(Pocket-lint) - Since being purchased by Apple, Beats has been on something of a journey redefining itself. It typically takes the best of Apple's tech and wraps it in a product that's visually distinct from its parent company's offerings.
When the true wireless market exploded after Apple's AirPods launch, that meant launching the Powerbeats Pro, a pair of workout 'buds. But for 2021, Beats wanted to bring something to market as convenient as AirPods Pro but with a very different look and without the price tag. Say hello to the Beats Studio Buds.
- Each 'bud weighs 5g
- IPX4 water-resistance
- Colours: White, Black, Red
- Single multi-purpose button on each ear
Being part of Apple's company has meant offering something different to AirPods and - so far - that's what Beats has managed to do. With Studio Buds, it's almost like the design team looked at AirPods and decided "not like that". That means there's no stem sticking out of your years, a la AirPods, while the shape of the casing is hugely different to Apple's own-brand earbuds too.
Instead, the compact round casing curves up into a pill-shaped button that sits on the outside of Beats Studio Buds and also acts as a multi-function button. Clicking it once plays or pauses the music, while a double- or triple-click skips tracks forward or back, and a long press switches between the active noise-cancelling (ANC) and transparency (passthrough) modes.
Both 'buds feature this same control, so it's completely ambidextrous. You don't have to remember which earbud does what. The only negative to using this physical button versus a touch-sensitive one is that if you press it too firmly then you end up pushing the earbud further down into your ear canal, which can be a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, they don't need to be pressed hard to activate.
What we did find, however, was the Studio Buds were better at staying secure in our ears than AirPods. The Beats don't seem to shift as much as the AirPods Pro when in use; they just seem to sit, almost glued into our ears. They're also very comfortable and can easily be worn for long periods without making the ear canal entrance sensitive or sore.
The Studio Buds' case is similarly anti-AirPods in its look. Rather than be a rounded rectangle, the Beats ships with a pebble-shaped case. It's compact - much more so than the large Powerbeats Pro carry case - and easily slips into a pocket. What's more, it's got a USB Type-C port for charging.
There's no wireless charging here, sadly, but with the USB-C port for charging it means Android phone users likely won't need to carry an extra cable around just to recharge their earphones.
AirPods, but for Android users?
- One-touch pairing for iPhone (with hands-free 'Hey Siri' support) and Android
- Up to 8 hours playback (24 hours total with case charges)
- 'Find My' app support
With previous Beats headphones, the manufacturer took advantage of Apple's headphone processors, making them really convenient for Apple device users. Recently, that's seen the H1 chip - which enabled is automatic pairing and connection across multiple Apple devices being used in products like the Beats Solo Pro and wireless Powerbeats models.
But Beats took a different approach with the Studio Buds, opting not to build the H1 chip into its compact wireless buds. Instead, it built a new software platform to make these earbuds more appealing to Android users too. Studio Buds feature Google Fast Pair, which means if you put them near an Android phone with Bluetooth on you get an intuitive graphic on screen for pairing, complete with a picture of the product and a link to download the Beats app.
More crucially, if you upgrade your Android phone afterwards, your phone will know that a previously connected pair of earphones is nearby and let you connect to them. Because with Fast Pair, the Studio Buds are linked to your Google account.
You still get quick and easy pairing on iPhone too, you just don't get the benefit of having them automatically paired across all of your Apple devices. Although, they still have that feeling of being tightly integrated. For instance, if you access the volume control in Control Centre on your iPhone or iPad while they're connected, you can quickly toggle on the ANC or transparency modes, or view the battery levels in the battery widget. You can also use the Find My app to locate them.
Similarly, because of Fast Pair support, you can view your Beats Studio battery details within your phone's settings menu on Android.
Other convenient features include the ability to use either the left or right 'bud independently, which can be a life-saver when using them for video calls. You can dock one 'bud to charge it while using the other for audio, then swap and carry on the call without any interruption.
On the subject of calls, the performance here is good too. Voice clarity from the microphones is more than good enough, while the balance of the sound through the earbuds means recipients' voices come through cleanly too.
Similarly, battery life is more than good enough to make them hassle-free. With ANC switched off you can get up to eight hours of music playback. In our testing, we played them for sometimes three hours at a time and didn't drop below 60 per cent even with ANC switched on. Plus, with the case offering two extra full charges, they easily lasted us a week or two between needing to plug into a power source.
Sound and noise cancelling
- Active noise-cancelling (ANC) and transparency modes
- Custom 8.3mm drivers
For a long time, Beats had a reputation - and not one that it wanted. "Beats headphones have too much bass" was the general narrative, but it's a reputation very much forged in the early years of the company. Since then, it's worked hard at delivering a sound profile that's enjoyable but more balanced. That's clear to hear in the Beats Studio Buds.
There is bass, but it's not heavy or overwhelming. It's clear and tightly controlled. A great example is the bass in Clash by Dave and Stormzy, which in some other headphones can be quite boomy and lacking tightness because it's so prominent. The Studio Buds cope really well with it though. It's there, it's prominent, but it doesn't sound like it's muddy.
Studio Buds are great for songs featuring mostly acoustic instruments too. Plucked and strummed strings - whether they be acoustic guitar or banjo - cut right through the mix, without distracting from any vocals, while the bass in the centre is free to add flavour.
One other bonus feature: Studio Buds are compatible with Apple Music's Spatial Audio, which adds further depth and width to a lot of popular songs and albums. Just how effective it is seems to depend very much on the individual mixes, and this was something we've noticed regardless of which pair of compatible headphones or earphones we've tested with it.
With those mixed to make the most of Spatial Audio, the sense of width and space between the furthest left and furthest right channels is great.
Given the price point, we were impressed by the clarity and detail on offer. Some people might prefer a more dynamic, punchy sound than what's on offer here - but on the whole they're well controlled and balanced.
The silicone tip offers a good seal in the ear, which combined with ANC does an effective job of cutting out a lot of ambient noise. We didn't find it as effective as other ANC we've tested though.
You don't get that sense of being locked away in a noiseless bubble like with AirPods Pro, but the Studio Buds effectively cut out wind noise, droning chatter and a lot of what's happening around you.
The Beats Studio Buds do everything you need a pair of wireless buds to do - without costing a fortune. You get enjoyable and clear sound, plus decent active noise-cancelling (ANC).
But above all they're just convenient. Having the same multi-function button on both sides means they're really easy to control. They're comfortable enough to wear for long periods. What's more, with Android Fast Pair support, the Studio Buds open themselves to a section of the market mostly ignored by AirPods: Google Android users.
They might not be the most exciting earbuds on the planet, but with their list of convenient features, design, price and sound, Studio Buds are incredibly easy to recommend if you don't want to spend too much.
AirPods are arguably the most convenient earbuds for Apple users, especially if you have multiple devices. You can quickly connect to your AirPods automatically from Mac, iPad or iPhone, and the Pro model also features great active noise-cancelling (ANC).
Nothing Ear 1
Nothing is new to the earbuds game for 2021, but in its price bracket there are very few that offer the experience on offer from the Ear 1 - and even fewer that look like them.