Beats By Dre has updated its headphone line with the new Studio, an active noise-cancelling model that improves on its predecessor in many ways. At $299, however, you're still paying for Dr. Dre's name and style and sound that's tweaked to fit modern (read loud and bass-heavy) tastes. Find out if these cans truly deliver.
Available in black, white, red, or blue, the Beats Studio continues rapper/producer Dr. Dre's line of hip-hop, high-style headphones. At 9.2 ounces, the cans are significantly lighter than the original Studio headphones (14.1 ounces). They're also lighter than the Logitech UE 6000 (9.7 ounces), though the Bose QuietComfort 15 is a featherlike 6.8 ounces.
Despite the headphones' lighter weight than the original Studio headphones, the new version does not feel flimsy. The soft leather earpads now match the headband color, and the cans retain the folding headband so they fit nicely into the included hardshell case. The glossy exterior picks up fingerprints easily, but that's not noticeable unless you get one of the darker colors, and the package includes a cleaning cloth.
You get your choice of cables -- one with an iOS-compatible mic/controller and one without -- which plug into the bottom of the left earcup. The included microUSB cable connects to the bottom of the right earcup so you can charge the built-in (nonremovable) rechargeable battery via the supplied wall plug or any USB port.
The power button on the right earcup activates the 5-LED battery meter on the bottom of the cup so you know how much juice is left; the battery is rated for about 20 hours per charge.
On the left earcup, the "b" is actually a button that turns on an automatic mode, which shuts the power off when you remove the cable from the earcup (but not when you remove the other end of the cable from your music player) and turns it back on when you plug the cable back in. Although it would be more convenient if it worked when you unplug the other end of the cable, this is still a very handy feature.
Click to EnlargeThe Studio's leather earpads are very comfortable and let less sound leak out than the previous version of the Studio headphones. Although the oblong pads are soft and the headband tension is excellent, these headphones don't provide the roomy cave-like experience that the Bose QuietComfort15's do, nor are they sculpted like the Logitech UE6000, which feel like they give ears a bit more space. The speakers are placed very close to your ears, so you'll feel the fabric that covers them.
Click to EnlargeThe Studio's rechargeable battery keeps the noise cancellation and audio going for up to 20 hours per charge, but like the Bose cans (which are rated to last 35 hours), the Beats stops playing audio when the power runs out. With the Bose, you can simply swap out the AAA battery, but the Beats requires an outlet or portable charger. That's a major concern for many listeners on long trips where they may not have access to power outlets or USB ports. The UE 6000, by comparison, is rated for 40 hours with its dual AAA batteries, and you can still listen to music when you run out of juice.
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The noise cancellation on the Beats Studio operates in two modes. With the cable plugged into the earcup, the noise cancellation is less active, letting you hear a bit of what's going on around you; unplug the cable (and turn the power on if the headphones are in Auto Mode) and the noise cancellation gets a tiny bit stronger. Still it isn't particularly impressive in either mode, and although it's slightly better than the Logitech UE6000, the Studio doesn't come anywhere close to the Bose QC15's nearly black silence.
Click to EnlargeThe Beats Studio can crank music to dangerous decibel levels -- far louder than the Bose QuietComfort15 is capable of -- though overall the detail isn't quite five-star. An on-board chip processes the sound, tweaking it to conform to the general tastes of the headphones' namesake. These cans perform well on rock and hip hop, with powerful bass that doesn't suffer from the muddiness that so many other hip-hop-inspired headphones do. Tracks such as Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E." have lots of low-end punch in the bass drum and synth and sound lively and engaging on the Beats, with tighter and less exaggerated bass than on the Logitech UE6000.
Rock tunes such as Tom Petty's "You And I Will Meet Again" and Led Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown" sounded good, with driving bass and crisp guitars. However, vocals come through noticeably better than on the Logitech UE6000.
On acoustic jazz tracks such as John Coltrane's "Blue Train," the piano got a bit buried in the mix compared with the Bose and Logitech headphones, but Paul Chambers' upright bass sounded strong and tight and the horns had plenty of presence. On an excerpt of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat, the overall balance was okay, but the instruments all sounded compressed (in the studio sense, not the digital sense), so the sense of space got somewhat lost. The trumpet attacks and cymbals aren't as clear and crisp as with the Bose QC15 or regular "studio" cans like the Shure SRH-840 or Sennheiser HD280 Pro.
Click to EnlargeThere's no denying the appeal of the new Beats Studio's hip styling and muscular sound. These are not for audio purists -- they deliberately color the sound in favor of aggressive styles of music. Travelers can do better on the noise cancellation front (nothing beats the Bose QC15 in that department). Also remember that when its battery dies, the music stops.But for cruising around on the street and listening to some thumping tracks -- and looking good doing it -- the Beats Studio are a good choice.