Beats Studio Buds review: Better than AirPods, unless you’re a hardcore Apple user
Quick verdict: The Beats Studio Buds beat the AirPods Pro on sound and noise-cancellation but it’s missing some key features Apple users have gotten used to.
- Excellent sound and noise-cancellation
- A more compact design than the previous generation
- Doesn’t pair as seamlessly as other Apple and Beats headphones
- Battery could be a bit better
- No in-ear detection
After a couple of years and a complete redesign, Beats is back with its brand new true wireless earbuds offering - the Beats Studio Buds.
These things are great, but there are a few quirks that might leave Apple Stans holding onto their AirPods Pro for the time being.
The design of the Beats Studio Buds are a far cry from their predecessor. The original true wireless headphones, the PowerBeats Pro, hooked over the ears in a delightfully dorky fashion. It wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but I loved them.
One of my biggest bugbears with true wireless headphones is the constant paranoia that they'll fall out of my ears. The PowerBeats prevented that, leaving them secure and comfortable for vigorous exercise.
Still, the new Beats Studio Buds are admittedly more sleek and smaller. And this will undoubtedly make them a more attractive prospect for buyers.
It also resulted in a smallish oval charging case, a blessing when compared with the truly enormous case the Powerbeats Pro came in.
Fortunately, they also remain comfortable this time around. They come with three tip options and only require a slight pivot in the ear to be secured in place.
They felt fine after wearing them for several hours at a time over the space of a week. This is not always the case for true wireless headphones.
And while I doubt true wireless will ever feel perfectly secure to me, these little buddies did well staying in on walks and while running.
Being IPX4 rated helped here. Being splash proof they didn't slip out even when I was a sweaty mess.
When it comes to controls, they're quite simple. One press pauses a track, two skips and three goes back. The controls work the same on both sides, which my brain likes. Alternatively you can set one to interact with Siri instead.
Long pressing the Beats logo also lets you toggle between Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), transparency mode or simply turning these options off.
All of this worked perfectly fine for me. The only annoyance I found was the lack of on-device volume control. But I'm aware this may just be a personal preference. If you're content controlling the volume on your phone, this won't be a problem.
But perhaps the biggest winner of the new design is the lack of lightning cable. Unlike the previous gen, and branded Apple offerings, the Beats Studio Buds have been designed with Apple and Android users in mind. And that means USB-C baby, and I couldn't be happier.
But there is a downside to moving a little away from the Apple ecosystem.
Unlike their predecessors, the Beats Studio Buds don't contain an Apple H1 or W1 chip. This means they do not offer instant setup or automatic pairing and switching between Apple devices.
So if you're an Apple aficionado who loves those features, this will be a rude shock.
On the plus side, you can use the Beats Studio Buds also as seamlessly with Android as iOS. The only difference is that Android users can't use Siri hands-free.
Otherwise, they're easy to set up via Bluetooth in both Ecosystems and the app works the same way too. It allows you to play with the ANC and transparency modes as well as check the battery life.
Otherwise, the app is relatively limited. There are no EQ controls so what you hear is what you get.
It's also worth noting that there is no in-ear detection. This was a killer for me, as I'm an absolute fiend for taking out my earbuds and assuming they'll pause. These do not, so don't forget to do that manually so you don't lose your place in whatever murder podcast you're currently binging.
Beats Studio Buds Audio Performance
It's undeniable that the AirPods Pro have the Beats Studio Buds beat when it comes to bells and whistles like device switching, extra battery life and in-ear detection.
But when it comes to audio quality and ANC, the Beats reign supreme.
The mids and highs play beautifully with one another, each remaining separate and rich in their own right.
For example, the unique vocals of Stevie Nicks If You Ever Did Believe by Fleetwood Mac are clear and differentiated from the strumming guitar
Comparatively, the AirPods Pro still sound good, but these two elements can be duller and lose the individuality and complexities a little more.
Introducing bass doesn't change how well the Studio Buds handle the balance between the lows, mids and highs.
In 3005 by Childish Gambino, the synth dances brightly at the top of the track with the vocals coming in clearly under them. Both are punctuated with the heavy bass which punches at your eardrums without dominating the other elements.
While they don't do as great a job as the Sony WF-100XM4s, they also sit at a very different price point. Considering they're just shy of $200, I'm impressed with how they handle sound.
Their Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is also excellent. It does a better job of blocking out the world around you than the AirPods Pro and its transparency mode is also fantastic if you want to be a little bit more aware of your surroundings.
While I haven't gotten to try these in an office, on a flight or on public transport, they sure do block out cars while walking down the street. They were also great at silencing my fiancee whenever he walked in on me writing.
Calls were also decent as well. The Beats Studio Buds come with three microphones and a beamforming mic per side to help with voice amplification and external noise reduction.
While I'm not able to take advantage of this feature that much in lockdown, they performed well in my tests while going for my daily walk.
Beats Studio Buds Battery
When it comes to battery, the Beats Studio Buds are far from the best in class.
On the surface level, they look great - eight hours of playback plus an additional 16 from the charging case. This is on par with other premium true wireless earbuds in the market.
However, this number drops significantly once ANC is activated, bringing the playback time down to five hours per charge. This means a full charging case only offers 15 hours.
This is far less than the likes of Sony's WF-1000XM4 or the AirPods Pro. To be fair, the former is far more expensive, but I was hoping the Studio Buds would be a little closer to the AirPods Pro.
While the AirPods Pro do only offer 4.5 hours playback with ANC toggled on, the charging case still gets you 24-hours of total juice. Considering Beats are owned by Apple, it's a bit disappointing to see this drop.
It also would have been nice to see Qi wireless charging functionality in the Beats Studio Buds, but this functionality is also missing.
Should you buy the Beats Studio Buds?
- Buy it if you're looking for excellent sound, noise-cancellation and comfort for under $200.
- Don't buy it if you like the seamless connection and device swapping offered by other Apple and Beats devices.
This will really come down to what your priorities are. If you value sound, ANC and comfort above all else, the Beats Studio Buds are an excellent choice. Plus they're quite well priced for the quality you get, especially compared to AirPods.
But if you're firmly placed in the Apple ecosystem and want headphones that will swap between all your devices immediately, these might not be for you. The AirPods Pro would be a better choice - they're still great and simply work.
I personally wish we could combine the functionality of the AirPods Pro with the sound and ANC quality of the Beats Studio Buds. Those things would be incredible.
Beats Studio Buds Pricing and availability
The Beats Studio Buds have an RRP of $199.95.
And if you're looking for excellent true wireless earbuds at a fraction of the price, we have reviewed the Jabra Elite 3 and were very impressed.
We also have a round up of all the best AirPod alternatives available right now.
Where to buy
How we tested
The Beats Studio Buds were tested extensively over a one week period. They were used for music, podcasts and phone calls while stationary and during exercise.