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BeatsX earphones may be the cheaper, better AirPods alternative you want (hands-on)

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The funky wireless AirPods got all the attention when Apple unveiled it alongside the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus on September 7, but it was only part of the company's new headphones lineup. It also showcased three new wireless headphones from its Beats brand: the PowerBeats Wireless 3, the Solo3 Wireless and the BeatsX.

But only the BeatsX ($150, £130, AU$200) is a truly new headphone and the first one designed with the help of Apple's design and engineering teams. (The PowerBeats Wireless 3 and Solo3 Wireless just updated the previous models in their respective lines with a new wireless chip.) You probably won't see it in stores until November, but I got an early listen, and was impressed with both the fit and sound of Beats' first neckband-style headphone.

The band itself, which Beats calls a Flex-Form cable, has two wires running through it that are made of nickel titanium alloy or nitinol, which was developed by the US Navy in the late 1950s and is very malleable, durable and lightweight. The key to it here is that it gives the band just enough rigidity and allows you to roll up the headphone so it fits it in an included compact carrying case. You can't do that with an LG Tone headset.

The headphones charge via a Lightning port and come with a Lightning cable.

David Carnoy/CNET

The magnetized buds adhere to each, so you can pin them together when they're not in your ears and wear them like a pendant. The lightweight buds come with a few sizes of eartips and I got a tight seal with the medium tip (I usually take a large) and overall they fit my ears well. The buds house 8 mm drivers and after my short listing session, my initial impression was that the BeatsX sounded pretty natural for a Bluetooth headphone, with good detail and strong bass that wasn't overpowering -- an issue that plagued many an early Beats product.

Like Apple's AirPods, the BeatsX also incorporates Apple's new custom low-power Bluetooth chip, the W1, which allows for automatic pairing with Apple devices updated with the latest versions of its operating systems (iOS 10, MacOS Sierra and WatchOS 3). To pair, you just hold the BeatsX near your iPhone. That should also automatically pair the headphone to your Apple Watch, iPad and Mac -- anything registered to you on your iCloud account.

The headphones come in black or white and roll up to fit in a compact carry case.

David Carnoy/CNET

BeatsX also works with other Bluetooth devices, but you have to pair it the old-fashioned way, which is still pretty simple.

The headphone delivers up to 8 hours battery life, which is decent for this type of headphone, though not exceptionally good. On top of that, if you give the headphone a quick 5-minute charge via its Lightning port -- yes, I said Lightning, not USB -- you get 2 hours of usage. Beats calls this quick-charge feature Fast Fuel.

You also get a couple sets of wingtips to get a more secure fit if you're going running or doing something else athletic with the headphone. The X is sweat-resistant, has an integrated microphone and Beats has redesigned the RemoteTalk button to make it more tactile and responsive.

At $150, this headphone isn't cheap, but it is the least expensive wireless headphone from Beats and costs slightly less than Apple's AirPods, sounds better and delivers longer battery life. I've tried near-final versions of both headphones and the BeatsX has more bass and richer sound. Which set of earphones proves superior as a headset for making calls remains to be seen, however.

I'll have a full review of the BeatsX Earphones as soon as I get a final review sample. But if you're looking for this style of headphone that you can wear around all day, the BeatsX is definitely worth checking out. Although it doesn't offer 12 hours of battery life like the new $200 Powerbeats3 Wireless, it may be the better choice for those people who can't get the right fit from the Powerbeats.

Aside from Beats' own products, the BeatsX has plenty of competition in this category. Bose's highly rated SoundSport Wireless costs $150, £140 or AU$249 and its upcoming QuietControl 30, which features both wireless active noise-canceling, arrives in the US in October for $300 (£230 or AU$400 converted). And there's the plethora of lower cost neckband-style headphones, including LG's popular Tone headphones, the Jabra Halo Smart and Skullcandy Ink'd Wireless.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Color black
  • Headphones Ear-Parts Type In-ear
  • Sound Output Mode stereo