When you think Beats headphones, you usually think large, colorful cans with big bass. The company is looking to shift that perspective with the Beats Executive headphones (priced at $299), which target the mobile professional. The Executive delivers a more refined soundscape than we're used to hearing from Beats, and combines it with active noise-cancelling technology and a metal frame. But is that enough to woo music lovers with more-discerning tastes?
Beats dropped the candy-colored plastic build used on its other headphone models and slipped into something more adult. The Executive is comprised of sleek, silvery aluminum with charcoal-black leather covering the headband and earcups.
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The top of the leather-wrapped band is stamped with a stately silver Beats logo. The company made the wise decision to forgo the blazing red lowercase "b" on the earplates in favor of an understated charcoal black-and-silver treatment. The headphones are also available in pure black for an even more elegant look.
The headphones are multi-hinged along the metallic end of the headband. The first hinge bends inward towards the headband. The second hinge allowed us to lay the earcups flat, so we could fold the Executive into a more compact shape for quick storage in the included black hard case. The case fits easily in a backpack or medium-sized purse.
The earcups fit snugly over our ears, ensconcing them in soft foam, sheathed in synthetic leather. Pulling down on the lower headband reveals a pair of stainless steel extenders to ensure a proper fit.
An on/off switch for the active noise-canceling feature sits atop the right earcup. Along the bottom of the left cup, you'll find the audio jack. Four magnets hold the left ear plate in place, which covers a compartment for a pair of AAA batteries.
The Beats Executive is made for traveling on long commutes and even longer flights. The cans gently cupped our ears in supple faux leather and cushiony foam. We didn't experience a hint of discomfort during a two-hour subway ride. The headphones never pinched or added any pressure throughout the trip, including when we leaned on the metal bench supports.
As a result of the aluminum and stainless steel components, the Beats Executive weighs a hefty 11.6 ounces. The plastic resin body of the Bose QuietComfort 15 is noticeably lighter at 6.4 ounces.
The Executive ships with a 53.5-inch flaming red cable that features a one-button, in-line remote. While we appreciate most attempts to streamline buttons, this is not one of those cases. Without the standard three-button setup (volume-up, volume-down, play/pause), we were forced to learn a series of unique presses to use the remote.
For example, answering a call is a single press; ignoring a call involves holding the button for two seconds. Skipping a track forward requires two quick presses, while skipping back takes three clicks. Worse, the included cable is an iOS-exclusive affair. Android, Windows and BlackBerry users will have to shell out $29.95 for a compatible version.
Beats outfitted the Executive with active noise-cancelling technology. In practice, the headphones do a solid job of keeping out ambient noise. However, we noticed a persistent hiss when we switched on the headphones.
When we weren't playing music, the noise faded into the background after a while. However, the hiss consistently made its way into the music, muddying the audio. We could drown the added noise out by increasing the volume, but it did nothing to improve the audio detail. By comparison, the noise cancelling on the Bose QuietComfort 15's was like stepping into a sound vacuum — no noise enters or leaves.
During our commute, the Executive muted a loud argument taking place in front of us on the train. The end result resembled that "wah wah wah" noise from Charlie Brown cartoons. The QC 15's delivered an even better experience, silencing the din around us, including the blaring accordion from a travelling Norteño band.
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Beats headphones are known for their oversized bass. However, the company exhibited a bit of restraint with the Executive, toning down the lows. The headphones still deliver a hearty thump; it's just more refined than we're used to hearing from a pair of Beats cans.
In addition to moderate bass (for Beats), the Executive's 40mm dynamic drivers serve up warm mids and highs. However, the headphones lack the level of accuracy we'd expect from high-end headphones.
As we listened to Anita Baker's soulful rendition of "Lately," we delighted in the diva's silky alto, buoyed by warm, rich piano chords. We also picked up on some of the more nuanced parts of the track, such as the delicate shimmying of a gourd shekere. However, the underlying hiss from the noise cancelling exacerbated an already muddy soundscape. That made it more difficult to hear the wind chimes and subtle strings in the background.
We got a more nuanced performance from the Bose QuietComfort 15's, and were able to hear the whole range of instruments on the track. On the other hand, the QC15's powerful noise-cancelling technology proved to be a slight detriment, delivering a colder, more contained audio experience.
When we switched to Kanye West's "Love Lockdown," the Executives delivered a deep, driving bassline that dominated the track. The noise-cancelling technology caused a minor distraction, adding a slight distortion to autotune, piano and snares. The air ports on the QC 15s help to create solid lows amidst the bombastic snares and haunting autotune. Still, the bass on the QC 15's was no match for the thumptastic Beats Executive.
According to Beats, the Executive headphones can last up to 25 hours on a pair of AAA batteries. That's 10 hours shorter than the Bose QuietComfort 15's, which last 35 hours on a single AAA battery. We wore the Executives for over four hours (a round-trip visit to our home in New Jersey), and the headphones were still going strong, alternating between playing music and acting as $299 noise-cancelling earmuffs.
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As with the Bose QuietComfort 15, once the Executive's batteries die, you lose the noise cancelling and the music. It would have been nice if we could have at least kept the ability to play tracks, as the Parrot Zik and the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B headphones allow.
The Beats Executive headphones provided a solid voice call experience. Despite the underlying hiss of the noise-cancellation technology, both ends of the call were loud and relatively clear. A few times, our caller reported hearing a horn or two while we were walking in downtown New York City.
The Beats Executive Headphones represent a slick upgrade from the brightly colored plastic fare we're used to from this company. In addition to the modern look, listeners get fairly strong active noise-cancelling and relatively long battery life. However, for $299, we wish Beats could have found a way to diminish the ANC's annoying hiss and tightened up the sound definition.
For the same price, you can purchase the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones, which are lighter, have better audio accuracy and offer superior noise cancelling. However, you'll sacrifice the warmth and deep bass on the Executives. Overall the Beat Executive headphones are a very good choice for mobile professionals searching for a combination of noise cancelling and big bass.