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Beats Studio3 Wireless review: Beats' best headphone looks the same, sounds better

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The Good The Beats Studio3 Wireless offers improved sound quality, noise canceling and battery life from its predecessor in the same sturdy design. Apple's W1 chip makes pairing with Apple devices dead simple. Performs well as a headset for making cell-phone calls and and stacks up well against competing models from a sound standpoint.

The Bad Design is the same as previous model's. Does not fold flat and carrying case is somewhat bulky.

The Bottom Line Beats has taken a very good wireless noise-canceling headphone and significantly increased its performance.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Sound 9.0
  • Value 7.0

When you've got a good thing going, why rock the boat? 

That's the philosophy behind Beats' flagship noise-canceling headphone, the Studio3 Wireless, which costs $350 (£300, AU$450). Aside from a few new color options it looks virtually identical to its predecessor, which was released four years ago. 

My first reaction to seeing the "new" high-end Beats was probably the same as yours: "Wait, it has exactly the same design as the one that came out in 2014. Really?"

Yes, really. Thanks to some stitching tweaks, the earpads are slightly softer, which makes the headphone a touch more comfortable, but that's about it. 

Dig a little deeper, however, and changes inside abound. The new Beats is a better performing headphone on several fronts, including sound, battery life and noise canceling.  

Same on the outside, different on the inside.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I wasn't able to crack the headphone open to see those changes, but Beats says it has completely redesigned the guts or DNA of this headphone, with not only new drivers but new circuitry that includes Apple's W1 chip found in other Beats wireless headphones -- the PowerBeats3 Wireless, the Solo3 Wireless and the BeatsX -- and Apple's AirPods

That W1 chip makes connecting the headphone to Apple devices dead simple and also helps deliver better battery life. It's now up to 22 hours with wireless and noise canceling on, double that of the previous model.  

Battery life numbers vary with volume levels, so you may not get quite that amount, but I was able to consistently hit at least 20 hours of playback and sometimes more before I had to recharge (that's slightly better than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II battery life). Turn off noise canceling and that number goes up to 40 hours. Meanwhile, the Beats Fast Fuel feature gives you three hours of playback from just 10 minutes of charging.

Yes, this headphone works with non-Apple Bluetooth audio devices -- I paired them to a Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, for example -- but their special pairing feature is limited to Apple devices running  iOS 10 or later, WatchOS 3 or later or MacOS Sierra or later. 

Stepped-up sound quality and stronger noise canceling

Aside from the battery life, the two big upgrades here are to the sound quality and noise canceling. I compared this new Studio Wireless to the older version and this model sounds slightly cleaner, with better bass definition and a bit more natural sound. It's not a huge difference -- we thought the 2014 Studio Wireless sounded good -- but it's noticeable.

Beats' sound is well known for bass bloat, but on the Studio Wireless that's a thing of past. These are relatively well-balanced headphones. There's plenty of bass but it's not overpowering or boomy. In fact, the bass was arguably a little more articulate than the bass on Sony's WH-1000XM2, which is one of the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones.

That Sony has a little bit more transparency and may be the better headphone to listen to over longer listening sessions. But the Beats was arguably the more dynamic, exciting headphone. For instance, it brought a little more energy to Rag 'n Bone Man's "Human" track. And the Beats is going to be a good fit for those who listen to a lot of EDM and hip-hop. Or as fellow CNET editor Ty Pendlebury remarked, "It's really good headphone for people who listen to pop music."

Compared to my current favorite in this class, Bose's QuietComfort 35 II, it's something of a toss-up for sound quality. The Bose has a bit more open soundstage and I felt I could hear separate instruments more distinctly. But the Beats' treble sounded a bit sweeter. They're both enjoyable headphones to listen to, but I rated the Bose higher mainly because it's a little more comfortable and folds flat to fit in a more compact carrying case.

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