Marley thrashes Beats by Dre in FixYa's celebrity headphone battle

Marley thrashes Beats by Dre in FixYa's celebrity headphone battle

Summary: Beats by Dre has the most fashionable fascia in the celebrity headphone market, but FixYa's new crowd-sourced report reckons House of Marley phones are better, while Jay-Z's cans are the pick for value

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If you travel a lot on business, then you probably own a pair of Bose, Audio-Technica, B&W or similar noise-cancelling headphones, and you've probably looked down on the ignorant youths using the mediocre white earbuds supplied as standard with Apple's audio products. Well, times have changed. Many of those kids are now sporting celebrity cans from the likes of Dr Dre, Ludacris, Jay-Z and 50 Cent, some of which cost as much or more than yours. The fashion has even reached the level that "Beats by Dre" has been adopted by tech companies such as Hewlett-Packard (in laptops) and Nokia (with Windows Phones).

FixYa headphones product logos
Celebrity headphones....

However, it turns out that the pick of the celebrity headphones is House of Marley, which trounces Dr Dre's beats, according to a new report based on users of the FixYa problem-solving website.

House of Marley phones have "great sound quality" and "stand out as the best headphones in our report," says FixYa. They also score on being eco-friendly and donating a proportion of profits to charities, but they are not without problems.

The main thing users complain about is the comfort (30%) and noise isolation (25%), which are important if you're wearing them on long flights. They also suffer from some lack of treble (25%) and loss of high frequencies (10%). So you might still be better off with a pair of Audio-Technica QuietPoint or B&W P3 headphones, or whatever.

Beats by Dre headphones get dinged for noise-cancelling performance (40%) and an uneven sound (25%) with overpowering bass (10%). FixYa's report says that "with randomly varying highs and lows producing music that doesn't sound cohesive, Beats by Dre can be notoriously spotty across all genres of music." But perhaps even more worrying was the level of headphone malfunction (15%). Maybe those Bose guys have a point after all….

Soul by Ludacris headphones are an attempt to take Beats by Dre to a higher -- and maybe more expensive -- level, but they suffer from similar problems. They probably sound wonderful with bass-driven hip-hop, but, says FixYa, "for fans of non-bass driven music, the Soul headphones will be a significant disappointment."

The main complaints are about noise-cancelling performance (35%), the overpowering bass (30%), and overly-dynamic sound (10%). Users also complained about battery power (15%).

SMS Audio 50 by 50 Cent is another attempt to outdo Dr Dre, partly through the use of the KLEER wireless system. Unfortunately, this is the main source of user complaints (30%). Other criticisms are muddy sounds, overpowering bass, and uncomfortable fit (20% each). FixYa says: "Decidedly worse than Beats by Dre and Soul by Ludacris, the SMS Audio 50 is bursting with uninspiring music quality, overwhelming bass, and various other issues that make the headphone one of the most disappointing amongst celebrity headphones."

As FixYa's report points out, there are much better-sounding wireless headphones that also use KLEER, such as the Sennheiser RS 180 and cheaper R 160 models.

So, if you really want celebrity headphones and don't want to pay House of Marley prices, the best choice looks like Jay-Z's Skullcandy Roc Nation Aviators. FixYa says this is "truly a splendid headphone that can match up with the best in the market" and "one of the better values". The main complaints -- all rated 20% -- are the light bass and over-bright sound, plus the effects of outside noise.

The Roc Nation Aviators also have durability issues. FixYa says they can be adjusted in numerous ways so you can wear them how you want, but the downside to their malleability is "the tendency to become loose after prolonged use."

The report doesn't contain anything that will give Bose and other major suppliers a headache, but you could certainly consider a pair of House of Marley TTR Destiny headphones if you want to look trendy. As long as you like bass. Meanwhile the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones work very well, are comfortable to wear, and are a safe choice if you don't mind being a bit dull and boring.

For sound quality enthusiasts prepared to fly with larger, less convenient cans, I think the top model to audition is probably the Sennheiser HD 380 Pro, with the Audio-Technica QuietPoint ATH-ANC7b becoming something of a modern classic. The AKG K495 NC is also worth hearing if you want on-ear rather than over-ear headphones.

Topics: Travel Tech, After Hours

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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7 comments
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  • What a crappy report

    So they gave a bunch of people who don't like Rap music headphones made by rappers to test? Your never going to hear a rap music fan complaining about heavy bass or noise cancelling. Maybe the guy sitting next to him...

    This report is just plain silly.
    mrefuman
    • Nobody gave anything to anybody

      The report is based on the opinions of tens of thousands of ordinary consumers who bought the headphones for their own use.

      We don't know their taste in music. However, since these people bought headphones with rap music connections, I'd assume a high proportion liked rap music.
      Jack Schofield
  • My faves

    A few months ago I slipped into the Apple store to try out the headphones they had on hand. Of all the headphones they had in the store, the ones that most impressed me were the Harmann Karndon CLs. To my ear they sounded better than even the $100.00 more expensive Audiotechnicas. Well right now Best Buy is blowing these out for $99.00. That's a steal for headphones that sound this good. And the Bluetooth model is just $30.00 more. Not bad at all considering they employ the Bluetooth APTX protocol and can also be used as wired headphones if you so desire.

    Highly recommended. They are by far my favorite headphones.
    dsf3g
  • More show than go

    I'll keep my noise cancelling Sony buds, for less than 1/4 of the price of Beats. You can't beat that...
    happyharry_z
  • Seriously?

    Beats By Dre stink horribly! The sound technology is actually pretty good but, the headphones are $20 pieces of junk in a plastic package with a $300 price tag!
    slickjim
    • Seriously...

      What "sound technology"? These headphones, as you point out, are cheap junk in a fancy plastic package with a logo and celebrity endorsement. It would seem there is a large demographic who are more interested in a perceived "cool" factor, attained by spending a sizeable wad of cash to obtain this logo (and thereby be somehow associated with the celebrity in question?), than they are in actual sound quality.

      I know. I've worked in the factory where they (and several other well-known brands) are made.
      bluebeard66
  • Audio Technica ATH-A900x...

    Best headphones I've ever owned, PERIOD. Only when it comes to noise cancellation features (which they have none other than the closed back phones themselves) do the Audio Technicas give anything up to any of these china trash headphones (these ATs are made in Japan).
    Playdrv4me