Top positive review
An old audiophile surprised by the new Beats Studio Wireless
May 17, 2015
UPDATE 12/12/15: Recently my Beats Studio Wireless headphones began dropping the Bluetooth connection to my iPhone, especially when skipping a song. At first I thought it was the iPhone but after testing the Beats with other devices I realized it was the Beats! Reading the forums reveal that this is a common issue. The solution seemed to be a firmware update. Some people mentioned that updating the firmware "bricked" their headphones but I can say that after installing the Beats Updater on my MacBook Pro and updating the firmware, the problem has been eliminated. The headphones have since maintained a solid Bluetooth connection to any device that I connect them to.
Since my family now owns both Bose QC25s (wife's in White/Khaki) and Beats Studio Wireless headsets (mine in Matte Black), I feel like I can finally write a completely informed review and comparison test between the two. I am also a headphone/earbud nut that owns the now defunct Logitech Ultimate Ears Active Noise Canceling UE9000s and eight decent quality earbuds and I have a brother that owns several products that I don't. I have spent weeks comparing and sampling many of these products so I can give you the best review that I'm capable of writing.
Testing procedure – while it's not scientific I spent a lot of time with these products listening to a wide array of music. I left the headsets on my head for hours on end while exercising, doing household chores and flying across the country on commercial airlines. Also, it took me two weeks to write this review as I continued to test and compare the Bose and Beats with a huge library of music that ranged from Eminem to Emmylou Harris.
I didn't test the headphones with lossless audio or vinyl records playing through analog tube amps. I used an iPad, iPhone and a couple of different iPods as audio sources since that's what the majority of us use these days. The songs are Apple AAC files sampled at 256 kbps.
I'm going to cover every detail that I can think of since good research is imperative before dropping $300+ on headphones. Let's get started...
(Winner) Bose QC-25 – The materials that Bose uses in the construction of the QC25s are absolutely first class. The plastic feels solid and the aluminum feels like it was intended for use in an aerospace project and the padding on the head band is thick padded velour. One issue is the fabric used on the top of the headband. My wife's headphones are the cool looking white with tan ear-cups and teal accents and cord. The white fabric gets dirty really fast. Bose is very aware of this because when I asked an employee at the Bose kiosk at Lenox Mall in Atlanta about it, they told me, without hesitation, that a Tide stain wipe cleans it up. That area should be leather, plastic or aircraft aluminum, not white fabric. The cord (we'll talk about this more later) plugs in with a satisfyingly snug click. The buttons on the cord are the one of two soft spot for the Bose and you'd have to be really picky to fuss over such a small detail but they feel a little cheap.
Beats aren't too far off in build quality but they fall short only because they feel a little more "plasticy" and fragile when folding them for storage in the included case. The shuttle buttons built into the beats logo on the left side feel a little "clicky." Compared to the previous generation of Beats, the new Studios are a lightyears ahead in build quality. While I am testing the wireless version of the Beats Studio, they still come with cords, lots of cords. The one that I use most (to extend battery life or plug into non-bluetooth devices) is the one with the shuttle buttons. The cord is thicker than the Bose and is less tangle prone. Out of the box it does not lay straight but keeps some of it's rolled up shaped, especially in the cold. This lessens with use. The buttons click with a much smoother, satisfying click (again, picky but what the heck). I had a hard time getting the micro USB plug plugged into the headphones for charging. The plug was very tight but over time it loosens up a bit.
(Winner) The Bose QC25s are the lightest weighing and the lightest clamping headsets I have ever put on my head thus making them the most comfortable, especially when wearing them over long periods of time. After wearing my Beats Studios for 20-minutes I put on the Bose and they felt funny they were so light. They felt like those OLD Walkman headphones that were nothing more than a bowed wire with foam and plastic discs on each end. In reverse, after wearing the Bose for 20-minutes, the Beats felt noticeably heavier.
The Beats aren't what I'd call heavy and without the two side-by-side, the Beats feel pretty good even when wearing them for an hour or more but in direct comparison to the Bose, you feel the difference. Additionally, Beats clamp harder so they fall short of the Bose in comfort.
To put numbers on the weight:
• Bose 196.6g
• Beats 260g
Another win for the Bose is the depth of the ear cups. They are deep enough that people with large or protruding ears will not have an issue. In contrast, the Beats ear cups are much shallower. They are so shallow that my small, non-protruding ears touch the foam pad inside the cup. It's a minor annoyance will bother some people. See accompanying photo.
This is what we buy headphones that cost over $300, right? Just so you know, when listening to music, I like to hear all of the sound that the producer and sound engineer intended. I'm not a bass-head but more of a bass-o-phile in that I prefer full, smooth, defined bass. Skullcandy has these headphones called Crushers that have a slider where a user can dial in the amount of skull crushing thump that they want. Dialed up to the max, these things almost bounce off of your head. While it may be fun, the bass is terribly artificial and completely lacks detail. It's not what I call good listening and the fun wears off pretty quickly.
(Winner) Beats Studio Wireless. Beats products are well known for their huge, Hip-hop bass. In early versions Dre and Company made the bass more of a novelty rather than a quality audio asset. Fortunately, they reeled in the bass when designing the Studio models. The bass is now lighter, tighter and so well controlled that it's much more pleasing to listen to across a wide range of music. I was in an Apple Store in Nashville, TN when I first donned a demo set of Beats Studios. I started flipping through the demo music on the iPad Touch and I was very impressed with the sound, track after track. Months later, a demoed another pair at the Apple Store in Georgetown, DC and was again really impressed. So, eventually I pulled the trigger and bought a pair.
In order to give you a review that you can replicate and hear the differences for yourself, I tried to pick tracks that showcase the strengths and weaknesses of each headset. If you can get your hands on the hardware, see if you agree with me on these songs.
Timbaland and Elton John team up for a song called "2 Man Show." The very first beat is a deep bass hit that sounds rough and unimpressive but stay with it and at 0:44 some smooth, harmonic backing vocals come in with an underlying bass line that is really deep...oh but wait...at 0:48, the bass line goes down about a low as speakers, let alone headsets, like to go. When listening to this song on Definitive Technology home speakers with internal powered subs at moderate volume levels, the room shakes. Amazingly, the Beats fully enunciate the smooth, deep audio with no distortion to the point that it shakes my head. It's awesome and a true test for bass capable headphones.
When the chorus starts in "Break Up In A Small Town" by Sam Hunt the Beats Studios deliver every decibel that the sound engineer and producer meant for you to hear, and they throw the kitchen sink at you. Turn them up and at 0:50 (when he sings "She would get DOWN...) you will be treated to a beautiful bass hit that kicks of a window rattling chorus that when heard on these headphones sounds absolutely marvelous. Bass hits like that terrify weaker headphones. The Beats take the challenge so easily that they make it clear they can take more. A cool thing happens in this song at 2:44. All of the heavy electric instrumentation immediately stops leaving only a light piano and solo guitar with Sam's voice. It's like someone suddenly unplugging half of the music. The cool thing is that the Studios handle the transition extremely well. I compared an old pair of first generation Beats using this same track at 2:44, the heavy bass headphones left the mid-tones hanging out to dry, revealing their inability to clear mids and solid vocals. The Studios on the other hand sounded as good with a wall of sound crushing your skull as they did listening to melodic acoustic tones.
But bass isn't the only thing the Beats Studio's deliver. They do a great job with details in the upper register too. "No More Miracles" by Kid Ink starts off with Elle Verner screeching out "I never waited on a miracle, there ain't no miracles 'round here" over a strumming mandolin. The Beats deliver her vocal rasp with such precision it's almost like she was in the room with you. As a light bass line enters the mix and you can clearly hear the bass player rapidly fingering the string to keep the line humming along with the vocals. Using the Bose, the bass line sounds artificial, like it's being produced from a synth. Later in the song, at 0:24, well delivered bass kicks in as the song goes full-on Hip-hop. I'm so accustomed to sloppy Hip-hop that when you hear this song on the Beats, it's like hearing it for the first time. This song can be a challenge for some headphone as a delicate mandolin can easily get drowned out by deep rumbling bass but the Beats show their balance as both are forward and clearly audible. Listen to this track on Beats Studios for the first time and once it ends you'll want to play it again. I promise.
Diana Krall and Bryan Adams (yeah, that one) cover "Feels Like Home" written and originally sung by Chantal Kreviazuk. Diana's piano is so well reproduced that it sounds like she's playing it right behind you but the best part is that Diana's whiskey, lounge-singer voice drifts like wisps of cigarette smoke gently floating into your ears. Every detail of her complex voice is revealed with crisp audio clarity. If the seventeen seconds of Diana's voice and smooth rolling piano, between 0:51-1:12 don't convince you that these aren't just Hip-hop bass beasts then you are either tone deaf or biased against the Beats brand. This short moment in time is near audio perfection and the Beats deliver it flawlessly.
When my iPhone shuffled across Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" I stopped what I was doing, sat down, closed my eyes and took in subtle details of the song that I had only heard through Shure SE 535s or my home Def Tech home speakers.
Contrary to what I thought before owning them, Beats Studios are definitely a headphone engineered for serious music listeners. Note that they are not neutral or flat but they are balanced. Purists will still snub their nose at the manipulated EQ but it's perfect for people that stream Spotify or listen to tracks downloaded from iTunes. For those that sit at home listening to Wagner or Beethoven on vinyl through tube amps on $1,500 Sennheiser H800 or Grado PS1000s, the Beats are not for you. But for the other 98% of us, they will seriously impress you.
**Interesting note. I had read that the Beats sounded better over Bluetooth than wired. I was a little perplexed and a lot skeptical. After hours and days of testing, I have to agree with that reviewer. The BT slightly outperforms wired. The wired sound is a little muffled sounding compared to BT. I'm still perplexed but no longer skeptical.
Bose is not known for bass and the QC25s live up to that reputation. They are on par with the QC15s they replaced but that's not saying much. Where they shine is in the mid range, exactly where the Beats are weakest. The highs and lows sound muffled compared to the Beats but mids are more revealed.
Bose produces amazing, but slightly muted, vocals and smooth instrumental tones. Close your eyes while listening to both "Beethoven's 5 Secrets" or "Kung Fu Piano: Cello Ascends" by The Piano Guys and you'll hear a cello sing with such a mellow baritone voice that it'll feel like it melts like butter into your ears. I played "Cello Ascends" for a co-worker to get his opinion of the two headphones. When using the QC25s, he sat there with his eyes closed totally absorbed in the superbly reproduced music. When the song had finished playing he pulled the headphones off and with a huge smile said, "Wow. With the noise canceling on, I totally forgot I was at the office. You can get lost with those things on." I felt that was a solid review of the Bose when listening to songs that deliver mellow, mid-range audio that don't have demanding bass.
But, if you go back to Sam Hunt's "Breaking Up In A Small Town," you just don't get the punch that you get with other bass rich headphones like the Beats Studios. Don't get me wrong, these things sound pretty good but they don't deliver the same, full listening experience. They provide detail and precision but without the ultra deep, rich sounds that physically move you and the crystal clear highs. If these are all you listen to, I don't think you'd crave more bass but if you do any A-B testing with the Studios, you'll hear what you're missing and wish for more.
The same thing happens in Pittbull and Marc Anthony's "Rain Over Me." During Marc Anthony's main riff a huge bass roll drops from a low to almost sub-sonic in the first two seconds of the song. With the Bose on, the bass fades as it bottoms out. They just can't handle the low frequency.
BOSE WINS BY A MILE...or more. I used the Bose side-by-side with the Beats on a commercial flight and with the music playing at modest levels, the Bose QC25s filtered out what I'd call 90 percent of the engine noise. Bose has PERFECTED Active Noise Reduction (ANR). Bose owns ANR. Even without music playing they greatly reduced engine noise.
In the housework test, yes I'm Renaissance man that vacuums and cleans toilets, the Bose nearly drown out all of the vacuum cleaner noise and help take my mind off of the mundane chores.
A common side effect of non-Bose ANR systems is hiss. Bose ANR produces absolutely no hiss.
I was severely disappointed with Beats ANC (Adaptive Noise Canceling) performance while flying in a commercial airplane or while riding on a Washington, DC subway. While I gave Bose a 90% ANR effectiveness, I'd give Beats 50% at best. I had to crank up the volume to uncomfortable levels to get the jet engine noise abated to the levels Bose was delivering. Without music playing, the Beats might as well not have had any ANC. This is again surprising since Beats claims to have dual adaptive noise canceling modes. From the Beats Website "ANC automatically strikes a balance between your music and the world outside. If you only want to use the headphone to cancel external noise, ANC only mode automatically increases the level of noise cancellation, for a quieter world." Huh? The owners manual does not tell you how to get to these modes so one is left to figure it out them self or just assume that when music is playing, you are in music mode and when it is not...you know what I mean. BUT, I did figure out that if you press and hold the "b" button while listening to music wirelessly, you will get the Beats power up/down tone and the headphones will switch to non-music ANC mode. Press and hold and it will switch back. I could not find this explained in the owners manual.
In the housework test, the Beats don't fully erase the noise of the vacuum cleaner but they help. Where they DO shine in the housework area is NO CORD! More on that below.
As a general rule, we don't spend half of our life flying in airplanes. Most of our listening is done in residential or public spaces where Beats does a decent job reducing ambient noises that can interfere with your overall listening experience. Subways, street noise or at home with a clothes dryer going in the background are great examples of sounds that are well reduced by the Beats.
As for the hiss, it's mild compared to sets like the Ultimate Ears UE9000 ANR but it's presence can be a little irritating, especially when you know ANR like Bose exists.
If you want or need perfect ANR performance...go Bose. Period. End of story.
(Winner) Beats has proven that Bluetooth can sound great (even better than wired). They have nailed BT with the Studios. I am so spoiled by the BT that I find using a cord to be a tangling, snagging hassle. The one issue I have is that I cannot get Siri to activate using the "b" button in wireless mode (remember pressing and holding the "b" button switches ANC modes). She only works wired using the inline iPod controls. Sad, but not too much of a problem and I can reach into my pocket and activate Siri from the phone.
One oddity is that the shuttle buttons on the outside of the ear cups only work in wireless mode. You have to use the in-line iPod controls on the cord when wired. BUT, while wired, the "b" button becomes a bypass button. Press and hold the button while listening to wired music and the headphones mute (not pause) so you can converse with out yelling or needing to be yelled at. Pretty cool I guess but since the majority of my listening is wireless, this does not work.
As I mentioned above, while doing housework wireless wins! I have caught the cord of other headphones and earbuds countless times on drawer pulls and yanked the headphones off of my head or the buds out of my ears. When washing cars, working around the house or just multitasking, wireless is the way to go, good ANR or not!
For Bose, this is an easy one since the QC25s don't come with a wireless option. Bose does make a non-ANR wireless model but they fail miserably in audio quality. Why not merge the two products into one and make a great sounding, noise-canceling, Bluetooth headphone? That sounds like a winning product to me!
While doing housework I have to route the cord into my shirt to keep if from snagging on things. Not ideal.
(Winner) Beats Studio. The call microphone is on the side of the headset. Everything I know about sound leads me to believe that a caller on the other end of the line should not hear me as well as the in-line mic hanging below my chin on the Bose cord. But that is the case. I talk to my brother a lot using the Beats and he tells me that he cannot tell that I'm not holding the phone up to my ear.
Bose put a mic on the back of the inline iPod controller that lies right below your chin. It's perfectly placed for great audio pick up but even in the best conditions it has a slight speakerphone sound that disappoints me a bit. It's still clear but not as clear as the Beats.
(Winner) Bose comes with a case, two-AAA Duracell Batteries, a cord (in the white version) with shuttle buttons and mic and a commercial airplane adapter.
Beats comes with a case, a red mobile phone cord with black shuttle buttons, a black cord without buttons, a red USB-to-micro-USB charging cord and a USB wall plug with folding prongs.
Bose wins Accessories for two reasons. First, being battery powered means no extra cords or wall plugs (no matter how Beats spins the supposed benefits of the rechargeable battery thing) and second, the airplane adapter. Beats can keep the straight audio cord and power accessories and give me battery power and an airplane adapter...although there would be nowhere to store them (see below).
(Winner) The Bose case is as thin as you can make a headphones case and comes in a very standard rectangle shape that fits into any messenger bag, back pack or suitcase. The small footprint and thinness mean some origami folding of the headphones to get them seated, but Bose solved for that and even embossed a diagram on the inside of the case (thank you). It has a place for a spare battery AAA battery (awesome) and airplane adapter. One oddity is that the pocket for the cord is on the outside of the case. I'd greatly prefer that the pocket be inside. My wife never puts the cord in the outside pocket, she just sets it on top of the headset and zips the case closed. She's afraid that over time the stretchy material will lose elasticity and the cord might fall out while traveling.
The Beats case is oddly shaped like an egg. It fits in my Osprey Spin 32 backpack and in my carry-on-sized suitcase but it is awkward to carry in my average Timbuk2 or leather messenger bags. Beats must know that this is an issue as they include a carabiner that allows the egg to be clipped to the outside of a bag. The egg-shape is much harder to deal with and it has NO pockets for cords and accessories. A very strange omission for a headset that comes with THREE cords and a wall plug!
(Winner) Bose uses a replaceable, off-the-shelf AAA battery for power and I LOVE IT! If your battery dies, just pop in the spare battery that's nestled in the carrying case. If you forget to replace that spare? Not problem, the Bose will work without power while you make your way to any store that sells AAAs.
Beats website says "Dead batteries can kill your vibe." Uh, okay but what if the internal rechargeable battery dies and you can't get to a power outlet? That kills your vibe even more since you'll have no sound. In this case, no charge means no music since the Studios only work with power, just like the old QC15s did. I'm not sure why Beats decided to do this but it was definitely a conscious decision that I will speculate was done because without the powered amp, the tuned equalization and the minimal adaptive noise cancelation working, the Beats don't sound very good.
Bose are so light and the head clamp is so relaxed, they leak way more sound than the Beats.
Bose and Beats both makes quality, well engineered products for which people are willingly to pay a premium for the brand name and the performance. It's amazing how opposite these headphones are but that fact makes it easier to decide between the two.
Listening to certain genres, the Bose sound good enough to justify their price point. Add in the superior noise canceling and they are worth every penny. If you are a traveler that needs ANR headphones in noisy environments and loves great sound, buy the Bose.
If you use headphones in more civil environments and love deep, rich bass and crisp, clear highs that accentuate the subtle nuances hidden in your music, get the Beats Studio Wireless.
Or you don't mind your music artificially manipulated to enhance today's music and you like your tunes to vibrate your noggin once in a while and can accept mediocre noise canceling, go with Beats Studio.
As both brands evolve and develop qualities of the competitive products, the consumer will be the winner.
I hope you find this review helpful.
(One word of warning, the Beats and Bose will reveal poorly sampled music. Get ready to update your library to 256 kbps AAC or better)