Once Monster dipped its toes into the headphone market, there was no stopping the cable manufacturer from releasing a bevy of earphones on the unsuspecting masses. From in-ear to on-ear to over-the-ear models, you shouldn't have trouble finding a pair of undeniably stylish Monster headphones to suit your needs. The latest offering, the Beats by Dr Dre Solo headphones, is an on-ear model that features ControlTalk, which is essentially fancy terminology for an inline mic and integrated controls for an iPod. This £155 set offers all the bass we expected from the first two Dr Dre headphones in a slick, compact package. Unfortunately, while the low end is satisfyingly ear-shaking, it also tends to muddy up the overall sound space.
The Solo headphones follow in the tradition of Monster's other Dr Dre-branded earphones, right down to the black and white colour options. These headphones look very similar to the original model with the full-size earcups, except the overall size of everything is noticeably smaller because of the on-ear design.
The earpieces, which feature the customary, red, lower-case 'b' logo stamped on a brushed-chrome circle, are round and measure just 56mm across. The earpads swivel slightly in the base for a more comfortable fit and are designed to rest on the outer ear. While we found the Solo headphones quite comfortable for an hour or two, some may experience uncomfortable pressure from this design, as we did after a couple of hours.
From the earcups to the headband, the Solo headphones have a pleasing, quality feel to them. The adjustable band is made of metal coated in a soft, matte plastic and features some padding on the top, as well as the Dr Dre logo stamped on the outside. A single, removable cable in the signature Beats thick, red coating attaches to the left earcup via a gold-plated straight plug. Following this 130cm to the other end brings you to an uber-reinforced, gold-plated L-plug that attaches to your audio source. The cable appears to be exceptionally durable and is not at all tangle-prone -- a definite plus in our book.
The Solo headphones have a couple of additional features worth mentioning. Foremost is that they include ControlTalk, which refers to a small square module a few inches down the cable that has an integrated mic and call-answer button for use with music phones. This button also doubles as playback controls for an iPod or iPhone, with one click playing or pausing music, two clicks skipping forward a track, and three skipping back.
The module also incorporates a volume rocker, which appears to work only with the aforementioned Apple devices. Finally, the headphones fold down into a compact form for storage and transport, and Monster includes a case for these purposes as well.
Bass all up in your face
While the original Beats by Dr Dre headphones rather underwhelmed us in the bass department, the Solo headphones take things in quite the opposite direction. Indeed, the low end can be overwhelming, especially on first use. Although the thumpiness mellows after the earphones have 'burned in' somewhat, there are still several tracks that tend to suffer from muddiness, Five Deez's Afghanistan Dan's Skating Stand being one example. As such, if you tend to listen to plenty of beat-heavy electronica, or even dance pop, you'll probably be disappointed with the audio reproduction.
On the plus side, not all songs sound overly muffled. We had a fair amount of luck with alt dance (Cobra Starship, 3OH!3), clean alt punk (No Doubt), some rap (MC Solaar, 50 Cent), and folk-like music (Dan Hicks). With these tracks, the Solos offered reasonably clear audio with defined low- and high-ends and a smooth mid-range. And yet it's hit and miss: T.I. tends to sound muddy, for example, and Journey's Don't Stop Believing is lacking in crisp response.
For £155 or thereabouts, we'd expect a pair of headphones that are suited to a greater number of genres. The design alone of the Monster Beats by Dr Dre Solo headphones may be enough to convince some people to invest, however.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet