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The new Beats Solo Pro could be the best Beats headphone yet

The Beats Solo has been totally redesigned. It's now Beats' first on-ear model with active noise-canceling features -- and it charges with Lightning.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read
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The Beats Solo Pro packs new features, including Lightning charging.

David Carnoy/CNET

Truth be told, I haven't been a big fan of Beats' line of Solo headphones -- despite Beats' claim that they're the best-selling headphones in the world, with around 30 million sold in their various incarnations. Although the Solo3 Wireless, first released in 2016, was good for an on-ear model, I prefer over-ear designs and thought the Solo3's $300 price tag was a little too rich for what it offered (though it's now down to $150). 

That's why I was skeptical when Beats gave me an early look at its new Solo Pro, available for preorder now and shipping on Oct. 30 in several color options. It also costs $300 (£270, AU$429), but it's a more premium headphone. And that's not only in terms of its design: Its features and performance also seem significantly improved.

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Watch this: Beats Solo Pro gets new design, adds active noise canceling

For starters, this is the first Beats on-ear headphone to feature active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats headphone to charge via Lightning. It uses the company's Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling (Pure ANC), "derived from the over-ear Studio3 Wireless, with updated tuning to accommodate the on-ear form factor," Beats says. With a tap of button, you can turn off that noise-canceling to save battery life or hit the button a second time to enter a transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world. The headphone is equipped with six microphones, two of which are beamforming mics that are designed to hone in on your voice when making calls or talking to your voice assistant.

Most of the top noise-canceling headphones offer similar multimicrophone arrays to monitor and filter noise. But as you might expect, Apple-owned Beats is also touting the inclusion of Apple 's new H1 chip -- the same one found in Apple's second-generation AirPods and Beats' own Powerbeats Pro true wireless earphones. According to Beats, not only does that chip allow for easy pairing with iOS devices (Android users get that feature via an app) and more stable wireless connections, it's the engine that drives the advanced sound processing and noise canceling. Also, as with the AirPods and Powerbeats Pro, these headphones are compatible with Apple's new Audio Sharing feature that allows you to pair two headphones simultaneously to any Apple device running iOS 13 or higher, so you can listen to the same music or watch the same video with a friend. 

Beats Solo Pro headphones unveiled

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Read moreBest noise-canceling headphones of 2019

All those upgrades -- along with new drivers -- are on the inside. Beats has also made some big changes on the outside, but it's stuck with physical buttons for volume and track controls instead of moving to touch controls. With a design that's reminiscent of the company's entry-level wired EP headphones, there's some metal in the headband.

Beats reps told me the Solo Pro is a sturdier headphone than the Solo3 Wireless. It's certainly heavier than the Solo3, weighing 9 ounces (255 grams). The metal also adds some rigidity, alleviating some of the pressure or clamping feeling you often get from on-ear models. I only tried the headphones for about 20 minutes, but they seemed comfortable -- right up there with the most comfortable on-ear models I've used. 

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The headphones come in several color options.

David Carnoy/CNET

What's also impressive is how the soft memory foam-filled earpads seal out sound passively. Even wearing the headphones without noise-canceling turned on, ambient sound is remarkably muffled because your ears are tightly (but comfortably) covered.  

I didn't get to a chance to compare the Solo Pro's noise canceling to that of the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 Headphones or Sony WH-1000XM3, but it seemed to be satisfyingly effective in the demos Beats was running with some simulated subway, street and airplane cabin noise.

As for sound quality, I was only able to listen to a handful of tracks, but my initial impression was that the headphones sounded smooth and well-balanced with punchy bass that wasn't boomy. A few years ago, Beats took to heart the complaints about the sound quality of its headphones -- particularly the bloated bass -- and has tightened things up. You're still going to get plenty of bass, but it's more defined. As soon as I get my review sample, I'll add additional analysis and comparisons to other noise-canceling models in this price range.

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The new felt carrying case. 

David Carnoy/CNET

A couple of other things worth noting: Like the Solo3 Wireless and Studio3 Wireless, these headphones fold up but don't fold flat. Folding -- and unfolding -- them is how they turn on and off. The new Sennheiser Momentum 3 has the same auto on/off feature, which is kind of nifty, but some people won't like that there's no power button.

The protective case is more eco-friendly. Made out of recycled plastic, it's got a felt-like feel to it, and I liked it better than Beats' previous cases -- particularly the Studio3's uninspired hard case that takes up too much room in a bag.

One thing I suspect Beats will get some grief about is the lack of included headphone cable. That's right, you can't go wired with these out of the box and won't be able to plug into an entertainment system on a plane. You'll need an optional cable. Beats didn't provide much detail about this cable but said it would cost somewhere in the $20 range. I think it's absurd that a set of $300 headphones doesn't come with such a cable, but Apple has been making a habit out of not included certain accessories with its mobile devices. For instance, the latest iPhones no longer include a Lighting to 3.5mm adapter to accommodate standard headphone cables. 

Cable omission and somewhat high price tag aside, the Beats Solo Pro seems like an appealing headphone. I'll reserve final judgment until I spend more time with it, but it's a nice step up from the Solo3 Wireless and may just get more people (like me) who prefer over-ear designs to switch to a more compact and travel-friendly headphone. 

Solo Pro's key specs

  • Apple H1 chip delivers faster, more stable wireless and is also compatible with both iOS and Android devices
  • Get up to 3 hours of full-featured playback with a 10-minute charge using the included Lightning cable
  • Up to 22 hours with Pure ANC (noise canceling) or Transparency turned on 
  • Up to 40 hours without Pure ANC (noise canceling) or Transparency turned off
  • Weight: 9 ounces (255 grams)
  • Colors options: black, ivory, gray, dark blue, light blue and red
  • Price: $300, £270, AU$429
  • Preorder in the US today at Apple.com, shipping Oct. 30

This story was originally published on Tuesday at 7:00 a.m. PT.