This Beats Studio Buds review looks at a product that's entering a very crowded landscape, with the best wireless earbuds rapidly dropping in price while more and more of them include active noise cancellation. But the Studio Buds have come in aggressively, offering a great price and ANC and fast-pairing and anti-loss features for both iPhone and Android – a very rare thing.
And Beats Studio Buds do it while being a lot less large and lumpy than most of the competition with equivalent features, making them cooler and more tempting to pick up.
There are other options with better battery life or better sound. But those typically excel in just one of those areas if they're at the same price or less or come with fewer features. As far as an all-around pick goes, the Beats Studio Buds are hard to beat. A plethora of features, pleasing audio and good looks make these an ideal partner for the road or the gym.
The main Beats Studio Buds flaws you need to know about are that the 15 hours of total battery life is on the short side compared to the competition and that they can only pair with one device, while some devices can switch between a couple of devices without needing to repair. If those don't sound like these issues, Beats Studio Buds are an excellent buy.
[UPDATE May 2023: We tested the successors of the bud, and you can read all about it here: Beats Studio Buds Plus review]
Beats Studio Buds Review: Price and Release Date
Beats Studio Buds were released in June 2021, and cost $149.99/£129.99/AU$199.99. This puts them in the middle of the pack for cost. The most famous rivals right now are AirPods Pro (in terms of Apple-friendly features and ANC), which now cost around $199/£199/AU$299, or the Sony WF-1000XM3, which now cost around $199/£140/AU$249.
However, another really key competitor is the Panasonic RZ-S500W, which also features ANC, and is regularly available for under $100/£100/AU$200 with heavy discounts.
Beats Studio Buds Review: Design and Features
The Beats Studio Buds riff slightly on the design of most wireless earbuds in an interesting way. They come in a color-matched charging case (there are three colors you can choose from: white, black and red). The charging case is all rounded, similar to the likes of the Huawei Freebuds 4i, and is minimally adorned. Besides the lid that exposes the buds, there’s a large 'b' logo on the front, a small LED below it that indicates when it’s charging or the lid is open and a USB-C charging port on the bottom.
When you open the lid, you’ll find two buds that are held in place by magnets, so they'll be less likely to fall out when dropped (which I saw first-hand when the charging case holding the buds had an accidental fall from my desk).
Compared to most noise-cancelling true wireless buds, they're impressively small. When earbuds don't have stems the way that AirPods do, companies have to increase volume to pack in all the microphones and sensors, and it can make them look very weird sticking out of your ears. But these Beats models feature a design that's both clever and usefully ergonomic. They extend away from the ears a bit, but taper to a thinner strip – which is then perfect for grabbing with your fingers. It makes them super easy to remove from the case, and to position or tweak in your ears. It's a great design.
On the end of these strips is a button emblazoned with a “b” that can control playback and noise control on the fly. Again, it's one of the best I've tested – you'll never accidentally press it (unlike touch-based buttons), and it's only light resistant, so pushing it doesn't mean shoving the bud deep into the ear.
As far as comfort goes, other than a slight bulkiness, they fit extremely well. They stay in place solidly in the gym through strenuous workouts, as well as long hikes. It should be noted they have an IPX4 rating, so sweat will have no effect on their performance.
One tester did wear them for a little under four hours and found their ear a little sore afterwards where the plastic part had been touching it, but that will vary by ear shape – and the same person said they found them very comfortable overall.
The earbuds also come with three sizes of silicon ear tips so that you can personalize the fit just a little bit.
Setup is a snap with these, whether you're on iPhone or Android. Instant pairing on both platforms means you just open the lid and follow the instructions on-screen. This is a first for Beats on Android, though it's worked this way on iPhones for a few years.
Adjusting controls can be done in the Bluetooth menu on iPhones, such as switching between ANC, off (no ANC), or Transparency mode. You can also change what a long press on the buds’ buttons does. You can also select which bud you want to change, and set it to either noise control (switching ANC modes) or voice assistant. On an Android device, you can download an app for access to the same features.
On that note, one of the best aspects of these earbuds is their universality. It’s no coincidence that the charging case comes with USB-C instead of a Lightning port. You get the fast pairing on both, as well as compatibility with Find My on iPhone and Find My Device on Android, so they're harder to lose.
On iPhone or iPad, they also support auto-switching to Dolby Atmos in Apple Music (which I've seen Beats describe as Spatial Audio support, but it doesn't actually support the full Spatial Audio head-tracking feature, so we don't count it). Beats also says that being able to invoke Siri just by saying "Hey Siri" will come, but isn't available yet.
The only real drawback regarding connectivity is that the Studio Buds can only pair with one device at a time. When paired with the phone, it will not connect to anything else even when the phone is off. When paired with a computer, it won’t connect with the phone. We’ve used plenty of Bluetooth devices over the last few years that could pair with multiple devices at once without issue. It’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. Re-pairing is fairly easy, of course.
One of the major features of these earbuds is the implementation of active noise cancellation or ANC and Transparency modes. While neither mode has blown us away, they work well enough, with the ANC being the most effective. When using ANC, the Beats Studio Buds can block all background noise in a crowded gym or when going for a walk when not right next to traffic. On a train, they do a really impressive job of cutting out the noise for the price – I've heard more expensive ANC buds handle it worse.
The transparency mode is a little less successful. You can certainly hear ambient noise better than you would without it, and it's great for knowing that someone is honking at you when you walk down the street. But it's not like speech or similar important elements really stand out – with music playing, it can be a bit of a din. It's at its best if you pause your music to hear, say, an airport announcement and just don't want to remove your buds.
Beats Studio Buds Review: Performance
The sound quality is probably the most important aspect of any pair of headphones, whether they be earbuds or a gaming headset. And, the Beats Studio Buds are able to deliver... for the most part.
The highs and mids are well balanced, so you’re able to hear everything clearly. The highs are detailed without being too bright and the mids are rich enough that you won’t feel like anything is missing.
However, it seems to struggle with dynamic range when bass and mid-range are both pounding. Bass is really full (though not overblown), and compared to some of the best-sounding headphones for the price, the mids will feel slightly recessed and compressed.
Beats tends to go for a pop-friendly sound profile that slightly boosts the bass and treble overall, and gives these plenty of energy and fun, but compared to the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ or Panasonic RZ-S500W (both around the same price), the sound is just a bit less expansive.
The Studio Buds offer accurate separation of the different elements in a mix, and do a good job with Dolby Atmos tracks, where that separation is really dialled up.
If for some reason, you like to leave your phone in one place and move around while listening to music, the Beats Studio Buds have great range. I was able to leave my phone at one end of my apartment playing music and walk to the other end (about 30 feet) without any connection issues or lag with music coming through as powerfully as if I was still sitting next to it.
The built-in microphones sound very good, as well. In fact, when testing this, most people on the other end of the call can’t tell a difference in sound quality than when I was speaking directly on the phone. That’s because these buds come equipped with six microphones, three per side, to make sure your voice comes out loud and clear and background noise does not.
Beats Studio Buds Review: Battery life
The battery life from the Studio Buds is a bit of a mixed bag. I was able to get just over five hours of use with ANC on from a single charge of the buds themselves. This is in line with what Beats advertises – five hours of use with ANC on and eight with it off. This is solid overall – not spectacular, but you have to spend more to get more, really, so we're good with it.
The charging case gives you two more full charges for a total of 15 hours of use with ANC and 24 with it off. This is a bit on the low side, and having tested a load of wireless earbuds recently, these are the only ones in a while to leave me actively surprised when I couldn't get any more juice from the case. For comparison, AirPods Pro offer 24 hours of music total with ANC on, and the Panasonic RZ-S500W offer just under 20 hours.
Like most new wireless earbuds, the Beats Studio Buds offers “fast fuel,” a fast charging feature that will give you an hour of use with just five minutes of charging. Though, when I tested this, I ended up with about 45 minutes of use before the buds died. While it just barely missed the mark there, that’s still plenty of juice from such a short charging period.
Beats Studio Buds Review: Verdict
The Beats Studio Buds are a really strong set of earbuds. You can find options with better sound, or better battery life and so on – but barely anything does it all so well in one package. They've got genuinely useful features, and that the offer them for both iPhone and Android is so valuable.
The audio quality is strong, and the noise cancellation does its job admirably. Even the design is just a little bit smarter than you might expect.
While they do come with some issues, such as ability to pair with only one device at a time and the mediocre total battery life, the Beats Studio Buds offer a lot performance- and feature-wise. At this price, they come thoroughly recommended.
Beats Studio Buds Review: Also Consider
If you must have full Apple integration with every possible feature thrown in, then the AirPods Pro are the way to go. They may be more expensive, but they also include dynamic head tracking, wireless charging, and seamless switching between Apple devices.
For a more budget alternative, the Panasonic RZ-S500W is the best-sounding set of ANC earbuds that comes close to the Beats for price. And, actually they're even cheaper, and sound even better – they sound is a bit more expansive and dynamic. However, they're very chunky and stick out of your ears a fair way, so are less cool to wear. The noise cancellation is a little weaker too. They don't have any smart pairing or finding features wither. If you love music and don't mind the style downgrade, they're our choice for the price – the Beats offer more all-round, though.
Alternatively, if you don’t care so much about the ANC, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ are our top choice. They're really small earbuds, and they sound far better than anything at this price has any rights to. From a heritage hi-fi brand, they give you really detailed and natural music reproduction. Again, though, they don't deliver anything in the way of smarts – though the battery life is great.