Beats Studio 3 Wireless (Bluetooth) Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Dec 25, 2017.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Youtube review:

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone7p/Headphone_Beats_Studio3_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Beats_Studio3_Wireless.jpg

    Sources: iPhone7+ with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the AudioQuest DragonFly Red/Lehmann Traveller DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Beats Studio3 headphone (Studio3 hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, particularly those that resemble its design (full-size closed-back Bluetooth), but also to a few premium headphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the Studio3 (i.e., my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    The Beats Studio3 does not have a high fidelity signature, however, I liked the sound well enough for most purposes using equalization (EQ), so I'm writing this review based on that EQ. People who want to know how the Studio3 sounds and performs as-is (without EQ) can find hundreds of other reviews on video channels as well as headphone forums. A most interesting aspect of headphone EQ that's rarely if ever discussed in reviews or forums is what happens (or can happen) to the soundstage when EQ'd properly. The improvement with many headphones is breathtaking, and the Studio3 is a great performer in that respect. Audiophiles may object to the notion of hi-fi sound from a Bluetooth headphone, but I'll get into that issue below.

    The Studio3's default sound (after burn-in) has a strong (~6 db) emphasis from approximately 80 hz through 330 hz - i.e., the upper bass through the low-mid midrange. There's an equally strong recess in the lower treble from about 2 khz through 5 khz, and that in combination with the bass-mid emphasis can make the sound seem distant or even a little bit muffled. The odd thing here is that the upper treble has a very significant emphasis, and my speculation is that the upper treble was made stronger to compensate for the lack of detail or sparkle in the rest of the sound. There are reviews of the Studio3 that complain about the weak lower bass, and my sample music tracks listed below will address that. I found that some of my low-bass tracks play pretty well, and others seem a bit weak, but I suspect that other factors are at play here, since the low bass is decent enough on my most reliable test tracks, and I did not EQ the low bass.

    Reading through many reviews of the Studio3, trying to find the Bluetooth specs, all I did find was information about the pairing and the range, which were good. None of the reviews said anything about what version of Bluetooth it is, so I assume it's not an advanced Bluetooth codec - AptX etc. It might be, but nobody's talking. Still, for mobile listening playing best-quality MP3 etc. tracks in active/noisy environments - the Bluetooth sound is fine. There may be exceptions to that if the sound is not EQ'd, and/or any electronic artifacts from the Bluetooth and ANC (noise canceling) codecs are audible, or if those artifacts react with the music to generate unpleasant harmonics etc. Since my EQ is partly technical and partly a matter of reducing specific irritation factors (which could be resonances or digital artifacts), I may be suppressing some digital errors in the headphone's codecs. In no case do I suppress any musical information, and that's where familiar test tracks are extremely valuable.

    Turning ANC on and off when listening, the background noise obviously changes, but very little in a non-noisy place. The sound doesn't seem to change though. I also didn't hear a significant change in sound using the cable, but that was because there's no real "passive" mode where the active electronics are shut off. If the headphone is indeed off and you plug in the cable, the headphone turns on. The disadvantage to not having a passive mode is you can't route your digital data from a phone through a good DAC/amp into the headphone, bypassing all signal processing outside of the DAC/amp. On the other hand, some Bluetooth headphones sound bad in passive mode because they "fix" the bad sound in active mode with built-in equalization. You may find the isolation good enough for your uses with ANC turned off (saving battery power), but that's a matter of experimentation. The leakage from the Studio3 is extremely low, such that playing loud music in an office or library may be feasible.

    The Studio3's earpads are soft and squishy, and covered with a good grade of plastic that should hold up well. The earcup openings are oval (2.25 x 1.5 inches) and fit my average-size ears with room to spare, but users with very large ears might find that they don't go around their ears. In recent years, certain influential sellers have adopted the term "Over Ear" to divert attention away from this problem with customers who have larger-than-average ears. The headband has some rubberized padding and the headphone isn't heavy for its size, so there's probably nothing to worry about there. The headband's range of adjustment is 9/8 inches on each side, where my average-size head fits in the middle of that range. The earcups don't swivel, but a small amount of flex is provided which will accomodate most users. I'll skip any descriptions of the packaging, accessories, or controls, since there are many official sources for that information.

    LAST WORD: I really like the Beats Studio3 because: 1) The EQ'd sound and soundstage are great, for its (my) intended use. 2) The functionality seems very reliable. 3) I can wear the Studio3 around my neck all day when not listening with no bother of any kind. 4) It looks pretty good - the grey/gold/brown edition I purchased. 5) It folds up into a smallish clamshell zippered case that's provided with the headphone.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the Studio3 compares with each individual track. As noted above, these tracks were evaluated using the EQ settings linked above or found on my website.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Studio3 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 Studio3.

    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 a little of the weight they carry with the Studio3.

    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 Studio3 plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the Studio3.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Studio3 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 bright, crisp, and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Studio3 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    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 Studio3 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Studio3 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 clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Studio3 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    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 Studio3 plays this music near-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 a taste of the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a minimally effective deep-bass response. Overall, the Studio3 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 Studio3 plays this track extremely well.

    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 just right with the Studio3. 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 Studio3 provides good reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the Studio3 plays those pretty 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 Studio3 plays this with enough weight and detail that you can hear/feel some of the 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 2015, 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 Studio3 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    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 firm with the Studio3.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Studio3 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 Studio3's reproduction of the 'clop' sound is lighter than ideal.

    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 Studio3 conveys some of the drama here but the 32.7 hz organ pedal tone is a bit light. 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 Studio3 renders the tones and transients extremely well.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The Studio3's reproduction is excellent, 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 strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The Studio3 delivers the impacts with decent weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    After I posted the first edition of this review, I got to thinking about my late reviews of the v-moda headphones and how I used EDM sample music tracks in those reviews. So I decided to repeat that for the Beats Studio3, and while I listened to these tracks with the EQ on and off, I settled for 1/2 of my EQ values for best results with EDM. Still, these tracks sound really good with no EQ at all. Compared to the v-moda Wireless2, I found only two instances where the deep bass seemed lighter with the Studio3, and those were the Digitalism and Fairmont tracks. Conclusion: Great headphone, any way you play it.

    Above & Beyond - We're All We Need (feat. Zoe Johnston): A very nice tight but impactful bass with crystal clear vocals - the Studio3 plays this with great ambiance.

    Anamanaguchi - Planet: A complex mix of percussion sounds and hummed vocals. The bells and other high-frequency percussion are highly detailed, the bass line has good impact, and the bass detail is surprisingly good.

    Armin van Buuren - J'ai Envie de Toi (Orig Mix feat Gaia): Decent bass impacts, breathy vocals, lots of fun noise - the Studio3 plays this perfectly.

    Avicii - Feeling Good: Classic female vocal in movie-theme style - the Studio3 brings this to life like nothing else I've heard.

    Carl Kennedy-Tommy Trash ft Rosie Henshaw - Blackwater (Original Master): Nice strong tight bass impacts, female vocal, rendered delectably by the Studio3.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God: Atmospheric tune with vocal sound effects and strong bass line, plus some unique treble percussion sounds. The Studio3 brings these unique sounds to life.

    Digitalism - Pogo: A driving beat with a detailed (light) bass synth and great vocals ("There's something in the air...") - the Studio3 makes this very enjoyable.

    Dino Lenny-Lino Di Meglio - We Will Make It: Atmospheric tune with mixed vocals - the female vocal is a special treat with the Studio3.

    DJ Shadow - Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt: High-pitched tones and strong deep piano chords with a hummed female vocal - ultra-cool with the Studio3.

    Fairmont - Poble Sec: Detailed bass impacts with some nifty pingy guitar/synth effects. I discovered this tune at the time I purchased a similar v-moda headphone - the Studio3 makes this even better.

    Giuseppe Ottaviani - Lost for Words (On Air Mix feat Amba Shepherd): Strong bass impacts behind a female voice - a large-scale sweeping sonic image reminiscent of epic adventures in an exotic land. The Studio3 is playing on a whole new level here.

    Hecq - Enceladus (With Skyence): Prodigious deep bass and clean at that. This tune's melody is more abstract than most of the others here, but the Studio3 makes it a real adventure.

    Katy B - Crying For No Reason (Tom Shorterz Remix): Oh myyyyy, I love Katy B. The vocal mix here is awesome and the bass is solid. This is the Studio3 at its best.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch: I first heard this in The September Issue film and soundtrack, as the backdrop for the opening catwalk (watch Andre grinning at 1:51 - all you need to know) - the Studio3 plays this amazing tune perfectly.

    Lee and Malinda - Truth Will Set You Free (V-Moda Mix): Lee Kalt is the master, this is the masterpiece. The drum (or tom-tom) hits here have a very realistic skin-tone, the female vocal is seamlessly integrated into the driving beat, and the synth effects also blend well - the Studio3 just owns this.

    Markus Schulz - Mainstage: The granddaddy of bass is in this track, and the Studio3 plays it smooth and clean.
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    I found some good news about the Beats Studio3 Wireless headphone, insofar as I hadn't planned to try using it with a good DAC because the headphone had no true passive mode, i.e. where all electronics in the headphone are turned off.

    Plugging in the supplied audio cable with the headphone off turns the headphone on, with ANC also turned on. I immediately turn ANC off with the double-click, and despite the headphone's power still being on, I assume it's not in Bluetooth mode since the audio cable is plugged in.

    Whatever the case, and using the AQ DragonFly Red as the DAC/headphone amp, the overall sound got smoother, the treble less harsh, and the bass firmer. The deep bass tones around 30 hz that were distorted in Bluetooth mode now sounded like 30 hz bass tones.

    This may not be the final word on the Studio3, but I'm pretty confident now, at least using judicious EQ, that this headphone can serve as a Bluetooth portable for casual listening, and as a home-system headphone.
     
  5. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    I just purchased the new Beats Studio3 "10 year Decade Edition" headphone. It's functionally identical to the Studio3 I purchased from the Apple Store last December. There is a burn-in necessary for the Studio3, and the biggest change I noted (after ~24 hours) was around 3 khz. The final sound is as close to my original Studio3 as I can determine by listening - no more than one db difference. While I'm not a big fan of Apple for several reasons, their acquisition of Beats was a big plus for these headphones' physical quality and consistency. Recommended, if you like the heavy sound, or are willing to EQ it.
     
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