You know how when you get a new pair of headphones, taking them out of the box is always a task? You always end up ripping the box to bits because the headphone cable is tangled throughout and hidden away behind plastic and cardboard.
But not Beats' new BeatsX wireless headphones. I cracked open the gorgeous box you see here, pulled a little tab, and saw the headphones presented in their full, tangle-free glory. That's when I thought yeah, that's what's up.
What Is It?
Beats — née Beats By Dre, back before the company's halcyon days as part of Apple — has a new pair of headphones. Joining the over-the-ear Solo3 Wireless and the around-ear PowerBeats 3, the BeatsX is the third Beats headphone (and fourth overall, if you count the AirPods to incorporate Apple's low-latency, ultra-low-power, high-sound-quality W1 wireless chip.
That W1 chip means that when you power on the BeatsX near any Apple wireless device — whether it's an iPhone or an iPad or a MacBook — your brand new headphones will be recognised and paired instantly, and will instantly pair whenever you switch them back on in the future. It's entirely trouble-free, and I say this as someone that's, y'know, pretty good with technology. Bluetooth is mostly good already, but it does have its stumbles — we've all had that experience of a pair of headphones just not connecting when you want them to. The W1 chip just does away with all that potential anguish.
Apple's $199.95 BeatsX headphones are available in four quite restrained colours — matte black, white, silver and blue — all with a glossy strip of colour surrounding the in-earphones' silicone eartips. You also get a (black) silicone carry case for the headphones to spend their downtime in, and that same case can also hide away the six-inch-long USB to Lightning adapter cable that Apple throws in with every set. You also get a pair of small and large silicon wing-tips in the box, too, and small/medium/large replacement ear-tips.
Charging through Lightning, Apple says you can expect eight hours of playback time through the BeatsX — when connected efficiently to an iPhone and playing at a moderate volume. Even if you get an hour less, though, it's not a big deal at all because a mere five minutes of charging time gets you a quarter of that — two hours — back straight away. A full charge takes barely half an hour. The headphones' tiny Lightning port is hidden away on one of the bulbous lumps that sit at the side of the wearer's neck.
What's It Good At?
By virtue of their in-ear design, and by virtue of the fact that they're just built with an eye for high quality, Beats' latest headphones actually sound pretty good. There's not a huge emphasis on bass — a common criticism of audiophiles — and the amount of detail that comes through across the BeatsX's entire frequency range is actually good. The BeatsX are quite musical headphones, with a slight dip in the mid-range that makes low and high frequencies comparatively gutsy, so they're well suited to beat-driven, dancy tracks and pop. Similarly, anyone who hasn't heard wireless earphones in a couple of years needs to try again: unless you're critically listening to lossless FLAC files through a $1000 amplifier, you're just not going to notice a difference. After the relatively impressive Solo2 and Solo3 Wireless headphones, and now the BeatsX, I'm calling it: the hackneyed "Beats headphones are overpriced crap" line is dead. They're still overpriced, sure, but they're definitely not crap.
Being moderately in-ear headphones — they don't live deep within your ear canal, but they're in far enough to seal well — the BeatsX do a very good job of blocking out ambient noise. You'll get superior results from active noise cancelling headphones, but for the everyday commute or a quick plane journey between Sydney and Melbourne they're more than capable enough of keeping outside noise out. This in turn means that you can keep volume levels down, which both saves your hearing and increases the headphones' battery life.
The BeatsX's combination of more than enough battery life for regular daily use and a fast enough charge to very quickly reach that level of battery means that you're really never going to be stuck in a situation where you can't use your earphones. When it takes just five minutes to get a solid two hours' playback at a more than comfortable volume, there's no excuse for not having them charged — especially with the absolute ubiquity of USB ports and Apple chargers everywhere these days. If worst comes to worst, pop into a coffee shop and make small talk for a few minutes while you borrow their charger.
What's It Not Good At?
Obviously Apple had to make the BeatsX wearable by anyone, and that means sticking to the more side of a standard deviation outside of human neck and head sizes, but for my entirely average bonce the BeatsX's silicone-coated flex-form cable and shorter, skinnier cables are both respectively just a little too long. It felt like wearing a shirt one size too large: perfectly fine, but just with a little bit too much room to move. I would have loved to see a small and large variant of the BeatsX like I've seen in the past with all different brands of fitness trackers.
It's worth noting that the BeatsX's structured silicone wing-tips can only be fitted in a single position on each earphone itself — there's a collar that slides up against the cable joint. That means the wing-tip might sit a little too far back rotationally in some wearers' ears; they're borderline for me. The wing-tips aren't mandatory, of course, but they do help keep the BeatsX a little more secure and I'd recommend them if they do fit your ears properly.
And while the BeatsX headphones do offer utility that no other headphones in their class can — courtesy of that brilliant W1 chip — the fact remains that there are wireless in-ear headphones that sound a little bit better. Jaybirds' latest X3, for example, has the edge when it comes to overall treble clarity, and Plantronics' BackBeat Go 3 has more oomph in lower frequencies. $200 also gets you some pretty amazing pairs of wired headphones, and though I wouldn't personally go back to wired in 2017, your mileage may vary.
Should You Buy It?
Beats' $199.95 BeatsX are, without a doubt, the best pair of earphones that Beats has made yet. Its Solo3 Wireless headphones sound better and are more powerful, but you'll buy the BeatsX because they're small enough to hide away in your back pocket. That silicone carry case isn't exactly inspired, but it's effective. And the headphones hiding inside will pair perfectly with your iPhone, no mess no fuss, and that's genuinely useful as Bluetooth protocols get more complicated with each year.
The BeatsX sound good, if not outstanding in any particular aspect. Strong bass response without any flabby decay, decent treble, and no hugely obvious gaps in frequency response mean that the BeatsX sound musical and will make your music sound just like you'd hope it would. "People aren't hearing all the music" is Beats' tagline, but don't be fooled into thinking that these will solve that problem for you: they sound nice, but they're still consumer-grade wireless earphones.
It's the fast charging, actually, that sold me on the BeatsX the most. I keep headphones with me 24/7, but I don't think to charge them. Then, when I'm going somewhere with them — the gym, or an (infrequent) commute on public transport — I'm often caught out with a flat battery. The fast charge makes it easy to wait around an extra few minutes to get enough charge to make it home or make it through a workout. The BeatsX suits my busy and incredibly poorly planned lifestyle.
Unlike the Beats Solo3 Wireless, though, you'll only want the BeatsX if you're already invested in the Apple ecosystem. They charge over Lightning — and while you do get a Lightning cable in the box, you'll really only get the value of that connector if you charge them alongside your iPhone. If you've got an iPhone, the BeatsX should be your default wireless headphone choice — alongside the AirPods. If you're not part of the iPhone brethren, look elsewhere.
We've already seen the W1 chip be used to very good effect in the new AirPods, and Beats — y'know, the company that Apple bought for $3 billion — has first dibs on the new tech. Expect the same fancy extras like your headphones working on all your Apple devices as you move between them, with seamless first-time pairing and much more efficient low-energy standby usage.