This article first appeared in HWM Jan 2012.
Who would have thought that decades of sound engineering dating back to the 1940s have amounted to nought? That is of course, if we’re to believe that the savants of personal audio would be 21st century rappers. When Dr. Dre launched his Beats by Dr. Dre line of headphones in 2008, he claimed that “people weren’t hearing all the music”, or at least not like he did. Three years on, the unequivocal success of Beats in urban culture have led to other celebrity-endorsed headphones appearing; the latest being Soul by Ludacris.
Its flagship model, the SL300 is an analog of the Beats Studio; both are over-ear, closed-back, collapsible headphones with active noise cancelling. The SL300 is clearly designed to one-up the Studio and it makes a great first impression with packaging quality. You get a hard shell case, a 3.5mm to 6.25mm plug converter and two mini-plug stereo cables: one standard, and one with a built-in iPhone compatible microphone and remote control.
The SL300 is more flamboyant with its bling-inspired gold on black colors and light-up ear cups. Yes, it does come in a more subtle black on white, and you can disable the lights. I absolutely love the stitched headband, but not much for the plastic enclosure, which feels hollow and cheap. Still, the SL300 is surprisingly comfortable. It is light, heavily cushioned, and exercises just the right amount of pressure on the ears without feeling too tight. It can be worn over prolonged periods without fatigue; I even slept with it on while testing its noise cancelling feature.
Sound-wise, the SL300 is comparable to the Beats Studio with heavily inflated bass and treble frequencies for a very colorful listening experience. Unlike the Studio though, the SL300 has a tighter reign on its bass, and is overall more controlled. While it still carries ample oomph, the mids are actually quite pronounced, giving the SL300 better emphasis on vocal clarity. This makes the SL300 more adaptable to different kinds of music from Gym Class Heroes to Skrillex.
Its active noise cancelling blocks out a substantial amount of ambient noise, and if you ever get a pair, try them out in the cinema. You can thank me later. Its main advantages over the Beats Studio is that it works even with noise cancelling turned off, or when the batteries are dry. Unfortunately, turning off noise cancelling disables its internal EQ, making everything sound muted and flat. So, even though the SL300s can operate without batteries, there’s really no reason to do so willingly.
The final hurdle is to decide if you can accept Soul by Ludacris as a high-end audio brand; you will be paying a stiff premium for the SL300 after all. But, as a direct comparison to the Beats Studio, the SL300 has more going for it, from packaging and price, to fit and comfort. Noise cancelling works great, plus its sonic profile is actually tuned to make more genres sound good instead of just hip hop.