Beats Wireless: too dear, we fear
It was only a matter of time before Beats brought out a pair of Bluetooth headphones. The results are pleasing to the eyes and ears, but these cans are not cheap. By Craig Wilson.
From a small catalogue at launch three years ago, there is now an expansive line-up of Beats by Dr Dre headphones, from in-ear and over-the-ear models to various pop star-endorsed ones. It was only a matter of time before the company came out with a wireless option.
The result, Beats Wireless, is a set of headphones that ticks most of the important boxes, but which won’t please everyone. For starters, there’s the price. At R3 499 they’re firmly in the premium category. They sound the part, but they’re hard to recommend considering how good a pair of headphones one can get for half the price. And they have no active noise-cancelling functionality.
Bells, whistles and Bluetooth aside, the most important thing about any pair of headphones is the sound, followed by user comfort. As one would expect, the Beats Wireless headphones sound superb, though audiophiles may find the boosted bass a little heavy handed.
Of course, sound can be tweaked using an equaliser on the playback device, but out of the box the Beats’ emphasis is definitely on the bass. There wasn’t too much bass for our taste, but many people would probably want greater neutrality in the sound.
The midrange is rich and well rounded, and highs are clean and crisp — really, the sound is so good it makes you want to replace MP3s with a lossless format like Flac just to eke out every last bit of detail.
Although the headphones get top marks for audio, they lose a few on the comfort front. The padded ear cups are very comfortable, but too small for our taste. They sit on rather than over the ears and this also means they are not good at keeping sound out or keeping it in.
The headband is where the problem lies. Moulded from high-quality plastic, there’s very little padding on the inside and they can become uncomfortable after extended use. In addition to hinges that allow the headphones to be folded up, they’re fully adjustable and come with a travel bag emblazoned with the Beats logo in red stitching.
Being Bluetooth enabled, we were concerned the audio quality might suffer — as is sometimes the case with Bluetooth audio accessories — but aside from a very occasional break in audio there was no discernible loss in quality.
Pairing the headphones with new devices is simple – long-pressing the power button put the headphones into pairing mode, the indicator light flashes blue, and the words “Beats Wireless” show up under Bluetooth devices.
The headphones are charged using a supplied micro USB cable. Charging takes about an hour and battery life is about 10 hours. Unfortunately there’s no way of telling just how much power is left at any given time. It’s possible to use the headphones while charging them, but you may need a longer micro USB cable than the one supplied to do so comfortably.
All of the key controls for the headphones are on the outside of the right-hand ear cup. The Beats logo itself serves as a play/pause button. Above it is the power/multifunction key that is used for pairing or answering phone calls. Track-back and track-forward are positioned to the left and right of the Beats logo and below the logo is a pair buttons for increasing or decreasing volume.
The buttons all have small plastic dimples so they can be operated by feel. The control panel is made from the same glossy plastic as the outside of the headband, which doesn’t only collect fingerprints but makes the controls feel less high end than the price tag would lead you to believe.
Overall, the headphones feel well made. But a little less plastic and a little more chrome or aluminium would have been welcome.
Beats is positioned as a premium brand, and with good reason. The company lives up to its promise of delivering top-notch audio in a covetable package. However, in the case of the Beats Wireless one has to wonder how much of the price tag is because of the brand name. For R500 less you can get a top of the range pair of wire-bearing over-the-ear Beats. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media