Together, Beats Electronics and Monster Cable Products devoured 53% of the headphone market before divorcing last year. Now, Beats Electronics is on its own, and it means business: I just spent a week with the Urbeats by Dr. Dre(available at Amazon)—and these in-ears really put up a fierce fight.
It takes an impressive spin in the lab to earn a positive review, and the Urbeats did just that. Testing revealed incredibly low distortion across the spectrum, a healthy frequency response, and much more besides that.
Designed with Goldilocks in mind
The Urbeats sport slick visual design elements, but their utilitarian aspects really make for the best talking points. Since in-ears can be tough when it comes to finding just the right fit, Beats Electronics includes four different-sized silicone speaker sleeves with an accompanying carry case. Talk about customizable!
Next, a 3.94-foot cable has a flat shape to effectively resist tangles. If you ever use in-ears while jogging, you'll love this tangle-free design. The cable also houses a handy mic and remote, and even a shirt clip. No need to reach for your device in order to skip a tune, take a call, or crank the volume—and iPhone users can even hold the main button down to activate voice commands. Unfortunately, the mic is so high up on the cable that you really can't see it at all—a minor gripe. More important is the fact that the connections aren't the most protected, so handle the cable with care.
Lastly, users will also find a small carry case for the Urbeats for on-the-go protection. And speaking of on-the-go, these headphones block a considerable amount of unwanted, outside noise. High-pitched bothers like birds and neighboring conversations are 1/32 as loud. Even lower frequency sounds like dump trucks and trains can be reduced to anywhere from 1/2 to 1/4 of their original loudness. If you want the world to go away, these Urbeats can help.
Big bass that doesn't bully the rest
A response like the one I found on the Urbeats by Dre is unsuitable for the studio, which requires a flatter curve, but average consumers are a different story. Like an equal loudness curve, the Urbeats produce frequencies in a manner that equalizes them in volume to the human ear. Thus, bass absolutely booms, but more delicate instruments aren't overcome.
From sub-bass all the way to tip-top notes, sounds shadow the ELC curve very closely. The deviations I found are minor: At 3kHz, sound falls in volume so that certain upper notes on strings, woodwinds, and brass may lose proper emphasis—but we're only talking 5dB under where it ought to be. The same occurs right above 10kHz, so that the highest notes on the scale will suffer a similar underemphasis, from time to time. Honestly though, it would take the most practiced ear to hear such errors.
When I unwrapped the Urbeats and found myself confronted with the image of an unclad lady in not but a set of headphones, I felt less than optimistic. Yet this set of in-ears entered the audio lab and emerged mostly unscathed, with favorable results across the board.
Beats fans love big bass, and the Urbeats by Dr. Dre don't withhold the booty: Low notes get a real boost, so that hip hop and dub offer the rumbling bass that so many young consumers love. Hooligans. Better still, the mid and high notes aren't left in the dust. Often, bass boosters fail to properly emphasize the rest of the scale and music loses its texture and detail, but not so with the Urbeats: Snare drums, guitar notes, flutes, and the rest come through loud and clear. The volume isn't perfect—certain notes in the high end of the middle range are too quiet, so you may lose a high note on strings, woodwinds, and the like, now and again. But this is a mild error that many people will never even notice.
From there, it's really just roses, sunshine, and unicorns. Unless you're just blasting your tunes—which is bad for your health—you won't find a single portion of the scale that suffers audible distortion, not even in the often-flawed sub-bass range. Next, volume between the left and right speakers wavered so little that it's practically undetectable across the board—a rare feat. And to top it all off with a big cherry, the Urbeats showed wonderful noise-blocking ability and barely leaked a drop of noise. Your horrible taste in music need not bother your neighbors. For under 100 bucks, these results look mighty fine.
What distortion? Where?
Well, wow. I didn't uncover even one instance of audible distortion—not even in the oft-plagued sub-bass range. This is an unusual and wonderful result.
Thus, Perceptual Harmonic Distortion doesn't warrant discussion. If your tunes rise above 95.82dB(SPL), all that changes—you'll get more than 3% distortion. This is a lower max SPL than what I usually find, but listening to music at 100dB isn't safe anyway, so just maintain an appropriate volume.
I'll say it again: Wow.
Tracking refers to the balance of volume between left and right speakers. Frequently, this is a big problem area for headphones. Certain notes are often twice as loud in one ear as in the other, for example. But the Urbeats once again passed the test with flying colors.
From top to bottom, tracking errors are so minor as not to be heard. None of the imbalances even reach 2dB—a brilliant performance.
Eat your Beats
Thanks to healthy sound quality, customizability, and a tangle-resistant cord with a mic/remote, the MSRP $99.95 Urbeats by Dr. Dre are excellent companions for travelers, runners, and office drones alike. These headphones block out a great deal of unwanted sound while keeping music locked in, too—so you won't bother your neighbors.
Comparison shopping is certainly never a bad idea, as there are definitely suitable alternatives for less—competition is never far, is it? But if you're waffling, just think on this: This is a great set of in-ears, and at the end of the day, the right buyer for the Urbeats is a bass lover with a $100 dollar bill in their pocket.
Meet the testers
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Virginia is a former Managing Editor at Reviewed.com. She has a background in English and journalism. Away from the office, Virginia passes time with dusty books & house cats.See all of Virginia Barry's reviews
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