It's been almost a decade since Apple bought Beats, and in that time the brand has been on a bit of a journey trying to find a new identity under its new owners.
Once known for its eye-catching, fashion-conscious over-ears, we now haven't seen a launch like that from the brand in almost six years. Instead, the focus has more recently been shifted to true wireless earbuds - a market you'd think Apple has sewn up with the AirPods - except for one small thing… full Android compatibility.
Beats Studio Buds+ are the latest addition to this line up, and sit as the middle child between the original Beats Studio Buds and the Beats Fit Pro in the pick of the best Beats headphones.
They're cheaper than the AirPods Pro 2, and have snazzier designs to boot. Most importantly, they serve up a similar experience for Apple and Android users for universal appeal.
How do they perform? Here's our full review.
Beats Studio Buds+
The Beats Studio Buds+ are a fun, energetic listen that offer improved noise cancellation and better battery life. You'll find a touch more refinement in pricier buds but the total package on offer here is fantastic for the price.
- Fun, energetic sound
- Spacious soundstage
- Good noise cancellation at its level
- Comfortable design
- Treble lacks some refinement
- No wear sensor
- No wireless charging
- More eco-friendly materials used
- Dimensions: 15.6 x 21.6 x 19.8mm (earbud), 51.5 x 73 x 25.6mm (case)
- Weight: 5g per bud, 49g for the case (59g total)
- Four eartips for best fit - XS, S, M, L
At first glance, you might not immediately notice anything new in the design of the Beats Studio Buds+. They come in a near identical curved, pebble-like case, and keep the same in-ear design that sets them very firmly apart from their stemmy Airpods cousins.
There are now a choice of four ear tips to choose from, the new addition being an XS size, alongside some subtle changes to the curves in the casing that allow these buds to sit even better in your ears.
The pill-like shape that tops them works both as a grip for twisting them into your ear to secure them, as well as a carrying a physical button across its surface that allows you to control music, calls, noise cancelling and volume, all with the standard series of clicks and holds.
This button is much more clicky than last year, and we personally appreciate the more explicit feedback. It's nice and easy to press too so you don't feel like you're shoving the earbuds deeper into your ears with every push.
At 5g per bud, the Studio Buds+ are lightweight and sit comfortably in the ear for long periods. We had no problem sitting at our laptop wearing them for most of the day, listening to music and taking calls, without the need to remove them for a break.
In terms of colour choice, there is a new transparent colourway this year, which joins the ivory and black and gold from last year. We haven't been able to see the transparent in real life, but it looks very nice indeed and we'd hasten a guess it's going to be the pick of the bunch - still the black finish of our review sample is smart and understated. We'd have quite liked to have seen some of the wackier colours from the Fits Pro line here too though.
- Adaptive noise cancellation
- 1.6x improved ANC, 2x better transparency mode
- Universal functionality for Apple and Android users
- IPX4 rated
While the Beats Studio Buds+ might look similar on the outside, Beats says that 95 per cent of the internals are brand new - with a focus on delivering better noise cancelling, better voice performance and improved battery life.
The acoustic architecture has been completely redesigned from the ground up, with a new venting system across both front and rear acoustic chambers to improve airflow.
Not only does this allow for more air to the new, custom-built transducers, increasing diaphragm flex for cleaner bass and lower distortion, but it also helps to improve air release in the buds too, reducing pressure for more comfortable, longer listening sessions.
The driver architecture has also been rejigged to sit in parallel to the acoustic nozzle, delivering sound more directly into the ear canal to prioritise sound performance, while the rest of the acoustic and electrical components have been rearranged to prioritise sound and fit - making the most of that increased airflow.
All three of the in-built mics are now three times larger to help improve call quality and noise cancelling, with improved sensitivity and higher signal-to-noise ratio.
Unlike the one-size-fits-all noise cancellation of their predecessors, the ANC here adapts itself to everyone's fit, and at every wear - the Beats Studio Buds+ understand how they are sitting in the ear canal and calculate their ANC performance based on that.
This improvement is down to having the ANC processing as part of the buds' primary chipset, creating a fully integrated architecture that - when combined with the improved microphone performance - can produce a more effective and efficient ANC response.
That's the only customisation to the noise cancellation here though. There's an effective transparency mode for when you need more insight into your surroundings, but tweaking the amount of noise cancellation you experience further than that is not possible here.
We're always on the fence about how useful these controls are anyway, but if you're a fan just know you won't find them here.
Still, noise cancellation is quoted to be 1.6x more powerful in the Studio Buds+, with a 2x improved transparency mode to boot. Not bad stats at all.
You'll get the same amount of splashproofing here as last year - an IPX4 rating which should cover you just fine if you wanted to use these in the gym.
The fit is stable enough to allow this, we'd say, though obviously if exercise is your primary concern, the winged tips on the Beats Fits Pro might be more suitable.
Unlike the Beats Fits Pro though, there's no Apple H1 chip here, and that is for good reason. The Beats Studio Buds+ want to appeal in broad terms, to both Apple and Android users, with no favouritism levied at all. That means that all users should get a similar experience when it comes to connection and control.
That applies from the get-go, with one-touch pairing. Apple devices are prompted with an on-screen animation upon opening the case - similarly to when using AirPods - while Android users can use Google Fast Pair to get connected in a single tap.
In both instances, once connected, the buds are added to your iCloud or Google account so you can quickly pair with other devices you have registered. There's also the option for multi-point support and the ability for lost buds to be found using Find My/Find My Device functionality.
The main difference in experience is that Android users will need to download the Beats app for control, customisation and firmware updates, while Apple users will find this baked into their settings menu as standard, and will receive over-the-air updates automatically. Apple users will also have hands-free Siri access,
Even so, there are very few earbuds - to our knowledge - offering quite such a homogenous approach and feature set to both ends of the market, giving the Beats Studio Buds+ real appeal to all users.
- Six hours playback (ANC on), nine hours with ANC off
- 36 hours total with case
- Fast Fuel fast charging
Battery life has been improved on last year, offering 50 per cent more battery in the case and 16 per cent more battery life from the buds.
That means you'll get up to nine hours from the buds per listen with ANC off, or six hours with it on - and we'd say this is accurate from our experience during testing.
You'll get an additional 27 hours in the case - three whole wears - for a total of 36 hours of playback (with ANC off) compared with the previous version's 24 hours, which isn't bad going at all.
Fast Fuel returns to give you one hour of playback from five minutes on charge, but once again there's no wireless charging here - you'll need to physically plug these in via the USB-C port on the bottom of the case when it's time to recharge.
Do remember to dock your headphones when you're finished with them too. There's no standby mode when not in use, so your headphones will simply drain their battery if just left on the side. Fast Fuel does come to the rescue in these situations, thankfully (and saved us a couple of times during this review).
Beats told us that when it came to audio performance, the sound profile of the Beats Studio Buds+ have been mapped very closely to that of their predecessors. You won't hear a huge change in the sound or character here, but the improvements throughout the buds should create a much improved experience across the board, alongside some improvements to bass response and soundstage.
We stream Special by Lizzo from Tidal and the Beats Studio Buds+ show their hand from the get go. They waste no time at taking command of the song, allowing the multi-layered intro plenty of space for the various elements to take the stage, so you can hear and appreciate each part for its difference in texture, character and dynamics.
When the bass drops and the song kicks in, the Studio Buds+ take this change tempo in their stride. Bass here is rich, weighty and well considered for a pair of headphones at this level. There's plenty of it, but Beats has long refined its performance in the low end, so it's expansive but stays in its lane and is never overpowering.
Lizzo's voice sits happily atop this bouncing bass beat - clean, clear and detailed - and unaffected by the weight of the bass sitting below it. The twinkling sound effect that provides a tonic to all of the song's rumbly warmth is picked out with crisp precision too, and the Studio Buds+ do a great job of bringing everything together into a cohesive, dynamic whole.
It's fair to say there's nothing laid back about the Studio Buds+. They do the sonic equivalent of grab you by the collar and demand you pay attention. While the solidity and authority through the bass have something to do with that, the upper mids and treble are actually more the cause - propelling your music along with drive and determination.
It makes for an involving and energetic listen, but perhaps ever so slightly tiring for longer listening sessions with some genres. You'll notice this the most in songs that play more heavily in that frequency range.
A playthrough of Anna Molly by Incubus is a prime example, with all of its thrashing guitars and cymbal crashes. The clarity and insight the Studio Buds+ is aiming to deliver is admirable, but there's a touch of refinement missing compared with the AirPods Pro 2, which are just a more comfortable listen.
They're overall warmer and perhaps a touch less exciting to boot, but the extra subtlety they deliver helps to keep things a little more balanced. Taking the volume down a few notches helps to soften the Studio Buds+ up if you need to - and it's fair to say we listen towards the upper limits of what would be considered advisable - but music with some low end to help balance out that treble is when you'll hear them at their best.
And when you do, they really do shine for headphones at this price. Timing is good, the soundstage is large and convincing and there's insight aplenty. Feed them Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes and they deliver the iconic bass guitar intro with confidence, while keeping the punching kick drum in line .
As each new element is added to the mix - vocals, drums, guitars - the Studio Buds+ take every part in their stride, voicing them precisely, without missing a beat.
The only one thing we miss here? A wear sensor, or auto pause when we remove the buds. Most of our daily drivers tend to have this built in and so the lack of it here was really noticeable to us - particularly when you can find it in cheaper buds, like the Nothing Ear (2). It's a small feature but one we really wish was included.
Turning to noise cancelling and the Studio Buds do a decent job for their price. Let's get the obvious out of the way - they won't compete with the likes of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, nor the Sony WF-1000XM4 - but they take a relatively good fight to the AirPods Pro 2 for what they manage to block out in the low end. Their Apple stablemates probably do pip it for absolute quiet from the low-end traffic rumbles and take the sting out of higher frequency notes a bit better too - but the Beats do a great job here, particularly when music is playing. We found ourselves feeling rarely interrupted by sounds creeping in.
The transparency mode is a good one too. If you need to keep your ear on things around you, you don't have to do so at the detriment to sound quality, and things sound natural and balanced.
Those improved mics are obviously doing their thing too, as call quality was good in our experience too.
Our callers said we were a little muffled compared with speaking into the phone speaker - as you'd expect - but still clear enough, and even when standing by a really busy road, they were unable to hear the road noise. By comparison, the AirPods Pro 2 picked up a lot more road noise, according to our caller.
In the Beats Studio Buds+, we have the headphones that the Beats Studio Buds arguably always should have been, with a honed experience that keeps them competitive.
Sound remains as full bodied and energetic as we remember it, but we now have significantly improved noise cancelling, a more comfortable fit and better battery life, which all add to the experience considerably.
While we wouldn't want to take away any of their enthusiasm, they could do with a touch more refinement through the treble for those longer listening sessions though, and we'd love a wear sensor for pausing our tracks when we take out a bud, too. Wireless charging wouldn't go amiss either.
Still, the full package that's on offer here for $169.99/£179.99 is very competitive indeed, and with the universal compatibility they offer, they appeal to Android users just as much as they do Apple's.
Are these the best Beats buds yet? That really depends on what you're looking for. Beats Fit Pro arguably sound a bit better, and offer a better design for the gym if that's what you need. But there's no denying the broader appeal here, not to mention the cheaper price. For a lot of people looking in the sub $200/£200 market, the Beats Studio Buds+ will tick every box.