Some headphone makers put fashion and and form before function, leaving you with great-looking cans that don't actually sound that great. These new Beats Studio Wireless headphones combine Bluetooth and noise and despite what you might presume based on the Beats name's checkered history, they're actually pretty good.
What Is It?
- Headphone Type: Over-The-Ear
- Bluetooth: Yes (3.0)
- Noise Cancelling: Yes
- Playback Controls: Yes
- Battery Life (claimed): 12 hours
- Charging: microUSB (cable included)
The $479.95 Beats Studio Wireless is actually a revamp of the much loved but unlovely Beats Studio headphones from 2008, which were incredibly popular but weren't actually very good when it came to faithfully and clearly reproducing audio at reasonable fidelity. Those old Studios did a hell of a lot for Beats' status as the fashionable headphone brand, but similarly turned off any audiophile or music enthusiast who was at least vaguely concerned about how their music sounded.
The updated Studio has been separated into two visually identical but otherwise different models, with the $399.95 Studio joined by the even more expensive Studio Wireless — both have noise cancelling but the Wireless combines that noise cancelling with Bluetooth, for an all-in-one headphone that one-ups my current favourites, Sony's MDR-1RBT Mk2, for frequent travellers and music listeners alike.
The Studio Wireless is available in six colours, including the really quite sexy looking matte black — I tested the satin silver, which is still attractive but not as much so as some of the others. These headphones are a three-piece design, with a telescoping headband and earcups with no articulation (they won't fold flat nor conform to the shape of your head). The Studio Wireless does collapse in on its headband to become slightly more compact, to be fair, and comes with a very sturdy and obviously-Beats-branded hard shell carry case. You also get a 2.1-amp USB charger, USB to microUSB cable, and 3.5mm audio cable. If you're so inclined, you can use the bundled RemoteTalk cable to connect and control music through your iPhone.
Of course, if you're using the Studio Wireless' integrated Bluetooth, you'll get controls on any Android or Windows Phone device, not just iOS, with the multipurpose button on the headphones' right earcup, which also houses the power button. You can skip tracks, pause and play, or change volume with the right series of taps — there's the slightest learning curve, but you'll pick up the procedure pretty quickly. The Bluetooth works perfectly, connects quickly, and doesn't offer any obstacles to high quality listening — there's no apt-x codec, but for the most pat your music just sounds just as good as a wired connection, and range is more than good enough at around 5 metres in my testing.
What Is It Good At?
Like the Beats Solo2 before them, the Beats Studio Wireless headphones actually sound pretty good. There's a good amount of both bass and treble power, and while mid-range is slightly recessed compared to its higher and lower frequency counterparts it's not immediately obvious and the difference is volume is only very slight. Maximum volume is extremely loud over Bluetooth, and remains the same when the headphones are connected to your music source directly with a cable, since the noise cancellation and internal electronics must be switched on whenever you want to use the Beats and listen to music — this is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Like other Beats headphones have set the tone for before it, the Studio Wireless is a very musical headphone, with strong beat-driven bass that is very punchy and powerful. There's plenty of lower bass extension, too, with no artificial cut-off or limitation and lower notes that seem to roll off quite quickly but nevertheless with a hell of a hit to your ears. Treble is a little sharp and fatiguing towards maximum volume levels, but at lower and moderate volume the headphones' higher frequencies sound There's also quite a good amount of detail, too, which I was surprised to hear in a fashion-first headphone — not as much as the MDR-1RBT Mk2, but still an appreciable level that goes some way to justifying the Beats' price tag.
They look good, too. The Beats branding is a little un-subtle for my tastes, but I realise I'm in the minority in a world full of Beats fans. Perhaps more important is the Studio Wireless' generally good build quality, with strong plastic and an aluminium headband, wrapped in soft leatherette and with memory foam earpads that are compliant and comfortable. Headphones tend to skew towards either the minimalist or the overly fashionable, and the Beats Studio Wireless hit some kind of a middle point — not especially simple or elegant, but not too gaudy.
Like the new Studio headphones, the Studio Wireless' noise cancelling is capable, and although there are no different noise cancellation modes the one-size-fits-all ambient noise cancellation is adequate for airplane travel, office work or general commuting. It's not as good as the cancellation of the Bose QuietComfort 15 or QuietComfort 20i, nor as good my gold standard in the Audio Technica ATH-ANC9, but it's more than adequate for everyday use and for blocking out the vast majority of outside noise when you need it.
What Is It Not Good At?
Not having any articulation beyond the telescoping and flexible headband, the Beats Studio Wireless headphones will be uncomfortable to wear for anyone with an especially large or small head — the earcups themselves are relatively inflexible and the soft, plush earpad foam and leatherette offer the only adjustability you'll find. For most listeners the Studio Wireless will be perfectly fine, and the clamping force is just right for everyday wear, but if you have a smaller or larger head then I'd recommend you try before you buy if at all possible.
These are very expensive headphones, too. You're paying $479.95 mostly for the privilege of the Beats brand on your headphones, and you can get equally capable headphones from equally prestigious brands like Sennheiser and Sony for less initial outlay. Of course, if the brand is important to you, then you're getting your money's worth, since the headphones are more capable sonically than I expected them to be — maybe not quite worth $480, but getting up there.
You can't use the Beats Studio Wireless unless they're charged, either. This might not seem like much of a problem, but the headphones only have a middling 12 hours of battery life, so if you're a frequent listener you'll find yourself charging them more often than you'd like; it's also impossible not to use the noise cancelling, which isn't a problem in terms of it colouring the sound (it's already musical enough as it is), but if you're in an already quiet room it's unnecessary and some listeners can find it offputting.
Should You Buy It?
Despite a few flaws in design and the implementation of noise cancelling and internal battery, the Beats Studio Wireless headphones are more than capable for any kind of music listening you might want to try them with. The noise cancelling is powerful and adequate, although you'd better be prepared for it to stay on for every second of your listening. Even the included accessories — charger, cables, carry case — are built to a high standard.
Beats' Studio Wireless headphones sound better than any Beats I've listened to before, and as a certified audio snob that surprised me greatly. It seems like the company has lifted its game on the back of millions of dollars of devoted fans' money, and hopefully this trend of high quality Beats headphones, albeit with an accompanying high price tag, continues.
For my money, the Beats Studio Wireless genuinely would be near the top of my list of Bluetooth noise cancelling headphones — if you have a specific need for a pair with those requirements, that is.