Review: Fanny Wang Over Ear Wangs
When Fanny Wang announced its On Ear Wangs late last year, there was little doubt that the headphone division of Hard Candy Cases was tugging a tiger's tail: the Wangs were obviously inspired by Monster's Beats by Dre headphones, and the developer openly made direct comparisons between the models, consequently winding up in a nasty lawsuit accusing it of knocking off the Beats products and packaging. After the companies settled the lawsuit last month, Fanny Wang finally shipped a larger and more expensive model called Over Ear Wangs ($250, aka 2001/Over Ear DJ) -- a rival to Monster's flagship $350 headphone Beats Studio. Just like their on-ear predecessors, the Over Ear Wangs deliver a very similar experience to Monster's for users who are willing to trade a little flash, functionality, and sonic quality for a significantly lower price tag.
If there’s any major way that the Over Ear Wangs fall short of Beats Studio, it’s in aesthetics: Fanny Wang’s design practically defines the phrase “low-rent Beats,” surprisingly stepping down from even the On Ear Wangs in class. Now made with matte rather than glossy plastic, the Over Ear Wangs continue to use a thick rubberized headband pad without the faux leather or foam found in Beats Studio; both of these changes reduce make the Wangs look and feel somewhat cheap. The branding this time has gone overboard, as well, as large Fanny Wang and “DJ with Bass Boost” phrases are inked on both the front and back of the big circular ear cups, with additional Fanny Wang logos inside each cup, as well as on each of two metal folding hinges above them. If all that wasn’t enough, a three-position switch (“off/on/bass”) actually glows bright blue or green in the latter two positions, drawing upon two AAA batteries found in the left earcup. Though Fanny Wang offers the Over Ear Wangs in four color schemes—black/red, black/white, white/white and white/red—all of the aforementioned touches come together to make them look somewhat tacky, perhaps a legal move to further reduce confusion with Beats Studio from any angle. If that was the mission, Fanny Wang can consider it accomplished: Monster now wins in the looks department by a mile.
Having said that, the Over Ear Wangs successfully undercut Beats Studio in other ways. Unlike Monster, which bundled one-button remote and remoteless audio cables with Beats Studio, Fanny Wang includes a single and considerably more robust cable in this package; here, you get a full three-button remote and microphone capsule dangling from its left earphone, plus an in-line DuoJack audio splitter several inches from the cable’s bottom, enabling you to plug two pairs of headphones into the same iPod, iPhone, or iPad. Like Monster, Fanny Wang also includes 1/8” and airplane headphone plug adapters, a starter set of twin AAA batteries, and a semi-hard zippered carrying case with a carabiner hook. All you lose relative to Beats Studio is the unnecessary fabric cleaning cloth and second headphone cable, neither of which most users will care about at all, particularly given the superior functionality of this remote control and the neat design of the carrying case.
Another advantage the Over Ear Wangs have over Beats Studio is their ability to work even without battery power—when Monster’s headphones run out of juice, they go silent until you replace their AAAs. While the audio quality and volume levels are both compromised in Fanny Wang’s design, you can still continue to hear music through them, and can restore most of their sound by turning your iPod, iPhone, or iPad up closer to the 75% mark on their volume meters. Just as with Beats Studio, turning the power on enables you to reduce the iDevice’s volume to the 50% or lower mark, introducing a light static hiss from amplification into the audio signal. It bears mention that this feature is a significant differentiation from Fanny Wang’s On Ear Wangs, which like most headphones require no battery power whatsoever to perform at their peak.
The only major weirdness with the Over Ear Wangs is a result of the three-position power switch, which for some reason offers separate “on” and “bass” positions. Fanny Wang explains this as being a “selectable Bass Boost” to let users have the choice between balanced or skewed sound, but the standard “on” position sounds so unimpressive that it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to listen to it—the “bass” position isn’t so much a boost as “on” is a stripping of the warmth and balance listeners would naturally expect from a headphone like this. Another way to put this is that the “boosted” setting is the only one we’d consider an actual rival to Beats Studio; without that setting, no one would ever consider these headphones to be worthy of buying at any price.
How do the Over Ear Wangs on “bass” compare sonically with Beats Studio? Pretty well, though the aural experience is a little different for a few reasons. First, the Over Ear Wangs’ circular cups felt a little less snug and cozy on our ears than the oval-shaped Beats Studios; second, they lack Monster’s active noise cancellation hardware; and third, they needed to be turned up just a tick higher in order for their volume levels to sound equivalent. But putting those relatively minor things aside, they’re quite similar to one another, with midrange- and bass-focused presentations that are designed to sound warm and engrossing, filling your ears with the beats and background music from songs while voices pop above them. Treble peeks out only as necessary for high notes and high-frequency percussion; there’s nothing clinical about the way either of these headphones sound.
This isn’t to say that they’re identical to one another. If pressed to give an edge to one model over the other, we’d pick Beats Studio, which tends to render the same songs with added depth that sounds a little more realistic, but this difference is neither profound nor worthy of a $100 price difference. Both headphones are designed to flood your head with music, and both succeed, though Monster’s staging just feels a bit more natural. On the other hand, the rivals’ microphone performance was so close to identical that our callers couldn’t really tell them apart, though it bears repeating that only the Over Ear Wangs could be used for calls without the power turned on.
If you’re considering both the On Ear Wangs and Over Ear Wangs, be aware that they differ in more than just looks and pricing. Because the Over Ear Wangs use ear cups that surround your ears rather than sitting on top of them, they provide greater passive noise isolation from ambient sounds around you; we also found the larger cups to be somewhat more comfortable. Additionally, despite the slight amplifier hiss they add to the audio signal, the Over Ear’s larger drivers produce more detailed sound with added dynamic range, midrange clarity and bass depth.
At the point at which Monster released its Beats lineup, traditional over-ear headphones seemed to be on the way out of the marketplace, having seen years of declines in favor of ever-smaller white earbuds and increasingly impressive canalphones. Beats Studio infused the older category with Apple-style clean and classy design DNA, enabling Monster to win new fans and make its traditionally steep premium at the same time. Fanny Wang’s Over Ear Wangs can’t outsparkle Beats Studio on design or sonics, but they come close enough at a much lower price point to be equally deserving of a general recommendation. If you’re obsessed with the way Beats Studio looks, sounds, or offers active noise cancellation, the choice should be obvious, and the price premium unavoidable. Otherwise, you’ll get a very close approximation with the Over Ear Wangs, add a couple of features Monster left out, and save $100 in the process.