Beats vs Bose, Sony vs Sennheiser: we explore the hype surrounding the different sets of headphones for different types of music lovers
Five headphones: which ones suit you best?
Beats Solo3 Wireless
It’s fair to say that no other headphones have been as polarising as the ones from Dr Dre’s multibillion-dollar brand. The punchy bass that so squarely defines the iconic “Beats” sound has endured, to the ire of many listeners. Users either love that “slug-to-your-chest” audio impact, or hate the fact that the imposing bass all but drowns out the nuanced mid-range of the music. In-house engineering has done little to stifle the oft-heard criticism that the acoustics do not justify the price tag. If your playlist is comprised primarily of hip-hop and electro music, though, you’ll find the low-wave acuity of Beats headphones actually pumps new life into classic tunes. Yet in its latest Solo iteration (Dh1,100, the brand recognised that it isn’t winning over any audiophiles, so instead it delivers its signature sound wirelessly in a Bluetooth experience that is probably the most seamless in class. With 40 hours of battery life on a single charge, a W1 chip that fully integrates into your Apple ecosystem and intuitive on-board control buttons, Beats Electronics accurately identified what makes its premium headphones convenient. With hundreds of celebrities seen donning B-branded sets, Beats headphones have become staple urban wear, and this new pair, which comes in eight colours, will definitely win you some street cred. The build quality, however, is mediocre. Plastic components, and a comfortable yet noticeable ear cup foam, which makes you want to take them off at least every hour, are disappointing features. Saying that, if you love Beats, then this is its finest Solo yet.
The German brand’s devotion to audio fidelity manifests itself in an understated but true-to-form listening experience. You get breadth with Sennheiser, and in its mid-level Momentums (Dh1,500), listeners don’t need to read the geek sheet to understand why they sound so clean. Here the company isn’t explaining why its gold-vaporised ceramic transducers deliver an ultra-high-impulse fidelity, as in the Dh200,000 HE-1. Here you just need to be patient – the bass isn’t going to punch you so hard that you’ll mistake it for quality. Instead, Sennheiser wants to attract listeners who appreciate more finesse and less brute. In terms of engineering, the product mimics Bavarian industrial sensibilities. So, the German touch is there, but perhaps a little too much. If there were to be any criticism, it’s that these headphones are balanced to the point of being boring. Design-wise, the company has improved on comfort, but the band’s brushed metal design still makes it a little rigid for long sessions. And while the audio balancing has created a real treat of a listening experiencing, it takes a listener with an eclectic style to appreciate the range.
In the mid-range realm, no headphones come close to the magic experienced thanks to the QC35’s ability to transport you from that uncomfortable plane ride, punctuated by a screeching infant, to a focused listening session. The sound stage and impressive crispness on these noise-cancelling virtuosos (Dh1,285) are tuned to deliver you right in the middle of the audio spectrum. Bose, over the years, has become the noise-cancelling champion, honing the technology to the point where the experience is slightly shocking. Of course, Bluetooth headphones will never be as good as a wired device. The Bluetooth on this device is great – it’s not going to deliver the kind of sound that will blow anyone away, but it will come pretty close. Another wireless technology fact: bigger is usually better. Speaking of which, the space inside these ear cups is surprisingly large and the headband is crafted from super-soft Alcantara. These touchpoints, distributed over a surprisingly light 230 grams, mean that, for the first time in my long headphone-wearing life, I never want to take these off. Ever.
Sony’s expertise in manufacturing a wide range of products shines through in the MDR-1000X’s non-audio-related aspects. The design is understated and mature, and practicality shines through in oft-overlooked components. The leather on the outer shell makes the product feel premium, although the durability of the material is yet to be proven. The design will ensure that hair never gets caught between the ear shells and the headband. However, coming in at slightly more expensive than the Bose Quiet Comfort, these headphones make almost no case for why consumers should favour the Japanese brand. If anything, the extra features in the noise-cancelling system indicate a failure in design. It forces the listener to input information, while the Bose option just blankets all noise. To unlock the device’s hi-res capability would require a commitment to a Sony ecosystem, which is a big ask, given the company’s outdated tech. Also, when compared to the QCs, I noticed a slightly heavier bass on these. Fanchildren are sure to chime in on how much better QC’s technology is. Admittedly, the MDR-1000X (Dh920) is a great start and Sony is likely to build on this maiden entry into noise-cancelling technology.
It was a pair of Philips headphones that first made me understand how much better it was to have music around the ears, rather than inside them. Of late, the company has focused on making a name for its shavers – it introduced the electric razor in 1939. However, around the same time, it began manufacturing home radios, gaining insight into the complex world of sound engineering. The 3060s are airport headphones, but they’ll outperform both the Dh80 price tag and the iPhone earphones you forgot to pack. What sets them apart from other Dh100-range headphones is the warmth of the bass, which shines through, sounding big on low-wave heavy songs, which is uncharacteristic of budget sets. The criticism comes when playing softer music, which sounds springy, even muted. However, the vocals will always be vibrant and real. What also makes these surprising is just how comfy they are. The soft, rotating ear shells rest easy on even the most awkwardly shaped heads, plus there’s that low price. So you can break free from scooping earwax and enter a world where music travels the way it’s meant to.