Beats Studio Buds review | What Hi-Fi?
Think of Beats headphones and attention-grabbing ear-clip designs, fluorescent collaborative neckband models or padded over-ears with the trademark lower-case ‘b’ probably spring to mind. Beats is not readily associated with muted or minimalist aesthetics.
So, a demure little box that could hardly house a bar of soap feels like a marked change in direction from the Apple-subsidiary brand, especially since the model it contains is emphatically the next big thing from Beats, and one the company was keen to leak by gifting them to a series of celebs ahead of the big reveal in June.
The headline here is that Beats Studio Buds support convenient one-touch pairing to both iOS and, for the first time, Android devices. Simply unbox them and draw the case close to your phone. A rotating picture of the case and earpieces pops up on the screen and calmly invites you to connect – a classy introduction to a product that costs significantly less than similarly specified alternatives born of its parent company. This is a good start.
Beats Studio Buds certainly employ the smallest, subtlest and most sustainable form factor to date from Apple’s Beats brand – the packaging is made from 92 per cent plant-based material sourced from recycled fibre and/or sustainable forests too.
The ergonomically tilted acoustic nozzle features a laser-cut micro-vent to help ensure pressure relief on the eardrum, and with three silicone eartip options in total, there’s decent scope to find the right fit. Certainly, they fit very comfortably and securely for us, even without switching the pre-fitted eartips.
Each earpiece is refreshingly small, weighs 5g and is cleverly formed to taper from the rounded capsule buds to a thinner pill shape – like a switch – where the ‘b’-branded multi-function button meets driver housing. It helps promote the twist-to-lock method of fitting them known to most true wireless headphone users.
Upon fitting them, we wonder why more wireless earbuds aren’t shaped this way. Place them on your desk and they’ll probably find each other and join neatly together too, thanks to useful magnets hidden in the base of the casework.
The sound is driven by a proprietary 8.2mm dual-element diaphragm driver, which features a central rigid piston with flexible outer surround, coupled with a two-chamber acoustic design.
Beats Studio Buds tech specs
Bluetooth version 5.2
Battery life Up to 8hrs; Up to 24hrs (from case)
Dimensions (hd) 1.5 x 1.5cm
The case is svelte, pocketable and well-finished, and the earpieces snap in easily, staying put thanks to magnets in both the case and its lid. The buds offer up to eight hours of listening time (or five when active noice cancelling is switched on) with two additional charges provided by the case, totalling up to 15 hours of playtime with noise-cancelling enabled, or 24 hours of combined playback without it – a shade under class-leading, but perfectly acceptable at this level. If you need a little extra juice, five-minute Fast Fuel charging gives up to an hour of playback thanks to the USB-C charger.
Only two aspects of the build here feel a little disappointing. One is the single LED light on the charging case, which flashes red when charging, glows white when charged, or flashes white when pairing a second Bluetooth device (which is done by pressing the solo button inside the case while the buds are seated). A more readily available indication of battery life is desirable, especially in a product aimed at portability.
Secondly, although the multi-function ‘b’-branded buttons on each earpiece click reassuringly and work very well indeed for functions including playback control, call-handling and toggling between ANC and Transparency profiles, they cannot help with volume adjustments. That’s a shame, especially since on-device volume control was a feature in the previous Beats Powerbeats Pro.
Beats says support for volume control could be added via a firmware update, and even now, long-pressing the ‘b’ button can be customised to the user’s liking – even without a dedicated app for iOS. If you own an iPhone, go into the Bluetooth menu, click on the paired buds and you can scroll between the level of noise control, or choose whether you want to switch noise control profiles or access Siri when long-pressing each bud. All in all, and considering the product’s IPX4 splashproof rating, things look promising.
For Apple Music users, Beats Studio Buds offer a couple of extra perks. Firstly, they will automatically play Spatial Audio for available tracks mixed in Dolby Atmos, so you can enjoy Apple’s multidimensional presentation. Apple Music’s Dolby Atmos content will work with any headphones, you just need to manually enable it in your phone’s settings, but here, you won’t need to.
Secondly, you can access Siri hands-free by saying “Hey Siri”. Android users can download the Beats app to unlock additional features, and Beats is keen to stress that, for the first time, the Beats Studio Buds feature one-touch pairing for Android as well as iPhone devices.
However, the Studio Buds still feel every inch a ‘made for iPhone’ product – scroll left to your iPhone’s widgets and you’ll see a neat square featuring the Studio Buds illuminated by a wheel of green light, to denote battery life. We might have chastised Beats for omitting to supply an iOS app, but unless you want EQ tweaks (there are none here) it isn’t really necessary.
There’s no H1 chip on board, and while you are getting Bluetooth 5.2 compatibility thanks to Beats’ all-new software platform, you will never get multi-device pairing for automatic switching between your laptop and your phone, say. However, there are three listening modes in total: Active Noise Cancelling (ANC), ANC off and Transparency mode.
Toggle between them by long-pressing the ‘b’ multi-function button on either earpiece, or via the Bluetooth menu on iOS. ANC, which Beats says employs an algorithm that monitors and corrects audio-compromising artefacts at up to 48,000 times a second, is efficient at cancelling low-level noise, though it is not possible to tweak the levels further than ‘on’ or ‘off’.
External-facing mics mix the sounds of your surroundings back in with your music for a natural listening experience when you deploy the Transparency mode, and when you find it, it is similarly effective.
There’s no announcement to tell you whether you’ve just accessed noise-cancelling, ANC off or transparency profiles from the buds other than a tone. Thus, switching between each profile in search of a neutral listen (ie: no mic processing) involves a bit of listening to the profiles, but we find we get used to it and the results are effective for the level.
During phone calls, the dual beamforming microphones on each earpiece do a good job of filtering out wind noise for vocal clarity, completing a six-mic set-up in total.
It’s also worth mentioning that Beats Studio Buds are the first Beats product to support both FindMy in iOS and Find My Device on Android. It’s a neat feature and means you will be able to locate lost earbuds using their last known location (when paired via Bluetooth) or by playing a sound when they are nearby.
We stream Clash by Dave and Stormzy on Apple Music in Dolby Atmos, and it is immediately apparent that Beats is keen to shed its bass-heavy notoriety with the new Studio Buds. The bass floor is expansive but not to the detriment of space within the mix. The low end is grippy and times pretty well, with the defining nuances in both rappers’ voices celebrated with a healthy dose of petulance.
Our playlist continues to Learning Curve by Aitch and the Studio Buds continue to impress for a new-found improvement in terms of bass articulation. The vocal is textured and emotive in rockier tracks such as Man On The Moon by R.E.M too, with good separation between the bass, electric and rhythm guitar and drums. It’s a cohesive, energetic mix for the level.
We stream Electricity by Captain Beefheart and score the Beats Studio Buds high marks for spacious presentation and placement, with the raucous vocals snaking between our left ear and the back of our skull, even in the more frenzied musical passages.
It’s only when we switch to the class-leading Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus earbuds that we hear an extra ounce of detail and refinement in the backing vocals through the treble. As the track ends, the intentional electrical feedback through the top end is more detailed and clear through the competing set of in-ears.
We stream Woman by Doja Cat using the Beats, but lose a modicum of definition around the leading edges of the notes in the upper midrange, coming off slightly harsh in places. Switch to the Melomania 1 Plus and the female vocal is more three-dimensional, as a minor shortfall through the dynamics in the upper frequencies continues to reveal itself in the Beats Studio.
The Beats Studio Buds mark nothing short of a full rethink from Beats sonically – and it’s a decision that sounds resoundingly positive. The fit here is light, secure and comfortable, the earpieces themselves are remarkably small, the case pocketable and the audio clean and more agile through the bass. The noise-cancelling and transparency profiles are also useful additions for the money.
Although we noted a slight harshness through the treble during certain songs, the sound profile will suit Beats fans looking for a cleaner listen through lower frequencies. The easy one-touch iPhone and Android pairing – and the clever iOS14.6 integration hacks – complete a compelling, affordable Beats alternative to AirPods.
Read our guide to the best in-ear headphones
Read our Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review