The Beats By Dre brand has been through an enormous growth sprint since its inception more than a decade ago. Beats headphones have been hugely popular from the start, partly because of their sleek design and effective marketing strategy.
But are they actually any good? And how do they compare to similar and lower priced alternative headphones?
Before we list our 6 favorite headphones better than Beats, let’s have a closer look at the history behind Beats By Dre and their current range of headphones.
A Little Bit of Beats History
Beats by Dre was founded in 2006 by rapper, record producer and legend Dr Dre, and record and film producer Jimmy Iovine. The motivation behind Beats was that piracy had a huge impact on music sales, and that people couldn’t experience music the way it was meant to be experienced due to the overall poor audio quality provided by, for example, Apple’s plastic earbuds.
It took two years before the first Beats headphones were introduced to the market: Beats by Dr Dre Studio headphones. The box came with a clear message from Dr Dre printed on it:
With Beats, people are going to hear what the artists hear and listen to music the way they should: the way I do.
Initially manufactured by Monster Cable, it was clear from the start how Beats wanted to differentiate itself from competitors: excellent marketing with attractive packaging and a focus on bass sounds. That first Beats headphones model became a huge hit and set the bar very high for following models.
HTC and Apple Get Involved
With strong sales and a brand that was becoming more established, Taiwanese cellphone manufacturer HTC purchased a majority share in Beats in August 2010.
In 2012 however, HTC reduced its share to just over 25%. In that same year, Beats ended its partnership with Monster, meaning Dre and Iovine would now become responsible for the entire operation of the business, including manufacturing.
In May 2014, Apple announced that is was going to purchase Beats for a whopping 3 billion dollars, Apple’s biggest acquisition ever.
This was massive – especially for a headphones company – but to put things in perspective, Apple’s revenue in the year before was 171 billion dollars so they had some cash to spend.
Not much has changed in regards to its headphones since the take-over, at least not what we consumers can see.
The brand “Beats by Dre” lives on and the design and marketing is still as strong as it used to be. It also appears that Apple has invested in improving the overall quality of the headphones.
Pros and Cons of Beats Headphones
In a period of less than 10 years, Beats by Dre has grown into a multi-billion dollar business. It’s obvious that the success of Beats headphones is partly due to an extremely effective marketing campaign. The man behind the brand is a legend who’s sold millions of records over the years.
Beats headphones have also been endorsed by, and linked to, several other celebrities such as Justin Bieber, will.i.am and Pharell Williams. In addition, the packaging and overall design of their products and logo are perfect.
Despite its enormous popularity, Beats headphones have also copped a lot of criticism over the years. It’s often said that Beats headphones are overpriced and that you’re buying a popular brand rather than a top quality product.
Others say that Beats headphones are too bass-heavy and that they only work well when playing music with a focus on bass sounds such as hip hop.
We won’t be going into any detail around the technical quality of Beats headphones here and we encourage you to do your own research before purchasing the right set of headphones for you.
Beats Headphones Currently Available
Here is a summary of the different Beats headphone models that are currently available on the market, from most affordable to most expensive:
1. Beats EP
Designed for everyday use, the Beats EP is an on-ear, wired headphones model, available in blue, white, red and black.
The fine-tuned acoustics in this base model deliver clarity, depth and balance. The lightweight, battery-free design with fixed cable is reinforced with stainless steel and the adjustable vertical sliders allow for a personalized fit.
The RemoteTalk cable allows you to take calls and control your music without touching your phone. The EP comes with a foldable carrying pouch and quick start guide.
2. Beats Solo2
The Solo2 is an on-ear, wireless headphone, available in 11 different colors.
Designed for comfort, The Solo2 has a flexible headband and ergonomically angled ear cups made with premium materials. The Solo2 is claimed to have a more dynamic and wider range of sound, with more clarity and higher fidelity audio.
It comes with a color-matched RemoteTalk cable so you can change songs, adjust volume and take calls without having to reach for your iOS device. A 3.5mm headphone cable is also included in case you run out of battery.
3. Beats Solo3 Wireless
Released in September 2016, the on-ear, wireless Solo3 is the first headphones that can work with the new Apple process for pairing.
One of the main selling points of the Solo3 is its 40-hour battery life which makes it the perfect everyday headphones. Another cool feature is the integrated on-ear controls with built-in, dual beam-forming microphones that allow you to control your music and volume and take phone calls with a touch of a button.
The comfortable cushion ear cups buffer outside noise so you can enjoy the best music experience. Comes packaged with a carrying case, a 3.5mm RemoteTalk cable, a universal USB charging cable and a quick start guide.
Check out this video for an in-depth review:
4. Beats Studio Wireless
The Studio Wireless is an over-ear headphones model, designed to make your listening experience personal and real.
The lightweight headband with soft ear cups will make you forget you’re wearing headphones. The dual-mode Adaptive Noise Canceling (ANC) allows you to put the outside world on mute, even when not listening to music.
The built-in rechargeable battery lasts 12 hours when using wireless and 20 hours when you’re plugged in. The LED fuel gauge lets you know at all times how much charge you have left. Pair and play with your Bluetooth device with an impressive 30ft range.
5. Beats Pro
Used by artists and producers, the over-ear Beats Pro is the most expensive Headphones model in the Beats range, delivering an authentic and powerful sound.
The Beats Pro headphones are made with an aluminum gunmetal frame with cushioned headband and comfortable leather ear cups. The heavily padded, pivoting ear cups are designed to experience true noise reduction resulting in great accuracy and clarity.
It comes with a 3.5mm audio cable, an audio adapter, a RemoteTalk cable, an in-line remote & mic cable and a carrying pouch.
6 Headphones Better Than Beats
We’ve researched the market extensively, looking at price, design and reviews, and have come up with the following list of 6 headphones that are excellent alternatives to Beats headphones (from most affordable to most expensive):
1. AtomicX V203 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
Made by iDeaUSA, the Atomicx V203 is a very affordable and sharp-looking over-ear, wireless headphones with Active Noise Cancelling technology. The ANC can be activated with a switch on the left ear and is able to reduce ambient noise by up to 85%. The Atomicx is a comfortable headphones with robust metal construction (albeit a touch heavy), comfortable swiveling ear cups and foldable arms.
The rechargeable battery supports up to 16 hours playback in Bluetooth mode which is very decent. The Bluetooth 4.0 feature easily connects to your Bluetooth enabled devices within a 33 feet range. A built-in mic can be used for taking calls by simply tapping on the right ear cup of the headphones. The Atomicx V203 comes with a AUX cable, USB charging cable, airline adapter, carrying bag and a user manual.
2. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
Slightly higher priced than the Atomixc V203, the ATH-M50x by Audio-Technica is another top quality headphones model with over-ear fit. The ATH-M50x is the successor to the successful ATH-M50 which became popular with music fans who simply didn’t want to pay almost double for a Beats Studio with a similar set of features.
The ATH-M50x has improved earcups padding and the detachable cable has also been re-designed. The durable headband and the sound isolating 90 degrees swiveling earcups deliver a pleasant user experience. A drawback is that the M50x headphones don’t have a built-in microphone or controller for making phone calls.
3. V-Moda Crossfade M-100
The sturdy-looking, feature-rich V-Moda Crossfade M-100 delivers a top quality sound with powerful bass that will satisfy most audiophiles. The M-100 is an over-ear, wired headphones model that is able to separate bass from vivid mids and ultra-extended highs with its patented 50mm Dual Diaphragm Drivers.
The unique CLIQFOLD design allows for compact storage in the carrying case. Comes with Kevlar reinforced SpeakEasy Mic cable and SharePlay audio cable. With SharePlay you can have a friend plug their headphone to the V-Moda cable and get to listen to the same music.
4. Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
The on-ear, wireless P5 by Bowers & Wilkins delivers advanced Bluetooth streaming for a top-quality wireless acoustic performance. Wrapped in black leather and with a stunning overall design, the P5 is able to perfectly combine looks and quality into one great product.
The ear cups, with removable pads, easily reduce external noise to a minimum. The battery-life is good too, with up to 17 hours of continuous playback. The right ear cup contains three buttons that allow you to control volume and tracks and answer phone calls. The built-in microphone works really well too.
With a light-weight, foldable design and an attractive carrying bag, the P5 is your perfect companion when on the road.
5. Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless
Of course, a Bose must be included in this list of headphones better than Beats. Bose has a strong reputation of delivering top-quality consumer electronic products, specializing in audio equipment. The on-ear, wireless QuietComfort 35 delivers unbeatable active-noise canceling and easy wireless Bluetooth pairing. The dual-microphone system with noise-rejection allows for clear phone calls even in noisy environments.
The 35 also works in wired mode with included 47.2-inch cable in case the battery runs empty. That won’t happen very easily though as the battery-life is very decent: 20 hours wireless and 40 hours in wired mode.
The QuietComfort comes packaged with a USB charging cable, an audio cable for wired connection, an airline adapter and a comfortable carrying case. Bose also offers a free app to make connecting and switching between devices with Bluetooth even easier.
6. Sony MDR-1000X Noise Canceling Bluetooth Headphones
Just like Bose, Sony also has a great reputation when it comes to quality audio equipment. Sony has a solid range of headphones and the over-ear, wireless MDR-1000X is one of the more exclusive ones, delivering wireless Bluetooth freedom and Hi-Res audio. If you’re willing to accept the price tag, you really can’t go wrong with this sophisticated and feature-rich model in regards to design and quality.
The superb noise cancellation lets you enjoy your favorite music without any distractions, whether you choose to listen in absolute silence or tailor the sound to your environment. The Sony trademarked Sense Engine allows you to take full control of the sound so you can hear only what you want to hear. It gives you the freedom to tune in and out of your music with a simple touch of a button. The built-in rechargeable battery provides 20 hours of wireless music playback.
Beats headphones look good, there’s no doubt, but is the relatively high price justified? Are they better than other brands or do they just look good. Ultimately that’s a matter of personal choice, but reality is that Beats headphones are not superior in quality over other similarly (or lower) priced headphones.
It must be said though that since Apple has taken over, the sound quality of Beats headphones appears to have improved significantly.
If you love the design of a Beats and it suits your lifestyle, by all means enjoy your headphones, you won’t be disappointed.
But if you’re in the market for a new pair of headphones and you don’t care too much about branding, we’d recommend to research the market with an open mind and choose the best product that fits within your budget.