chart from this piece in the presentation. Full attribution will be given, but I'll omit the accompanying video.


Tyll Hertsens's picture
Sure, go right ahead. Would you email me a copy of the paper at ?
timmyw's picture

This is Gold. Nothing like pure honesty in journalism, does my heart some good. I heard this not too long ago in Australia, surprisingly not an easy thing to accomplish here. They were so bad I think they gave me cancer. I'm not just saying this. They were literally so bad my ears hurt. Be gentle with me Monster.
Thanks again Tyll :) this was very funny.

Mkubota1's picture

Same exact impressions here- when I saw them at the Apple store, I thought they looked nice along with the 'Studio' and 'Pro'. But they sounded just awful. The 'Pro' isn't that horrible sounding; but for half the money you can get something far better. Or you can get something that sounds the same for about 1/5th the price. If V-Moda or Koss (PortaPro) made their way into the Apple stores, Dr. Dre would be in big trouble.

Regarding the video: More like this please! Isn't that the way 'Cloverfield' ended? Awesome. =)

amateriat's picture

Some days ago, with a bit of time to kill in mid-Manhattan, I decided to do a snapshot-review of "portable-friendly" headphones that were on demo at a local shop. Among these 'phones were the Beats Solo. I already had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Monster from my seriously-underwhelming encounter with a pair of Beats Studios, which some people think are okay, but I regarded as quite mediocre, especially given the price.

But, the Solos...Tyll, somehow I think you were almost too generous by half. I don't think I've listened to a pair of headphones *this* bad since hanging around the High School AV lab in the early 70s. And for this much money? The fact that these things sell as well as they do explains a number of things to me, within and without the world of audio, none of it good.

Jeff Graw's picture

So why are these cans sold with a 3.5 star rating on Tyll?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I don't work there anymore.
Oohlalar's picture

I have almost completed a PhD in bass quality so I feel reasonably well-qualified to comment on what makes a great-sounding bottom end, and I am so glad to see that someone else is as outraged and disappointed by these cans as myself!

I think it's the mismatch between expectation and reality that really blew me away. Actually the model I tried weren't even aesthetically pleasing; to the touch they felt lightweight, flimsy and tacky. Anyway, until now, I could only guess as to why they sounded so bad (the only technical info on sales websites says: 'frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz'... not exactly very revealing!). Your review makes it a lot clearer now and I can see why there was such a lack of clarity and detail in these; as you point out, a boost in the lowest couple of octaves can make for a great sound if coupled with a well-balanced mid and high frequency response, but now I can see that these headphones are a million miles away from that.

I'd love to see more technical data on these cans, in particular some phase information. Anyway, thanks again for your excellent review, and I'll also keep my fingers crossed that Dre finally takes some advice from the audio experts (rather than the thousands of mugs who are paying through the nose for this grossly distorted impression of what the artist intended).