Apple’s $3 billion Beats acquisition was bizarre for a number of reasons. Sure, Apple has never managed a brand other than its own and sure, arguments can be made that question the talent it obtained through the deal. But perhaps the strangest thing about the Beats buy is the simple fact that Beats’ core philosophy is so different from Apple’s: The Beats headphone empire was built with a product line that is decidedly unimpressive, focusing largely on a cool image as opposed to high-quality devices.
Perhaps that will change over time, and Apple will help improve the company’s products so that the audio experience they provide is on par with their cool factor. For the time being, however, customers who value audio quality first and foremost when shopping for headphones should look elsewhere.
Here, we’ll explore four different headphone options that beat comparable Beats headphones.
Pump Audio Earphones
First up, a pair of in-ear headphones that you’ve probably never heard of. To be honest, I had never heard of them either until the company reached out to me, but now I’m glad it did.
When I began researching the company’s products to see if I would even reply to the email I received, the first thing I noticed was the company’s marketing campaign: It was focused entirely on the claim that the Pump Audio Earphones were better than Beats’ earphones.
That didn’t bode well. For one thing, I’ve tried three different kinds of in-ear headphones from Beats, and none of them were terribly impressive. For another, riding Beats’ popularity to promote your own product is a bit low.
After poking around and finding some genuine ringing endorsements, I decided to give them a try.
At just under $150, Pump Audio’s earphones are priced in line with Beats’ Powerbeats and Tour earphones. Neither set of earphones is particularly impressive, with bass that is overbearing and muddy at high volumes, and a general lack of clarity.
My expectations weren’t very high as I unpacked Pump Audio’s box and found a pair of fluorescent orange earphones staring back at me. This is not a case of all show and no go, however. Pump Audio’s Earphones deliver a very impressive listening experience.
Bass is full and powerful, but not overbearing as is the case with comparable Beats products. Clarity also doesn’t suffer at the hands of bass, as the Pump buds deliver clear audio across the spectrum.
These Earphones definitely beat Beats.
Monster DNA Pro 2.0 Over-Ear headphones
The Beats Studio line may very well be the easiest target among the entire Beats lineup, because it likely under-delivers more so than any other Beats product. At $300, there are a wide range of fantastic headphones that offer excellent sound quality and great style, but the Beats Studio headphones is nowhere on that list.
Beats Studios certainly have style, but the sound quality simply can’t compete with several comparable pairs of headphones. Among them, and quite high on the list, are Monster’s DNA Pro 2.0 Over-Ear headphones.
The bass from these headphones will absolutely rattle your skull if you want them to. At reasonable volumes though, the bass is punchy and remarkably full, but it doesn’t overpower the headphones’ bright highs and rich mids.
The styling is unique and possibly polarizing, but they look nice and modern in person. More importantly, they’re among the best-sounding headphones we have ever tested in this price range.
V-Moda Crossfade M-100 over-ear headphones
Sticking in the same price range and therefore still competing with the Beats Studio headphones, we have the Crossfade M-100 over-ear headphones by V-Moda.
Where the Monster headphones have a look that might be a bit odd to some users, the M-100s are undeniably sleek and stylish. The sides and frame are metal, the cushions are soft and comfortable, and the included braided cables really add to the look; the pair I was sent come with a black cable and an orange one for a little extra pop.
Where sound quality is concerned, the M-100s might be considered the anti-Beats. While the look is cool and modern like Beats, the sound quality isn’t an afterthought here — V-Moda’s M-100s deliver brilliant, full sound with very strong bass. And in terms of overall clarity, they leave Beats Studio headphones in the dust.
Phiaton Bridge MS 500 headphones
Finally, we have the Phiaton Bridge MS 500 headphones, which were the most difficult fit for this post but ultimately are a great choice.
The MS 500 are not like other on-ear or over-ear headphones. For one thing, they have something of a hybrid design that will fit like over-ears for users with small ears and like on-ears for users with larger ears.
Phiaton’s design and sound experience are also unlike rival headphones.
Where design is concerned, the MS 500s are more reminiscent of an Italian sports car than a pair of headphones. Smooth surfaces, perforated (p)leather with contrast stitching, soft lines and sleek brushed aluminum are among Phiaton’s highlights. Everything about the look and feel of the MS 500 headphones screams premium.
The sound sets the MS 500s further apart from rivals, though this is where the biggest question marks are raised.
While most headphone companies focus on making bass as deep and loud as possible, Phaiton’s MS 500 headphones are much more like studio monitors than consumer headphones. The sound they deliver is much more pure, allowing the audio source and equalizer to shine through much more clearly.
That’s not so say the MS 500s are weak. Quite the contrary — they deliver fantastic and even audio quality across all genres.
Long story short, the look and sound quality delivered by Phiaton’s MS 500 headphones are both superior to comparable Beats headphones, but these are not a good buy if all you care about is bass.