Beats Studio3 Wireless review: A Bose QuietComfort 35 killer?
Beats headphones have, in the past, taken a lot of flack for a supposed image-first, sound- and build-quality second approach to personal audio. Since Apple bought the company in 2014 it’s been all change, culminating in the development of the W1 Bluetooth chip, which debuted in the rather excellent on-ear Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones.
With the Beats Studio 3 Wireless, Apple is aiming to do the same for the company’s pricier over-ear model, introducing the Apple W1 Bluetooth chip to the firm’s flagship wireless, noise-cancelling headphones.
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Beats Studio3 Wireless review: W1 magic
In theory, this is a killer combination. In taking the ease of use of the W1 and combining it with improved noise cancellation, we have a potential Bose QuietComfort 35-beater on our hands. In some ways, the Beats Studio 3 Wireless are indeed superior.
If you’re an iPhone owner and you haven’t used a W1-equipped pair of headphones before, be prepared to be wowed. Pairing is as simple as turning on your Studio3’s and holding them next to your phone, at which point they’re detected automatically. Completing the pairing process is then a simple matter of pressing Connect.[gallery:4]
From this point on, as long as you have an iCloud account and your other Apple devices are logged into it, the headphones will automatically pair with whichever one they’re near to. It’s a beautifully engineered system, but it’s a system only those fully immersed in the Apple ecosystem can take full advantage of. Although the headphones do work with other devices, you don’t get the same, almost magical, instant pairing.
The Studio 3’s Class 1 Bluetooth chip does, however, convey some benefits. Contrary to reports I’ve read elsewhere, I’ve found the Studio 3 Wireless worked perfectly with all the Android phones and Windows laptops I tried them with; if anything, they paired more quickly than most Bluetooth headphones I’ve used. I’ve not had any problem with dropouts or intermittent connections.
The Beats Studio 3 connectivity isn’t perfect, though. My main complaint is that, while the headphones play a tone to indicate when they’ve paired and disconnected and when you disable and enable active noise cancelling, there’s no audible tone to indicate whether you’ve powered them on or off. For that, you have to take them off, press down a small button on the right earcup and hold it until the five white LEDs on the right ear cup all turn off in sequence.[gallery:6]
Another gripe is that, if you do forget to power them off, the headphones remain switched on and connected via Bluetooth and don’t time out, thus draining the battery. Perversely, the noise cancelling does timeout after a few minutes when no music is playing; for me, that’s irritating, because sometimes I just want to take advantage of the noise cancelling to kill the hum of the office aircon without necessarily listening to music.
Finally, there’s also no audible indication of battery capacity when you switch on the Studio 3 Wireless – a big feature I miss from the Bose QuietComfort 35. That’s a shame, because battery life is pretty good. Apple says you’ll get 22 hours with ANC enabled and up to 40hrs with ANC disabled, while fast charging tech will see the headphones deliver up to three hours of use from only ten minutes plugged in.
Beats Studio 3 Wireless review: Design and comfort
Connectivity-wise, the Studio3 definitely have their ups and downs, but as far as design goes, I can find very little to fault here. They’re attractive in a Beats-y sort of way, but not too shiny or nasty.
I had the matte grey, beige and gold version to review, which you can see in the pictures here and to my surprise it strikes the right balance between glitz and subtlety. You can also buy the Studio3 Wireless in red, black, pale pink, white and blue and all are finished in an attractive matte plastic with glossy-highlights.[gallery:8]
They’re very well made, too, and fold up neatly. The headband is constructed with a steel core, adjustments in size are easy to make and they hold their position firmly on your head without exerting undue pressure.
The leather earcups are just as comfortable as you’d expect them to be on a pair of £300 headphones and the controls are – sensibly – both simple and physical. I can’t stand touch controls on headphones and it’s good to see Beats agrees with me.
So, on the left earcup, all you get is a pause/play button and volume adjustments, all integrated into the surface of the earcup. On the right earcup is a single small button used for powering the headphones on and off and toggling noise cancelling.
A 3.5mm jack in the base of the left earcup lets you listen when the battery dies and on the right earcup is a Micro-USB port for charging. Crazy, I know. Not Lightning or USB Type-C. Micro-USB. Another cable you need to take with you on your travels.
Aside from this, the only thing I don’t like about the design of the Studio3 Wireless is the light pressure the padded driver within places on the outside of your ears. It’s not horribly uncomfortable, but my ears prefer a bit more space than this. The B&W PX Wireless, Bose QuietComfort 35 and Sony MDR1000X all give your ears a bit more room to breathe than the Studio3 Wireless and feel comfier as a result.[gallery:5]
Beast Studio3 Wireless review: Sound quality and noise cancelling
When it comes to sound quality, the bottom line is that the Studio 3 Wireless are absolutely fine. The bass isn’t overwhelming, as you might expect from a pair of Beats but, for me, they’re a bit polite and flatten the music somewhat in the mids and at the high end.
There’s nothing that the Studio 3’s do that’s actively offensive but if you want the best-sounding wireless, noise-cancelling headphones, buy a pair of Sonys, B&W PX or Bose QuietComfort 35 instead. All of these deliver music with a greater sense of space, depth and general presence.
The same holds true of the Studio 3’s “Pure ANC” noise cancelling. It’s effective in reducing the general hubbub of office air conditioning and flight noise and it puts the W1 chip to good use, adding an extra layer of processing as well as internal microphones to monitor sound leakage.
That said, the Studio3 doesn’t create quite the same silent, serene cocoon for your ears that the Bose QuietComfort 35 do. What’s more, if you enable noise cancelling in a quiet room you’ll still be able to hear a low level of hiss, which isn’t nearly as apparent when you’re wearing the Bose QuietComfort 35.
On the positive side, while I’ve experienced a certain sense of pressure with other noise cancelling headphones that’s completely absent with the Studio3 Wireless, which is not something I can say for the Bose.[gallery:2]
Beats Studio 3 Wireless review: Verdict
So there are good things and there are not so good things about the Beats Solo3 Wireless. On the positive side, they’re great for iPhone and MacBook owners. I simply cannot overstate enough how much of a difference to pairing and reconnection the W1 chip makes. Quite why the rest of the industry isn’t doing something similar with regular Bluetooth is beyond me. The Studio 3 are also robust, sensibly designed, fit well and look good.
On the negative, they don’t sound quite as good as the best the competition can muster, and noise cancellation isn’t quite as effective, either. And there are usability issues with general wireless connectivity that annoy me.
In the final analysis, though, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the Beats Studio3 Wireless. They’re competent, decent-sounding active noise-cancelling headphones. They’re just not quite the best you can buy for this money.