Beats Solo²: Pared down design in time for Apple deal

Beats was recently scooped up by Apple, but that isn't the only bit of news the headphone maker is announcing. Beats announced it is releasing a new headphone, the Solo², that offers better quality for a wider variety of music plus a sleeker aesthetic. But is it worth Beats' inflated price tag?

Lucas Jackson/REUTERS
Commuters walk past a Beats brand display in the subway system of New York, May 29, 2014. On the heels of news the company had been bought by Apple, the headphone maker released a new device, the Solo2.

With Dr. Dre at the helm, Beats headphones always excelled in his preferred genre. Music with heavy bass thumped, much to the delight of rap and electronic music lovers. Meanwhile, fans of more even-keeled classical, folk, and rock felt the beat often overshadowed the rest of the sound.

Now Dr. Dre and company is extending a headphone shaped olive branch to the rest of the music industry with the latest addition to its Beats line-up, the Solo². The Solo² provides more fair attention to different genres with less emphasis on bass. It also pares down the heavy aesthetic of the headphone, offering lighter and more colorful options. This headphone release comes close on the heels of the announcement that Apple is purchasing Beats by Dre, indicating the popular headphone is looking to expand its customer base beyond the bassheads who have snapped up the devices thus far.

“The Solo² headphone has a more dynamic, wider range of sound, with a clarity that will bring you closer to what the artist intended, whether you're into hip-hop, heavy metal, jazz, electronic, or country,” says Beats in a release.

Reviewers say this iteration of Beats’ Solo line of headphones lives up to the company’s hype and does make improvements on its previous sound.

“When switching from hip-hop to metal, and then on to something mellower, like bluegrass, each tune I threw at the headphones came through clearly and with a wider range of tones than existing efforts,” writes Billy Steele at Engadget. “Those looking for a truckload of bass will still get it when a playlist demands, but folks who prefer a myriad of styles in their music libraries are catered to as well.”

Beats added a couple extra features that fine-tune the headphones. The cups are coated with material that prevents overheating, the top has a sliding adjustment that keeps the headphones comfortably snug over ears without losing sound, and the cups are angled to fit to ears.

The look is also toned down from previous Beats models. Though slightly heavier than the previous Solo headphones, they are lighter and more portable (they fold up through hidden hinges) compared to many other comparable models. They also come in six different colors with headphone cables that match.

“So the question becomes, how much are you willing to pay for fashion?” writes Christina Warren at Mashable. “I for one, am not averse to paying for fashion, provided you understand that that's what you're buying going in….The Sony MDR-1R have superior sound. They're also larger, don't fold up as nicely and can't coordinate with your kicks or your dress.”

This becomes an important question, especially considering the price. At $200, the Solo² costs about the same as previous models and most other brands’ comparable models. Beats has always excelled at getting people excited around a brand and aesthetic – in 2013 the company estimates one Beats headphone was sold every five minutes – even if the sound quality isn’t necessarily superior. Pre-sale starts May 29 and the headphones go on sale June 1.

However, Beats may be getting a boost from new owner Apple, who announced Wednesday it would buy the company for $3 billion. Beats co-founder, record producer Jimmy Iovine, was clear that the motivation for the sale was to better set up the record company for changing times in the music industry, much of it brought on my technical advancements and the popularity of streaming music.

"Music is dying as we know it," says Eddy Cue, senior vice president at Apple.

"We don't know the exact model, but Apple is best company to help us with this," adds Mr. lovine.

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