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Apple AirPods Pro vs Beats Studio Buds
Since taking over Beats in 2014, Apple continues to develop its own audio products while refining the Beats brand. That means sometimes Apple is competing against, well, Apple—the Apple AirPods Pro and Beats Studio Buds wrestle in the same true wireless earbud arena. Both sets of true wireless earbuds offer a tray of ear tips and active noise cancellation (ANC). Each headset is more expensive than your typical consumer earphones, but they’re pretty close in price to each other, especially with recent AirPods Pro price drops.
Let’s put them head to head to see whether you should go for the Beats Studio Buds or stick to the tried and true AirPods Pro.
Editor’s note: this post was updated on February 17, 2022, to address a Beats Studio Buds firmware update and answer frequently asked questions (FAQs).
The Beats Studio Buds is more colorful than the AirPods Pro
The Beats Studio Buds has a vibrant paint job that uniformly finishes the case, earbuds, and ear tips, whether you choose to go with white, black, or red options. At a featherweight 5 grams a piece, the earbuds are light enough that it is easy to forget you’re even wearing them. Without a protruding stem, each earbud is also smaller in comparison to the AirPods Pro.
Maintaining the design philosophy of the original AirPods, the AirPods Pro is only available in glossy white. Unlike the original AirPods, the Pro model seals to the ears for better isolation and sound quality. The stem on each earbud doesn’t protrude very far, though it’s long enough to get caught on a mask which can send the earbuds flying out of your ear.
Related: What makes a good set of in-ears?
Both the Beats Studio Buds and AirPods Pro feature an IPX4 sweat and water resistance rating, so you don’t have to worry about using either of the earbuds outdoors or at the gym. No matter which pair of buds you go with, you get multiple sets of silicone ear tips (small, medium, and large) to choose from for a more custom fit.
How do the controls differ?
Small indentations on the earbud stems control the AirPods Pro. Different combinations of squeezes adjust music playback, Siri, and noise cancellation. You can access more controls from the earbuds with a simple “Hey Siri.” The AirPods Pro also has ear detection to automatically pause playback when you take them out and resume playback when you put them back in, though this feature only works on Apple devices. You’ll also need an iOS device if you want to customize the AirPods Pro controls.
See also: The best AirPods Pro alternatives
The Beats Studio Buds opt for a clickable button on the side of each earbud for controls, though you can’t adjust volume with the buttons. You can control playback on Apple devices with “Hey Siri,” but the earbuds don’t have ear detection to auto pause/play music. No matter your device, you can edit the Studio Buds’ onboard controls.
The AirPods Pro works better with Apple devices, but the Beats Studio Buds works with Android and iOS
The AirPods Pro has better integration with Apple devices. With an H1 chip, it will auto-connect to all your iCloud devices. Once connected, you can control the earbuds via the control center, or from within the settings app on your Apple devices. You can turn on spatial audio, automatically switch between source devices, take an ear tip fit test, and more, all from within the iOS Settings app.
On Android or Windows devices, the AirPods Pro works the same as traditional Bluetooth headphones: you have to manually put the earbuds into pairing mode to connect them to your device. Once connected, you can customize the functions of the earbuds a little. Thankfully, active noise cancelling and transparency mode work just fine, as they’re controlled by a hard press of the stem.
You might like: The best true wireless earbuds under $200
On the other hand, the Beats Studio Buds shows Apple is finally willing to play nicely with Android. Using the dedicated Beats app you can toggle between listening modes and customize the controls. The earbuds seamlessly pair to Android devices with a pop-up card, and you can access battery information and find your headphones from within Bluetooth settings.
While the Beats Studio Buds didn’t integrate as well with Apple devices at launch, a subsequent firmware update added iCloud pairing to the earbuds. Once paired to one Apple device, all of your iCloud devices will instantly recognize the Beats Studio Buds just the same as they would the AirPods Pro.
For the best microphone quality, go with the AirPods Pro
While neither microphone system is intended for professional conference calls or podcasts, both are serviceable for on-the-go calls. The AirPods Pro emphasizes upper-midrange frequencies more than the Beats Studio Buds for better speech intelligibility. Take a listen to both microphone samples below and let us know which one you think sounds better.
Apple AirPods Pro microphone demo (Ideal):
Beats Studio Buds microphone demo (Old):
Which microphone sounds better to you?
Hold up! Something’s different:
Our Beats Studio Buds’ microphone sample isn’t the same as our AirPods Pro. This difference is due to a change in our testing system and standards. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved microphone demos. These will be made obvious in each new sample which begins with the phrase, “This is a SoundGuys standardized microphone demonstration …”
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
Does the AirPods Pro or Beats Studio Buds have more connectivity options?
Both the AirPods Pro and Beats Studio Buds feature the standard SBC Bluetooth codec, as well as AAC for consistent high-quality performance on Apple devices. Neither have support for higher-quality Bluetooth codecs like aptX or LDAC, which isn’t great news for Android listeners since AAC performance varies greatly across Android handsets.
The AirPods Pro uses Bluetooth 5.0, while the Beats Studio Buds uses the upgraded Bluetooth 5.2 firmware. The newer version of Bluetooth is more efficient, so you’ll experience minor improvements to connection strength and battery life. Long term, this means the Studio Buds could see LC3 codec support, whereas this model of the AirPods Pro will not.
Does the AirPods Pro or Beats Studio Buds have better battery life?
The Apple AirPods Pro and Beats Studio Buds offer nearly identical battery life. In our testing of continuous playback at 75dB(SPL) with ANC turned on, the AirPods Pro last 5 hours and 6 minutes while the Beats lasted 4 hours and 24 minutes.
You can get up to 24 hours of total listening time with the AirPods Pro charging case, while the Beats Studio Buds charging case provides an additional two full charges. A Lightning connector charges the AirPods Pro case, while USB-C powers the Beats Studio Buds. The AirPods Pro supports wireless charging, but you’ll be stuck charging the Beats Studio Buds the old-school way.
Does the AirPods have better noise cancelling than the Beats Studio Buds?
Active noise cancelling performance is slightly better on the Apple AirPods Pro. Low-frequency droning sounds from a plane or train car live between 100-1000Hz, and the AirPods Pro quiets these frequencies to sound half as loud as they would without the earbuds and ANC. This isn’t the best noise cancelling but it is enough to noticeably reduce annoying transit sounds on your commute.
The Beats Studio Buds can only attenuate ambient frequencies below 1000Hz to sound about one-quarter quieter. It’s not great, but it’s much better than earbuds that lack noise cancelling. Between the two headsets, you’ll notice a greater difference when you toggle ANC on/off with the AirPods Pro than the Beats Studio Buds.
See more: Best noise cancelling earbuds
The silicone ear tips included with the Beats Studio Buds provide slightly better passive isolation than the AirPods Pro, blocking out high frequencies from incidental noise such as the clang of pots and pans.
Apple AirPods Pro vs Beats Studio Buds: Which earphones sound better?
True to the Beats brand, the Studio Buds amplifies sub-bass and treble notes more than the AirPods Pro. While many of us prefer a sound like this, the sub-bass and treble notes are much louder than the bass and low-mids (200-500Hz) making it difficult to hear vocals through the Beats Studio Buds. Many vocal performances will sound clearer on the AirPods Pro than the Beats Studio Buds because there’s less opportunity for auditory masking.
Neither pair of earbuds come with a custom EQ, so you’re stuck with how one sounds out of the box unless you explore third-party EQ options. If you like energetic hip-hop or EDM, you’ll likely prefer the Beats Studio Buds’ frequency response. If you prefer acoustic or more vocal-oriented music, the more neutral sound of the AirPods Pro is a better fit.
Should you buy the Apple AirPods Pro or Beats Studio Buds?
If you have an Android phone, the choice here is pretty straightforward. The Beats Studio Buds will play nicer with your phone and it’s more affordable than the Apple AirPods Pro. Due to its high cost and limited functionality on non-Apple devices, we don’t recommend the AirPods Pro to Android fans.
For iPhone owners, the choice is a bit more complicated. If you want high-end features like wireless charging, spatial audio, and seamless switching between Apple devices, the AirPods Pro is worth the money. Now that the AirPods Pro often goes on sale for less than $200 USD, the expense is easier to justify for those seeking a premium earbud experience.
If you don’t care about all the bells and whistles, Apple users can still save a few bucks by going for the Beats Studio Buds. Beats’ earphones cater to those who care about design and portability, and you still get premium features like noise canceling and an IPX4 rating. Regardless of which earbuds you get, you’ll be better off than if you went with the default AirPods.
Frequently asked questions about the AirPods Pro and Beats Studio Buds
For most people, the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) is not a good alternative to the Beats Studio Buds or Apple AirPods Pro, as the regular AirPods do not feature adjustable ear tips or active noise cancelling. This results in an inconsistent listening experience in various environments, especially for those frequently commuting on noisy transit.
The Beats Fit Pro is the more expensive sibling to the Beats Studio Buds, offering wing tips for a more secure fit. If you have the money to splurge, and are looking for a secure fit with premium features such as spatial audio, the Beats Fit Pro is definitely worth considering.
If you own an Apple device, the AirPods Pro and Beats Studio Buds will automatically install the latest firmware via over the air updates. If you own an Android device, you can update the Beats Studio Buds firmware from within the Beats app.