Active noise cancelling headphones like the Bose QC35’s and QC25’s before them have basically been running the game when it comes to Bluetooth headphones. And now competitors like Sony have taken everyone by surprise with their own pair of great ANC headphones like the WH-1000XM2 (us included). But there’s one company that’s been mysteriously absent from the conversation: Beats by Dre. At least until now. The company wants a piece of the pie and have released the Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones. So how are they, and should you get them over their competitors?
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Who’s it for?
- Anyone who only cares about that bass. In short – die-hard Beats fans.
- People with iOS devices that want to take advantage of the W1 chip with the highest end headphones that category has to offer.
How do they feel?
I actually really like the way the Beats Studio3 Wireless feel in the hand, at least at first. The headphones are made of a soft, matte plastic, which is really smooth to the touch. Plus, they’re surprisingly not as fingerprint prone as I thought they would be. I mean, sure, if you touch them with olive oil-drenched hands, they’ll look like, well, like you touched them with olive oil-drenched hands. But for regular use, fingerprint smudges can be wiped away pretty easily. The plush ear cups are also really comfortable, and I was able to wear these for quite some time without my ears hurting. It does get a little hot after a while, but that’s to be expected.
Another nice aspect of these headphones is how compact they get when you fold them, crucial for travel. The adjustable band and hinges are the only visible metal parts I can’t speak to their longevity, as I’ve only had them for a few weeks. So far, I’ve had no issues though. Alright, if you’re wondering why I said you shouldn’t get these, now is the time to pay attention. Because even though the ear cup padding is pretty comfortable, the top of the headband is extremely uncomfortable on the very top of my head. The hard, grippy plastic they use on the bottom of the headband always tugs on my hair just enough to be annoying. After a while, taking them off feels like a relief even though my ears feel fine. The button on the left ear cup is painfully and unapologetically plastic and sounds cheap every time you click the button.
On top of that, the plastic construction does not inspire confidence at all. Now, to be fair, something like the QC35 headphones are also made entirely of plastic, but they’re also super flexible. Like, really flexible. The Studio3 Wireless feel way more stiff, and although I twisted and turned them a bit during testing, you could kind of feel the headphones straining against the pressure, which is problematic if you’re tossing these quickly into the bottom of a backpack. Luckily, they do come with a hardshell carrying case that I would recommend using if you decide to pick these up.
These have a few different buttons and, despite the symmetrical look of the headphones, they’re all located on the left side (save for the power button). Clicking the “b” logo on the left ear cup once will pause or play music, twice will skip to the next song, and three times will return to a previous song. Above and below the “b” logo is where you’ll find the volume up and volume down controls. Though, there’s no marking to distinguish that they’re even there. So if you rip off the plastic sticker that’s there fresh out the box without reading, you’ll be left to figure it out on your own like I was.
On the bottom of the left ear cup is the 3.5mm input, so you can plug in the included audio cable with a mic and remote. And before you ask, no, it doesn’t end in a lightning cable and, no, it doesn’t come with a dongle, which makes perfect sense. Moving over to the right ear cup, you’ll find that it looks exactly the same but does absolutely nothing. It’s just the logo. Under that you’ll get the power button and five small LED lights that let you know roughly how much battery is left. Double-tapping the power button also lets you toggle the active noise cancelling on and off. Then at the very bottom is a micro USB port, which isn’t a USB Type-C because reasons.
Now, on the bright side, these do have Class 1 Bluetooth and Apple’s very own W1 chip, so connecting to your source device is a breeze. If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, you’ll automatically be able to use them with all of your iCloud devices without needing to re-pair to them, which is still pretty useful. If you’re on Android, you’ll have to pair the good ‘ol fashioned way by opening up your Bluetooth settings, but even that is pretty seamless. Connection strength is also strong regardless of the operating system. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be better on iOS, for obvious reasons. Yet, roughly half of my testing was done on my Pixel 2XL, and I didn’t experience any annoying skips either, so that’s good at least.
Now these are active noise cancelling, which is kind of the point of getting these headphones. You can turn the ANC on or off in two ways: one is by clicking the power button twice, and the other is in the actual Bluetooth settings app on iOS. On Android you don’t have this option, all you can do is toggle the AAC codec on or off if your device supports it. The headphones by default always have the ANC on, and it adapts to the amount of sound going on around you. Now I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I watch a lot of YouTube, and the Studio3 Wireless offer no delay on both iOS and Android. I guess this sucks if you’re a huge fan of old kung-fu movies, but this is good news for the rest of us.
How long do they last?
Beats claims a battery life of 22 hours with active noise cancelling turned on and 40 hours without. For reference, Bose claims about 20 hours of constant playback on their QC35 headphones. In our testing here we got 10 hours and 12 minutes on 100% volume with ANC turned on, so it isn’t hard to see how you could push these well beyond the 22 hours unless you want to blow out your ear drums.
Okay, now let’s talk sound
When it comes to headphones that I’m going to be using for hours at a time on plane rides and commutes, I want three things: comfort (which I already spoke about), battery life (which is pretty good), and sound quality. If I’m taking a 20-hour plane ride, chances are that I’m going to be staring wistfully out of the window at some point, reminiscing and listening to my favorite Bon Iver song, like we all do. At that point, sound quality becomes really important.
Now, these headphones are notorious for favoring bass. The lower frequencies are heavily emphasized, to the detriment of basically everything else. The one example that I could point to, which demonstrates this perfectly, is the song Never Look Back by Slow Club which starts off with some slow finger snaps that get overtaken significantly when the bassline comes in. That really shouldn’t happen. The vocals that come in at about the same time also don’t benefit from the bump in bass. Besides just an overall lack of clarity in vocals, the underlying melody is given way more presence that it should have.
So if you listen to the song, this will be easier to understand, but around 0:08 seconds in, the main melody comes in, which is a female vocal layered on top of another vocal singing that same melody at a lower register. With these headphones, that secondary melody is more or less equal in output to the main melody which, by definition of being a secondary melody, shouldn’t be the case.
The highs are hardly any better and feel like an afterthought. During the chorus of the song Cruel World by Dent May, the cymbals are supposed to be rhythmic in the way that they overlap each other, but they end up sounding more like more like flat hi-hats with no decay.
Again using the analogy of the Powerbeats3 headphones, I have a hard time recommending these. Where the Powerbeats3 seemed like they were made for the gym and fit that use case relatively well. The Studio3 Wireless feel like they were haphazardly thrown together just to try and take a piece of the ANC market currently being ravaged by Bose and Sony. They offer sound significantly worse than both the QC35’s and the son, a build that feels like it’ll crack if you bend if too much, and, though the ANC is decent, it isn’t better than either model.
I’m usually a little more lenient with Beats products because I know they’re going to sell anyway, but the Studio3 Wireless are bad. For a pair of headphones named “Studio” you should never, ever, ever use these in the studio. Save your $350, you don’t need these.
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