My son's birthday was this last weekend. And, as a teenager and young athlete, you can guess what was prominently at the top of his wish list: Beats™ by Dr. Dre™.
Okay, I get it. Most top name athletes are sporting Beats™. They're hip, cool and trendy. Plus, they are a premium, high quality product. So needless to say, he got Beats for his birthday. And I got an opportunity to compare the sound of those Beats Studio headphones side-by-side...or ear-by-ear, as the case may be, with my JBL Synchros Slates. I took several long listening sessions with both the Beats Studio and JBL Synchros Slate headphones. I used the same songs to evaluate both. I listened only to music. I did not consider nor listen to any talking tracks such as a podcast. Both headphones use some kind of active circuitry, which requires power, to enhance the listening experience so I factored that into my overall opinion of each.
The Beats Studio model headphones come with active noise cancellation and use a built-in rechargeable battery to power them. The JBLs come with active DSP (digital signal processing) called LiveStage (more on that later) and requires two AA batteries for power. I really dig the rechargeable battery of the Beats Studio over replacing AA batteries. Just plug them into the supplied USB charge cable and you get 20 hours of active noise cancellation. However, given that the Beats' rechargeable battery is embedded and not user replaceable, it means the service life of the headphones may be limited to the battery recharge lifespan. My JBLs get 20 hours of active DSP from a fresh pair of batteries and can work with any AA batteries including rechargeables if I choose. Anyone who's used a cellphone for a few years knows that rechargeable batteries DO lose life over time and eventually need replaced.
WINNER: JBL Synchros Slate
This is entirely subjective given I may have a larger or smaller (probably larger) head than you. But, bottom line is that fit is important. Both the Beats and JBLs have extendable arms on each side. They each have a nicely padded center head piece. They each have nicely padded ear cups that swivel and rotate generously for any angle. But then there's the tightness of the headphones. If wearing headphones makes you feel like your head is in a vice then you will either get a headache after a while or just not want to wear them. Or you may choose to wear them around your neck as a fashion statement...ahem. But I digress. Hands down, the Beats fit tighter to my noggin than the JBLs. That may be a good thing if I'm taking on Lebron in a game of 1-on-1. But I don't plan to anytime soon. I use my headphones to listen to music at my desk or while playing some games on my iPad. If I can't stand them clamping my ears together then I'm not going to reach for them. The JBLs fit is much nicer, in my opinion. They are more relaxed without being too loose. The JBLs slip on and off my ears without clapping together like a trap. I love how comfortable they feel on my head and I could literally wear them for hours. I can't say the same for the Beats. If your head is really small, then the JBLs may fit too loose for you, but I think most adults will enjoy the fit and feel of the JBLs better.
WINNER: JBL Synchros Slate
AMBIENT NOISE CANCELLATION:
I assumed the active noise cancellation of the Beats would actively tune out any all ambient noise, allowing me to focus on the music. And they certainly DO block out most ambient sound. But not all ambient noise. Which was disappointing. The Beats Studios are more of an "on-ear" headphone (not big enough to cover the whole ear). The active noise cancellation does as good of job of blocking out (actually reversing the audio effects of) ambient noise. The JBLs are bigger and fit over the entire ear, thus they use passive noise cancellation to block out ambient noise. Like the Beats, the Slates are not perfect at blocking out all ambient noise. They each do a pretty good job of isolating your ears from outside sounds and block out ~90+% of ambient noise.
When it comes to enjoying tunes in private, it really boils down to the quality of sound reproduction. Both the JBL and Beats do a fantastic job of delivering excellent sound to your eardrums. The Beats Studios sound is what I will call "pure" and unadulterated. In my opinion, the Studios have a flatter, more natural sound. That's not a bad thing if that's what you like. The JBL Slates have active DSP called LiveStage™ that enhances the sound of whatever you're listening to. It's not obscene or over the top with booming bass and tiss-tiss treble. No, instead, the LiveStage™ actually seems to add "life" to your music, making it sound more...live. I would say the LiveStage™ DSP gives music better "presence." But unlike the Beats Studio active noise cancellation, which auto-enables at any signal input (unless the batteries are dead), you can enable or disable the LiveStage™ DSP with a switch. Disabling the LiveStage™ DSP gives you a flatter, less adulterated sound, more like what the Beats deliver. In my opinion, the JBLs deliver superior sound for music with the LiveStage™ DSP active, and similar sound to the Beats Studio w/o LiveStage™.
WINNER: JBL Synchros Slate
The JBLs look good. I love the look for the slate black Slates. But I'm not sure anyone puts as much thought and design into headphones as Beats™ by Dr. Dre™. Hands down, the Beats are a total fashion statement and rightly so. They look like precision and art embodied on head wearable technology. Plus, the Beats Studios come in a plethora of color options to match any personality. The Studios come with a finish-matched cable plus the famous Beats red cable. The JBLs come with a black cable that's not very beefy, which is too bad. I think the JBLs would benefit from a beefier cable, if not for better signal delivery then certainly a higher quality "looking" cable. The Beats' cables are beefy and eschew high quality craftsmanship. Bonus - If wearing the Beats makes you feel like your pumpkin is in a vice, you can always wear the headphones around your neck as a total fashion statement. Go to any mall USA and you will see how many people choose the fashion statement route.
WINNER: Beats Studio
If how your headphones actually sound is important, and if you actually want to wear your headphones on your head, then the JBL Synchros Slates are hands-down the better purchase, in my opinion. If being seen wearing the same headphones as Lebron and Dr. Dre is important then the choice is obvious. Don't get me wrong, the Beats look sharp, are precision made and sound awesome. But the JBLs are built to high quality standards, too, and sound awesomer. Let your ears be the judge.
OVERALL WINNER: JBL Synchros Slate
Until next time,
Your Sprint Product Ambassadors
Disclaimer: The Product Ambassadors are Sprint employees from many different parts of the company that love technology. They volunteer to test out all sorts of Sprint devices and offer opinions freely to the Community. Each Product Ambassador shares their own opinions of these devices, therefore the information in this post does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sprint. The PA's do not represent the company in an official way, and should not be expected to respond to Community members in an official capacity.