(Pocket-lint) - Beats has been one of the most fashionable audio brands for a number of years now, a profile that's only grown since its acquisition by Apple.
With that said, Beats hasn't really had a product that you could call budget. The wired Powerbeats from early in 2020 was more affordable, but those in-ears weren't at the low-end of the market.
With Beats Flex, the company is changing that. Offering a product that's convenient, fashionable, and that sounds good for a lot less money than you'd think.
- Flexible neckband design
- Nickel-titanium alloy band
- Magnets for auto play/pause and answering calls
Unlike a lot of the most modern earphones, the Beats Flex isn't a true wire-free pair of buds. Instead, it takes influence from the Beats X, offering earphones connected by a flexible neckband. Hence the name: Flex.
These in-ears are pliable, lightweight, and barely noticeable when you sit with them around the back of your neck. And that's always been the joy and convenience of any neckband earbuds worth their salt. You should be able to wear them around your neck all day, without noticing them, then pop one or both in when you want to listen to music or make a call. Beats Flex definitely gets that right.
These 'buds are durable too. The flexible cord is design to withstand pretty much anything you could put it through in a normal day. So if you bunch up the Flex to slip into your pocket then that's no problem. The band itself is made from a nickel-titanium alloy, and that not only means the cord is hard to break, it also bounces back into shape after living as a coiled up ball in your pocket.
Now what these earbuds aren't is workout earphones. Unlike Powerbeats, the Flex don't have any additional way to grip onto your ears. There's no over-ear hook, and no in-ear fin either. Beats told us a reason for this - and a reason for the lack of a pouch too - was that most of their customers simply don't use them. And, to reduce extra unnecessary waste, the company opted to get rid.
Because of that lack of extra security you'd get, we found when moving around - i.e. walking with the earbuds in - we sometimes had to adjust the fit in the ear again once every so often. There wasn't much tugging, but just the nature of the two buds being attached means there's a little shift in fit.
For a budget pair of earphones, a lot of thought has gone into the design. There's no dangling remote control unit because Beats moved the microphone and control buttons to the neckband. That serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it stops the earbuds feeling like they're being pulled from your ears.
Second, it ensures that when you're reaching for the buttons they're easy to find, and you're not rubbing any external microphones accidentally. That reduces the tearing-like sound that someone might hear on the phone if you're speaking to them over your Beats headset.
Third, the microphone itself has been moved to the neckband and is set, recessed, in its own little chamber near your neck, to keep it sheltered from any wind. It's joined on that left collar by the volume rocker on the top, which is super easy and convenient to use, plus the rounded multi-purpose button which you use to play, pause and skip tracks.
Sound and performance
- Similar drivers to Powerbeats Pro
- 12-hour battery life
- Quick charge
When Beats announced the Powerbeats Pro in 2019, the company also produced a brand new custom-designed driver with a more durable and a piston-like design that makes tuning far more accurate than using a conventional diaphragm-type speaker.
While it's not exactly the same in the Beats Flex, it is far more similar to Powerbeats Pro than Beats X and - so despite being cheaper than the X was at launch - the Flex actually sounds better than the X. There's a clarity to the vocals and details, while the lower bass notes don't fall away or get crunched when the volume drops off. It's well-controlled and remarkably well balanced for what is essentially a pair of budget earbuds.
To help that sound along there's a dual-chamber design that helps give the sound room to move within the buds, while there's also a small vent on the outside of the casing that helps ensure there's no build-up of pressure.
The end result is a pair of 'buds that's really good to listen to day-in and day-out. All of your favourite playlists and tracks will be as enjoyable as they should be. It's not bass-heavy, and it doesn't distort or over accentuate the harder-hitting treble sounds.
Of course, you might not get the dynamic and detailed sound or find the same prominence in the quieter backing instruments and vocals as you'd find on a pair of earphones that are four times the price, but in its price range the Flex stands out for its audio quality. Flex is great for music listening on the go and won't leave you wishing you'd spent more on something else.
Similarly, all the other elements of its performance make it dependable and convenient. There's the first-generation W1 chip that makes the Flex really convenient and easy to pair with your iPhone. It also means instant sharing with any other iOS or Apple device you have. You even get audio sharing so you can share your music with someone else using Apple-powered earbuds.
There are magnets built into each 'bud which work alongside sensors to automatically play and pause your music when every you snap them together or pull them apart. Similarly, if you're wearing the Flex around your neck and you get a call on your phone, you can simply unsnap the 'buds and answer the call.
For Android users, pairing is simple enough and you get an app for managing any firmware updates and viewing battery life, to help bring feature parity between Android and iPhone users.
You can even listen all day if you want, because with 12-hour battery life there's more than enough in the tank to keep you going. If you commute to work, that's good to get you through a full week of one-hour commutes comfortably.
If there's one word to describe the Beats Flex, it's 'convenience'. The design is lightweight and easy to wear; the sound is well balanced and easy on the ears; the magnetic buds make playing, pausing and answering calls really easy; and the battery means you don't need to worry too often about charging.
Would it be nice to get a more secure fit using in-ear fins for running? Yes. But that's the only real complaint we have with the Beats Flex. And it's a minor one considering you could spend a little more elsewhere in the range for such a fit.
Overall, the Beats Flex is a truly solid pair of earphones that won't leave you wishing you'd spent more. It's hard to imagine a more complete neckband product at this price point.
If you want a more sporty and durable pair of in-ears with better sound and a better fit, Powerbeats is worth considering. But no surprises here: the cost is higher.