Just because Apple may be willing to drop a ton of money on Beats By Dre, that doesn't mean you have to.
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is putting together a deal worth more than $3 billion to purchase Beats By Dre, according to news reports on Thursday. Beats’ most popular headphone models are offered at premium prices: $300 for the high-end Studio model and $170 for the Solo HD model.
Before we get carried away, let's get one thing straight: These headphones aren't for everybody. First, you may not be a fan of the overpowering or “artificially” inflated bass response that Beats headphones are known for (which you may recognize as the low-level, booming sound prevalent in the dance and hip-hop music genres). Or maybe you're simply prone to losing or breaking your headphones. Or, perhaps, you’re just a snobby audiophile.
Before you think you have to get a pair of Beats by Dre headphones just to keep up with the times, here are our top three alternatives, three pairs of headphones that offer better value or higher quality than those made by Beats by Dre.
The Monster Inspiration headphones retail for $280, and they have excellent sound and noise-cancelation technology. They also have a more modular, square look than most over-the-ear headphones, and they offer a more-serious alternative to the high-end Beats headphones, and for twenty bucks less.
Monster made the original Beats for Dr. Dre and his partner Jimmy Iovine. While Monster and the two music industry titans would end up parting ways less than amicably in 2012, Monster was the original driving force and manufacturer of Beats’ hardware.
The Monster Inspiration headphones only come in black, silver and white, but they are also sold with interchangeable headbands, so if you’re looking for bright colors to match your latest kicks, or a U.S. flag theme to flaunt your patriotism, you can have that option for an additional $13 to $30.
The Shure SRH840 is a fine pair of headphones, espcially for its price. They retail for $250, and while the build quality and design are not on the same level as the Beats Studios, they offer a significantly more balanced approach to sound than the Studios and have excellent frequency response, which means, you hear what you are meant to hear, and nothing else. Shure is known for making professional-quality microphones, and its know-how with microphone technology seems to have translated nicely into making the SRH840 a great set of cans.
The SRH840 is the best option for a true audiophile who's looking to avoid breaking the bank. There are no fancy colors here, however -- the SRH440s are like the Model T, they come in any color you like, as long as it’s black. The SRH840s don't have noise cancelation or a microphone for smartphone control like the Monster Inspirations and Beats Studios do, either.
What the Shure SRH840s does have is excellent sound, ear cups made of memory foam and a headband that wicks sweat, making the headphones comfortable when wearing them for a long time. Shure's audio cable is replaceable, should you ruin yours, or if prefer something other than the coiled style that it ships with.
The PSB M4U 1 is the leader of the bunch, but costs the same as a pair of Beats Studio headphones. Made by a relatively unknown (outside of audiophile circles) Canadian manufacturer, the PSB M4U 1 offers a completely flat frequency curve, which means they offer powerful bass, spectacular high frequencies and a warm mid-range. Basically, they make everything sound great, without artificially piping in a lot of bass.
Like the Shures, the PSB M4U 1 only comes in black, and the M4U 1 doesn’t offer any fancy noise cancelation technology, either. However, thanks to the headphones' unique adjusting ear cups, the PSB M4U 1 covers your ears with an excellent seal, which means you won’t hear much of a plane’s engine or screaming baby in your travels when you've got these babies on correctly. There’s no rechargeable battery to worry about, and you can plug the audio cable into either the right or left ear.
These headphones look good and their build quality is similar to that of Beats Studios, without all of the gaudy branding, and they come with a cable, a remote and a microphone, should you need to take a call on the go.
Have a few other options for Beats-killing headphones? Let us know in the comments below.