Despite their high price tags, Beats headphones have grown to become one of the most successful audio products of all time. Regardless of how many complaints or negative reviews they receive, they continue to fly off the shelves. So why fight it? We’re turning into the skid and exploring some of the best Beats headphones you can get. Luckily for us, there aren’t too many options currently available. But as always, we’ll be sure to update this list in the future, so that you can be certain the information reflected here is accurate.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on October 23, 2019, to include the Beats Solo Pro.
The Beats Solo Pro are the best Beats headphones
These noise cancelling on-ears are a welcome update to the older Solo3 Wireless. Beats decked the Solo Pro out with the latest software and a refreshed mature and stylish design. Just like the Apple AirPods, the Solo Pro feature H1 chip and its functionalities. This means you get improved battery life, connection stability, and hands-free access to Siri.
Beats Solo ProFull Review
You benefit from other cool innards like a speech-detecting accelerometer and beam-forming microphones. These work to transmit your voice while reducing background noise interference. It’s cool: the accelerometer detects head movement and reduces any noise that could create, too. Even with all the neat technology, though, microphone quality remains one of the most disappointing features of the Solo Pro. This is easy to forgive seeing as everything else about the Solo Pro is great.
Noise cancelling is top-notch for the company and for on-ear headphones in general. It’s difficult to find a good pair of on-ear noise cancelling headphones, because this style doesn’t create a good seal to the ear. Well, the Solo Pro take the opposite approach and apply vice-grip pressure to the head. This is a huge part of why ANC performance is so extraordinary. Of course, this is at the expense of comfort. Good luck wearing these for more than an hour at a time.
You’re afforded three listening modes with the Beats Solo Pro headphones: noise cancelling, transparency, and extended power mode. The first and last are self-explanatory. Transparency mode is an important inclusion for those who listen to music while outside. If you’re at a busy intersection, you should be aware of what’s going on around you; that would be a good time to toggle through the modes until you reach transparency.
Sound quality is also pretty impressive even though they retain Beats’ signature bass-heavy sound. Generally speaking, the on-ears do a fine job of rendering a realistic representation of 3-D space. If you want to get the most out of the unadulterated sound, genres like hip-hop and pop are your best bet.
Looking for affordable Beats headphones? Get the Beats EP
The Beats EP is one of the more affordable options in the Beats lineup and even cost less than the AirPods. Why? Because these aren’t wireless. You’ll get a good ‘ol 3.5mm connector at the end of the audio cable so you can hardwire into your devices. Of course, this might be a problem depending on the phone you have since you’ll be forced to use the dongle. Beats markets these as “battery-free for unlimited sound”, which basically means they’re headphones.
The downside is that the in-line remote is only iOS compatible and the ear cups don’t fold for portability. But the stainless -steel headband does slide nicely to fit your head. The Beats EP are on-ear headphones, so isolation won’t be amazing but the build quality on these is surprisingly good.
If you want active noise cancelling, go with the Studio3 Wireless
For those of you who are always on the go, there’s really only one pair of Beats headphones for you and that’s the Studio3 Wireless. These are the only Beats headphones that currently feature active noise cancelling, so if you want to block out the world around these are the way to go. As the name suggests, the Studio3 Wireless are wireless but they can also be hardwired with the included audio cable. If you do decide to hardwire them the battery should last you about 40 hours, otherwise you can expect to get around 20 hours of constant playback when connected wireless.
Beats Studio3 WirelessFull Review
All of the playback controls can be found in the multifunction “b” button on the left ear cup. With a series of taps and holds, you can control everything from volume to playback. Hate it or love it, these are another pair that offers the classic Beats sound with heavy emphasis on lower notes. We weren’t huge fans of it in the full review, but judging by how many of these Apple sells it’s safe to say that some people do enjoy it.
The best sounding Beats headphones are the Beats Pro
If you’re looking for the best sound quality then go with the Beat Pro headphones. These are another pair of wired headphones, but in this case, that’s because these aren’t intended to be used with your phone. These are for anyone that’s going to be sitting at a desk or in a studio, which you know not because of the neutral sound signature (LOL yeah, right), but because they come with a ¼” adapter and long coiled cable that locks into the headphone.
Speaking of which, the build quality of these headphones also isn’t bad considering it’s made mostly from plastic. Instead of adding hinges so you can fold these, the earcups rotate around and can be oriented up towards the headband. This reduces the large footprint and allows you to store them more easily. Of course, sound is still skewed towards the low end and although I personally don’t know anyone who uses these while working with audio (the go-to for that seems to be the Sony MDR-7506 headphones), these are the best that Beats has to offer.
Get the Beats Powerbeats Pro instead of the new AirPods
The Beats Powerbeats Pro are everything the AirPods aren’t: they have distinguished nozzles that seal to the ear canal for a better fit and improved sound quality. You benefit from Apple’s latest H1 chip, which facilitates hands-free access to Siri and improves battery life. With a hair under 11 hours of playback, the battery life of the Beats Powerbeats Pro absolutely dwarfs that of every other true wireless headset. It’s not even close.
Beats Powerbeats ProFull Review
The ear hook design is comfortable and keeps these Beats headphones stable during workouts. You’re going to want a good pair of earbuds for your athletic endeavors as music improves most athletes’ performances. You’ll never have to worry about skips or stutters with these as connection quality is excellent. Again, this reliability is thanks to the H1 chip and Bluetooth 5.0 support. The IPX4 rating certifies the earbuds can withstand any sweat flung at them, just don’t submerge them.
Sound quality is great: the earbuds support AAC for lag-free, high-quality audio playback on iOS devices. If you have an Android device, have no fear. These still relay enjoyable audio with a notable bass bump, a Beats signature.
Read the Beats Powerbeats Pro review
What you should know
Bluetooth codecs and AAC
Some Beats headphones come wired, but an increasing number of their products have been ditching the wire and going wireless. This means that you should be at least somewhat familiar with how they’re doing it and what that does to your sound quality. Bluetooth audio has come a long way from its early days, but it still isn’t perfect. Ditching the headphone jack means that more and more people need to rely on Bluetooth to listen to their music, and the way this works is via something called a codec.
A codec is how two devices communicate with each other. Think of it like a language that needs to be spoken by one device, and understood by another. All devices speak SBC which is the most basic codec, and from there things get messy. Mainly due to the fact that different companies prefer different codecs. Sony has LDAC, Qualcomm has aptX (and soon aptX Adaptive which has the potential to be the best one so far), and companies like Apple use AAC. Since Apple owns Beats, you can see why Beats headphones only use AAC. So is it bad?
Well, AAC has a similar bitrate to MP3, which isn’t bad, but not ideal. But it does have a higher bit-depth, so you get slightly more information transferred at once even if the transfer speed is slower. That said, the codec is still years behind LDAC and aptX HD. To learn all about the different types of codecs and their pros and cons make sure to check out our full explainer piece, but when it comes to Beats products all you really need to know is that they only use AAC.
What’s the deal with the W1 chip?
When Apple removed the headphone jack from its phones, the company announced a few Beats headphones along with it. At the time, it claimed the W1 chip was going to make Bluetooth audio easier and better for customers. Now it’s been superseded by the H1 chip, but they function nearly the same. The main difference is how the H1 allows for hands-free Siri access.
Generally speaking, if you have an iOS device then it will automatically detect that there is a pair of headphones nearby with a H1 chip inside. A nice animation then pops up on your phone showing that headphones in question, and you can connect to them with just one tap. This lets you completely bypass going through your Bluetooth settings. Sure, it’s not that big a deal, but still cool nonetheless.
This chip reduces power consumption because it knows exactly how much energy the product needs. It also helps to maintain a stronger connection between the devices. So although it isn’t a game-changer, it definitely adds some functionality that gives headphones with the older W1 and current H1 chips an edge over headphones that don’t. You also benefit from audio sharing, which allows you to pair two sets of wireless Beats headphones to the same iPhone.
Why is the frequency response of Beats products so different?
This is another aspect of audio where you can learn so much more by checking out our full explainer by Rob Triggs, who does a great job going over the technical bits. But if you’re in a hurry here’s the gist of it and a metaphor (simile?) that I hope makes it easy to understand.
Frequency response refers to the capabilities of the components in your Beats headphones to reproduce the signal that is being fed into it as perfectly as possible. If that’s achieved you get something called a neutral frequency response, where the output signal perfectly matches the input signal.
One way to picture this is to think of the game telephone we all used to play as children. If you’ve never played it goes like this: a bunch of people gets in a line and one person whispers a message into the first person’s ear. That person then whispers the same message to the next person in line, and so on, until you get to the end of the line. If everything went well, the same message should make it to the last person in line. Now to put that into headphone terms, your source device outputs a signal to your headphones. If all of the components in your headphones are working fine then that same signal should make its way out of the drivers at the end so you can hear it.
But if you’ve ever played telephone, you know that the ideal situation rarely (if ever) happens. Somewhere along the line, there’s always a part where the message gets changed. Headphone manufacturers change the signal on purpose by tweaking the components of your headphones, to make the final message (the music) that reaches your ears sound better.
Unfortunately, our ears aren’t perfect so different companies try to adjust for our lack of bat-like hearing in different ways. They might emphasize the lower notes, or take away some of the harshnesses in the highs so it doesn’t hurt your ears, or even just raise the mids a little so you can better hear vocals. Although you’ll hear plenty of people say this is a bad thing and they want their music to sound as natural, or as close to the original message as possible, the fact is that not everyone enjoys that. Beats headphones are proof of that.
Beats headphones having an exaggerated low end isn’t a mistake in manufacturing. The headphones are made like that because, for better or for worse, people like it.
Isolation, active noise cancelling, and you
When it comes to how your music sounds, one important piece of the puzzle that often gets neglected is how well you’re isolated from outside noise. If you’re going to be in a sound-treated studio with perfect foam padding on every hard surface, then this probably isn’t too big of a deal for you. For the rest of us, outside noise is the death of good sound. This is especially true when it comes to commuters. The problem isn’t really with your headphones, it’s with human biology (you might be seeing a common theme here).
When you hear two notes that are close to each other in frequency, the brain will cancel out the lower one. This effect is called auditory masking and helped humans in terms of evolution because we were able to ignore unimportant sounds in favor of the growling of a predator, but it isn’t so great when it comes to listening to music. So if you listen to music on a train, bus, or plane fairly often, you’ll notice how the bass doesn’t sound as good as it does when you’re in the quiet of your own home. This is because those sounds are louder than the sweet, subtle basslines of your favorite songs.
So how do you combat this effect? With headphones that physically block outside noise (and a little bit of active noise cancellation doesn’t hurt either). Over-ear headphones like the Studio3 Wireless will completely over your ears, blocking a lot of outside noise simply by being there. Then there’s active noise cancelling. In this case, the headphones use tiny microphones to hear what’s going on around you and then create the opposite sound wave in order to cancel out the sound. You can learn more about it here, but you might remember it from Physics 101 if you were ever unlucky enough to take that class. It’s called destructive interference, and it does a pretty good job at removing some of the low, constant hums you encounter throughout the day.
Curious about wireless Beats earbuds?
If you’re wondering whether you should just skip headphones and go for a pair of wireless earbuds, don’t worry you’re not alone. We wondered the same thing and put the BeatsX against the Powerbeats3 and even threw the AirPods in just for fun. If you’re interested in any of those options definitely check out that showdown so you’ll know which one is right for you.