Headphones and earphones reviewed: B&O Play, Beats, and ATH

The earphones that come with your smartphone are most likely dreadful. They’re awful to listen to, and horribly made. All of this falls away though in the face of their true horror. They leak sound. Using these earphones makes you personally responsible for ruining my commute. Don’t screw with my commute.

To try and help you become a more considerate person, and hopefully one who has a better music listening experience, we’ve been using and reviewing some headphones recently, the Beats Solo2 Wireless, and the B&O Play H8s. We liked both of them, but do realise they’re quite expensive. So we have some other options here today. We’re going to take a look at the ATH-M50X, the B&O Play H3 ANC and the Beats Solo2. These aren’t pocket money products either, but they’re a lot less than the £400 you have to fork out for the aforementioned H8. The other thing about all of these pieces of kit is that they’re all really rather good. Let’s take a look:

B&O Play

The B&O Play H3 ANCs are going to set you back about £200. They’re in-ear earphones, with noise cancelling, a wired in-line remote and bloody unbelievable memory foam tips. B&O Play is a sub-brand of Bang and Olufsen, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the sound is fantastic.

These earphones are bassy, much, much more so than the Apple Earbuds (or whatever they’re branded as these days). Not only that, but the mids and highs both sound sharp and pleasant. The sound actually isn’t all that far off the H8s we already reviewed. Added to the sound quality is the noise cancelling – it really works. It made tube and bus rides nigh on joyous.

I do have some issues with these earphones though. The first of these is that whilst sturdy, I found the build to be underwhelming. If I’m going to hand over £200 for earphones, they should be made (at the very least) of something metallic. Further, they should have an anti-tangle flat cable. It’s a complete mystery to me why neither of these things are true of the H3s. Finally, the carry case for these earphones was pretty dismal. It was essentially a drawstring carry pouch, which did absolutely nothing for me in terms of avoiding a cable tangle – which ended up happening every time I stowed the earphones in the pouch.

This isn’t a perfect product by any stretch of the imagination, but I shan’t lie: it sounds excellent. And the noise cancelling is rather marvellous. If earphones are your thing, you’ll be hard pressed to find something better.


The Beats Solo2 is a very similar product, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the Solo2 wireless. Except it’s not wireless. It therefore has an inline cable remote, instead of an on-device remote, and a slightly less hefty price tag at around £150. Loads of people have this product and there’s a reason for that: it’s decent.

The sound signature is as bassy as you might expect from a spawn of Dre himself, and that’s good for you if you listen to bass-heavy stuff, like rap, dubstep, electronic, house etc. If Yo Yo Ma is your jam though, it’s really as simple as this: ‘buy something else’. I used these headphones every day for ages. They almost never came with me on my commute, but they’d come with me to the gym everyday. They’re even bassier than the wireless equivalents. It’s really quite good fun.

They have lots of plus sides: like their wireless sibling, they look gorgeous. They’re made beautifully, come with a decent neoprene carry case, and were just about the best packaged product I’ve ever come across. It strikes me though that the sound quality is not where it should be for headphones this expensive. The reason for that is simple: you are paying for the brand. This is more relevant here than in just about any other product. Beats by Dre has cultivated a cult of fascination, using ingenious marketing and frankly excessive product placement.

These headphones are, to no small degree, a fashion accessory. And that’s OK. Because fashion is expensive and these then become comparatively cheap. Buy at your leisure.


The final product we’re taking a look at is very much the dark horse here. You’d be forgiven for not having heard of ATH. It’s a far smaller company that’s pretty much exclusively stocked by Amazon. It’s not a Beats-like brand – there is no cool factor for these headphones. But perhaps there ought to be because these sound incredible.

Unlike the Beats, which sit on your ear, these things are enormous and swallow your ear up into a mellowy padded audio world. They really are large: there’s no escaping the fact you’re going to need a rucksack to comfortable travel with them. But comfortable your travels will be, for these sit oh-so-nicely on your ears. These are essentially professional headphones without the price tag.

They’re the best sounding product here, but also the cheapest, at less than £100. They have no in-line remote. They have no Bluetooth. They have no noise cancelling. There is no fancy packaging. There is a faux-leather pouch, the unit itself and some cables (a long one, a short one, and a curly one). Wearing these, you enter into your own little world. The drivers in this product are so large that it’s akin to wearing speakers around your head. It really isn’t comparable to the Beats of the B&O Play set.

Another thing that stands out here is that the sound signature is completely neutral. The Bass, Mids and Highs are all punchy, but no preference is given to any. This is a design decision predicated on the assumption that these headphones will have an input put through an equalizer, which is an option available to you if you use Android or a PC, and may well be available on an iPhone too. I can’t stress enough how good these feel or how excellent the sound is. They are, in my eyes, a bargain. Just be warned that they are enormous, and that you really aren’t buying a bells-and-whistles product.

Got a favourite set of headphones that we haven’t reviewed yet? Let us know in the comments below!