A few months back, Beats By Dr. Dre and Monster decided to go their separate ways. Beats Audio is therefore now going it alone in the audio accessories game. The Executive noise cancelling headphones are one of the first products to hit the market since the split. So what's new in this solo number?
DESIGN & BUILD
For a long time, we've criticised Beats Audio headphones for the quality of their build and materials, with low-grade finishes, brittle plastics, too-thin cables, etc. However, most of those things have been put right in the Executive headphones. The widespread use of aluminium and a good-quality plastic ensures decent build quality. Assembly is without fault too.
The design has also got a bit more discreet. Beats has done away with gaudy colours for the Executive, opting for a two-tone aluminium and anthracite look and a matte finish. All in all, these headphones are in tune with recent sleek smartphone design.
The only small problem we encountered is that the headband is padded almost as much on the outside as it is on the inside. The Executive headphones therefore feel quite tight on your head, which some users may not like too much. On the upside, though, the memory foam earpads are pretty comfortable.
As for accessories, you get a standard cable and a smartphone cable, an in-flight adapter, a mini-jack/jack adapter and a semi-rigid case that the Executive headphones fold up to fit into.
The other thing Beats Audio headphones are often criticised for is their bass-heaviness. In fact, in some models the bass is so strong that you can barely hear frequencies in the rest of the spectrum. Once again, this is a problem that's starting to disappear in some of the brand's new higher-end products, such as the Executive headphones, but that by no means makes them flawless.
Frequency response, Beats By Dr. Dre Executive - bass on left, high frequencies on right
The frequency response is certainly more coherent in the Executive than in many Beats headphones. There's no sign of that frustrating 15 dB volume difference between the lowest and highest frequencies. Instead, there are just a few extra decibels throughout the lower half of the output spectrum. The strongest frequency band in the Executive headphones is actually the low-mediums, which has a flattering effect on voices.
Left: THD+N in % / Right: harmonic distortion in dB
But (oh yes, there's a but) Beats still hasn't solved the problems caused by its headphones' driver membranes moving around. The harmonic distortion and square wave tests show this up clearly—the membranes move a lot and you can often hear the effects as slightly disturbing resonant noises that neither sound natural nor pleasant. It spoils the output, and affects the soundstage and the positioning of various noises/sources within it.
But the biggest downfall of the Executive headphones is the active noise cancellation function, which just doesn't work properly. While there's a certain, clearly audible alleviation of lower-frequency noises—although it's still far from exceptional—as soon as the noise cancelling function kicks in there's a constant loud hissing noise in the background, which can still be heard when you're listening to music. That's a real turn-off for this kind of product in today's market. And it's a bit of a slip-up for Beats!