I have some issues with Apple’s AirPods Pro. I dislike the design with its awkwardly short stem — at least the regular AirPods fully lean into it — and having to squeeze said stem to control audio playback is damn near impossible to do while working out. I’ve also never been able to find a comfortable fit, so the things always pop out of my ears when I wear them running. And geez are they expensive. But the active noise cancellation is solid, and the integration with my other Apple devices is seamless. The new Beats Studio Buds deliver equally solid ANC in a better designed package while offering a seamless experience for both Apple and Android users — all for $150 less than AirPods Pro.
Apple tends to be less precious about its Beats-branded products, offering sneak peeks at devices before they’re announced and making them more appealing to people outside of the Apple ecosystem, and the same is true of the Studio Buds, which have been glimpsed on celebs in the wild ahead of today’s launch. The $199.95 earbuds don’t have every bell and whistle that Apple packed into the AirPods Pro, but they do have more universal appeal, with support for Android’s Fast Pairing and USB-C charging instead of Lightning. Most importantly for me, the fit is extremely good.
Beats Studio Buds
WHAT IS IT?
A truly wireless pair of noise-cancelling Bluetooth earbuds from Apple-owned Beats that works seamlessly with iOS and Android
Pairing to iPhone or Android is effortless; comfortable fit; solid battery life; excellent ANC for the price
No multi-device connectivity; no in-ear detection
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for local Australian pricing and availability.
Comfortable Buds That Don’t Budge
Beats Studio Pro have a more traditional earbud design than AirPods Pro, with a slightly elongated bud that packs in three microphones (six total) and a custom-designed 8.2mm rigid piston driver. The driver sits parallel to the acoustic nozzle, and each earbud is vented above that nozzle to prevent pressure build-up. The buds are 5.1 grams each and come in black, white, or red with a colour-matched charging case.
With three pairs of silicone tips to choose from, the result is a comfortable earbud that doesn’t move — even when I hit the treadmill for high-impact bootcamp workouts. The Studio Buds’ IPX4 rating means they’re sweat-resistant, not sweat-proof, so if you’re looking for a pair of tough workout earbuds, I recommend Jabra’s Elite Active 68 T instead. I’ve killed more than my fair share of IPX4 earbuds with regular intense workouts, so you’ve been warned.
I found the better seal I was able to achieve with the Studio Buds resulted in more consistently effective ANC than I get with AirPods Pro, though as always with earbud fit, your mileage will vary. I prefer Studio Buds’ use of the ‘b’ logo on each bud to control music playback and ANC to the AirPods Pro’s controls on the stem. A long press of the ‘b’ on either earbuds cycles through ANC on, ANC off, and transparency mode. A quick press of the ‘b’ lets you pause music, skip tracks, etc. I’m still getting used to these: On a FaceTime call with my best friend, I managed to hang up on her not once, but twice by accidentally pressing the ‘b’ that houses the on-board controls. Theoretically there’s enough space around the ‘b’ to adjust the earbud, but it feels more natural to grab the top of the earbud where the controls are to shift it around in the ear.
Seamless Pairing With iPhone or Android
Part of what makes AirPods so good is their tight integration with Apple devices, which begins from the second you open the charging case lid to pair them to an iPhone. Android enables similarly effortless setup with a feature called Fast Pair, and Studio Buds are the first product in the Apple ecosystem to support it.
I tested pairing Studio Buds to an iPhone 12 Pro and a Google Pixel 5, and the process was identical for both devices. Open the case lid, press the Bluetooth pairing button nestled between the two earbuds, and a notification with an image of the Studio Buds requesting permission to connect pops up almost instantly. The only difference between the Android and iOS experience is the need for an additional Beats app on an Android phone to customise the earbuds’ controls and update the firmware for new features. On an iPhone, these controls are accessible from the Bluetooth settings, no app required. Otherwise, you get the same exact experience.
That integration also enables the ability to track down your Studio Buds using either Apple’s Find My on an iPhone or Google’s Find My Device on Android. There’s no ultra-wideband chip in the Studio Buds, so you won’t get specific turn-by-turn directions to your missing earbuds, but you will see their last known location and, if they’re in your house, you’ll be able to make them chirp. As a person who is forever misplacing her earbuds, this feature is incredibly useful.
The Studio Buds notably don’t include Apple’s H1 wireless chip (or even the first-gen W1 from the OG AirPods), which means you can’t pair them to multiple Apple devices and automatically switch between them like you can with AirPods. But honestly, that feature is hit or miss for me anyway — about half the time the AirPods have no idea if I’m playing sound from my MacBook or my iPhone and I find myself having to manually connect them to the right device.
Even without an Apple chip, the Studio Buds support hands-free “Hey Siri” and can play Spatial Audio tracks in Apple Music. More on that in a minute.
USB-C At Long Last
The Studio Buds’ universal appeal extends to its charging port, which is USB-C instead of the Lightning port you’ll find on most other Beats products (except for the Beats Flex, which also charge via USB-C). Going all in on USB-C makes sense, because Android users have no need for Lightning, and Apple’s MacBooks and iPads have long since moved toward USB-C. There’s no wireless charging support, but the battery life is so good I didn’t find myself missing that feature.
With ANC constantly on, Beats promises five hours in each earbud and another 10 hours in the charging case, resulting in 15 hours of battery life. But if you’re like me and toggle between ANC and transparency modes, you’ll get closer to eight hours in each bud and up to 24 hours total. That’s on par with AirPods Pro. But if your battery is on its last leg as you’re heading out the door, a 5-minute charge will get you an hour of juice.
Like every pair of true wireless earbuds, the Studio Buds come in a slick charging case. Beats’ first pair of truly wireless earbuds, Powerbeats Pro, sported a unique hooked design that required a truly ginormous wireless charging case, making them a little less portable than a pair of earbuds should be. With Studio Buds, Beats has taken a more AirPod-like approach, and this charging case is much more manageable.
Solid Sound, but Lacks Smarts
Beats has a reputation for making aggressively bass-heavy headphones, but that hasn’t been the case for a while. The Studio Buds sound really good, particularly when listening to Dolby Atmos tracks in Apple Music, though you definitely get more oomph from AirPods Pro with its bigger drivers.
Back to Dolby Atmos: Beats says the Studio Buds support Apple’s Spatial Audio, but only the Atmos part and only in Apple Music. The dynamic head-tracking that you get with AirPods Pro and AirPods Max is enabled by sensors in those devices that Studio Buds lack, so the effect is much more subtle. The Atmos-mixed tracks in Apple Music sound very good, of course, but you don’t need an Apple device to take advantage of that.
The Studio Buds’ audio is overall well-balanced, though not perfect. Trebles sometimes sound so bright as to be a little sharp, and the bass in thumping tracks like Cardi B’s “Up” can hit a bit too harshly when you bump up the volume compared to higher-priced earbuds. But the horns in Lorde’s “Solar Power” and the layered vocals in King Princess’s “Talia” were simultaneously well mixed and distinct, and the earbuds easily handled the more delicate tracks on Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps album.
And while the non-Pro AirPods are still my favourite earbuds to use for phone calls, the Studio Buds are plenty capable. My voice was clear on the other end of the line, even with ambient noise, and I could hear everyone else just fine.
The Studio Buds’ active noise cancellation is incredibly effective for tuning out the rest of the world. I couldn’t hear the sound of my extremely old, loud washing machine as I was puttering around the house cleaning up and listening to music, and with ANC activated while I was running on a treadmill, I couldn’t hear my feet striking the belt. I am often easily distracted by the sound of my own running, so the effect was a more immersive class.
The missing piece, for me, is the in-ear detection powered by Apple’s W1 or H1 chip in the company’s other audio products. The buds know when they’re removed from their case, but have no idea if they’re in your ears or not, which can result in frustration. Every time I answered a phone call or FaceTime when listening to music while wearing the Studio Buds, the audio would default to my iPhone’s speaker instead of the earbuds, despite the fact that they were connected to my phone and in my ears. I had to manually toggle that connection back on from the iOS phone call and FaceTime control panels, which was annoying. And when listening to music, the earbuds will continue to play audio when removed from your ears unless you manually stop the song or place them back in their case. I appreciate that the earbuds have an easier Android setup, but you do sacrifice some of the magical Apple integration that makes AirPods Pro so good.
I wanted Beats Studio Buds to be the affordable AirPods Pro alternative of my dreams, and in some respects, they are.
The design and fit are excellent, and they definitely feel more premium than the second-gen Amazon Echo Buds, which offer ANC for $US120 ($154). But sacrifices were made to hit this price point. I really wish the buds could be paired to multiple devices at once and could seamlessly switch between them, but there are even more basic issues, like the fact that the earbuds aren’t smart enough to remain the default audio source for incoming calls.
But for $199.95, the audio quality and active noise cancellation are impressive, and for those who aren’t all in with Apple, the ability to seamlessly set these up with either an iOS or Android device is clutch.
High-end audio features used to be reserved for high-priced devices, and I’m glad to see that’s no longer the case. In the not-too-distant future, active noise cancellation, giant drivers, and seamless software experiences will trickle down to cheap, comfortable earbuds and become the standard. Hell, maybe Bluetooth will actually be good by then. One can only hope.