Dear Lifehacker, I'm in the market for a new pair of headphones, and I've been eyeballing the Beats By Dre Studios. I like a lot of bass in my music, but some people tell me they suck and are overpriced. Are they actually horrible, or are these people just snobby audiophiles who like to hate on popular headphones? Will I notice a difference? Sincerely, Bickering Over Beats
People have been asking us this question for years, so we've decided it's time to settle this once and for all.
As snobby as (some) audiophiles may seem, they're right on this one: Beats are... not great. Not only are they not worth their price, there are a lot of headphones that will give you better sound — with lots of bass — for less. Here's the issue surrounding these fashionable cans, and what we recommend looking at instead.
The Problem With Beats
I tried Beats years ago, before my foray into headphones, and I thought they sounded awesome. Since then, I've tried numerous other headphones and assumed that people hated Beats just because it was fashionable to do so. I assumed they were probably OK quality and only overpriced because of the brand name. I recently tried a pair of Beats Studios again, and I was shocked to find that I was wrong: they really aren't very good.
The problem isn't that the Beats have too much bass. It's that they have too much low quality bass, and that their mids and treble are even worse. If you want to hear what Beats sound like, pull up your equaliser and ram the mid-bass frequencies up a bit. There's not nearly enough definition to make the bass sound good, it's just... loud and boomy. Plus, it drowns out nearly everything else in the music — which is arguably OK, because the treble and mids sound like they're coming from inside a well. The Pro and Executive lines are supposed to be better than the Studios and Solos (I haven't tried them myself), but they're even more money — and still not worth their price.
Many audiophiles will tell you that you "shouldn't" be using a headphone with such emphasised bass. In my opinion, that's bull. Listen to whatever sounds good to you. But even if Beats sound good to you now, you'll be shocked when you hear something of higher quality — for less money.
That's right. We don't have to tell you that Beats are overpriced. When you buy a pair of Beats, you're paying for style and branding. If that's what you want, then go for it — we have no vested interest in what you wear on your head. But if you're looking for awesome sound, we have some headphones you might like better.
Bass-Heavy Alternatives To Beats
So what should you buy instead? If you search around the internet, you'll find a lot of articles recommending a bunch of random high-end headphones, but we know that's not what you want. You're looking for something specific: bass, and lots of it. You probably listen to a lot of hip-hop or electronic music, and bass-heavy cans are going to make it sound awesome. Some of these headphones may be good for rock and pop, too, but those genres usually excel with a more balanced headphone.
Here are a few recommendations for bass-heavy Beats alternatives:
- Denon AH-D600: In my opinion, these are the ultimate Beats alternatives. They're a little less portable, and they don't have active noise cancellation, but they have some serious, high-quality bass slam. It drowns out the mids a tad, but overall the rest of the sound is much clearer and more balanced than Beats'.
- V-Moda Crossfade M-100: These are the only headphones on the list that I've never heard, but word on the street is they're the other ultimate Beats replacements — and for around the same price as the Beats Studios. They are much more portable than the Denons, so if that's important to you, they're worth looking at.
- Audio Technica ATH-M50: Audio Technica's insanely popular M50s are not quite as bassy as the others on this list, but still have a but of extra punch in the lower end. Their higher end is also a tad brighter. This would probably be a good headphone if you listen to genres other than rap or electronic.
- Shure SRH750DJ: Not quite as popular as either the above contenders, the SRH750DJ has some really nice bass boost that doesn't drown out the mids quite as much. Treble suffers slightly, and they aren't the most comfortable things in the world, but they're worthy of their small but loyal fanbase.
- Ultrasone HFI-580: Like the M50s, most of the Ultrasone line has a nice bass boost, but the treble tends to be on the brighter side (even brighter than the M50s, in my experience). Check out the 780s if you're willing to spend a bit more.
These are far from the only bassy headphones out there, but if you're considering Beats, these are some of the most oft-recommended replacements at a few different price points. I highly recommend you listen to a few before you run off and buy one (as my impressions and tastes will differ from yours), and you should also check out this giant thread at Head-Fi which has a lot of information on bass-heavy cans. And, of course, check out our headphone buying guide for other tips and info if you don't have a lot of experience with headphones.
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