Apple has in a few short years managed to completely dominate the wireless earbud market. Since the launch of the original generation of AirPods in late 2016, the in-ear headphones have become a cultural phenomenon, and are likely the best-selling earbuds on the planet.
But as of yet, Apple hasn’t translated that success into higher-price headphones. Many iPhone owners, who may be willing to part with a sizable chunk of cash to complement the ecosystem of Apple devices they carry with them, have not had the option to. Instead, they would have to turn to other companies’ great products, like Bose’s QC 35 IIs, or Sony’s difficult-to-remember WH-1000XM3 headphones. There’s still a chance that Apple will produce its own wireless, noise-canceling headphones—rumors continue to fly—but for now, Apple has a surprisingly competent pair of headphones produced by Beats, the company started by Monster Electronics and Dr. Dre back in 2014.
Beats recently released its new Solo Pro wireless headphones, and Quartz spent the week with them to see how they fared.
Easy to turn on and off. This is a really smart piece of engineering from Beats (or Apple?)—instead of having an on/off switch, the Solo Pros turn off or on when you fold or unfold the headphones. The number of times I’ve had a pair of wireless headphones die on me because I forgot to turn them off after I’m done with them really makes these headphones worth it just for this feature.
They cancel noise well. Although they’re not likely going to be the most effective noise-canceling headphones you’ve ever used (more on that below), they block out surprisingly well for what they are. I used them on a few flights this week, and was impressed by how quiet they made the experiences. Wearing them at home right now writing this, I can’t hear the screaming children down the hallway or the pile-driver at the construction site across the street that I definitely didn’t think about when I decided to work from home today.
They use a Lightning cable. If you’re bought into the Apple ecosystem, you’ll certainly appreciate having to carry around just one cable to charge your iPhone and your headphones.
Long battery life. Beats says the headphones can get around 22 hours of battery life on a single charge (or up to 40 if you turn off the noise-canceling software), and I found myself barely needing to charge them in a week’s worth of on-and-off usage.
Pretty comfortable. Headphones that press onto the sides of your head are rarely comfortable things to wear for long periods of time, but the Color Pros have a ton of cushioning on the ear cups. I didn’t wear mine for more than about two hours at any given time when I was reviewing them, but I didn’t find them bothering me.
Siri works. Much like on the most recent AirPods, you can summon Siri just by saying “Hey Siri” while wearing these headphones. It works well, but I’m not sure it’s something you’ll really want to do that often.
Solid colors. Most people seem to choose black for headphones, but the Solo Pros come in some excellent colors. I’m partial to the navy blue, and they also come in a quite Apple-esque “ivory.”
They just work. Apple products, when they succeed, are excellent because using them is a stress-free experience. The company hasn’t always achieved that of late, but AirPods are a great example of solid Apple design. You open them up for the first time, and your phone recognizes them and sets them up in seconds. There’s no fussing. The Solo Pro experience is effectively the same.
What’s not so good
They’re not over-ear headphones. There are two main types of bulky, studio headphones that you can buy: ones where the speaker cups sit on top of your ears, and ones where they cover your ear entirely. Unsurprisingly, the latter (called “over-ear headphones”) block out more sound, meaning you’re less likely to hear external noises. The Solo Pros sit on the ear, so there is still some leaking from the outside world that seeps in. Beats did release the Studio3 over-ear headphones back in September 2017, but they could do with the tech advances Apple has made in headphones since then.
They use a Lightning cable. Even if you’re in Apple’s world, you might have preferred a faster-charging USB-C cable, found on the iPad Pro, which is also generally used by every non-Apple product on the market these days.
They’re expensive. Like any good Apple product, the Solo Pros cost a lot. They start at $299.95, which is more in line with what larger, over-ear noise-canceling headphones tend to cost.
Should you buy them?
If you’re looking to graduate from Apple’s AirPods to something else with similarly tight integration to the company’s ecosystem, this is pretty much your best option. They might still have Beats’ logo on the side, but these are Apple hardware through and through, down to smarter design engineering and Apple circuitry. And for a pair of Beats headphones, they look good too.
But there are certainly other options for noise-canceling headphones at around the same price. I’m a big fan of my Bose QC 35 IIs, which have brought me through many flights, train rides, and loud days with ease. But if you want something that looks a little less like you spend a lot of time in airport lounges, Beats might be a better choice.
Apple has kept Beats at arm’s length since the acquisition, slowly integrating its products to its stores, and eventually opening up its engineering team to Beats devices. But it’s likely Apple will eventually make its own Apple-branded headphones in the future—where does Beats stand then?
For now, though, the Solo Pro are the best Apple headphones you can buy—even if the branding wouldn’t tell you that.