We would add that the warmish frequency balance is beneficial in the real world for masking external sounds. Put another way, headphones without this balance often sound amusical and overly lightly balanced when heard in the noisy environs of an airplane or on the street.
On Jen Chapin’s song “Visions” [Jen Chapin – Revisions, Chesky], the bass to treble balance is excellent and instrumental definition is quite good. Chapin’s voice, however, seems overdamped and so we don’t get the feeling of being present with the singer in a real room. The voice and instruments evince very low grain, which you realize is not the case with a lot of headphones (which have a slight feathery distortion when played at very low levels).
On Beth Ortons’s “Worms” from Comfort of Strangers [Astralwerks], top to bottom balance is lovely and well proportioned. That said, here we have another singer whose voice sounds a bit hooded if you listen carefully. This is a studio recording, to be sure, but when you hear the modulated attack of the snare drums through the Solo HDs you realize that the transient edges of sounds are being slightly polished off.
Another example of information management in the service of smoothness comes on the Radiohead song “Paranoid Android” [OK Computer, Capitol], which opens with an array of high frequency sounds that could easily be harsh and gritty, but are not on the Solo HDs. You can argue about the artists’ intent here, but the Solos make the track very listenable and clear with excellent instrumental separation.
On Jack Johnson’s On and On [Universal] the song “Dreams Be Dreams” has a solo bass line that can be (and should be) powerful and well defined. On this track, some headphones deliver a rendition that sounds very like what one would hear from a real bass on stage, so this is a good test of balance, dynamics and resonance control. The Solos present the bass in balance with the rest of the instruments, but they don’t get the rising edges of the notes quite right and so deliver less bass power and depth than is fully realistic. In short, some definition has gone missing.
Below, we’ll try and put the performance of the Solo HDs in context by comparing them first to a strong, like-priced competitor—the Shure SRH840, and then to a less expensive headphone that has earned a reputation as a bit of a “giant killer”—the Grado SR60i.
Solo HD vs. Shure SRH840
• The Shure SRH840 ($200) is nearly the same price as the Solo HD, and makes for a useful comparison.
• Overall, the SRH840 offers a more linear and extended sound, especially in the bass and upper treble.
• It isn’t obvious that the SRH840s give up anything, though the tonal balance of the Solos may be preferable in noisy environments (and the on ear design may be preferred as well).
Solo HD vs. Grado SR60i
• The Grado SR60i is much less expensive, both in terms of MSRP and street pricing, but comes from a very different philosophical camp. The Grados have a mid-range emphasis and a quite lively sound.
• By comparison the Solo HDs seem more balanced, warm and smooth.
• The Grados are on-ear headphones but with an open design that provides less isolation than the padded coupling that the Solos offer.
The Solo HDs are comfortable within the obvious limitation of putting pressure on the outer ear. The ear cups are soft and the clamping force is low, in fact low enough that they may not be ideal for use in workout situations.
The Solo HDs fold up and can be carried in the small cloth case that is included. A detachable 52” cord terminated with mini-plugs is also included.
Monster’s Beats by Dr. Dre Solo HD is a smooth, low distortion headphone that delivers admirable warmth. Errors are mostly subtractive, which leads to an inviting musical experience.
Monster Beats By Dr. Dre Solo HD Headphones
Accessories: carrying case
Weight: Not specified
Sensitivity: Not Specified
Impedance: Not Specified
Warranty: One year, parts and labor.