Beats by Dr. Dre is a sub-brand of Monster Cable whose stated goal is to make true, studio-grade sound (as approved by Dr. Dre, of course, as well as his long-term collaborator/producer Jimmy Iovine) available to consumers at accessible prices. But apart from sonic qualities, Beats by Dre products are designed to look cool, too, sporting a distinctive red-and-gloss-black design motif that’s very attractive. Toward the end of 2008, and following closely on the heels of the launch of the now-iconic Beats By Dre Studio noise-cancelling headphones (reviewed in Playback Issue 14), the firm announced its Tour “high-resolution in-ear headphones.” The Tours are said to convey a sound similar to the full-size Beats Studio over-the-ear headphones, but for less than half the price and in a convenient “earbud” format.
Consider this headphones if: you favor a sound that is clear, well-detailed, and dynamically alive, but that has subtle (and not terribly excessive) touches of bass and upper midrange/lower treble enhancement that add a quality of “excitement” to many kinds of music. Also consider the Tours if you like “earbuds” that simply look cool and that incorporate clever tangle-free signal wires that really work.
Look elsewhere if: you are passionate (and finicky) about sonic neutrality and want in-ear headphones that offer the most accurate, uncolored, evenly-balanced voicing possible (if those are your priorities, you might find Monster’s new Turbine in-ear headphones a better choice).
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced in-ear headphones):
I think Dr. Dre’s Tour in-ear ’phones not only equal but actually surpass the sound quality of the famous full-size Beats Studio headphones. Here’s why. The Tours retain the best qualities of the Studios—clarity, detail, and lively dynamics—while mitigating their most significant flaw—audibly colored voicing that overemphasizes bass and upper midrange/lower treble frequencies to a distracting degree. Granted, the Tours add a touch of bass and upper midrange/lower treble emphasis of their own, but they do so in a much subtler, more subdued way than the Studios. The result: better-balanced sound all around. Whereas the Studios definitely exaggerate certain frequencies, the Tours merely underscore or “dramatize” them a bit, in the process delivering a more accurate sound that works better with a broader spectrum of musical styles. Note, too, that the Tours’ minor colorations can become a plus in environments (such as jetliners) where there are high levels of background noise to cut through.