What We Like
- The sound is the best Beats have done so far.
- An attractive, comfortable design.
- 40 hours of battery is pretty much unprecedented.
What We Don’t Like
- They’re expensive. Make sure you need the extras.
As part of Apple’s 2016 push to remove the wires from absolutely everything that had ever had any, their subsidiary, Beats, made a similar leap towards fully embracing the brave new world of wireless. But how did they do?
Love them or loathe them on principle, Beats have always been good at designing headphones that look the part. Whilst detractors will claim that this is at the expense of proper care and attention to the things that matter—audio, features, audio again—, those who enjoy the modern icon that the Beats aesthetic has become will have a lot to enjoy with the Solo3s.
Available in a vast array of eight color combinations (another thing Beats has always done well at), the Solo3 is a strikingly simple design that basically looks as stripped back and minimalistic as headphones can realistically achieve. The Beats branding itself is fairly subtle, generally blending into the design rather than standing out in too garish a fashion.
The Solo3s are more than just a pretty face, however. The design is highly functional and allows the earpads to fold in on themselves in a fairly unique way to create a much smaller, safer package for transportation. This is a real plus: you don’t want to spend this much on headphones only to have to lug them around in a giant case.
Overall, it’s a good looking, comfortable design that doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to itself.
Starting off with the most technical achievement, the Solo3s feature the same W1 chip that powers Apple’s broadly well-received AirPods.If you’re an iOS user this provides some additional benefits: easier Bluetooth pairing, a greatly improved range, and the ability to switch seamlessly between various devices. Worry not, non-iOS folk: the connection still works great without this integration; it’s a standard wireless headphone experience.
The Beats logo on the left earcup cleverly houses the main function button of the remote control. Depending on how many times you tap it, you can control play/pause functionality, answer or end calls, and skip forwards or backwards through tracks. Tapping directly above or below this concealed button gives you your volume control. You’ll also find the 3.5mm connector for if you want to switch to wired/passive mode. It’s all pretty damn slick. On the right earcup, you’ll find the micro USB port—not a lighting port; worth noting—for charging the Solo3s as well as the power button which doubles as a pairing button
The headphones ship with a couple of nice (though not massively useful) extras: a carabiner, some stickers, and a padded carrying pouch. The most useful addition is the audio cable which facilitates the switch to wired/passive mode and has an inline remote and microphone of its own.
Whether or not you’re using iOS, the connectivity is fantastic. Pairing is simple and fast, and the range is more than ample. We didn’t experience anything approaching skipping, lag, or audio cut-outs during our tests.
And now we come down to the crunch: are the Beats naysayers right after all? Are they all form and no function?
Absolutely not. In fact, the Solo3s are a vast, noticeable improvement over previous Beats offerings. At last, responding to their critics, Beats has managed to tone down the bass-forward response so that the rest of the mix can shine alongside it. This is not to say that the bass is gone or at all lacking, far from it. It’s still prominent in a way that will appeal to people who enjoy their signature sound. But it no longer overwhelms or sounds too artificial; mids and highs can finally have their day in the sun.
The last thing to mention is the absolute game changer that is a 40 hour battery life. It blows away the competition in a big way. And, thanks to what they call Fast Fuel, you can get around 3 hours of battery life from just a 5-minute charge. It’s pretty exceptional.
It’s time to put aside all our previously-held prejudices towards Beats as a fashion product rather than serious piece of audio equipment. The Solo3s are proof that they can combine great design, quality sound, and an insane battery life.