Beats has had a rebirth of sorts in recent years. Shedding its once loud, brash and boomy identity that attracted many young fans but repelled many audiophiles, the company has now evolved into a more elegant offering for today’s demanding wireless earbuds market. “Like Apple, but more fun” – that seems to be the unspoken tagline.
The Beats Studio Buds + (or Studio Buds Plus) is the newest wireless earbuds in the company’s range, offering all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a modern, mid-priced pair. There are upgrades galore from the previous model and acoustic technology inspired by its more decorated parent company, which surely can only mean good things, right?
Let’s talk price first. The Beats Studio Buds + enter the market at £180 / $170 / AU$269.95, which is a perfectly sensible amount to pay for a pair of well-featured ANC wireless earbuds. But the competition at this price is ferocious, with rivals poised to strike from every angle.
That includes the superb, Award-winning Sony WF-1000XM4, which have been around for a couple of years and can now be picked up for under £200 these days. Formidable. On the more budget end, there are two five-star rivals: JBL’s Live Pro 2 TWS (£130 / $150 / AU$200) and the Sony WF-C700N (£100 / $120 / AU$200).
But there’s also competition from within: the top-of-the-range Beats Fit Pro (£200 / $200 / AU$299) is an entertaining AirPods alternative, offering many iOS-only features for Android and Apple users alike, and delivering a more mature Beats sound quality than we’ve heard in years. And it’s not too far off the new Beats buds’ price, either.
Basically, the Studio Buds + don’t just have to better the performance of the original Studio Buds (which are now the cheapest option in Beats’ earbuds lineup at £130 / $150 / AU$200), but also have to stand alongside and be heard above some of the best-in-class performers. A tall order.
Build & design
Anyone familiar with the original Buds won’t find any surprises with the new model’s design. They’re nigh-on identical, with small cosmetic changes – a smaller ‘b’ icon on the smaller control plate – the only obvious differences.
The buds remain dinky and lightweight but well-built, and nestle snugly in our ears. The charging case is a smooth pebble-shaped affair that is easily pocketable and even feels sturdier than the larger, plasticky-feeling case of the Fit Pro.
We can see why Beats hasn’t felt the need to upgrade the design and style; why change it if it works so well? As a nod to offering better fit for everyone, the new Buds + now comes with a new XS ear tip size alongside the usual S, M, L options.
We’d highly recommend playing around with the different ear tips to get the best performance; don’t just bung them on with the tip that comes fitted out of the box. It might fit securely, but they might not offer the best seal, and therefore not sound their best. This happened with us on our first go, where we found the sound a bit too top-heavy and with little bass. That didn’t sound right, so we levelled up to a larger tip size and were rewarded with a more balanced sound across the frequencies. We wish Beats had included an ‘ear tip fit test’ in the app like you get with various other earbuds (Beats Fit Pro, AirPods Pro 2, JBL Live Pro 2 TWS…) to ensure users had the right tip size for sound, not just fit.
Type True wireless earbuds
Codecs supported AAC, SBC
Active noise-cancelling? Yes
Spatial Audio? Yes
Battery life 6 hours (earbuds with ANC on), total 27 hours (with charging case); 9 hours (earbuds ANC off), total 36 hours (with charging case)
Earbuds weight 5g (per earbud)
Charging case weight 49g
Finishes x3 (transparent, ivory, black/gold)
Unlike AirPods (and many others) that use a variety of touch or gesture controls, Beats has stuck with physical button presses on its earbuds. We really like this, as it means there aren’t any accidental swipes or thinking twice about whether you’ve pinched or pressed long enough for the right action. The controls are basic but intuitive for music playback, changing volume and noise modes, summoning Siri and taking calls. The clicky feedback you get every time is reassuring, and each click is responsive. Using the Buds + is plain sailing right from the start.
You can get the new Buds + currently in three finishes: the black and gold of our review sample, ivory, and an on-trend transparent model (not too dissimilar to the Nothing Ear (2) buds). The other Beats models often get new colourful options added (many new finishes have been added to the Fit Pro since launch, for instance), so we fully expect that more shades will be available in the future.
While not much has changed on the outside, it’s inside where all the upgrades lurk. There are now three new acoustic vents that are designed to offer better airflow, which in turn should improve both sound quality and active noise-cancellation (ANC). How? By offering better bass reproduction, a more open soundstage and by relieving the pressure on the ears, says Beats, meaning they should be more comfortable to wear for longer periods, even with ANC turned on.
We’ve encountered this before in Apple’s flagship AirPods Pro 2, where an improved venting system and better airflow transformed the acoustic quality and listening experience. We imagine Beats has taken a leaf out of its parent company’s acoustic design playbook here.
The buds have also been updated with three larger microphones which, along with a more powerful processor and new vent system, promise two-fold improved Transparency Mode and clearer call quality.
In practice, Transparency Mode benefits the most from the new vents. The sound is clearer and more airy compared with the same mode on the original Buds model. ANC quality is what you’d expect for the price, but not outstanding: train engine rumblings and office chatter are dimmed but not entirely erased. There’s no way to customise the level of ANC as you can on the JBL Live Pro 2 TWS, with only on and off options available. We wouldn’t recommend the Buds + if you wanted pure silence on a long haul flight, but they’re decent enough for a bit of respite from everyday noise.
Voices sound clear and natural over phone and video calls, with our colleague on the other end confirming that there’s less outside noise creeping into calls when using the Buds + over the older Buds.
Elsewhere, battery life is improved by an hour to six hours on the buds on a single charge, jumping to a total of 24 hours with the charging case with ANC turned on. That’s on par with the AirPods Pro 2, which is impressive. During our weeks of testing, we were never caught short, only having to charge the buds up once or twice a week even when using them every day.
The battery life extends to nine hours (single charge) and 36 hours (total) if you have ANC turned off. If you’re not heavily reliant on ANC, we’d recommend turning the mode off entirely both for better sound quality and to prolong the battery life. As is standard now, a five-minute fast charge with the supplied USB-C cable will give you an extra hour of playtime.
Bluetooth 5.3 is on board, with support for the standard SBC and AAC codecs. Like Apple’s entire AirPods range, there’s no sign of Beats adopting any higher-quality codecs like aptX or LDAC. Spatial audio fans will be happy to hear that these Beats will play Dolby Atmos-powered songs in the immersive format, too.
One of Beats’ calling cards is that it brings many iOS-only features that AirPods users natively enjoy to Android users too, thanks to the Beats app. This includes the swift one-touch pairing, being able to customise the controls on your earbuds (either change volume or switch between noise modes), renaming the buds, always-on Siri and auto switching between connected devices. All these features work a treat when connecting our Studio Buds + sample to a Samsung Galaxy S22+ smartphone (the instant pairing when reconnecting is a particular highlight), although you’ll always have a slicker advantage when using the Buds Plus with an iPhone.
Beats uses a custom two-layer transducer in each bud and, with the new acoustic venting system, aims to deliver a “powerful, balanced sound”. It has mixed success.
The Studio Buds + certainly pack a punch, coming through loud and powerful with every song. There’s a decent wallop and heft to the lower frequencies, which drives the rhythm along. Play Taylor Swift or Eminem, Wet Leg or Agnes Obel, and you’re met with a clean, open sound that has plenty of attack. Edges of instruments are drawn neatly and crisply, too.
There’s a pleasing clarity to songs, although we’re aware from the start of a hard edge that never seems to soften no matter how many hours of songs are played through these earbuds. The top end isn’t bright or harsh, but the Buds + have a balance that focuses on the impactful bass more, which can get tiring to some ears over time.
Do the new vents make as big a difference here as they did in the AirPods Pro 2? No, they don’t. While they sound bigger than the older Buds, they’re not quite as naturally open and dynamically subtle as the AirPods Pro or the rival Sonys.
What we’re missing from the Buds + is a whole layer of detail and texture, without which we don’t get the full effect of the lush, velvety tones of the cello or Obel’s ethereal voice in The Cursed. The Sonys manage to dig up so much more subtlety and offer more precise timing – they simply sound more entertaining and authentic. The interplay of the brooding bassline, snappy drums and various samples are knitted together in a more cohesive and dynamically engaging manner through the Sonys; through the Buds + they can sound a tad disconnected.
There are numerous talented new wireless earbuds that have entered the market since we reviewed the original Buds and gave them four stars. In today’s climate, the Studio Buds + face far more competition at its price point. And the standard keeps getting raised higher and higher. The fact that you can now get the terrific Award-winning Sony XM4s at a similar (and sometimes lower) price is challenging for buds like the Beats, as they are easily where we’d recommend you spend your money if sound quality is (and should be) a priority.
Troubling the Studio Buds + is also that we prefer the sound of Beats’ own Fit Pro, which are only £20 pricier. Tonally, the Fit Pro are more balanced, have a more easygoing presentation and are more dynamically fluid. Ultimately, they’re the more comfortable and likeable listen over longer periods.
The Beats Studio Buds + are a fine example of features-packed wireless earbuds that are neatly designed and tick all the right boxes, but fall short of the audio performance we’d expect at this level. There are simply far too many other, more capable, brilliant-sounding wireless earbuds that offer similar or more features, at the same price, and that are more fun to listen to on a daily basis.
- Sound 3
- Comfort 5
- Features 4
Read our review of the Sony WF-1000XM4
Also consider the Sony WF-C700N
Read our Beats Fit Pro review