Review: Beats Electronics Beats Executive
Even when the Beats by Dre headphone lineup was at the height of its popularity, we were on record as being less than enthusiastic about the headphones due to their universally high prices and so-so sonic performance -- issues Monster eventually conceded following a messy split with former partner Beats Electronics. Yet despite the passage of time and release of numerous competitors, the Beats lineup continues to be popular as "fashion headphones," and the prices have become a little more appealing: the originally $350 Studio model now sells for $280, and the metal-clad Pro has fallen from $450 to $400. Right between them is a newer model called Beats Executive ($300), which combines some of the best features from both models, but unfortunately suffers from some sonic issues.
The single biggest asset Beats Executive brings to the table is an outstanding industrial design. Folded completely open, the model looks like an evolution of Beats Studio, complete with the same oval-shaped over-ear earcups, cool hinges, and soft-looking earpads. Executive can fold up for storage exactly like Studio, or become even flatter by twisting its earcups on 90-degree angles. Beats Pro’s design is reflected in Executive’s heavily padded headband and use of beautiful-looking aluminum, which is even better-looking here than in Pro thanks to softer curves and cleaner tapering.
It’s fair to say that Beats kept the best elements from the two prior models for Executive, reducing Pro’s somewhat awkward size and weight while eliminating all obvious traces of Studio’s plastic. The earpads remain both nicely isolating and comfortable, though with a tendency to make your ears sweat after only 20 minutes of continuous use. Also worth noting is the present lack of color options for Executive; only a silver and dark gray version is available. Still, if we had to choose to use one Beats model on cosmetics alone, this would be our pick by a landslide—in this regard, it’s worthy of the “executive” name.
Beats Executive arrives with a handful of accessories. In addition to a semi-hard carrying case with a single zipper, the company includes two AAA batteries, airline and 1/8” headphone plug adapters, a cleaning cloth, and two red/black 3.5mm audio cables. One of the cables has no in-line remote and microphone; the other has three buttons for iPad, iPhone, and iPod remote functionality, plus a microphone, which our test caller rated as sounding just a little more obscured and distant than the mics in Apple’s own headphones. You connect the cable of your choice to the base of the left earcup, and the 3.5mm plug to your Apple device; its L shape and tapering will work with most but not all cases we’ve tested.
Another feature Beats brought over from Studio is active noise-cancellation hardware. Just as before, you open up a compartment to insert the included AAA batteries, though this time, the compartment has been redesigned with a very cool magnetic clasping system to make battery replacement simple. If you want to use the headphones, you’ll need to flip a power switch on at the top of the right earcup, illuminating a small green light. Without the power on, no audio can be heard through Executive, and the company provides little guidance as to how long the two AAAs will last before expiring; Beats apparently once made a 25-hour claim that is specific battery brand-dependent. The best-designed active noise-canceling headphones we’ve tested allow you to continue to listen to music without using power, or include rechargeable batteries; Beats Executive is a bit behind the curve in both regards.
Regrettably, the active noise-cancellation feature comes with a problem we hoped Beats would have quashed since the release of Studio: plenty of hiss in the audio signal. As soon as the power switch is turned on, you’ll hear a persistent level of static that’s loud enough to be heard during silences in songs and sometimes even quieter moments in music playback. Between the seal of the earcups, the static hiss, and music playback, Beats Executive manages to prevent you from hearing perhaps 70-80% of the ambient noise surrounding you, but the company makes no specific claims about its performance beyond the ability to “reduce a jet engine to a whisper.” While that’s true, higher-frequency sounds will still be somewhat audible; this certainly isn’t the best noise-canceling hardware around, as less expensive recent models from companies such as Audio-Technica easily match or outperform Executive.
Putting the hiss aside—a difficult task given its constant presence—Beats Executive otherwise remains a good rather than great-sounding headphone for its asking price. Treble, mids, and bass are respectably balanced, presenting songs in a relatively neutral manner with only a little low-end skew, which we found pleasant rather than offensive or bloated. Additionally, unlike some over-ear headphones, your iPod, iPhone, or iPad won’t need to crank up its volume level with Executive; music performs properly from a device at 40-50% output. One interesting but obscure audio feature: pressing down on the B logo found on the right earcup mutes all audio until you release it, presumably for moments when you want to hear sounds around you without removing the earcups.
Although we wish we could offer Beats Executive a better overall evaluation on the basis of its undeniably impressive aesthetics, sound quality remains our single biggest factor when rating headphones, and we weren’t thrilled in that regard. The ever-present static hiss is a distraction that shouldn’t really be found in any pair of headphones, let alone a premium-priced pair marketed as sonically impressive, and the active noise cancellation isn’t fantastic here, either. If you can live with that issue, and are willing to spend $300 on headphones primarily for their fashion, you’ll otherwise find Beats Executive to be a sharp-looking, reasonably-equipped option. It’s worthy of our limited recommendation and B- rating.