Apple subsidiary Beats dropped its long-awaited flagship Beats Studio Pro headphones Wednesday to mostly positive reviews, including favorable comparisons to the pricier AirPods Max ($550).
Beats Studio Pro still look a lot like the 2017 Beats Studio3 cans they replace, but they’re chock full of improvements that should justify their $350 price for many despite some shortcomings.
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New Beats Studio Pro noise-cancelling over-ear headphones garner good reviews
The general consensus among Beats Studio Pro reviewers is that the company decided to keep an iconic design with just a few changes, like softer earcups. But to some it feels a bit cheap, “plasticky” and stale. The big changes inside, however, overhaul the technology and result in excellent headphones with good sound, great active noise cancellation (ANC) and solid appeal to both Apple and Android users.
Here’s how The Verge put it:
The form is familiar, but Beats has completely reworked the audio architecture inside the Studio Pro headphones. It has piled on new features like transparency mode, personalized spatial audio, and even lossless music playback over USB-C. And this Apple-owned company is continuing to market itself as a dual-ecosystem solution with native support for both iOS and Android software features.
CNET‘s headline said Beats Studio Pro are “almost AirPods Max Light, but not quite.”
Improvements to sound quality
So, on the inside, Beats Studio Pro represent a massive improvement over Beats Studio3. But even with big improvements like head-tracking Spatial Audio, they’re not necessarily better than the latest $350 to $400 cans from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser.
CNN loved the cans’ use of Spatial Audio:
These are the first Beats over-ear headphones to have true head-tracked Spatial Audio, which creates an immersive, concert-like soundstage on supported Apple Music tracks and select streaming apps. This allowed me to hear each individual member of boygenius in vivid detail during their tightly-woven harmonies, as well as pick up on little sonic details I normally miss. I find that Spatial Audio sounds wider and more engrossing on the AirPods Max, but it still works well here — especially for hundreds less than Apple’s headphones.
But not all reviewers were completely sold on sound quality. Several of them emphasized that Beats Studio Pro retain some of Beats’ signature sound, but rein it in for more balanced clarity with a bit less emphasis on bass. That could appeal to many folks but disappoint some Beats fans. Even so, the sound is only good, not great, according to The Verge:
And when lined up against audio-first headphones like the $399 Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 or $380 Sennheiser Momentum 4s, the Studio Pros fail to measure up in dynamics and overall definition. Beats has crafted a perfectly decent-sounding pair of headphones, but there’s nothing that leaps out as special about them.
CNET‘s take on sound quality featured interesting comparisons:
I went back and forth with these and Sony WH-1000XM5, and the thing you notice is that these are a more aggressive sounding headphone, which you may or may not like. The highs are a little more sculpted and everything sounds a little more forward, including the mids where voices live. Both the Sony and the AirPods Max are a little more laid back by comparison.
Great noise cancellation
The unanimous verdict on noise cancellation, however, is that it’s top-notch. Some reviewers raved about it.
Gizmodo didn’t expect great ANC, so it was pleasantly surprised:
Although Beats has seemingly decided not to get caught up in the active noise cancellation arms race happening between Sony, Apple, and Bose, I was actually quite surprised at how good the ANC on the new Beats Studio Pro is. Listening to audio samples of various noisy environments blasting through my home theater setup, the Beats Studio Pro did a very good job at gutting lower frequencies like the deep rumbles you’ll hear while riding a bus or during a flight on a large commercial airliner.
Here’s CNET‘s measured assessment of the solid ANC:
The noise canceling is quite effective. It may not be the best out there, but it approaches what you get from top noise-canceling headphones from Sony and Bose, and the transparency mode allows you to hear the outside world in a pretty natural sounding way with virtually no hiss. I thought the AirPods Max and AirPods Pro 2 were slightly more natural sounding in their transparency modes, but the Studio Pro were close.
Mac maven Basic Apple Guy also got in on the coverage, tweeting a handy chart for an AirPods Max – Beats Studio Pro comparison:
Your move Max. pic.twitter.com/3IQUcpEbNv
— Basic Apple Guy (@BasicAppleGuy) July 19, 2023
Should appeal to both Apple and Android users
And while Beats Studio Pro features much-improved functionality for both Apple and Android users — it’s Apple’s cross-ecosystem champion, along with Beats earbuds — it skips Apple’s H1 chip and misses out on some features of it.
For Apple users, the cans feature one-touch pairing, iCloud device synchronization, hands-free “Hey Siri,” dynamic head tracking for Spatial Audio, Find My support and OTA firmware updates.
But note the lack of in-ear detection, which is a drag for many users. When you take off the headphones, they won’t pause playback. You also won’t be able to connect to more than one Apple device at a time.
Android users get Fast Pair, automatic pairing with Android and Chrome devices (via Google account), audio switching, Find My Device as well as OTA updates with the Beats app for Android.
A 1st for Beats and Apple: Lossless USB-C audio
The new cans also offer a first for Apple and Beats — lossless audio via USB-C cable, included in the box, along with a 3.5mm headphone cable for a second way to listen via wire. The cables come in pockets in a svelte new carrying case that most reviewers liked (along with the mere fact that cables are included).
Engadget described some of the benefits of the included cables:
For the first time, Beats has enabled USB-C wired audio on the Studio Pro. In addition to listening to high-resolution and lossless tunes, you can also take calls while the headphones are actively charging. The Studio Pro has a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that can accommodate sample rates up to 24-bit/48kHz. That’s enough to handle the high-res streaming from Apple Music, Amazon Music HD and Tidal.
And the new sound profiles you can enjoy via wired listening:
Beats has also included three USB-C sounds profiles for wired listening: Signature, Entertainment and Conversation. As the names suggest, each one is tailored to music, movies/TV shows and calls, adjusting the frequency curve for what the company thinks is the best in each scenario. And yes, there’s still 3.5mm playback, which can be used with ANC and Transparency Mode as needed.
These don’t ‘clamp’ as hard as other Beats headphones
A recurring note in reviews concerns how tightly Beats headphones fit. The new cans improve on that a bit, according to Gizmodo:
One common complaint about Beats headphones is that the headband tends to deliver quite a strong clamping force on the wearer’s head and ears, resulting in discomfort when worn for extended periods. The Beats Studio Pro don’t feel as aggressively strong as previous models, which could be a result of the use of softer memory foam in the earcups providing more cushioning, but they do form a very tight seal.