Beats’ new headphones are Bluetooth, but better. You don’t even have to touch your phone to pair them, battery life is twice as long as previous generation. And they’re Beats, so if you buy them then you’re instantly the coolest guy in the room. But what do they actually sound like?
What Is It?
The $399.95 Solo3 Wireless is Beats’ (nee Monster, now Apple) latest and greatest set of on-ear wireless headphones. With Bluetooth but better thanks to Apple’s W1 chip, the Solo3 will pair to your phone seamlessly the first time you take them out of the box, simplifying setup for novice users. The W1’s energy efficiency is also fantastic, boosting the battery life of Beat’s new headphones to stratospheric levels — think 40 hours of usage between charges.
Fashion is important if you’re buying Beats, let’s be honest — and a leaf out of parent Apple’s playbook means the Solo3 comes in glossy black, white, silver, gold, rose gold, matte black, ultraviolet, and red. The metallic finishes on silver, rose and gold look great, and if you’re the kind of person that camped out to get a gold or rose gold iPhone then you’ll definitely want your new headphones to match. The styling is simple — the rounded ‘cups and simple telescoping band make the Solo3 look nearly identical to the Solo2.
Beats’ Solo3 Wireless includes the usual excellent, high-quality accessories that we’ve lauded in the past — you get a 3.5mm headphone cable with an in-line volume control for when (and if) your headphones run out of battery power, and you get a microUSB cable (yes, microUSB! More on that later, though) to recharge the Solo3’s integrated 40-hour battery. That comes with a soft carry case, into which the headphones will collapse if you click the hinges at the end of their headband.
What’s It Good At?
Like Apple’s shiny new white wireless AirPod earbuds, the Beats Solo3 Wireless is one of the first headphones with Apple’s new W1 wireless chip. It makes Bluetooth connection literally seamless. Power on your Solo3 Wireless headphones, and move them near your iPhone, and the connection just happens. Instantly, your new headphones are linked to your iPhone, and any other Bluetooth-toting Apple device you own, whether it’s an Apple Watch or an iPad or a MacBook. It’s that simple. I hate to say it, but it just works.
Oh, and the Beats Solo3 Wireless sound pretty good, too. I’m not going to pretend they’re audiophile-grade cans, because they’re not, but the overall musical signature of the Solo3 Wireless feels right. These are good headphones for commuting and office desk work alike, as long as you don’t like to listen at ear-bleeding volumes where sound leakage will annoy the people around you. The Solo3 has strong mid-bass and lower bass, and tapers off towards the top of its frequency range: you’re not going to hear piercingly crisp treble notes or cymbal crashes, but the bass kicks of your music tracks will leave your ears ringing.
As well as sounding good, the Solo3 Wireless looks good and is well constructed. These are headphones that will last you a long time; I can speak to the durability of the Solo2 Wireless, and I’d expect the Solo3 to be even better in that regard. They look good in glossy black, and they look sexy in gold and rose gold — although you’d have to have matching Apple accessories to actually carry it off. The headband grips my let’s-be-honest-it’s-probably-a-bit-bigger-than-normal head firmly but isn’t too constricting, and the earcups have enough of a range of motion that they’re flexible and comfortable. Plus they fold up into a compact, portable case.’
Battery life, bah gawd. These headphones last longer than any other headphones that I’ve tested. Over the weekend, from a full charge, I had them playing music non-stop at a moderate volume level — that I’d be comfortable listening to in an office during work hours — for 36 hours. That’s phenomenally good. If you listen to music daily, you’ll have run into a situation where your wireless headphones were unexpectedly out of juice; that’s just not as likely with the Solo3.
What’s It Not Good At?
The Beats Solo3 Wireless still charges using a microUSB cable. This is Very Weird, considering Apple bought Beats over two years ago — August 1, 2014 — and that the Solo3 Wireless of all Beats headphones is the one most built for iPhone — that new W1 wireless chip is evidence of that. So why no Lightning? It’s just… odd. I’ve mentioned the advantage of Beats’ Fast Fuel quick charging earlier in this review — you don’t really ever need to fully charge the headphones when a 5-minute boost is enough for three hours’ use — but that could’ve been achieved with Apple’s superior Lightning cable too. (Or USB Type-C, which is even better, but none of us expect that to happen any time soon.)
As is a complaint of ours with most Beats products, the Solo3 Wireless are too expensive. These are $400 headphones, and while they are the best-built Beats I’ve ever used and have the genuinely useful advantage of Class 1 Bluetooth and Apple’s new W1 wireless chip, the fact remains that there are better-sounding, subjectively more stylish headphones out there for the same price tag. Bose’s SoundLink AE2 wireless headphones, for example, are my benchmark for under $400, and the advantage that Beats has is in the W1 chip and that (very popular) lower-case B logo.
If I’m going to be diving deep into the criticism, I’d say that the Beats Solo3 Wireless doesn’t have quite the edge in treble detail that some of its competitors can boast. Beats headphones have always had strong bass as their signature sound and the Solo3 Wireless is no different — especially if you listen to heavily beat-driven genres like EDM, you’ll love the sound that the Solo3 puts out. But if you’re listening critically to some acoustic tracks or heavily processed, carefully mastered pop — think some Taylor Swift — then you might need a bit of a treble boost in your music app to get crisp, clear high notes.
It’s also a bit weird that Beats doesn’t have its own app to adjust the sound of the Solo3 Wireless, to be honest, when competitors do. Bose’s Connect app lets you check what devices your headphones will connect to and lets you rename them; it’d be nice if you could do the same with the Beats. Instead, your closest information guide is the five-LED fuel gauge on the bottom of the Solo3’s right earcup next to the power button.
Should You Buy It?
Bluetooth hasn’t got the best reputation for being especially easy to use over the past few years, but Apple’s new chip and associated software smarts means that if you’re using an iPhone, your next headphones should have this chip inside. It’ll take some time for W1 to filter outside of the Apple family, but until then there’s a genuine reason for you to choose a pair of wireless Beats if you’re in desperate need of new headphones right now.
The $399.95 Beats Solo3 Wireless are capable headphones, are well built and versatile, and sound good — just not quite $400 good. You’re paying for that very distinctive logo and the distinctive rounded-plastic styling; sure, you’re also paying for some new smarts and some excellent battery life, and a surprisingly powerful pair of on-ear headphone drivers for their small size, but you’re buying Beats. So you’re probably also buying them because they’re Beats.
If you’re looking for a new pair of on-ear wireless headphones and you don’t care for the extra utility of noise cancelling, you owe it to yourself to give a pair of Beats’ Solo3s a listen. Try the nifty Bluetooth, too. If you’re deadset on a pair of Beats, just get the Solo3 Wireless and be done with it. You’ll have made the best choice possible considering the circumstances.