Ears-on with the new Beats Studio Buds
Beats Studio Buds. Black. White. Red. Active Noise Cancelation and Transparency Mode. Small, medium, and large tips. Physical buttons. Full-on, native iOS and Android Support. Eight hours of battery in the buds, 16 more in the USB-C charge case. No Apple silicon. No Lightning. No head-tracking. No stems. No inductive charging. But — $149.
Beats Studio Pods: What’s in the box
Once you break open the very Apple-like packaging inside the Beats Studio Buds box, you’ll find a quick guide showing both the controls and the ear positioning, another guide on pairing with iOS and Android, an offer to try Apple Music for free, and the perfunctory Beats sticker.
Then you have your USB-C cable for fast fuel, which lets you charge for five minutes to get up to one hour for usage, and the small and large ear tips (the medium tips come pre-installed).
Plus, the case, which is a bit bigger and more oval than the AirPods Pro case but still fits fine in the pocket, and the Buds themselves.
Beats Studio Pods: Sound quality
These aren’t your parents’ Beats. Not even Jimmy and Dre’s Beats. These are Apple’s Beats. They’re not those base at the expense of everything else.
The Apple Beats team is working to deliver what they believe is scientifically accurate sound as a baseline but then tuned by human beings. I don’t know if Apple and Beats use different humans for this, but they seem to have slightly different sounds. So, if you’re not a fan of the typical AirPods style sound, you might be of Beats or vice versa.
Now, I don’t self-identify as an audiophile, and I clearly value convenience as much as I do quality, or I’d be plugging wired into a DAC and carrying it all around in a Ghostbusters-style backpack behind me. But they sound crisp and clean even at higher volume levels and as good as almost any wireless headset I’ve ever used… with the exception of probably the AirPods Pro and certainly the AirPods Max.
They’re also super easy, barely an inconvenience to play and pause just by pressing once on the really clicky button on the side of each Studio Bud. (You can do that with whichever hand you prefer, they do the exact same thing.)
Beats Studio Pods: Design and fit
I really, really, really like the Beats Studio Buds. First of all, they don’t have the stem the way that the AirPods, the long stem of the OG AirPods, and the shorter, more angled stem of the AirPods Pro. I’ll talk about in a minute why that’s not always a great thing, but just in terms of the aesthetic, if you don’t like the look of that little white drop coming down the sides of your ears, these are… well… not completely incognito — these aren’t really the earbuds that you’d wear if you were an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. or anything — but they have a much less obvious look than the AirPods especially in this color black that I’m testing. If you get the white one or the Beats red version, obviously, those are a little bit more flashy.
Most importantly for me, these are bar none the best-fitting earbuds I have ever worn. I can’t keep the original AirPods in my ears. The left one, okay, the right one, not so much. I have these Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo mangled ears. The AirPods Pro were better because they had these adjustable tips, but the right one would still come loose over time.
Beats Studio Buds, though… these just go in and stay in. I have not had any problem with them. I’ve done all sorts of wild movements. Fitness Plus, just generally walking around, eating, talking a lot, a lot, a lot. And they have stayed in, completely in.
That, to me, is huge because, with standard headphones, it was just annoying. They would fall down, and they would dangle from the cords. But with AirPods specifically, I would only ever use the left one when I was out. Because if I used the right one, it would fall out, and it would fall out into the snow or bounce across the asphalt, barely missing sewer. Great. Every time giving me a cardiac event every time, so Dr. Mike has to yell, “Clear,” with his favorite defibrillators — sorry, chest compressions!
This, to me, is such an important feature that I don’t care about a lot of the drawbacks. I’m gonna be wearing these a lot just because they actually stay in.
Beats Studio Pods: Active noise cancelation and Transparency mode
Like the AirPods Pro, and unlike the AirPods 2 and original AirPods, the Beats Studio Buds have active noise cancellation.
It’s very similar to Apple’s implementation, where they just use anti-noise, anti-sound to cancel out any of the ambient noise that might be around you at any given time.
You can’t really rank ANC in the absolute. Different systems treat different kinds of ambient noise differently, different algorithms attack and avoid more aggressively or cautiously, and our own ears will mean we can each subjectively rank any of those systems in different orders.
For me, it’s a toss-up between the Beats Studio Buds and AirPods Pro. They’re both really good.
Transparency mode uses the active noise-canceling technology to not cancel the noise but actually to enhance it. So, where normal earbuds would block out the ambient sound around you — the traffic, the conversation, all of that — Transparency mode actually makes it better. It gives you, if not Kryptonian style hearing, quasi super hearing so that you don’t get run over or you don’t miss somebody shouting your name.
I find that useful when I’m out and about or just around other humans that I don’t expressly wanna block out.
If you don’t want ANC or Transparency, you can select the third option, which is nothing. That just turns off the system completely, and then it really is like wearing traditional earbuds.
You can just toggle between those modes easily by pressing and holding, essentially doing a long press, on either of the Studio Buds.
Beats Studio Pods: Call quality
Where I am just a little less sold on the Beats Studio Buds lack of a stem… is on calls.
Because they use beamforming to try to figure out what your voice is and what’s not your voice and reject everything else. For that, the stems actually give you almost like a shotgun microphone capability. Especially since the buds are so far from your mouth, I prefer having that shotgun stem bring it just a bit closer and add that physical directionality.
When I’m making calls with the Beats Studio Buds, I’ve had people tell me that I sound like I’m in a car Bluetooth system. I think that’s the best compliment I’ve gotten on them. At worst, that it was muddy and indistinct and nowhere nearly as clear as something like the AirPods Pro.
I’ve also had people tell me the Buds sound less over-processed than the Pods, so again, your subjective mileage may vary.
Beats Studio Pods: Chipset
One of the most interesting parts of the Beats Studio Pods is the chipset. Ever since 2016, when Apple deleted the headphone jack and announced the original AirPods, they announced custom silicone to go along with it. Originally, the W1 chip before W moved over to be a watch chip. And now the H1 chip, the headphone chip, that’s been powering all the AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max — and all the wireless Beats headsets — since then.
Beats Studio Pods do not use either the W1 or H1. Instead, it uses something Beats calls… “extremely unique” (which, yes, fires all my The West Wing triggers). Beats says it’s to provide a seamless, native pairing experience on both iOS and Android.
And… Yeah, the pairing is super simple. As simple as you can expect for an Apple product. You just open it up. It pops up. Tap Connect. And you’re done.
For Android, so that you have the option of using just one bud at a time if you want to, each bud will be connected separately.
Absent W1 or the more recent H1, though, means the Beats Studio Pods are also missing some features.
For example, you get spatial audio because that’s going to be available on every set of headphones AirPods are not. You don’t get the head tracking spatial audio because that requires the sensors from the AirPods to do that sort of math between where your head is in time and space and where the iPad or iPhone is in time and space. Then there’s that automagic propagation where if you pair your AirPods to any of your Apple devices, that pairing works on all your Apple devices. Not so with Beats Studio Buds.
Also, Apple has been updating the AirPods yearly. I don’t know if the Beats Studio Pods have the same sort of silicon capability to do any of those things or to keep getting updates the way that AirPods have been getting. Big, substantial crunchy updates.
What Beats is trying to do instead is sort of straddle the world to not be too Apple-y but to also be of service, greater service to Android customers. Which is interesting positioning for Apple, especially since some people assumed as Apple made more and more AirPods, as they made the base model, and as they made the noise-canceling higher-end model, and as they made the over-the-ear Max model, that they’d be slowly phasing out Beats.
Instead of phasing Beats out, though, they’re just moving over and providing, instead of identical features in other form factors, like around the ear, on the ear, over the ear, they’re now differentiating them also based on functionality. And primarily, that functionality is just being the best cross-platform solution they can be.
Beats Studio Pods: Battery and charging
The Beats Studio Pods carry enough charge for 8 hours of normal (non-ANC) playback. The charge case holds an additional 16 hours, for a total of 24. It can also fast charge you up to an hour of usage in 5 minutes.
All over USB. Type C. Yeah. These aren’t using Lightning the way that AirPods use it, or previous generations of Beats have used it. These are using USB-C, which maybe is inconvenient for people who only or primarily use an iPhone and have an abundance of lightning cables available to them. But it is much more convenient for Mac owners, new iPad Air or recent iPad Pro owners, and certainly Android and a vast majority of other consumer electronic owners who have that same abundance but of USB-C cables instead.
No inductive charging, though, not even though an optional case like the AirPods 2.
Beats Studio Pods: Bottom line
I realize it might sound like the Studio Buds are missing a bunch of features when compared to the AirPods Pro. Things like that, 10 audio cores, system-in-package, the sensors that let them do head tracking for spatial audio, even the inductive charging case, this case charges only via USB-C. Also, that seamless switching between all of your iOS devices, which is sometimes a blessing and sometimes just a way overly promiscuous curse.
When you look at the price, though…
The base-level AirPods are $159 without the inductive charging case and $199 with. AirPods Pro are $249.
The Beats Studio Buds are $149.
For me, that’s delivering quite a lot of value and, blaster to my head, if I had to choose between them and I could only choose one… the Beats Studio Pods have enough of the features that I really want plus the fit that I really need to do things like going out and about, that they would be just a complete no-brainer.
Your move, AirPods!