Beats Solo2 On-Ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Sep 7, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone5 with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Solo2 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the Marley Liberate XL, the Soundmagic HP150, the v-moda M100 and XS, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the Solo2 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Summary of sound: The Solo2 has a small upper-bass emphasis that most users will appreciate for the extra warmth, but it can also make the lower bass seem less strong by comparison, so if a user were going to boost the bass, I'd recommend a progressive control that can increase the lower bass without adding to the upper bass. Nothing to say here about the Solo2 midrange - clean, detailed, and free of colorations. The treble from ~2.2 khz and up is nearly as smooth and 'flat' as water on a plate, and only the 6-8 db emphasis around 1.5 khz adds a sense of forwardness or emphasis to voices and certain instrument fundamentals. The Beats Solo (original version) and to a lesser extent other lower-priced Beats models had an unenviable reputation in audiophile circles, as they apparently weren't designed for those markets, being more of a portable headphone than a primary listening device for home-based audio systems. Given that the Solo2 costs only $200 USD and sounds this good, audiophiles may want to take note.

    Soundstage is tricky to describe since it's dependent to a large extent on the amount and quality of treble that the headphone presents, not to mention the recording itself. I'll just say that the Solo2 can sound amazingly good in that respect, depending on where you find your ideal treble balance. One very demanding track I use in evaluating a headphone is David Chesky and Wonjung Kim's "Girl From Guatemala", and the strong treble percussion starting at 3 minutes in is delineated very well by the Solo2. Another track that's a stress test for treble is 'Time' from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and the Solo2 plays that very cleanly too. My other comments about treble, bass, and midrange detail can be found in the sample music tracks listed below.

    The Solo2 is on-ear and closed-back, but unlike a lot of on-ear headphones in the $100's to $200's range, the comfort is superb - I can literally wear it for hours of listening with no issues. Isolation is above average for closed-back headphones - at least the on-ear types. Some leakage is evident, so if using the Solo2 in a quiet office or public library etc., the volume would have to be kept to a moderate level. I wear the Solo2 at two click-stops from minimum on my average-size head, which allows a 1/4-inch smaller adjustment on each side for smaller heads. The headband adjustment goes one inch larger on each side from where I wear it, so that should accomodate most larger head sizes. The earpads are really deluxe - soft and very squishy, which should conform well to most ears. The headband has some padding, but not like the earcups. I'd suggest for anyone who doesn't like to feel headband pressure on top of their head, to pull the earcups down slightly more and let them carry more of the weight.

    The Solo2's exterior parts are mainly plastic, and being rather polished and shiny, it may show fingerprints etc. depending on the headphone color. Mine is black, and I see prints only when I look close-up. The headband internals are metal of course and there may be metal in the earcups too, but I can't tell, so that's a good indication when the quality is such that I don't know if certain parts are metal or plastic. The single-sided (left side) detachable cable has the extra conductor (Apple-type) on both ends, and I tried to substitute some generic cables with standard miniplugs, but most of them don't fit into the earcup since the sleeves behind the metal plugs are too thick. I did find one generic cable with standard miniplugs that worked - a flat cable that came with a small portable speaker I think - so a substitute cable is possible in an emergency. The Solo2 is efficient enough to be used with any music player or system that I know of, but a good headphone amp is also recommended.

    The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the Solo2 plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the Solo2 compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Beats Solo2 review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Solo2 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled very well by the Solo2.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry with the Solo2.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The Solo2 plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the Solo2.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Solo2 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Solo2 reproduces the space and detail beautifully.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Solo2 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Solo2 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent and the tambourine sound is realistic.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Solo2 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are extended and detailed, but the frequencies above 11-12 khz may not have the full upper-harmonic effect you'd get with the larger more expensive audiophile headphones.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Solo2 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the Solo2 plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The Solo2 plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the Solo2. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The Solo2 provides excellent detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the Solo2 does those extremely well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Solo2 plays this quite well - you can almost hear/feel the individual 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the Solo2 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but impressive with the Solo2.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Solo2 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Solo2 reproduces part of that sound effect, but the 'clop' portion is subdued.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Solo2 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a typical full-size headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the Solo2 renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The Solo2's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are very strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The Solo2 delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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