Beats Studio Buds review: These are the AirPods Pro Lite
“In the Studio Buds, Beats found a perfect balance between features and price.”
- Good sound quality
- Good ANC
- Good transparency
- Very comfortable
- No wireless charging
- No wear sensors
- No EQ or control customization
With the exception of the Powerbeats Pro, which are primarily geared toward athletes, Beats by Dre has never made a pair of true wireless earbuds for everyday use. That surprising omission has finally been addressed with the new $150 Beats Studio Buds, a set of ultracompact, active noise-canceling (ANC) earbuds that offer most of the benefits of the AirPods Pro at a substantially lower price. Are these the true wireless earbuds you’ve been waiting for? Let’s find out.
What’s in the box?
Following a growing trend across the industry that we’re delighted to see, the Studio Buds come in a tiny cardboard box that has less structural rigidity than a package of Rice Krispies. That means way less material to discard, and it’s entirely recyclable.
Once nestled in your ears, the earbuds protrude only a tiny amount.
Inside, you’ll find the Studio Buds already in their charging case, two extra sets of silicone eartips (mediums are installed by default), some paper documentation, and a very short USB-C to USB-C charging cable. Given that there are still loads of folks out there without a USB-C port on their laptop or tablet, or a USB-C charger for that matter, I think Beats should have included a USB-A to USB-C adapter. Keep this in mind if you’re among the “no USB-C” crowd.
The tiny Studio Buds use the same ear-canal-sealing eartips as the AirPods Pro. Instead of the AirPods’ iconic white stems, an unusual mohawk-like fin shape makes them a little easier to grasp with your fingers. At the tip of the fin is a single physical control button. The intent is that as you remove the Studio Buds from their case and angle them into your ears, you won’t inadvertently tap a touch control.
Once nestled in your ears, the earbuds protrude only a tiny amount — just enough to let you grab the fin or press the button.
Unlike the AirPods and AirPods Pro, the Studio Buds have no optical sensors, so they can’t autopause your tunes when you remove an earbud or resume playing when you reinsert it.
The Studio Buds also lack Apple’s H1 or W1 wireless chips but despite this, they’re still considered a class 1 Bluetooth device, and more importantly for Apple fans, they give you hands-free access to Siri (or push-button access to Google Assistant on Android devices).
In keeping with Beats’ reputation for headphones that are athlete-friendly, the Studio Buds have an IPX4 rating, which should be more than enough protection for a sweaty workout.
The Studio Buds are some of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve ever tried.
The charging case isn’t quite as compact as the one that comes with the AirPods or AirPods Pro, and it doesn’t offer wireless charging, but its totally rounded contours make it comfortable to hold and it’s still easily small enough to fit in your pocket.
A single LED on the front displays the case charging status, but to know how much of a charge the earbuds have, you’ll need to consult your phone.
Comfort, controls, and connections
The Studio Buds are some of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve ever tried. Their tiny shape and vented design reduces much of the “full ear” feeling that other in-ear earbuds can create. I had no problem with the default medium eartips, but with only two other sizes to choose from, it’s hard to say if everyone will be as lucky.
As with most physical buttons, the controls are precise and easy to use.
The rounded shape of the earbud body makes a lot of skin contact with the outer ear. When combined with a proper-fitting eartip, the Studio Buds provide a more secure fit than the AirPods Pro. You may not get the confidence-inspiring grasp of an earhook design like the Powerbeats Pro, but I doubt these buds will shake loose accidentally.
As with most physical buttons, the controls are precise and easy to use. One click handles play/pause/call answer/call end, two clicks will skip forward, and three clicks will skip back. Unfortunately, there’s no way to modify these, and no way to control volume. Click and hold will toggle your ANC mode or activate your voice assistant, depending on which earbud you use.
I’d prefer some customization options here, but the flip side is that you can use each earbud independently and the controls remain the same.
Pairing the Studio Buds is fast and easy on both iOS and Android. Simply opening the case lid while it’s near your phone is usually enough to trigger a one-tap pairing notification, and that’s all there is to it.
They don’t support Bluetooth multipoint for pairing to two devices simultaneously (but this is a very rare feature on wireless earbuds). Bluetooth range is excellent: I was able to get about 80 feet of distance when outside, and there wasn’t any problem when roaming around inside. The connection stayed rock-solid the entire time, which we weren’t able to say about the Powerbeats Pro.
The Beats Studio Buds won’t disappoint Beats fans: They possess the same bass-forward sound signature that the brand is known for. As with all in-ear earbuds, the fit will determine how powerful that low-end gets. While I found both medium and large eartips to be comfortable, the large tips delivered more bass response.
The bass isn’t quite as snappy as you’ll get on more expensive earbuds like the Jabra Elite 85t or Sony WF-1000XM4, but for the price, it’s decent enough, and it’s actually better balanced than the similarly priced Jabra Elite 75t.
Thankfully, that deep bass is balanced by the rest of the frequencies and only occasionally creeps into the lower midranges where it can have a slightly muddying effect. As with other Beats products, hip-hop, EDM, and rap music sound amazing, but there’s enough detail in the mids and highs to enjoy plenty of other genres, too.
The Studio Buds have very good noise canceling.
Beats and Apple headphones have never offered EQ adjustments, which has never made sense to me. Earbuds ship with different sizes of eartips because everyone’s ears are different. To me, having an EQ adjustment adresses the dame type of issue — not everyone will like the way the earbuds come tuned from the factory.
Noise cancellation and transparency
I know that ANC is becoming increasingly affordable — heck, you can now get ANC true wireless earbuds for well under $100 — but I’m still impressed that Beats was able to add it to Studio Buds and keep the price at $150.
See, not all ANC is created equal. Bad ANC is simply pointless, often introducing as much new noise in the form of hiss as it seeks to cancel. The Studio Buds have very good noise canceling. It’s not as good as what you’ll get from the AirPods Pro, Jabra Elite 85t, or Sony WF-1000XM4, but they’re solid performers, shaving off both low- and high-frequency sounds.
What’s more impressive is that they achieve this level of ANC despite their vented design. Vents let a small amount of air into the ear to offset the plugged feeling that closed earbuds can create, but this can make noise cancellation less effective. If I hadn’t been aware that the Studio Buds were vented, I wouldn’t have known based on their ANC performance.
Transparency mode falls into similar territory — it’s not exactly the “feels like I’m not wearing earbuds” effect of the AirPods Pro, but it’s more than adequate for having conversations or simply staying aware of potential hazards like traffic.
At launch, the earbuds will force you to toggle between ANC, transparency, and off modes, but Beats tells me that a future firmware update will let you choose to use only two of these when doing a click and hold.
It would be nice to be able to fine-tune both ANC and transparency, but just like the EQ situation, that’s just not in the cards for the Studio Buds.
Despite packing six microphones in total, the Studio Buds did not wow me with their call quality. Background sounds were kept from becoming too annoying, but they were certainly audible. Some noises, like passing cars, were diminished a lot, while others — like bird song — didn’t seem to be affected at all.
As the noise-canceling mics deal with these sounds, they struggle to keep your voice perfectly clear. There’s a fair amount of wobble, and at times it feels like you’re far away from the mic.
Things improve considerably when indoors, where they work just fine.
Find my buds
Apple’s Find My platform is the ultimate lost item tracking service, with millions of iOS devices around the world constantly scanning for compatible products like AirTags or Apple Watches. The Studio Buds belong to this list, too. They also work with Google’s Find My function if you pair them with an Android device.
The only small drawback is that the earbuds can only be forced to emit a sound when they’re not in their case.
The Studio Buds are notable for being the first Beats product to play (almost as) nicely with Android devices as with iPhones. There’s a Beats app you can download from the Google Play Store for software updates and to check on battery life, but at the moment, it doesn’t give you access to ANC modes or click-and-hold options the way you can with iOS.
Beats claims eight hours per charge for the earbuds with ANC and transparency turned off. When you include the two full charges in the charging case, that gets you to about 24 hours of total play time. Turn on ANC and those numbers drop quite a lot, to five and 15 respectively.
With the volume set at 50%, these claims are very accurate. In fact, I was able to eke out nine hours with ANC and transparency turned off.
There’s also a quick-charge option: Five minutes of socket time will grab you an extra hour of life.
Let’s put this in perspective: The Powerbeats Pro get nine hours/24 hours, but that’s because they don’t have ANC. The AirPods Pro get 4.5 hours per charge (ANC on) or five hours (ANC off) and about 24 hours total with their case. So, while the Studio Buds may not win the overall award for best endurance, they’re on par or better than other Apple/Beats true wireless models.
With a tiny size, comfortable fit, great sound quality, and ANC that gets the job done, the $150 Beats Studio Buds are easily the best value of the entire Beats/AirPods range of wireless headphones.
Is there a better alternative?
I don’t think there is a better alternative to the Studio Buds given their $150 price, but as long as hands-free Siri isn’t a top item on your wish list, thedeserve serious consideration. They sound great (though perhaps not quite as clear as the Studio Buds), and they have very good ANC and transparency, as well as slightly better battery life and tons of features like EQ and control customization. There’s also a Find My Earbuds option, thanks to the super Jabra Sound+ app.
How long will they last?
With an IPX4 rating and what appears to be decent build quality, the Studio Buds should continue to work well for many years of use. Battery longevity is always an issue with these kinds of headphones, and you will likely see a drop in how much charge they’re able to hold over time. They come with a one-year warranty from Apple.
Should you buy them?
Yes. Even if you’re not an iPhone user, the Studio Buds make an excellent and affordable companion for music and movies.