Beats is without question the world's most marketed headphone and audio brand in recent years. The company took a step in the right direction when it released the Studio 2 over-ear headphones late last year with much needed improvements in audio performance with the addition of a built-in rechargeable battery, and a polished redesign. And now Beats is repeating this revamping processes with the introduction of the Solo 2 headphones, which are coincidentally also the last pair Beats released as an independent company right before Apple acquired the brand for $3 billion.
As the successor of the Solo HD, the Solo 2 have an improved audio quality and share the same slick design language and a more resilient build quality of the Studio 2 headphones, but with a smaller and lighter portable on-ear style form factor. Can a new design and fine tuning persuade Beats skeptics into jumping onboard the Beats bandwagon that is high-priced, celebrity-endorsed headphones? There's only one way to find out.
If you've previously owned or still use the Solo HD, the first thing you'll noticed is that the Solo 2.0 are noticeably heavier. But that's a good thing because they're better built as a result. The materials are seemingly toughened using thicker plastics and modified to be more durable in comparison, which means that the headband is less likely to crack in the middle - a problem that plagued the now obsolete Solo and Solo HD models.
Apart from the distinct Beats logo on each side, the new Solo 2 bear a similar design language with their predecessor that's now sleeker and more streamlined (apparently more aerodynamic as well?) as you'd expect out of an updated model. You could call it a curvier design because that's exactly what the difference is between the older Beats headphones visually, which look outdated by comparison. Think of them as a smaller and perhaps more portable clone of the much bigger Studio 2.0 model. When Beats said it redesigned the new Solo 2.0 to be more streamlined, they weren't messing around. The redesigned Solos are lighter, ergonomically shaped for increased comfort and more durable than the previous model.
The Solo are back, and they're BETTER THAN ever
At first glance, the Solo 2 have almost a one-piece design that conceals all moving parts, screws and joints, yet they still fold and have articulating ear cups. So yes, the new Beats Solo 2 are magnificently designed, and everything about them has been designed to be as sleek as possible. It doesn't get any more mainstream than this. As for color options, you can grab the Solo 2 in this classic Beats black with deep and bold contrasting red accents, or in a complete all vibrant red, pink, blue, gray and of course in an all white colorway; for you guessed it, $200. An increase in price over the $170 Solo HD. Needless to say the Solo 2 are visually driven headphones you'll gladly pay for if looking good is important to you when you're out and about. And that is what Beats does better than everyone else. Beats are downright stylish, and it turns out you're paying for it big time. Shocking. Currently, the Solo 2 are only available in one type of finish, a sleek glossy coating that Beats describes as an automobile finish. Which is a problematic combination if you pick up a black pair which are finger-print magnets. An issue that doesn't affect the white model at all. What you won't find the comes with the Studio 2 is a cleaning cloth to wipe those prints off of that clear gloss coating.
Part of the redesigned Studio 2 headphones revolves around the Beats Pro-like ear cushions which are much smoother, extraordinary supple, plump and more refined than before. Visually I think that like the Studio 2.0 headphones, the redesigned Solo 2.0 are not only nicer looking than the originals, but they're also more pleasing to touch due to their rounded, ultra-slick toned shape. Even the headband has a tapered bow to it unlike the flat bow of the previous model that I think is a subtle favorable design change you will notice. Yeah yeah, but you probably want to know what's inside the box right?
Moving past the iconic and over-the-top Beats packaging we find a protective soft-shell carrying case made out of black padded neoprene. It opens using a zipper but lacks any interior pockets or compartments to neatly store the included detachable cable, which is color matched to the headphones mind you (except for the red cable included with the black Solo 2 that is).
As you open the case you will notice that the interior is lined with a soft fabric material that is also carefully positioned to protect the plastic finish of the headphones from scratching when you open and close the zipper above.
Not much else is included with the Solo 2 except for a packet containing documentation and a Beats sticker to show your affection for the red B, as well as marketing material advertising the Beats Music app with a unique free trial code to try the company's new music streaming service. And lastly a metal carabiner clip to attach the carry case onto different things.
The included detachable audio cable has a durable gold plated 3.5mm L-shaped plug that has been designed to fit into all kinds of protective cases, which is a huge plus since most have tight headphone port openings. And as with all Beats audio cables, this one is made impressively well with a thick cable gauge that's tangle-free yet highly flexible.
Unlike the Studio, the Solo 2 have an on-ear design which means that the ear cups are made to fit right on top of your ears, and there's good and bad in that when it comes to comfort. The good news is that the Solo 2's plump cushions are like plungers that sit on your ears and passively isolate them from the outside world with minimal noise leakage to boot. And like the Studio 2, the Solo 2's ear cups have extra padded, very soft memory foam cushions covered in this faux leather material and they tilt to fit the shape of your head.
This is all great and genuinely very comfortable to wear at first, but I quickly discovered that I could not bear to wear them for any longer than a single hour. And it's all because there’s too much pressure being applied onto the ears from both the Solo 2’s headband clamping force as well as their on-ear style ear cups, which after a relatively short while - make your ears feel like they are being hammered. And it's not like my head is too big, it's quite the opposite of that if I'm honest. Then again, you may yourself find them to be less painful to wear for a longer period. But in comparison, the Studio 2's over-ear design is much more pleasing to wear for extended periods of time. All in all I would not recommend the Beats Solo 2 if you plan on watching a movie with them or using them to listen to music on a flight. In that case, you should look into over-ear headphones instead.
The underlining headband padding on the Solo 2 has been improved in a minor way with slightly thicker gel-like padding that's covered in the same type of gray, smooth rubbery material found on other Beats headphones - which fortunately doesn't pull on hairs. But really, there isn't anything wrong with it and it actually does it its job at cushioning the weight of the headphones across your top of your head.
One of the things we talked about earlier was noise isolation and long flights, though you're not going to get any active noise-cancellation with the Solo 2 as you do with the more expensive and larger Studio 2 headphones. Aside from that, the Solo 2 are light on extra features and do not need to be charged as they are not powered and don't feature a built-in amplifier. You will, however, find that the detachable audio cable does feature RemoteTalk. It's the Solo 2's iPhone and iOS-compatible in-line 3-button remote control and mic bundled into one sleek and functional headset dongle that lets you control volume, pause/play and skip tracks - as well as basic control over phone calls and Siri. Aside from having great tactile and easy to use button controls, the RemoteTalk's mic quality blocks out ambient noise very well but does make you sound like your talking behind something so you'll need to speak louder than you normally do.
And of course, like the Studio model the Solo 2 fold up into a compact form factor to fit the included carrying case. These make for great travel and commute headphones as they don't take up very much space when put into their protective soft case.
If there's anything good to say about this glossy plastic construction it's that it is surprisingly solid and feels less cheap than it has been before. I think Beats nailed it with this new redesign. Although I do miss the matte textured plastic of the Solo HD, and wish that Beats would have at least continued that design element on the new Solo 2 instead of using high-gloss plastic. If the Beats Studio and Solo HD come in matte finished plastic colorways, why can't all plastic Beats headphones be made with it? It is clearly a more durable finish.
The build quality is on the same level of the Studio 2 – substantially better than the first Solo model with the redesigned headband which is curved and tapered slightly instead of having a flat bow-shape design, and I think that has added to the a level of quality feel to the overall construction of the new Solo 2.0. The foldable hinges are made out of metal as are the adjustable headband arms which reveal a really nice brushed metal finish when extended.
Beats has also improved the ear cup joints which are hidden behind a flexible rubbery membrane (the red part on this particular black model) with a more weighty feel and robustness that I really appreciate. Looking a bit close at the ear cups we can see that they actually have two different types of plastic finishes and even colors. The inner ear cup ring features a satin metallic finish as oppose to the rest of the glossy plastic found all throughout the headphone frame creating an interesting touch of aesthetic detailing.
Overall I'm really liking how well the Solo 2 are put together all things considered. The design compliments the new and improved build quality which although is still all plastic for the most part, it doesn't feel cheaply made - yet neither are the Solo 2 premium in their construction as Beats implies. So far it looks like Beats listened to people's criticisms, and there were a lot to go around not only with regards to the poor plastic construction, but also with the unbalanced and muddy sound quality. Speaking of which, that's coming up next!
Now onto the most critical, most criticized part about anything that has to do with a Beats-branded pair of headphones. Underneath that streamlined new physique are a pair of drivers of an undisclosed size, tuned differently than their predecessor. What has happened to that once iconic thumping bass every Beats headphones have been notoriously known for? It has been neutered of its alpha male pounding pride. Who would have thought that Beats would tone down the bass on its best selling headphones to regain favorable credibility from consumers with a mature and experienced taste in audio quality? With that said, the bass has seen a significant improvement and is now calmer yet not without its rich thumpy signature. The difference is that the Solo 2 have renewed appreciation towards more than just bass, and that translates into a hearty quality sound that's surprisingly not muddy or with bass that drowns everything in its wake. The Solo 2's bass game is strong. It’s there, it’s exciting and it does not disappoint from a bass enthusiast's point of view.
Beats promised us improved audio, and it has certainly delivered on that front with the Solo 2. Compared to their predecessor, the Solo 2 are much clearer sounding and have a nicer sounding midrange that isn't muddled and overly warm in comparison. And you must know what that means. The bass is not a power hungry beast. Don't get me wrong, it's still very much in charge and present pretty much all the time, but it surprisingly is fine tuned to step it back yet still have an effective punch with deep low-level range when called for. Highs are much improved and have fantastic brightness and clarity to them that brings vocals up front. As for the mids, I'm actually quite surprised to find that they aren't neglected and overshadowed.
Unlike their larger brother, the Solo 2 lack a built-in amp that provides active noise-cancellation and power that enhances and colors the audio with a more enthusiastic sounding audio. You might say that's great news, which it is because you'll never need to worry about charging your headphones or be left without power. But it also means that the Solo 2 don't sound as good as the Studios do, which is to be expected. With that in mind, you're not missing out on anything spectacular. The distinction between the two is negligible really.
Beats says that it also improved the Solo 2 with a wider range of sound, which may be true when comparing them to the Solo HD, however, the Solo 2 have a narrow soundstage when compared to one of our favorite headphones - the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. Granted they are technically larger headphones with bigger 45mm drivers, but they also cost less at $170. I’d say that the bass response is on par with the ATH-M50x, however, the high-end and midrange imaging of the M50x are much more clearer and defined in comparison. In addition to that, the highs on the Beats Solo 2 sound slightly recessed and not as brilliant. Audio differences aside, the M50x terribly lack the sleek beauty and the portability of the Solo 2. They make for a better indoor use headphones while the Solo 2 would be the kind of headphones you'd wear out in public strictly because they look stylish and more importantly - aerodynamic. Or so they say.
With an improved sound, the Solo 2 are now more balanced but still a very warm sounding pair of headphones that don't lack a tasteful thumpy low-end, energetic sound signature with an ample dose of clarity, and a pleasing sleek design. Let’s get something straight, the Solo 2 are far from sounding bad. They’re overpriced, but they still do sound very good. Who wouldn't want a piece of these beautifully toned headphones? It really is hard to look away. We think they are among the trendiest and best looking headphones you can buy. And if you're someone who has tried the original Solo headphones or own a pair at the moment, there's no question that the few enhancements made to the build quality and sonic performance will make the new models a desirable pair indeed.
Having said all that, the Solo 2 are far from perfect. The trouble we have with them is that they're not high-end or premium enough to merit a $200 price tag. They don't outperform less expensive headphones let alone a very basic looking pair of $70 headphones like the Nocs NS700, aren't comfortable to wear for more than an hour, lack features like active noise-cancellation (albeit offer good passive ambient noise isolation), they're entirely made out of plastic and they don't have a single ounce of what we'd call premium materials such as real leather. And for that reason we cannot recommend you invest your hard earned money on them. Having tested many different headphones lately, for $200 the Beats Solo 2 are just...okay. Nothing more.
Unless that is, you really like their styling, have yet to try one of the headphone alternatives listed below or simply don't mind paying more for something that you're attracted to. In that case we don't think you'll be disappointed with how the Solo 2 perform sonically. And If you’d like to know of other similar on-ear, on-the-go headphone offerings that are arguably superior in one way or another to the Solo 2, here are some worthy competitors for no more than $200: the V-Moda XS, AIAIAI TMA-1 X, and JBL Synchros S300 if you like engaging bass and vibrant sound – or the Bose SoundTrue, Bowers & Wilkins P3, and the Nocs NS700 if you want higher fidelity sounding bright audio.