No volume control
Light on extras
Only two charges in case
The Beats Studio Buds nail the basics in that oh-so-Apple way.
You won’t find it written anywhere in the press materials, but the Beats Studio Buds may as well be called the AirPods 3. From their funky new design and minimalist theme to Apple-ready features like voice-activated Siri, these are immediately the obvious choice right now for AirPods fanatics who don’t want to spend up for the AirPods Pro.
Wisely, though, Apple has crafted these buds to be nearly as useful for either side of the mobile aisle, including native one-touch pairing for Android or iPhone, a simple but useful Android app, and quick access to alternative voice assistants. The result is a pair of buds that easily outdo the aging AirPods, no matter which phone you choose.
About the Beats Studio Buds
Here are the specs to know about the latest Beats earbuds:
- Price: $149.99
- Battery life: 5 hours with noise-canceling, up to 8 hours without, two full case recharges
- Rapid charging: 5 minutes for up to an hour of playback
- Wireless charging: No
- Colors: Black, White, Red
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
- Sensors: None
- Audio codecs: SBC, AAC
- Dust/water resistance: IPX4
- Fit: Three silicone ear tip sizes
- Weight: 5.1 grams per earbud, 48-gram charging case
The last Beats earbuds, the Powerbeats, were simply a step-down version of the Powerbeats Pro, chaining the clip-ons together for a more affordable workout option. The Studio Buds completely rewrite the Beats playbook, starting with the distinctive new pill-shaped fins that act as both insertion assistants and controls thanks to a physical button at the end.
Inside, the Studio Buds pack three microphones per side for active noise cancellation (ANC) and ambient audio to block or bring in exterior noises respectively: a two-piece, vented acoustic housing; and custom 8.2mm drivers. The earbuds ship in a micro-sized box, inside of which you’ll find the pocketable, pill-shaped charging case with the buds inside, a small collection of instructions and stickers, two spare pairs of ear tips, and an ultra-short USB-C charging cable.
What we like
A light and ergonomic (if funky) design
I’ll be perfectly honest: the Beats Studio’s dial/bolt/fin is not my favorite look. Frankly, I think they look pretty weird, and as I increasingly recirculate into the population, I wasn’t all that excited to show them to the world at first. That said, I got used to them over time, and I felt the same way about the first AirPods, which became (according to Apple) the most popular wireless headphones in the world, so what do I know?
What I can say is that the buds’ airy weight combined with their ergonomic fit makes them barely register in your ears. They’re surprisingly comfortable long-term, stable enough for workouts, and incredibly easy to insert and extract—it’s a touch of that almost indescribable Apple design brilliance. They also add IPX4 splash resistance to take on the elements. Whether the aesthetic catches on or not, when it comes to stability and comfort this is a winner for me.
Ultra-simple setup and usability
As touched on above, the Beats Studio offer one-touch pairing for iPhone or Android devices. It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but just makes a pair of earbuds incredibly inviting, especially for the less tech-savvy or anyone who’s had trouble getting cheaper buds to connect.
Once connected, there’s not much else to figure out. The controls, mirrored on both sides, offer play/pause, song skip, and calling commands via clicks of the little “b” buttons at the tip of each dial. A long press swaps between active noise canceling, ambient audio, and off (or alternatively calls up voice assistants for Android users). While I’ll talk about a few issues I take with this layout below, it’s minimalism incarnate.
Clear, relatively detailed sound
Here’s something you might not expect from a pair of Beats buds: these babies love acoustic music. From the lyrical horns and piano in Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady” to the gentle touch of strings and sincere vocals in Nickel Creek’s “Reasons Why,” you’ll enjoy some sweet moments in the organic section of your favorite tracks. There’s some good detail on display, and you’ll have no trouble hearing the little affectations in the background of even complex tunes.
The Beats Studio aren’t without some bass punch, either, offering solid thump in the sub-bass region of 808 kick drums when called upon in electronic and hip-hop tunes. That’s on full display in songs like Daft Punk’s “Doing It Right” (RIP), one of the recommended tracks from Beats’ PR team.
As I eased into the lighter sound, I found plenty to enjoy in my library.
Where they come up a bit short for me is in the upper bass and midrange, where the lack of warmth takes some getting used to. Even for dialogue on shows like New Girl, I wished for some more body in the lower mids, and less of a crispy snap. That’s especially true after coming down from the high of Sony’s warm, clear, and detail-laden WF-1000XM4 (bad timing there), and they also come up short against the Powerbeats Pro, lacking some of their warmth and precision. That said, they’re also much cheaper than either pair, and handily beat the similarly priced standard AirPods.
Overall, I think most people will be satisfied with what Beats has on offer here. While they lack the powerful thump of the pre-Apple Beats sound, they also leave behind the muddy muck that rode along with it. And as I eased into the lighter sound, I found plenty to enjoy in my library.
Call quality is also quite good. While I didn’t have a chance to use them in extremely noisy environments I took several calls with one bud and both buds at once with no distortion or clarity troubles.
Effective noise canceling for the money
At just under $150, one doesn’t expect the moon from the Beats Studio’s active noise canceling (ANC), and indeed they don’t match up with flagship pairs like the Jabra Elite 85t and Apple’s own AirPods Pro, let alone top dogs in Bose’s QuietComfort or Sony’s WF-1000XM4. That shouldn’t be the bar here, though—less than a year ago, I’d be shocked to see ANC from any name-brand pair at this price. What’s more, the Beats Studio hold their own, especially for lower drone sounds.
Using my usual Airplane test, a YouTube video with 10 hours of engine-only flight noise, the Beats Studio did well dulling the drone, especially when you spill a bit of music into the mix. They’re less effective with high-register sounds, especially voices and mouse clicks, which seep through relatively easily, even with a bit of light music playing.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised to hear how well the earbuds rose to the occasion when I turned on my leaf blower during some yard work. I didn’t even consider raising the volume to offset the noisy device and was almost confused at how little came through. Beats says the microphones are designed to ramp up ANC depending on the exterior sounds, so it appears it works better with louder high-register noises when called upon. That, alongside the comfy and secure fit, makes the Beats Studio ideal buds for your weekend yard excursions.
There are plenty of design elements that scream Apple AirPods, but the hands-free Siri for iPhone users is perhaps the biggest callout there, making it easy to raise the assistant for all sorts of tasks. Android users can also easily swap one of the buds’ long-press controls from within the app to call up a voice assistant—currently the only reprogrammable control function.
Solid battery life
Beats could have phoned it in for battery and gone with the same 5 max hours of previous Apple buds (including the pricier Pro), or tried to go big with the powerful 9 hours of the Powerbeats Pro which, at the time of their release, blew the pants off most competitors. With 5 hours of playback with ANC, and 8 hours without, the Beats Studio are somewhere in the middle, riding the line between respectable and next-gen. There’s only one slight caveat to what is otherwise impressive battery life for the price, and that’s the charging case.
What we don’t like
The case offers only two recharges
While the Beats Studio’s runtime is quite respectable, I do wish the case had more than two recharges. If you’re not using ANC, you can still get up to 24 hours total, but 15 hours with ANC means you’ll find yourself recharging the case more than many competitors. I also wish the case stood up, but then Beats would have had to put the USB-C port somewhere other than the direct bottom, a la Apple’s Magic Mouse. But hey, at least it’s not Lightning!
Not a lot of extras
Aside from their ANC, the Beats Studio’s feature set is pretty slim. You do get some convenience features like the ability to use either earbud on its own, Find My device for Android and iOS and Apple’s Spatial audio feature via Apple Music alongside the hands-free Siri noted above.
Other than that, though, there’s not a lot going on here. There’s no wireless charging for the case, for instance, and no sensors on the buds for play/pause when you remove them, something we see on most competitors at this price and below. Apple users will also note that you can’t auto-switch between devices like other Apple buds.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an Apple product, the app for Android users is also pretty bare, offering no EQ control of any kind (which could help warm up that midrange) and no way to control ANC or ambient audio power—most new buds offer multiple speeds at least for the latter function. While it goes along with the whole minimalist theme, I’d like to see a few more features, at least in the app. Hopefully we’ll see more added via firmware down the road.
Controls are a bit too minimalist
Volume, volume, volume. Sometimes I feel like a lone town crier on this issue, but having used about two million pairs of wireless earbuds, I can tell you from experience that some way to control volume onboard—preferably one that doesn’t trade out another feature—is a huge factor in overall convenience day-to-day. The Beats Studio offer neither, which is an unfortunate miss that most modern competitors offer at this price.
Usually, I’d predict a firmware update might correct this, but given that the controls are mirrored on each side, and iPhone users will control parameters in the iOS settings rather than a separate app, it may well be that this is how the controls will stay.
I also found myself accidentally hanging up on folks while adjusting the buds at first, though I got used to keeping my fingers away from the end of the dials, which mostly solved the issue.
Should you buy them?
Yes, especially if you’ve been waiting for the new AirPods
The Beats Studio Buds may look funky, but their impressive mix of ergonomics, simplicity, clear sound, and respectable ANC is convincing for iPhoners and Androidians alike. I love how easy they are to use and set up, and there’s plenty of that Apple polish here, with no notable connection woes, defects, or other issues rising to my attention over a week and a half.
You can do better for your money when it comes to features and controls. Jabra’s Elite 75t cost the same and offer a fair few more features, including adjustable transparency mode (alongside ANC), EQ, and comprehensive controls from similar tactile buttons. At just $120, Amazon’s Echo Buds also sport more features and have their own respectable ANC, as do Soundcore’s ultra-customizable Liberty Air 2 Pro.
But it’s hard to deny Beats has cooked up something special here. If you’ve been waiting for the new AirPods, or simply want a polished pair with clear sound and ultra-simple design, the Beats Studio Buds rise as a bright new contender.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Managing Editor – Electronics
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2013. Since then he’s had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
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