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Beats Studio Buds + vs. AirPods Pro – great 1st impressions but are they really any good?

This is a first for me – a pair of earbuds that are not Apple-branded…

Beats Studio Buds + vs. AirPods Pro

On the beat

Beats Studio Buds interests me.

This is my first foray into the world of the Beats brand of any kind. I know they have always had a reputation of having a very particular sound to them, and that is partly what drew me to them – that, and if I am honest, the way they look. I went for the transparent pair and right out of the box, they do look cool. But looks alone won’t cut it – I will be more interested in how they sound and perform and I’ll try to cover that as best I can.

The Beats brand has always been hard for me to fully understand. They aren’t Apple, but they kind of are! Apple bought Beats in 2014 for a whopping $3 billion. Apple laid down that amount of cash for a very good reason – to wipe out the competition.

Back then Beats had not only the highest market share but also they were seen as the premium consumer headphone brand. They seemed cool & contemporary and were seen being worn by endless athletes and celebrities. Of course, Apple had big plans for their own AirPods and by acquiring the Beats Studio brand they could control the marketplace better. When you have enough cash being the top dog is made that bit easier.

First impressions

On the whole, my first impressions were good enough. You certainly don’t feel as if you have a pair of sub-par earbuds in your hand. The outer packaging is Apple’esque with soft-touch lam on the box and a few dashes of gloss UV varnish – they feel premium.

Inside it’s the normal story – minimal instructions which come with a useful QR code to more extensive ones, an Apple Music voucher, a Beats Studio sticker and the warranty.

What about the useful bits though – what do you get? You get 3 pairs of alternate silicon tips precisely as per AirPods Pro and a short USB-C cable which you’ll need as the case isn’t MagSafe.

Design & fit

I have made no secret about the fact I love, absolutely love my 2nd gen AirPods Pro. The only negative about them is the fit.

I recently made a chance adjustment which did help. My left AirPod always felt loose and as if it were about to fall out. Randomly, I tried putting on the smallest tip rather than a larger one and it really helped out – still not perfect, but way better. Beats Studio Buds + come fitted with medium tips but you have a choice of XS, S & L so hopefully you’ll be able to find a decent fit.

The actual earbuds are very stubby in design with the Beats Studio Buds. They are very much ‘in-ear’ when you have them in and they feel more secure because of it. They sit almost flush with your ear. Again I switched over one of the silicon tips and the fit is better than AirPods Pro. So far so good. Unlike AirPods Pro, these Studio Buds don’t have an on-screen fit test.

The design of the Beats Studio Buds is radically different from what I had become accustomed to with my AirPods Pro. The case itself is deeper, wider and thicker than the Apple case for my Pros and more cumbersome in your pockets. As I mentioned I got the transparent pair of Studio Beats. Spoiler – they are not fully transparent but more frosted, either way though, being able to see through the case & the buds themselves is neat.

It’s a shame that the case isn’t MagSafe as it means that you still have to have a cable out on your desk. I’d have preferred it if Beats at least gave you the option of USB-C or MagSafe as you do with Apple’s AirPods Pro. It costs an extra £10 with Apple to go MagSafe but it is so worth it. Beats should take a cue on that front.

Now, I know I am a diehard AirPods Pro user, but the Beats Studio Buds feel more fiddly to both get in and out of the case and put in your ears too. Because of their ultra-compact design, there is nothing to get a grip of. Also, it is not particularly intuitive as to which way they sit in the charging case – it’s all a bit fiddly.

Comfort and battery

I have been wearing the Beats Studio Buds for about a week now and the overall comfort has been good.

If you are coming from AirPods they do feel different, not in a bad way – just different. I think the longest I have worn them would have been about 3 hours and then I did get some fatigue. Because of that very ‘in-ear’ fit, I felt some pressure building up.

Battery life seems every bit as good as Apple’s AirPods – put it this way I haven’t charged them yet, so they are doing well.

Settings

You have to make a simple choice with the Beats Studio Buds when it comes to the controls.

You get to decide how you want the press-and-hold function to work. If you toggle off the Volume Control you can then set them to Siri or Noise Control. On balance, as I use volume more, so I have left them set for that. If however, you want to have them set for Noise Control you can always use Siri to alter the volume.

For Noise Control, I am happy enough to head into the Control Centre and scroll between Transparency, Noise Cancellation and Off. And that brings me to the first big negative.

The Noise Cancelling is nowhere near as effective as AirPods. When I first started testing them outdoors, I had to check that it was on at all. Now, in fairness that may be a reflection on just how good noise cancelling is on AirPods Pro, but the Studio Buds are disappointing in that regard.

Not only is the cancelling poor but enabling it entirely alters the whole EQ and listening experience. You do get used to the change of sound quite quickly but the shift is notable and is not something I have ever detected with AirPods Pro.

The pairing to my iPhone was every bit as simple and easy as pairing AirPods and the Beats Studio Buds are also Find My compatible.

The audio

There is no way of dancing around this one – the audio is not good with the Beats Studio Buds.

I was shocked at how poor they sounded when I first popped them in. Through all frequencies, they sound thin. I had expected a thump of bass from this pair of Beats buds – but there was nothing. I had always thought that bass was the Beats’ signature sound but in this pair of buds, that’s sadly missing.

Not only is the bass lacking but almost more strikingly so too are the mids. There is no clarity there which means the voice just gets lost in a confusing muddiness. I stand to be corrected but I can’t find any EQ settings for this pair or earbuds, so what you get is, well, what you get.

All of this brings into sharp focus just how very good Apple’s AirPods Pro are. Because I have worn them so much and for so long, I have become used to them – which is almost a shame! It means I take for granted just how good they are. They are so good that you can almost make a comparison to AirPods Max which is ludicrous. When they came out last fall they caught everyone out. They just have no right to sound as good as they do.

AirPods Pro has certainly spoiled the party for the Beats Studio Buds +. There is simply no comparison – they are day and night apart.

Price

The difference cannot be pinpointed on price either.

The Beats Studio Buds fall slap bang in the middle of Apple’s AirPods 3rd Gen (£189) and my beloved AirPods Pro 2nd Gen (£249). The Beats Studio Buds + cost me £180 – so we are not talking budget earbuds which makes me wonder even more why they are lacking in audio quality so much.

Wrapping up

Apple was smart in buying Beats – for them, it was small change compared to what they can make now they dominate the consumer headphone space.

AirPods have become a massively important revenue stream for Apple turning over more than $12 billion annually. The AirPods division alone generates more revenue than Spotify, Twitter or Shopify.

But in fairness to Apple, they haven’t sat back on their laurels. Their audio engineers have performed nothing short of miracles with 2nd gen AirPods Pro. The sound is so full and descriptive, the Noise Cancelling just staggering and the Adaptive EQ a revelation. Add to that Personalised Spatial Audio and the H1 chip and it makes AirPods Pro the clear winner here.

The extra £70 that AirPods Pro cost is a bargain and well worth spending. I’m not suggesting £70 is a drop in the ocean, but for the number of hours you’ll wear and enjoy them, it’s well worth finding the extra.

Whether it is just that AirPods Pro are so good or that Beats Studio Buds are bland I am not sure, but all I do know is the listening experience is disappointing.

I expected more from the Beats brand. Apple AirPods Pro remain the unchallenged winner.

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