For those that prefer on-ear headphones, which essentially represent a middle ground between earbuds and over-ear headphones, we think the Beats Solo Proare a fantastic choice. Thanks to effective active noise cancellation, these on-ear phones manage to be much smaller and look less prominent during wear than full over-ear headphones while still providing a high-quality listening experience. Pair that with a sleek user interface and you've got a great and fashionable set of headphones that are perfect for commuting and travel. Our one complaint about these headphones is their comfort. The relatively tight fit, which is largely what allows the noise cancellation to work so well, make them uncomfortable for long periods of wear. If you're looking for all-day headphones these probably don't fit the bill. But don't take that as a knock against these headphones, we wouldn't recommend any on-ear models for all-day wear. That being said, we think the Solo Pro fits that "block the noise on the subway for an hour and then disappear into a bag" niche near perfectly.
Beats Solo Pro Review
Pros: Great sound quality, good active noise canellation, intuitive interface
Cons: Expensive, uncomfortable to wear for long periods
Manufacturer: Beats by Dre
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The biggest advantage of on-ear headphones is that they pack smaller and look less gangly than larger over-ear headphones. However, most of these headphones block out so little ambient noise that you might as well go with even more portable and discrete earbuds. The Beats Solo 3 is a rare exception thanks to the effective noise cancellation, providing a smaller on-ear profile that can still block much of the din of a crowded bus or subway car.
Considering the on-ear design of the Solo Pro doesn't provide the same flattering acoustic enclave that over-ear headphones do, we were impressed that these headphones kept up with many of our favorite over-ear models in our sound quality test. Overall, we think pretty much anyone will like how these headphones sound.
Like most of the Beats line, the Solo Pro puts an emphasis on the low end of tracks, bringing bass lines to the forefront of any composition. While the bass is certainly highlighted with these headphones, we never felt it to be overpowering either, even in tracks that call for over-the-top bass.
We found the Solo Pro's overall clarity to be quite crisp at moderate volumes. The headphones clearly like bass more, thus the low end receives better clarity and separation. However, vocals and instruments in higher registers still enjoy an overall clear expression even if some subtle notes get a bit lost in crowded or overly bass-heavy compositions. Playing music at louder volumes, in our experience, tends to degrade that clarity quickly. Higher pitched vocals took on a noticeably fuzzy quality when played loud during our testing. While this really had no impact on the majority of our listening experience, those that like to blare soprano songstresses may be slightly disappointed.
The Beats Solo Pro offer some of the best active noise cancellation we've ever seen in a pair of on-ear headphones. Though they certainly don't match the same level of overall noise isolation of fully over-ear models, they are a great choice for those looking for sleeker on-ear headphones that can still combat ambient noise.
Right off the bat, the Solo Pro creates a better seal on the ear than the vast majority of on-ear headphones on the market. This is thanks to the relatively stiff padding and the tight fit afforded by the headband (more on that in a bit). This seal alone lets these headphones passively block more ambient noise than most of their on-ear siblings.
That seal also makes the active noise cancelling much more effective. Where most on-ear noise cancelling models let in so much noise that the active cancellation is about as effective as stopping a flood with a chain link fence, the Solo Pro actually creates a predictable seal against that outside noise. This lets the internal microphones and noise cancelling drivers actually do some great work suppressing any of the noise that does make it through that seal.
That being said, the Solo Pro's noise cancellation is about on par with that of most budget over-ear noise cancelling models. Background chatter and the clicking of rails on a subway car is still noticeable when listening to music at low volumes, but so much less conspicuous than it would be otherwise. Perhaps more importantly, you can almost completely drown out that type of noise by playing music at a moderate volume rather than blaring it as most over-ear models would require.
The Beats Solo also offers a transparency mode, which actively uses the microphones to pipe outside noise into your ears. This is mainly for times when you want to be able to hear an announcement or generally be aware of your surroundings, but don't want to take the headphones off.
Unfortunately the tight seal that allows the Solo Pro's noise cancellation comes at the price of overall comfort.
This is because Beats has opted for a borderline clamp-like tightness on the headband in order to facilitate that tight seal. Reactions to this tightness in our comfort testers ranged from, "It's kind of annoying but I don't mind it for an hour or so," to "My ears are instantly itchy I hate this please let me take them off." We think most people will fall into the former category and be able to wear these headphones for about an hour, long enough to keep you entertained and block out noise on your commute, before needing a break. However, since we did have some harshly negative reactions to the fit we would strongly recommend that you either try these headphones on before you buy or purchase them from a retailer with a good return policy.
As they are owned by Apple, Beats knows how to create a great experience for iOS users. The Solo Pro is still friendly for Android users as well, but loses a few special features when used without an Apple device.
To turn the headphones on and off you simply unfold and refold them — no need for a power button here. If you're an Apple user you just need to open the headphones next to an unlocked iPhone and they will pairi automatically thanks to Apple's proprietary H1 chip. Android users will have to put the headphones into pairing mode and then dig through their Bluetooth menu.
Beats kept the on-headphones controls sleek and simple for the Solo Pro. One small button on the left earcup toggles between noise cancellation on/off and transparency mode, which actively transmits outside sounds to your ears. The large "b" logo on the right earcup also serves as a play/pause button. Pressing long on this button can also summon virtual assistants, though Apple users can also just say, "Hey Siri."
This logo button can also skip tracks, with 2 quick presses skipping forward, and 3 skipping backwards.
Buttons just to the top and bottom of that logo can raise and lower the volume, respectively.
The Solo Pro charges via Apple's lightning port. Notably there is no other port on the headphones, not even an auxiliary audio connection. This is a bummer for those that want the option of using the headphones in wired mode if the battery is running low, but don't want to pay extra for a lightning adapter.
The relatively slim and double-hinged Solo Pro packs down smaller than most headphones. The included recycled felt case is somewhat floppy and offers little protection beyond minor scratches. We had no issue throwing the headphones in their case into the top of a daily bag, but got nervous stuffing them into an overpacked carry-on. Also, the lack of the rigidity in the case can make getting the headphones inside and correctly oriented somewhat difficult.
While we would have hoped for a better case considering the price of these headphones, it's an easy fix. Multiple companies are already making more protective cases designed for these headphones at fairly reasonable prices.
While the Beats Solo Pro offers field leading performance in on-ear noise cancellation, it occupies a relatively narrow useful niche — city commuters that want to block out noise on the subway without overly large over-ear headphones, but that also don't like having earbuds in their ears. If your use case fits that scenario exactly, then the premium price of the Beats Solo Pro is well worth it. But, if you want headphones that can do anything beyond sound good and be bearably comfortable for stints no longer than an hour at a time, these headphones will end up being a waste of money.
Possibly the perfect city commuting headphones on the market right now, the Beats Solo Pro shine for morning subway rides, but fail as all-day companions.
— Michelle Powell and Max Mutter