The Monster Beats Solo HD are a slightly tweaked version of thee original Solo on-ears headphones. They cost £20 more at RRP and use a high-gloss plastic finish in place of matt.
Monster doesn't boast about the technical specs underlying this upgrade, instead dubbing them "high performance" and "high definition" respectively - terms which have no concrete meaning here beyond their marketing function. We reviewed the Solo pair last year and were thoroughly unimpressed with their sound. While the claim of improved sound here isn't a fabrication, the Solo HD don't do enough to turn the Beats boat around.
These headphones have been designed under the philosophy that big bass is good bass. When, in actuality, good bass is something entirely different, something that only converges with "big bass" on very rare, but delightful, occasions.
What results from this faulty approach to the bottom end is best described as a cloying fug. Like eating caramel that sticks to the roof of your mouth, it may seem pleasant at first, but as more and more of the stuff is shovelled into your mouth - continually refusing to be swallowed until long after it has outstayed its welcome - it just gets annoying. We have heard boomier basshead sets with poorer low-end management, but when the Solo HD cost well over £100, we have a right to expect more.
Top-end detail and resolution are significantly improved over the very poor efforts of the Beats Solo, but the sound is nevertheless unbalanced. Clarity remains mediocre. It's telling that when listening to spoken-word recordings, voices are often reduced to a bassy burble, as if they are talking through a thin plywood wall.
It is possible to try and defend the Beats Solo HD's bass-centric tone by claiming genre specificity - that they excel with bass-heavy music. However, the opposite is true, acting as a catalyst for their sonic dysfunction.
What's doubly annoying about the Beats Solo HD's muddled, veiled sound is that a large part of it is down to tuning. They likely use 40mm drivers similar to the best at the price, but the skewed sound signature ruins their chances of approaching their performance.
Not that this has adversely affected sales, mind. A strong brand and great design has made the Solo HD into one of the most popular sets of headphones around, but we'd advise considering the cheaper Philips O'Neill pair or the Sony MDR-ZX700, which offer far superior clarity for around half the price.
Realising quite how poor the original Solo headphones sounded for their money, Monster has improved sound in the Beats HD. However, it hasn't done nearly enough. An attractive design offering good comfort can't hide that their muddy sound cannot be justified at the price.