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Audiophiles and lovers of booming bass alike often ask me what I think about Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, assuming I’ll somehow slam the company. But I’m actually a fan of what Beats has accomplished—in 2008, virtually no one was paying money for headphones (except for audiophiles). Beats more or less eliminated that complacency for dismal sound—true, it was achieved by making bass-heavy headphones a fashion statement seen on celebrities and athletes alike, but it was still a marked improvement over the status quo. The new Beats Studio, at $299.95 (direct), is the second version of the original pair made by Monster (Beats is no longer associated with Monster, and HTC, which had a controlling interest for a while, is now also jumping ship). Equipped with some decent noise cancellation, the signature glossy look, and the deep low-end that made this lineup famous, or infamous, the new Studio will appeal to bass lovers and repel purists.
Visually, the Beats lineup is possibly the most recognizable headphone design made since the 80s, even if that makes audiophiles cringe. You’ve seen them on the heads or resting around the necks of pro athletes and pop stars during press conferences and music videos—and that familiar look is a brand unto itself at this point. In other words: Beats isn’t going to mess with the formula too much. The Beats Studio looks, to the casual observer, like most other Beats pairs that came before it, offered in shiny red, white, or black, with a bright red lowercase B logo on each ear.
The circumaural (over-the-ear) design features large, exceedingly comfortable earpads and a well-padded headband. Even over long listening sessions, the earpads don’t get uncomfortable or too hot, and the same can be said for the headband. The headphones do not fold down flat, which is something much of the competition now does to allow for easier stowing.Beats by Dr. Dre Studio
The famously red cable is detachable from the left ear, and the Studio ships with two of them—one with an inline three-button remote control and mic for controlling playback, volume, and answering calls on mobile devices, one without. There’s also a red USB charging cable (it connects to the right ear)—this represents a leap for the redesigned headphones, as they now run on an internal rechargeable lithium ion battery and not AAA batteries, a minor victory for the environment. Beats claims an approximate battery life of 20 hours, but this will largely depend on how you use your headphones—specifically, how loud you listen to your tunes.
The left earcup has a Mute function—if you want to pause or play, use the remote on the cable, as the left ear’s button will simply mute your audio while it’s still playing. A Power button on the right ear activates the noise cancellation, and holding it down for a prolonged period powers them down. The power button can also be pressed and held for a shorter period to activate an LED display that shows how much battery life you have left—five dots is good, one dot is on the verge of death.
Annoyingly, you cannot listen to music on the Beats in passive mode without activating the noise cancellation, so the battery life will always be impacted by the noise cancellation circuitry when you’re using them. You can also (quite easily) unintentionally leave the noise cancellation activated—it will remain on even if the cable is removed if you don’t shut it off, as there’s no auto-off function like you find in some competing models. It doesn’t help that the Power button is tiny and easy to forget about.
The headphones also ship with a zip-up hard shell carrying case, a Beats decal, and a cleaning cloth.
Let’s first briefly address the active noise cancellation. It would be one thing if the noise cancellation circuitry were ground-breaking (it’s not) and was the primary draw for these headphones (ditto), but since it isn’t, it would be nice to be able to use the Beats Studio passively like many pairs allow you to do now. The noise cancellation itself is decent—it can eliminate wide swaths of ambient noise and even tone down chatter and talking around you a bit, but it can’t compare with the latest technology from the Bose QuietComfort series, and it also introduces a noticeable hiss to the equation. Many noise-canceling pairs do this, but few of them cost so much. The verdict here is: These headphones would be a better deal without the noise cancellation, and with a lower price as a result, but it’s intrinsically tied to the design, so thankfully it’s at least a somewhat useful feature.