The latest Apple Bluetooth earbuds from its Beats brand offer active noise-cancelling and cross-compatibility that goes beyond its competitors – even for Android users.
The Studio Buds cost £129.99 ($149.99 or A$199.95) and are Beats’ smallest earbuds to date, following on from the sport-oriented PowerBeats Pro and budget Beats Flex.
Most of the earbud fits comfortably within the concha of your ear with a pill-shaped projection that protrudes a little and has a button on the end. Press it once to pause/play, twice and thrice to skip track or press and hold to change noise-cancelling modes.
The controls work great but unlike some competitors, the earbuds don’t pause the music when you remove them, and there’s no onboard volume control, meaning that you need to reach for your phone to turn the music up or down.
Water resistance: IPX4 (sweat)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2, SBC, AAC
Battery life: 5 hours ANC/8 hours off, up to 24 hours with case
Earbud weight: 5.1g each
Earbud dimensions: 15.6 x 21.6 x 19.8mm
Driver size: 8.2mm
Charging case weight: 48g
Charging case dimensions: 51.5 x 73 x 25.6mm
Case charging: USB-C
Case and Battery
The case is medium-sized compared with its competitors, and just about fits into the money pocket of a pair of jeans – significantly smaller than the PowerBeats Pro case but slightly bigger than the AirPods Pro case.
It charges via USB-C and stores enough power in it to recharge the earbuds twice. The Studio Buds last about five hours with noise-cancelling active or up to eight with it off. When low, a five-minute charge in the case is enough for about an hour of playback.
The Studio Buds are Bluetooth 5.2 earbuds supporting the standard SBC and AAC audio formats but they have greater cross-compatibility than any rivals, even Apple’s other earbuds.
That is because unlike previous Beats or AirPods, the Studio Buds use a new chip not made by Apple. That means they have almost the same features whether connected to an iPhone or Android, including one-touch pairing and compatibility with the “Find My” device locator systems on both platforms, making them the first earbuds to do so.
The earbuds support “Hey Siri” for instant access to the voice assistant on an iPhone, as well as Apple’s new “spatial audio” surround sound for Apple Music.
The Beats App on Android handles settings and updates and shows the charge status of each earbud and case, while the same features are built into the settings app of an iPhone.
There are some limitations with Apple devices compared with the company’s other earbuds. They do not support spatial audio for movies on an iPhone or iPad, unlike the AirPods Pro, nor do they support audio sharing for two earbuds connected to one device simultaneously. Where you need only pair other Apple earbuds to one Apple device to have them available on any other iPhone, iPad or Mac you own, you will have to pair the Studio Buds manually with each device you want to use.
Call quality in a quiet space was good and clear with sidetone, so you can hear yourself and avoid shouting, but the earbuds let a little background noise into the call, and my voice became slightly garbled when in noisy environments.
Good sound and noise cancelling
The new earbuds are some of Beats’ most balanced and best-tuned headphones yet. They produce deep, thumping bass when required but it doesn’t overpower the well-balanced treble and high notes. They handle complex overlapping tones well, with good separation of instruments and super-clear vocals, sounding good with most music genres for everyday listening. There’s no customisation of the sound available, however.
Beats founder Dr Dre sounds better on the Studio Buds than on any of the company’s other headphones. But they lack a little detail and nuance in some more refined tracks compared with the very best earbuds, and a little energy in some more high-tempo songs.
The noise-cancelling is very similar to the AirPods Pro, successfully reducing low rumbles on an aeroplane or that of a passing car. They struggle a bit with speech and wind noise, and won’t trouble the best-in-class Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds or WH-1000XM4 headphones, but do a reasonable job for the money and size.
The noise-cancelling changes the sound a little, making the treble and higher tones more pronounced. The ambient sound mode is good for listening out for announcements or quick chats but isn’t quite as natural-sounding as the AirPods Pro.
Apple estimates that the batteries in the earbuds and case last far in excess of 500 full charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity but they are not replaceable, ultimately making the earbuds disposable.
Some parts of the earbuds are also not repairable but Apple offers replacements costing £82.44 or a battery service costing £66.44. All internal plastic parts of the earbuds are made from recycled material but Apple does not publish environmental impact reports for accessories such as headphones. The company offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.
The Beats Studio Buds cost £129.99 ($149.99 or A$199.95) and are available in white, black or red.
For comparison, the AirPods cost £159, the AirPods Pro cost £249, the PowerBeats Pro cost £219.95, the Beats Flex cost £49.99, the Sony WF-1000XM4 cost £250, the Jabra Elite 85t cost £219.99, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro cost £219, and the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro cost £129.99.
The Beats Studio Buds are a surprising set of earbuds from Apple that support just as many features on Android as they do on an iPhone, including instant pairing and battery-level notifications.
They stay put and are comfortable for long periods, have a good connection to your phone and have easy-to-use button controls. Solid battery life and a good, if slightly larger, case make them easy to live with.
The Studio Buds sound good for everyday listening and have AirPods Pro-matching noise-cancelling, which is very good for the money and size.
However, the noise-cancelling alters the sound slightly and they don’t pause the music on being removed from your ears. The earbuds are unrepairable and the battery cannot be replaced when it wears out, ultimately making them disposable and losing them a star.
Pros: good sound and reasonable noise-cancelling, cross-platform compatibility with one-touch pairing for iPhone and Android, good battery life and case, fairly small and comfortable for extended periods, good button controls.
Cons: no onboard volume control, do not pause music on removal, no spatial audio for movies or pairing syncing with Apple devices, not repairable.