Beats By Dre has a varied lineup, with many celebrity-endorsed models and pricey premium sets. The urBeats buck those trends, offering the classic Beats design in a simple package with very few frills. The $99 price tag puts these earphones in competition with a crowd of models, like the Shure SE215 and Sennheiser MM70s. If you prefer beefier bass, give these buds a shot.
Our test pair of urBeats came in white with red-and-silver accents, along with flat, red cabling that somewhat resists tangling. The earpieces are made of metal instead of plastic, inspiring confidence in their durability, and the cabling seems very sturdy. Although we haven't torture-tested them, it's easy to see that these can take some abuse.
The inline mic/controller is located a few inches below the earpiece, making it difficult to see when you're wearing the headphones, but the controls are very responsive and easy to operate by feel. The package includes a small carrying pouch and several sets of silicone eartips. The urBeats are available in 10 different color schemes.
It's oddly difficult to get a good seal with the urBeats. Mid-size silicone eartips work for us on most headphones, but the urBeats forced us to experiment with other sizes, and we finally settled on a double-flanged tip for the left ear and a large regular tip for the right ear. After about 45 minutes, the headphones began to feel mildly uncomfortable.
Phone Calls and Controls
The mic/controller on the urBeats picked up our voice easily and managed to reject a good bit of ambient sound. The sculpted controller is easy to operate by feel, and you can use it to skip tracks, play/pause music, activate Siri and adjust volume. Note that some functions (volume and track skip) work only with iOS devices, though Android users can still play/pause and activate voice commands. Once we got a good seal, the urBeats were able to block out a fair amount of ambient sound at the gym and on the street.
Predictably, hip hop sounded very good on the urBeats. They rendered Jay-Z's "Holy Grail" with powerful bass that retains very good definition at any volume. Justin Timberlake's voice sounded very smooth, with no harshness in the sibilants. Rock tracks such as Paul McCartney's "Only Mama Knows" benefit from the beefy bass without losing any clarity on the treble parts, like the McCartney song's strings intro and lead vocals.
The urBeats' heavy bass becomes a little problematic on pop and soul tracks, such as "Mr. Big Stuff" by Jean Knight. Female vocals seemed a bit muffled, and horns sound slightly distant, overwhelmed by the bass. On "Feelin' Good," Michael Buble's voice sounds boomy. However, when the full big band entered, the bass and toms had lots of impact and good definition, and the horns floated fairly well on top. Similarly, on Maynard Ferguson's big-band version of "MacArthur Park," the horns had good presence and warmth, and the electric bass was powerful, but occasionally blotted out the mids.
If you have the patience to fiddle with the eartips and get the right fit, the urBeats will reward you with a clear, powerful bass sound that's satisfying for modern, urban tastes. However, the Skullcandy Fix headphones deliver thumping bass, and fit better, at just $69.
For powerful but not over-boosted bass that will be satisfying for all types of music, check out the Shure SE215 ($99 on Amazon). Overall, the urBeats will definitely please bass-heads with hip-hop and dance-oriented tastes.
|Mic/controller compatibility: iOS, Android (except track skip and volume)|
Follow Mike on Google Plus.