(Pocket-lint) - The Beats Solo is the company's most popular range of headphones to date. In fact, the manufacturer – now owned by Apple – has sold over a staggering 30 million units. So the company was obviously keen to update these over-ears, using its ties with Apple to create a silhouette which is better designed, better sounding and filled with advanced modern features than the earlier Solo.
Those who might look down their noses at the previous plastic-heavy Solo might just do a double-take when checking out the latest iteration. The 2019 Solo Pro might look familiar, but Beats has redesigned almost everything from the ground up, while still keeping that distinctive look, to make for some altogether more attractive cans.
Premium styling and comfort
- Anodised aluminium arms
- Versatile tilting ear cups
- Foldable design
- New canvas carry case
The fruits of the partnership with Apple are finally starting to show prominently in Beats' 2019 headphone and earphone line-up. With the Solo, it's more clear than before, for one main reason: that anodised aluminium. Rather than have a fully plastic headband and a tendency to rattle a little, Beats has used Apple's experience with aluminium to create a far nicer looking and feeling headband.
Depending on which colour Beats Solo Pro you go for, this anodised aluminium is finished in a way to match that colour scheme. The grey model, for instance, has a deep bronze accent; while the light blue headphones have a darker blue accent. And there's no shiny plastic anywhere, it's all a classy matte look, not like its predecessors.
Aluminium arms slide smoothly in and out of the headband, with enough resistance to keep them secure on your head, and without that ratchet-style clicking you get from a lot of other headphones. Not only does that mean it feels more high-end when you adjust it, but also means it's a lot more versatile and can be more fine-tuned to fit your head. What's more, the arms within the headphones extend longer than previous models, which should mean it fits bigger heads without feeling too snug.
Part of the Apple strength also comes in research and development data, with greater attention to detail as a result. For instance, the wires connecting to the ear cups are seamlessly hidden away along the underside of the aluminium, so they don't jump out anywhere. The ear cushion, meanwhile, offers more surface contact, with a dense cushion for a more comfortable fit, and a good seal to help keep noise out.
Being on-ears, rather than over ear, the headphones do feel quite snug though. With our fairly large head, we had the arms extended to their longest in order to make them fit comfortably. But for this form factor they're surprisingly comfortable. We could wear them for three hours in one sitting without really getting uncomfortable.
Wearing glasses is a different matter, however, as the headphones will press the tops of our ears into the glasses arms, so after long periods of wear there was a slight tender area. Obviously, over-ears would be a better choice here – because they don't press on your ears at all.
The Beats being smaller than over-ears means greater portability too. Part of this is down to the case which is soft and flexible, so doesn't take up much space in your bag when it's empty (unlike the hard-shell case from the Studio 3 Wireless).
Look around the Solo Pro's earcups and you'll notice there's only one button. It's the mode button which lets you switch the active noise-cancelling (ANC) and audio transparency features on or off. This isn't a power button either – the Solo Pro switches on by just unfolding the arms, then switches off by folding back up again.
H1 smarts and ANC
- Adaptive active noise-cancelling (ANC) adjusts for noise around you
- Battery life: 22 hours (with ANC) / 40 hours (without ANC)
- Audio transparency feature
The H1 processor inside Apple and Beats' most recent headphones isn't just there to make pairing easy and convenient, it also enables a host of other features. In the Solo Pro's case, it acts as the brain that analyses all the ambient noise data, adjusting the noise-cancelling to best match your surroundings.
It also helps adjust the sound, to the point where it can tell when the earcups aren't quite providing a fully flush seal against your ears. If, for instance, you're wearing glasses and that creates a slight gap in the seal or adjusts the angle of the ear cups somewhat, the headphones can ensure you still get the same great sound.
For anyone with multiple Apple products, the H1 chip is a vital inclusion, if only for the ease at which you connect to the headphones from any of your devices. We regularly use an iPad Air, MacBook Pro, iPhone 11 Pro and Apple Watch S5 and the beauty of the H1 means that as soon as you've paired the Solo Pro with one device, you can connect to it from any of the others (providing you've connected the all to the same iCloud account). You don't have to pair again with any of the other Apple devices.
Just open it up to power on, and Solo Pro automatically appears in the Bluetooth devices list for you to connect without going through the pairing process. You also get an accurate battery level indicator within the Today View widgets in iOS or iPad OS.
The H1 chip is also what ensures the Solo Pro's battery is impressive. Beats promises up to 22 hours of music playback from a full charge with the ANC or audio transparency features switched on. With those features off, it can go up to 40 hours.
In real life, over daily use, those figures aren't too far off. We took the Solo Pro on a trip to Frankfurt for an overnight event, involving around five hours of travel in each direction, including trains, planes and taxis, as well as the usual waiting around in airport lounges. In total, our estimation is that we played around eight hours of music in total over the course of that trip, and we still had around 60 per cent of the battery remaining. Extrapolate that and you can reasonably expect to get about 20 hours of listening time, which isn't bad at all for a relatively small on-ear pair of headphones.
It's a good job the wireless connection is good too, because there's no 3.5mm input port on the Solo Pro, which is quite unusual for any pair of on- or over-ear headphones. In most cases you get the option to use them passively with a cable – which is ideal for times when the battery dies, or when you want to hook it up to an in-flight entertainment system.
To charge up again once emptied, you just use the same Lighting cable you use with your iPhone. Again, showing its usefulness for Apple users. For those who don't use Apple products, it's maybe not quite as convenient, but given that there's a Lightning cable in the box you can still top it up quite easily, it just means you can't use a USB-C cable if that's what your phone utilises.
The noise-cancelling is decent too. In fact, particularly on the plane and train parts of our above journey, it was an essential. You can still hear a very subtle drone of engine noise, but the ANC does a great job of cutting out most of it. With the music turned up loud enough, it's almost impossible to hear what's happening around you.
- Proprietary driver (won't find it anywhere else)
- Optimised geometries and diaphragm films
- Custom tuned silicone
Over the past couple of years Beats has evolved from being a company offering a bass-dominant sound into one that produces a more rounded sound profile. For the Solo Pro, Beats developed its own in-house custom drivers, giving these on-ears a technological blank canvas that's precise and accurate, perfect for engineering its own desired sound.
Don't get us wrong, Beats still likes to deliver the bass. You don't get flat, studio reference sound from the Solo Pro. But you do get both bass and detail, with enough clarity in the highs without it being overly harsh, and with plenty of presence from the mids. That means it's a very enjoyable music listening experience.
Listening to songs recorded with and acoustic drum kit gives a real feel of the bass drum being kicked by the pedal. It's not too boomy, but at the same time you get that low-end thud. At the same time, there's a lot of sharpness and detail in the higher notices.
A good example of this is probably History Has Its Eyes On You by Mystery Jets. The track is comprised of a low droning synth providing the bass, with some acoustic guitar over the top. You get a sense of the clarity and detail from the acoustic guitar strings being strummed and plucked, the impact of the whack of the snare drum rimshots, but at the same time you get a feel-good bass from that synth.
It's a nicely balanced, great sounding profile Beats has developed for the Solo Pro. You don't get a dedicated app for equalisation (EQ) adjustment, but we never found the want for it in this instance.
The Beats Solo Pro is a very good pair of portable on-ear headphones with great sound and impressive active noise-cancelling (ANC). These on-ears are hard to fault, except for the lack of any wired connection.
What Beats has essentially done with the Solo Pro is address shortcomings with the previous Solo model: the materials are higher-end, the design has a greater focus on ergonomics, while the noise-cancelling tech taken from the Studio 3 is a no-brainer for an improved listening experience.
This article was originally published 15 October 2019 and has been updated to reflect its full review status
Marshall Mid ANC
Marshall has made a name for itself in the world of on-ear headphones. The Mid ANC is one of its best pairs. Being Marshall, it offers that rock guitar-god styling, but with ANC and a decent sound profile. The build isn't quite as premium or as comfortable as the Beats, but a considerably more affordable price tag may be the lure.