Beats Studio (2013) review

"The original remastered," reads the interior of the Beats Studio (2013) headphones box. That's the sort of statement that might put fear into the hearts (and ears) of fans of The Beatles - just take a look at the waveforms after each album remaster - and plenty of other music-loving aficionados whose backs are up due to the loudness war. But, typically, that's not going to be Beats' main target audience.

This is 2013 where clipping in drums and booming sub-bass with near-distorted overlays are a common factor in not just underground music, but mainstream pop, hip-hop and plenty of other genres. Bassheads know, and Beats Studio are the apparent ticket when it comes to impactful, uncompromising delivery to the ears. If you want and, indeed, like the bass-heavy sound then are the Beats Studio headphones the go-to "on-ear studio monitors" to go and spend serious cash on and - crucially - are they any good?

Design: Plastic and fingerprints

The 2013 version of the Beats Studio see a total design overhaul compared to the original versions. It's less remaster and more rework; this is the sequel right here. Different from the originals they may be but, if anything, the latest Beats Studio fail to focus on the high-end finish as much as we'd like.

Yes, the packaging is an Apple-standard nicety and the included hard shell carry case is a plus point. But that just doesn't escape how plasticky the exterior build of these - wait for it - £270 headphones are. We don't mind plastic, we don't mind it at all, but at that sort of price point we'd expect premium exterior. There are plenty of competitor headphones that deliver all that along with quality sound and often for less cash.

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Instead the Beats Studio's exterior feel more like the Beats Solo on a larger scale at triple the price. And they're a magnet for fingerprints too: only a few minutes of use and there were prints all over them which, if you want to look cleaned and preened, is far from ideal. There is an included microfibre cleaning cloth in the box to clean them up, but we'd prefer a more resistive finish to have been selected in the first place.

Elsewhere the build delivers a far more quality and comfortable finish: the foam earcups are soft, squidgy and sit like giant marshmallows on the ears. The fit is snug, but never too tight to the point of feeling pinched. As per other headphones where the drivers sit close-up to your lugholes the Beats Studios reamain comfortable as the inner mesh doesn't press against the ear - the exterior soft cups ensure everything remains comfortable. Except if you turn things up too loud as the drivers' close-up distance to the ears means soundwaves are delivered deep into your brain.

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The Beats Studio come with an adjustable headband so that left and right ears can be individually height adjusted. Adjustment exposes the metal headband which lives under the exterior plastic shell and there's plenty of flex in it too - we never felt like the Studio headphones were flimsy or breakable, despite their plasticky exterior.

Compared to the original model, gone are the industrial-esque exposed screws which we think makes for a softer visual package, while minimal amounts of headband cushioning keep everything looking visually tight. Even though there's not a heaving amount of headband cushioning it has just enough resistance for comfort.

Unlike the double-headphone-jack Beats Pro which we saw almost exactly a year ago back in 2012, the Beats Studio in 2013 come with a single 3.5mm port for connecting up a headphones cable. There are two included in the box: one that's a straight 3.5mm on both ends, the other which has a volume control along the wire.

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But there's another port to be aware of: the micro USB port is an essential as this is where the headphones need to connect to charge up their built-in battery. That's right, they're not passive so you'll need to juice up these cans to listen to your favourite beats. That's better than the lesser-lasting AAA batteries of the original model, and while a full charge claims to deliver 20-hours of audio - we've run them non-stop and, fresh out the box on first charge at least, the time claim rings true - outside of the charge and it's audio out. Radio silence. Nada. Zilch.

Fortunately there's a new one-touch battery gauge with five mini LED lights to help display how much time is left - but you'll obviously need to take the headphones off to get the visual benefit of this, by which point - who knows - it may already be too late. Still, two equivalent of long-haul flights with constant audio is no mean feat, so long as you remember to charge up in between such lengthy uses.

Bass haven

Music and mastering has changed dramatically over the years. Just ask any sound engineer who's had to work a festival stage where a seven-piece band is followed up by a red-lining dubstep DJ. They're more than likely going to exhale some air from bulging cheeks. But bass music is here to stay. From its reggae sound system roots to modern music's more to-the-wall mastering, almost everyone loves a bit of the chest-wobbling low-end.

And boy, oh boy do the Beats Studio headphones deliver where the low-end frequencies are concerned. It's like strapping a speaker set to your head. Even when they're not on your lobes the physical movement from the low-end can be felt in the hand. It's powerful stuff.

But there are issues elsewhere. There's a slight hiss that's not uncommon of an active system but, in those moments of silence, isn't desirable. Furthermore the mid-levels feel somewhat dense, like they're over-compressed. It delivers a sound that lacks the open, spacier feeling of some competitors' models. And it can become rather uncomfortable to listen to after long periods - our ears felt like they'd taken a bit of a battering, almost a post-club experience. But perhaps that's exactly what some people are looking for.

Needless to say the Beats Studio are designed with certain musical genres in mind. When we opted for some stripped-back vocal pieces we found that the voice on the track sounded as though it was daubed with a denser, lower-end push.

Radio DJs' voices over the airwaves have a fierce impact too. Although radio compression isn't necessarily the ideal example of premier audio quality, in the YouTube and internet radio era of the 4G world it seemed another sensible avenue to explore.

Sound isolation is another area to consider. The original Studio headphones were akin to a boombox on the ears, which didn't leave much to the aural imaginations of those around you. Beats Studio headphones in 2013 see improvements to sound isolation, but it's still not totally isolated by any means.

When the earcups are open and exposed it's like a mini radio booming out the sound. Strapped on to the head and there's enough of a seal between earcups and skin to hold the majority of sound in. There's still some leakage, where higher-end titters will be heard, but if you're zipping along on the underground, for example, then the external sounds of rushing air and clanging on the track will keep everything nearer to mute for your fellow commuters.

Speaking of mute, press and hold the Beats "b" symbol logo on the left ear and the audio will cut out to silence for as long as it's held. Press and hold the circular power gauge button on the right earcup and it'll switch the headphones off. There's also an auto-off feature that kicks in when the cable is disconnected from the device. Nice touch.

Verdict

The latest Beats Studio headphones are a whole heap of cash for what they are - around as much as the heavier Beats Pro - which is their initial shortcoming. And yet Beats has escalated to a design brand as much as an audio brand, which is where we feel a lot of the money is going. But for a product that's about image we're not at all keen on the fingerprint-magnet plasticky exterior which really doesn't help these to look like £275 headphones at all. But if they suit your design tastes then only you can decide if the price tag will impact your purchase decision or not.

When it comes to audio quality it's going to be a love it or hate it result, depending on your point of view. Audio is loud and these are cans designed to thump at all frequencies, which they really do achieve. Bassheads will love the impact of the low-end, but let's get this straight: that's only going to really suit certain genres of music. The Studio headphones don't have the same sense of space, separation or richness of sound as some competitors out there. The clue's in the name, really: Beats are for beats. But when it comes to that they're bangin' and we've enjoyed using them to power out various mixes.

Comfortable, flexible, and with improved isolation compared to the original model, the Beats Studio 2013 will be five-stars for some, one star for others. They're a hard set of on-ears to score, but irrelevant of the numbers it's all about whether or not these match up with your personal taste. They'll work for some, but not all.