Beats Studio Buds Review 2021: Beats Earbuds vs. Apple AirPods Pro - Rolling Stone
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RS Recommends: Beats Studio Buds Beat the AirPods Pro for One Simple Reason

Beats’ Studio Buds aren’t just an upgrade from its previous wireless offerings — a key feature makes them a step above the much-loved AirPods Pro

Beats Studio BudsBeats Studio Buds


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The true wireless earbud competition is fierce out there right now, and even though we keep returning to the Apple’s AirPods Pro as our all-around standby, that title may need some further review. In the past, they’ve remained at the top of our lists because, rather than blowing everyone else out of the water, they seem to have no obvious downsides — at first. Enter the Beats Studio Buds.

The latest addition to the Beats family of wireless buds follows the Powerbeats Pro, which remain an essential for frequent travelers or fitness obsessives who really like to pound the pavement. That being said, we’ve been more impressed by the sleek, streamlined design of the AirPods Pro than the Powerbeats (which don’t always provide the most secure fit, even with the built-in ear hooks).

AirPods have solid sound and a great look, so then what’s the issue? The Studio Buds have simply improved on all the best best qualities of their predecessor to eke out the AirPods Pro, and then outlast them.

Buy: Beats Studio Buds at $149.95

The Buds Emphasize Comfort, With Simple, Easy-to-Use Controls

Unlike the Powerbeats Pro, Studio Buds’ new, compact design is small enough that they resemble pills, or gummy candies. You don’t feel the loss of the ear hooks at all, especially when you consider that weight has been much improved: Studio Beats are a feathery 5.1 grams. I was surprised that they were even lighter than the AirPods Pro, which already felt pretty weightless even with the added stems. They’re far more comfortable after hours of wear, which really adds up. But this isn’t necessarily the clincher for why they beat out the AirPods Pro — we’ll get there.

What helps is the fit of their newly redesigned silicone ear tips. Now, full disclosure, I dislike most earbuds with a suction-type tip. They tend to, at worst, make your ear feel like it’s been clogged  after a long swim. Up until now, I would consistently recommend smooth-stemmed OG AirPods (or the budget-friendly competitor TaoTronics), for people with ear grievances like mine. But gratefully, I had no pain or pressurized feeling with the Studio Buds, and didn’t even feel the need to exchange one of the three ear tips.

Another point goes to their minimalist, physical touch controls. There’s only one button to press, and each earbud has the same set of controls, as opposed to the occasionally wonky touch sensors you see in other wireless earbuds these days. No need to memorize a complex series of taps or hand motions as if this is a round of Legends of the Hidden Temple. Simply press once to play or pause, twice to skip tracks, three to go back and hold down the button to turn ANC on and off.

Beats Studio Buds


The Studio Buds Have Comparable (and Maybe Better) Sound Quality

Comfort is an important factor for your earbud choice, yes, but luckily the Studio Buds aren’t a one trick pony, delivering on superb sound quality too. Due to their history with the hip-hop industry, if you’re expecting booming, bass-forward sound, the audio is decidedly more nuanced.

Don’t get us wrong — the bass is still fairly deep and well-defined (especially enhanced by that secure fit). When listening to an album with dense production, like City Pop king Tatsuro Yamashita, I found the bass driving without overwhelming his impeccable rhythm guitar work. Bass heads will probably want to look elsewhere, but it’s still an impressive output.

One EQ area where AirPods Pro excels, and where these Beats fall short, is unfortunately in the highs. The tenor vocals from BTS’ “Butter” sounded tinny and notably feels like part of a case old-school audiophiles could make about the music digitization process (it sounds so processed! There’s no warmth anymore!).

However, Beats worked especially hard on crafting a dual-chamber acoustic design and custom drivers for overall clearer sound, and it’s quite balanced in the treble and mid-ranges. They certainly don’t feel as drowned out as they did with the PowerBeats Pro. Each instrument is more defined in stereo remasters specifically, like The Mamas & the Papas’ Dedicated to the One I Love. The blend tends to be more unified than even the AirPods Pro at times, but maybe not enough to push them ahead of the pack in terms of their other competitors on the market (especially Sony’s recent showing.)

They Come With Extended Listening Time and Charging Capabilities

What does give the Studio Buds our vote over the AirPods Pro is one key feature: battery life. While both tout the same amount of battery life with the charging case (24 hours), you know that the real consideration is baseline listening time, and Studio Buds was the clear winner during our testing.

The AirPods Pro have 4.5 hours of listening time with active noise cancellation, but you only get a measly five hours with the noise-cancelling and transparency features turned off (mostly likely not even that.) The Studio Buds boast five hours of battery life in ANC mode, but up to eight hours without it. I wore my buds on and off for two days without having to charge mine, or hear the usual chorus of voices on my Zoom call go “did your AirPods die, again?“.

That extra listening time is a godsend if you’re a runner who wants to use your earbuds for those extra miles, or if you frequently take calls during the work day and don’t want to switch to a clunky headset. You’ll get two additional charges from the case too, so it’s rare to find them totally depleted. Another bonus: whenever your buds need an extra boost of juice, Beats’ “Fast Fuel” charging gives you one hour of playback time off a five-minute charge.

This feature is a major upside over usually battery-sucking AirPods. They’re not without their drawbacks, though — one puzzling element left out of the Studio Buds is Apple’s proprietary chips, the H1 or W1. These are the secret ingredients that normally allow features like seamless pairing across all Apple devices signed into iCloud, audio sharing, and instant set-up.

The lack of multipoint Bluetooth pairing (simultaneously connection to two devices, like your laptop and phone) might be a dealbreaker for hardcore Beats fans, but it wasn’t necessarily for me. A bigger annoyance for me was Studio Buds’ lackluster ANC, which led to a hard time distinguishing at times whether transparency mode was on or off.

Beats Studio Buds


Are Beats Studio Buds Worth It?

Beats proves that you don’t need to sacrifice premium sound for extended battery life. Studio Buds let you listen comfortably for hours on end without a dead battery or ear discomfort ruining your jam session.

There are a few drawbacks when it comes to its Bluetooth capabilities and ANC functionality, but these earbuds aren’t meant to be the fastest-pairing or provide the best quiet environment — they’re meant to last for the long haul. We’re talking long layovers and flights, listening to music all day at work, all without getting interrupted like you would with AirPods Pro.

They’re lightweight and feel almost weightless in your ear, and you can really feel the difference in their size if you have sensitive ears.

Price is also a factor here — they’re a solid $100 less than the AirPods Pro at the time of publication, and if you want some prime features mixed with premium sound, the Studio Buds are worth buying.

Buy: Beats Studio Buds at $149.95


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