BEATS vs. IN-EAR BRILLIANCE

Thinking of joining the Beats brigade? Stop! Take this less trodden path to commuter audio nirvana (complete with external DAC) and you’ll save cash too.

BEATS BY DR DRE STUDIO

Once just a stylish, welcome alternative to Bose’s noise-cancelling cans, the original Beats are now a cultural icon. Only Clare Balding got more London 2012 air time than Dre’s babies.

SONY XBA-Z + FiiO E07K ANDES

These sound-isolating earphones (£85) are some of the best. We’ve paired them with FiiO’s portable DAC/headphone amp (£70), which can be fed by USB cable or through a line input.

STYLE & BUILD

■ BEATS

Once modern and fresh, the Studios used to mark you out as a chic sonic connoisseur. Now. particularly in their myriad vibrant colour options, they merely seem to shout I LIKE MUSIC, LOOK HOW COOL I AM.

■ SONY/FIIO

They won’t win any design awards, but to anyone who peers closely enough at your earholes, the XBA-2s manage to look reassuringly expensive. The FiiO is classy and solid, but you’ll probably have that tucked in a pocket anyway.

SOUND QUALITY

■ BEATS

There’s no denying the fullness of bass you get from Beats, nor the 3D soundstage. However, they don’t do ‘real’. So vocals sound as if they’re piped through a megaphone and delicate instruments are blurry.

■ SONY/FIIO

Fed lossless FLACs from a PC (or some Android gadgets via a USB OTG cable), this combo will open your ears to high fidelity. Even connected straight to an iPhone 5 the XBA-2s sound crisply detailed, while still full and bassy when required.

NOISE REDUCTION

■ BEATS

This is where these big Beats really shine, as their built-in noise-cancelling tech copes brilliantly with a variety of situations. The only bummer is that they die completely if the batteries run down.

■ SONY/FIIO

Once you find the earbuds that fit best from the supplied assortment, these sound isolators valiantly block out surrounding hum and chatter. They’re not so effective at real extremes, so frequent flyers may not be impressed.

STUFF SAYS The Beats still have skills, but real music fans should treat their ear canals to the truer sonics and superior versatility of the Sony/ FiiO combo

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