5 things the new Beats Studio Pro need to excel in to rival the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

Beats Studio Pro
(Image credit: MacRumors)

There’s a new pair of Beats wireless headphones on the way (Beats Studio Pro), news that should fill us with excitement and cheer. After all, Beats is a massive headphones brand that, after its acquisition by the even bigger mega-corp Apple a few years back, should really be one of the major players in the wearable audio game. 

However, despite the Dr Dre-founded brand being seriously popular since it launched in 2006, that excitement is metered by our past experiences with the Beats brand's line of headphones and earbuds.

Sound quality has not, to be frank, always been the brand's crowning glory. Beats products have been criticised over the years for their overly-bassy emphasis and for prioritising style over proper audio substance. And while that doesn’t seem to have affected sales to what has usually been a relatively youth-oriented demographic, the brand’s reputation as a manufacturer of recommendable headphones to rub shoulders alongside the likes of Bose, Sennheiser and Sony – and even Apple – has always laboured under such criticisms.

Sony, meanwhile, is an audio giant that has gone from strength to strength, delivering consistently high levels of sound quality across its range of headphones and earbuds. These high standards are exemplified in the Award-winning Sony WH-1000XM5 over-ear headphones, a class-leading set of cans that, currently at around £300-350 (tested at £380 / $399 / AU$550), are in the same ballpark as the upcoming Beats Studio Pro (£349.99 / $349.99).

That makes the WH-1000XM5 and Studio Pro direct competitors and leads us to examine just exactly what Beats' effort will have to do if they're to come close to what the Sony cans offer, or even stop it in its tracks.  

Sound quality 

Beats Studio Pro

(Image credit: Beats)

Beats’ record leading up to the Studio Pro hasn’t been disastrous, but it’s certainly been patchy. The basic Studio Buds we tested late last year were a strong effort, but they still suffered from a harsh treble and no on-device volume control. The Beats Fit Pro were also a fun pair of buds that offered a more mature balance and were dynamically exciting, even if a slightly excitable treble gave the edge to more authentic-sounding Apple and Sony rivals. Meanwhile, the newer Studio Buds + failed to impress us with their lack of detail and sonic texture when compared with such strong competition.

Rather tellingly, it’s been a long time since we awarded any Beats product the full five stars, so much so that our list of the best Beats headphones doesn’t contain a single five-star product.

It's this constant propensity for either overly-thumping bass tones or rather shrill trebles that have hindered multiple Beats models in the past. Sony seems to nail its sound presentation every single time there's a new release, so the Studio Pro have certainly got their work cut out if they want to deliver a natural, even-toned balance to compete against the best.

More detail and texture, more balance across the frequencies and a greater sense of musicality are all required if the Studio Pro are going to come close to the Sony XM5's level of performance.

Battery life

Sony WH-1000XM5

(Image credit: Sony/John Lewis)

The Sony XM5 boast a decent battery span of around 30 hours with Bluetooth and active noise-cancelling (ANC) both enabled, although if you switch ANC off you'll be treated to up to 40 hours, a pretty substantial figure. A ten-minute charge provides five hours of playtime, while a separate USB PD charger can give you three hours in a measly three minutes. 

Over to the Beats and it's a similar story. Beats has teased that the Studio Pro will equip you with 40 hours of listening without ANC and Transparency Mode, but that figure does fall to 24 hours with either of said modes activated. Four hours of playback, meanwhile, is granted from a ten-minute charge courtesy of the Beats Fast Fuel feature.

As it stands, then, this is looking like a potential win for the Sony XM5s for the extra handful of hours, although real-life numbers always vary depending on factors such as how loud you listen to music and any extra features that are turned on.

Comfort and ease of use

Sony WH-1000XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are made to a very high standard with a streamlined design that looks and feels worthy of its high asking price. In our review, we did cite a few design issues with the new-look model, mainly that it doesn't fold away fully as in previous generations and there are small niggles with the protruding headband sliders. Still, the construction quality is high, and the memory foam earpads and synthetic leather headband delivered some of the best comfort and fit we'd ever experienced from a pair of Sony over-ear cans.

Beats products have, conversely, been accused in the past of prioritising style over audio substance in the past. That said, build quality and durability go beyond the purely aesthetic when you're listening to your tunes for long periods, so they're still major factors you should consider when the time comes to purchase a new pair of over-ears. 

While we haven't reviewed the new Beats headphones yet, we can look to other recent models as a reference point. For instance, we criticised the more affordable Beats Solo 3 Wireless (£199.95 / $199) as having a fit that was too tight, and while the build quality was of a decently high standard, it didn't blow us away, either. The new Studio Pro may have a familiar-looking design, but we expect a certain level of fit and finish at this higher price point that Beats is aiming for. Here's hoping the Studio Pro absolutely nail it in terms of style, sturdiness and comfort.


Beats Studio Pro

(Image credit: Beats)

This is where the Beats could really prove something of a dark horse. The Studio Pro will reportedly support Apple Spatial Audio alongside dynamic head tracking for “theatre-like sound” with Dolby Atmos tracks. You can even personalise the spatial audio effect using your phone, something you can do with the latest AirPods Pro 2 earbuds. That could be a serious win for the Beats over-ears if you're a fan of the immersive audio format.

Beats also teased hi-res support details, with the headphones sporting a 24-bit/48kHz DAC that can play 24-bit tracks from hi-res services such as Amazon MusicApple Music and Tidal. Sadly, that's only possible via the wired USB-C connection. Streaming 24-bit audio over wireless isn't possible as the cans only support the standard SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. You can also play lossless audio using the 3.5mm headphone port, but only as long as you also use an external DAC in between the headphones and your source.

Will this be enough to compete with the Sonys? The XM5 do feature the LDAC codec for high-quality audio streaming at higher bitrates over Bluetooth (e.g. 32-bit/96kHz quality at up to 990kbps data speeds, substantially higher than standard SBC's 328kbps but still lossy), while the brand's DSEE Extreme engine can intelligently upscale compressed music to near hi-res quality to decent effect. 

Meanwhile, features like Wearing Detection and Quick Attention are handy boosts to ease of use on the Sony, while the Beats' hands-free implementation of Siri, not to mention head-tracking spatial audio, make for a fascinating match-up. This could be a decision that could depend as much on personal preference and priorities as anything else.

Noise Cancellation

Beats Studio Pro

(Image credit: Beats)

ANC is a big deal these days, mainly because frequent commuters, travellers and urban dwellers are realising just how useful decent noise cancelling is for immersing you in the music you love with minimal interference from the outside world. The Studio Pro will offer two main noise cancelling modes: fully adaptive ANC and Transparency Mode which lets the outside world in. These go toe-to-toe with Sony's adaptive ANC and Ambient Mode. In essence, both sets are offering similar noise-cancelling features.

The struggle for the Beats will be when it comes to the performance and effectiveness of the two features. The XM5's automatic optimisation of ANC is excellent, up there with the class leaders in terms of its implementation, meaning the Studio Pro will have to seriously impress on this front. Still, if the ANC actually performs to a high standard, that will really put a feather in the Pro's cap, regardless of whether it matches Sony's supreme effort.


Here are the best headphones we've tested across all budgets

Read our full review of the Award-winning Sony WH-1000XM5 here 

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II vs Sony WF-1000XM4: which buds are better?

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied law and history at university before working as a freelance journalist covering TV and gaming for numerous platforms both online and in print. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or forcing himself to go long-distance running.

  • d3Xt3r
    With the newest firmware update, the WH-1000XM5 also supports head-tracking spatial audio, and also features multi-point LDAC, which could be a dealbreaker for some folks.