Beats Studio Buds + vs AirPods Pro 2: which wireless earbuds are best?

To launch a pair of wireless earbuds nowadays, you must be either extremely confident or extremely foolish. Maybe both. The standard is so high now – even among the cheaper options – and the competition so fierce, that to stand out your product needs to be nothing short of spectacular.

Apple's AirPods Pro 2 certainly fulfil that brief. With plenty of iOS-exclusive features, they have a strong angle as the best wireless earbuds for iPhone users. They're also the best-sounding in-ear AirPods yet, and the first to earn five stars from us.

But Apple wants to cover all segments of the market, which is why its Beats subsidiary has launched the Studio Buds +. With redesigned vents for better airflow promising better bass reproduction and more effective active noise cancellation (ANC), they are a big improvement on their predecessors, the standard Studio Buds. But how do they compare to Apple's finest?

Beats Studio Buds + vs AirPods Pro 2: price

Beats Studio Buds + vs AirPods Pro 2 versus image

(Image credit: Future)

Even after their recent price cut, the AirPods Pro 2 are still more expensive than the Studio Buds +. In September 2023, Apple launched a version of the AirPods Pro 2 with a USB-C charging case in place of the old Lightning one. It cost £229 / $249 / AU$399 – that's the same price as the old model in the US and Australia, but £20 cheaper in the UK. Result.

The Studio Buds + cost £179.99 / €199.95 / $169.99 when they launched in June 2023, and are still hovering around that price now, give or take £10.

Winner: Beats Studio Buds +

Beats Studio Buds + vs AirPods Pro 2: design

A single Apple AirPods Pro 2 earbud being held in hand.

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

If you've seen the first generation of AirPods Pro – and who hasn't? – you know what to expect. The sequels are nigh-on identical: the vents and mics have been repositioned, but otherwise the design is unchanged.

The second-gen add XS ear tips to the existing three sizes, and the ear tip fit test ensures you get a secure, comfortable fit. Other design improvements include the addition of on-bud volume controls (via touch control, naturally), and the charging case now has a built-in speaker and a lanyard loop. Wireless charging comes as standard.

The Studio Buds + also look very similar to their predecessors. The only obvious difference is a smaller 'b' icon on the control plate (which is also smaller). That's it.

They're small and light, and fit comfortably, but it's a shame there's no ear tip fit test as with the AirPods. The first tips we tried seemed to fit fine, but theirs wasn't the best seal, which impacted on sound quality. Instead it's a case of trial and error. Like the AirPods, they come with an XS size to go with the usual S, M and L.

Physical buttons might seem a little old fashioned in this era of on-bud touch controls, but the Studio Buds +'s feel more reliable than the AirPods' swipe and pinch method. They respond with reassuring clicky feedback to let you know your press has registered, and there's no danger of accidentally changing the volume if you scratch your head, say. They also come in a far greater range of finishes than the AirPods (black and gold, ivory, and transparent) – Beats is Apple's younger, funkier, more fun subsidiary, after all.

Winner: Beats Studio Buds +

Beats Studio Buds + vs AirPods Pro 2: features

A single Beats Studio Buds Plus earbud being held between thumb and forefinger

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The main improvement over the standard Studio Buds and the Buds + is the new acoustic vents. By increasing airflow, they promise to improve bass reproduction and create a more open soundstage, benefitting sound quality, active noise cancellation and comfort levels. They're in good company – the AirPods Pro 2 feature a similar improvement, and it did indeed yield real benefits to the acoustic quality and overall listening experience. 

There are also three larger microphones, which also aid the Transparency mode (sometimes called 'talk though') and make for clearer calls.

Battery life is up an hour to six hours from the buds and 24 using the carry case – from the buds, that's the same as the pricier AirPods Pro 2, but six hours fewer from the case. Turn ANC off and you'll get nine hours from the buds and 36 total. Bluetooth 5.3 supports the standard SBC and AAC codecs – just like the AirPods, there are no higher-quality codecs allowed, but Spatial Audio gets the green light. 

But unlike the AirPods, the Studio Buds + open up previously iOS-only features to Android devices courtesy of the Beats app.That includes one-touch pairing, customisable earbud controls and always-on Siri. 

The AirPods Pro 2 might not have as many features with Android, but they do work supremely well with iOS. Pairing is near-instant, playback is responsive, and the buds pause when taken out of your ear and resume when popped back in. It's all seamless, and requires next to no work on your part.

The dedicated AirPods section in the iOS menu is much simpler than going into the Bluetooth menu, and elevates the AirPods to a kind of VIP status among connected devices. 

The AirPods let you customise your Spatial Audio experience, but it's a bit hit and miss. It involves using your iPhone's camera to take a photo of your ears, which is a lot harder than it sounds. Points for innovation, but it needs simplifying via an update.

There are also plenty of sound features to play with. Adaptive Transparency takes the edge off sudden noises in your environment when you're using Transparency Mode. Adaptive Audio (which arrived with iOS 17) dynamically adjusts the level of ANC to counter the noises in your surroundings, while Conversation Awareness detects when you're talking and lowers the music volume so you can carry on a conversation. 

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro 2

Beats Studio Buds + vs AirPods Pro 2: noise cancellation

Apple AirPods Pro 2 being held in the case

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

When it comes to ANC on both pairs, you get what you pay for. The Studio Buds +'s Transparency Mode sounds clearer and more spacious compared with the original Buds, while the ANC overall is fine but not outstanding. General noise like train engines and office chat are subdued but not erased, and you can't manually adjust the level of ANC. 

The Pro 2's ANC is much more impressive. They reportedly block twice as much noise as the original AirPods Pro, and from using them, we can believe it. Background noise is much more muted than with the Studio Buds +, and while you're not completely cut off in a cocoon of silence, it is very effective. 

You might not be able to manually adjust the Pro 2's level of ANC, but Adaptive Audio takes care of that for you. It's subtle but effective, doing a good job of damping down unwanted noises like traffic. Adaptive Transparency lends itself particularly well to screeches on the London Underground (from the trains, not the passengers), while Conversation Awareness is more intelligent at recognising when you're talking than Sony's similar Speak-to-Chat. The way it fades in and out of the volume changes is more elegantly handled, too.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro 2

Beats Studio Buds + vs AirPods Pro 2: sound

Beats Studio Buds Plus in the case next to a phone running the Beats app

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Again, this round is a case of spending more for better performance. The Studio Buds + feature a custom two-layer transducer in each bud, but it's a bit of a mixed bag.

They're not lacking in power or volume, and the audio is clean and open with well-defined edges. But they could do with an extra layer of detail, along with more texture and better timing. The various elements of a song sound a bit disconnected through the Studio Buds +, whereas the AirPods Pro 2 combine them in a more cohesive manner.

Their balance also tends to skew towards the bass in a way that proves a little wearying over time. It's not as bad as the Beats headphones of old, and the top end never sounds bright or harsh, but more refined ears will demand more.

Such ears should be steered towards the AirPods Pro 2, which are a real step up on the Studio Buds +. They take Apple's classic tonal neutrality and give it more weight, more detail and more dynamic subtlety. It makes for an engaging, entertaining listen that's much richer and more powerful than the bass-skewed Beats.

This is true for thudding dance-floor fillers and more meditative fare alike. The AirPods Pro 2 have layers and textures aplenty, and the sound is beautifully open and spacious. The tweaked vent system has much more of an impact on their sound than it does on the Studio Buds +. 

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro 2

Beats Studio Buds + vs AirPods Pro 2: verdict

As if it was ever in any doubt. The AirPods Pro 2 might be more expensive, but you get a lot more for your money, including more (and more advanced) features, better noise cancelling, a longer battery life and far superior sound quality.

That's not to write off the Studio Buds + completely. They do offer some of what makes the AirPods Pro 2 so great at a cheaper price, and – crucially – they bring some previously iOS-only to Android users. It's just that they're outgunned not only by the AirPods Pro 2, but by similarly-priced rivals like the Sony WF-1000XM4 and even Beats' own Fit Pro as well. Beats, maybe it's time to go back to the studio.


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Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.