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Best Beats headphones 2021: budget and premium

Best Beats headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best Beats headphones you can buy in 2021.

You can't underestimate the impact Beats has had on the headphone industry. While audiophiles and hi-fi fans have always been happy to consider investing in a good pair of headphones, Beats came around at a time when your average consumer didn’t.

They launched with a flurry of clever marketing and celebrity endorsement – their design was bold and their sound was similar, i.e. skewed towards bass in a way that alienated some potential buyers.

The brand hasn't been able to entirely shake off that reputation, but the best Beats headphones do address that. And while we wouldn’t exactly call them neutral, they do offer a fun and energetic balance that suits most popular music.

Beats headphones can still struggle in terms of outright sound quality but their design, feature set and comfort still makes them the best option for many. If you like the Beats balance – and perhaps you have an iPhone that can benefit from the extra functionality provided by some pairs – our list of the best Beats headphones should have something to suit you.

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Best Beats headphones 2021: Beats Studio Buds

(Image credit: Beats)

1. Beats Studio Buds

The best Beats headphones money can buy.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: No | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Agile, more neutral bass
Spacious soundstage
Remarkably small earpieces

Reasons to Avoid

Slightly harsh treble
No on-device volume control

The Studio Buds are unlike any Beats headphones that have come before them: gone are the over-ear clips, the brash branding and lurid colourways. Instead, they're demure – understated even – with a true wireless design and one-touch wireless pairing not only to iOS, but Android devices too.

They're the smallest and subtlest of any Beats headphones, with impressive longevity. Battery life totals up to 15 hours with noise cancelling on, or 24 with it disabled, while a five-minute Fast Fuel charge gives up to an hour of playback if you need to dash out the door.

Apple Music users can enjoy Spatial Audio for available tracks mixed in Dolby Atmos without having to enable it in their phone's settings (as with other headphones). They can also speak to wake Apple's Siri personal assistant. Active noise cancellation adjusts 48,000 times a second to mute background noise, though it doesn't have adjustable levels, just on or off.

Sonically, the Beats Studio Buds are more refined than the usual bass-heavy Beats sound, marking these out as a cut above the rest of the pack. A refreshing change of direction from Apple's subsidiary.

Read the full Beats Studio Buds review

Best Beats headphones 2021: Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless headphones

(Image credit: Beats)

2. Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless headphones

Until recently, these were the best Beats headphones around.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: n/a | Cable length: 1.3m | In-line remote and mic: Yes | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy

Good fit
Great battery
Bassy, fun sound

Reasons to Avoid

Bass can overpower at times
Need better clarity and dynamics

While not truly wireless like the Powerbeats Pro mentioned below, the Powerbeats3 Wireless still offer Bluetooth connectivity and, arguably, better value for money. The inclusion of Apple's W1 chip gives you a super seamless connection to iOS devices and you get a good fit and similarly good noise isolation (noise cancellation isn't part of the package). Battery life is 12 hours, while a quick five-minute charge will get you one hour of use.

The bassy sound can overpower at times, but this makes them a good option if you're going to be using them in noisy environments. They're also a fun listen – something a lot of other brands miss by a mile.

Read the full Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless review

Best Beats headphones 2021: Beats Solo Pro

(Image credit: Beats)

3. Beats Solo Pro

A balanced pair of Beats headphones with excellent noise cancelling.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: No | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Full-bodied and clear sound
Excellent noise-cancelling
Premium feel

Reasons to Avoid

Bettered for timing and dynamics
Tight fit

The Beats Solo Pro tick a lot of boxes. The design is premium, build quality is solid and substantial while battery life is a respectable 22 hours (40 hours with noise cancelling turned off).

They're a slightly tight fit and they can be bettered for timing, but their overall balance is nicely judged and bass isn't overpowering, which makes for an enjoyable listen. If you want to get involved with the Beats brand, these headphones are a good place to start.

Read the full Beats Solo Pro review

Best Beats headphones 2021: Beats Flex

(Image credit: Beats)

4. Beats Flex

Fun and fuss-free wireless Beats headphones.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: Yes | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy

Punchy lows
Durable build
Extra features for iOS users

Reasons to Avoid

Treble is rounded off
Fit may be an issue

The Beats Flex are a step up from Apple's bog-standard Lightning wired buds. They’re available in some fresh hues (including the Yuzu yellow sample before you), they charge via USB-C, have a 12-hour battery life, and courtesy of one-tap audio share you can split sounds with nearby Beats or AirPod headphones (provided you have an iPhone 8 or later running at least iOS 14). They're very affordable, too.

Four ear tip options give a good chance of finding a decent fit, and the cable is flat, like a strand of tagliatelle. Magnets keep the earbuds together when not in use.

Pairing is a doddle (even more so using an Apple device). They don't support some iOS 14 features, including automatic switching to another device or hands-free Siri‌ support. And there’s no noise cancelling either. But with the correct seal you’ll still enjoy good levels of passive noise isolation.

Audio quality is good, but not great. There's just not the same impact that the best Beats headphones manage to pull off. Still, the Flex offer a considered, smooth sound profile that’s preferable to one that is harsh or bright through the upper frequencies. A solid Beats bet at this end of the market.

Read the full Beats Flex review

Best Beats headphones 2021: Beats Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Beats)

5. Beats Powerbeats Pro

The best Beats headphones for sport, but audiophiles might want more.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: No | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy

Superb playback consistency
Flawless comfort and fit
Great battery life

Reasons to Avoid

Dynamic range limited
Bass lacks punch
Audio lacks excitement

The Beats Powerbeats Pro true wireless buds have all the ingredients of a good pair of sports headphones. Entirely wireless, their build, fit and features are nothing short of superb. Plus, thanks to Apple’s upgraded H1 Bluetooth chip technology, they’re easy to use and virtually glitch-free in their delivery of wireless audio.

With nine hours of battery life, there is more than enough power here to see you through a marathon, and with a further two charges in the included case, you could even take on an Iron Man with these by your side.

Unfortunately, their musical performance does let them down. While not chronically bassy and replete with detail, they lack some liveliness, which is particularly important in helping you power through a tough point in exercise.

For that reason they're not the absolute best Beats headphones available, but a comfortable fit, strong wireless performance and excellent battery life still make them one to consider.

Read the full Beats Powerbeats Pro review

Best Beats headphones 2021: Beats Solo 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Beats)

6. Beats Solo 3 Wireless

Impressive wireless technology and a full-bodied Beats sound.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.5m | In-line remote and mic: Yes | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy

Full-bodied, bold sound
Clear, clean midrange
Excellent battery life and range

Reasons to Avoid

Lack subtlety and detail
Fit is too tight
No Lightning connector

The Beats Solo 3 Wireless are a tale of two halves. From a technology perspective, they shine. As the smallest of the Beats on- and over-ear family, they wear their Apple ownership on their sleeve and come with Apple’s W1 chip built in for faster pairing with Apple devices. 

The newer Class 1 Bluetooth helps to create one of the most stable wireless connections we’ve ever tested, and their 40 hours of battery life is impressive, though they can also be used wired if you run out of juice.

From a sound perspective, however, these Beats headphones fall a little short. It’s not that the sound is bad, and it’s certainly not as unwieldy as some Beats naysayers would have you think. But for all they give us in full-bodied sound and enthusiasm, they miss out in subtlety and refinement compared to the cream of the similarly-priced crop.

The overall performance just isn’t as explicit or engaging as we would like – it needs to be tighter and more insightful to keep us entertained over longer listens.

Read the full Beats Solo 3 Wireless review

Best Beats headphones 2021: Beats X

(Image credit: Beats)

7. Beats X

A fine Bluetooth performance, with a typically energetic Beats sound.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: Yes | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy

Great wireless performance
Smart, simple look
Energetic sound

Reasons to Avoid

Limited detail
Shouty midrange

If you prefer your wireless headphones a bit more, well, wired, the Beats X offer the more traditional take on wireless in-ears, with a cable connecting the two buds that trails behind your neck. 

They’re slim and lightweight meaning they’re comfortable and easy to wear, with magnets on the back of each earpiece to stick them together when not in use.

Featuring Apple’s W1 chip, the Beats X offer slick pairing with Apple devices and an unshakeable Bluetooth connection no matter what you own. They also promise eight hours of battery life, with a fast charging capability that provides two hours of battery after 15 minutes plugged in.

Sound-wise, the Beats X are largely enjoyable. Their tone is full and chunky and there's plenty of energy to their delivery.

Detail struggles though, and they also suffer from a rather shouty midrange, making some more strident vocalists sound abrasive at higher volumes.

Read the full Beats X review