Beats UrBeats3 Decade Collection Earphone/IEM review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jun 8, 2018.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

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    Youtube review:

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/iPhone7p/Headphone_Beats_Urbeats3_Decade_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Beats_Urbeats3_Decade.jpg

    Sources: iPhone7+ with Oppo HA-2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amps, various computers using the Meridian Explorer2/AudioQuest DragonFly Red/DAC-amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Beats UrBeats3 IEM/earphone (UrBeats3 hereafter) are based on direct comparisons to other earphones, particularly those that resemble its design (In-ear isolating), but also to a few premium headphones and earphones for reference. I'll describe how I relate to the UrBeats3 (i.e., my objectives and how I use the earphone) only after covering all of the technical issues. Note that my comparisons are not to suit "personal taste", but rather to compare the earphone sound to the sound of live acoustic music.

    NOTE: There are a LOT of "UrBeats" being sold for under $70 or so USD - a lot of those on the high-volume Amazon websites, and probably most of those are fakes. Just check the user reviews and read their sad stories. I got mine from Apple, and I actually don't know who are authorized dealers outside of Apple. This "Decade Collection" version of the UrBeats3 should be no more than a cosmetic variation of the other UrBeats3's, which were released circa 2016.

    The unequalized UrBeats3 bass is very strong, but when the upper bass is EQ'd down a little to allow the lower bass and midrange detail to come through, the lower bass can be appreciated on its own, and it isn't strong. I perceive the UrBeats3 treble as super-strong, but I think most of that is due to how I fit the various IEM's, most of which sound very bright to me. It might be that a custom IEM fit might work best for me, but I don't need to get into that since I listen mainly to full-size headphones. What does impress me about the UrBeats3 is how smooth the sound is, and how much fidelity I can get (a lot) with a simple EQ. Many headphones and earphones are peaky and/or have significant recesses, but other than the general signature shape of this earphone, I don't find it to have any of those pesky peaks and recesses. The isolation is good for an in-ear IEM/earphone, albeit not nearly as good as having Noise Canceling (which it doesn't).

    There are 4 sets of eartips provided, and I used the medium size that were installed by default. One of those pairs of eartips are the 'flange' type, similar to the classic Etymotic styles. Another welcome perk with the UrBeats3 are the 'WingTips', which stabilize the earpieces inside of the outer ear. The non-detachable flat cable is ~4 ft long, with a single-button plus microphone control box 7 inches down from the eartips. There are 2 versions of terminator, and you can choose Lightning or the standard 3.5mm plug. I chose the Lightning connector plug, but in doing so I gave up the ability to use an external DAC with my Apple i-devices. This 10th anniversary UrBeats3 edition includes a nice red silicone squeeze-pouch that's similar to classic silicone coin holders. I don't remember seeing a clothing clip in the box, but that's pretty much an essential item with corded IEM's.

    In previous reviews I've included the following music samples with comments about how the earphones 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 UrBeats3 compares with each individual track. These tracks were evaluated using the EQ settings linked above or found on my website. Note that this EQ is not to "personal taste", but rather to approximate the earphone sound to the sound of live acoustic music.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Charleston South Carolina
    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 UrBeats3 plays this very 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 perfectly by the UrBeats3.

    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 really feel the weight they carry with the UrBeats3.

    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 UrBeats3 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 UrBeats3.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The UrBeats3 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 UrBeats3 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 earphones, but the UrBeats3 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The UrBeats3 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 UrBeats3 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 UrBeats3 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 some of the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound that indicates a minimally effective deep-bass response. Overall, the UrBeats3 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 UrBeats3 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 OK with the UrBeats3. This is a great recording for evaluating whether an earphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many earphones 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 earphones. The UrBeats3 provides excellent 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 UrBeats3 plays 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 an earphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The UrBeats3 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 2018, 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 UrBeats3 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 UrBeats3.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the UrBeats3 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any earphone.

    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 UrBeats3'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 UrBeats3 conveys that drama quite well. 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 UrBeats3 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 UrBeats3'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 UrBeats3 delivers the impacts with decent weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
     
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