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Beats Solo3 Wireless review: Beats popular on-ear wireless headphone gains best-in-class battery life

The addition of Apple's energy-saving W1 chip makes the Beats Solo3 Wireless superior to its predecessor, but $300 is a steep price to pay for it.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

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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 e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Beats' Solo3 Wireless on-ear Bluetooth headphone ($300/£250/AU$400) looks nearly identical to the Beats Solo 2 Wireless because -- on the outside at least -- Beats hasn't updated its design. The big change is on the inside: The Solo3 uses Apple's new W1 custom Bluetooth chip, which improves battery life drastically and makes pairing the headphone with Apple devices dead simple.

The Good

The Beats Solo3 Wireless is a well-built wireless headphone that sounds good in both wireless and wired modes and is relatively comfortable to wear for an on-ear headphone. Its battery life is best-in-class (40 hours) and has a remote control built-in to the right earcup that's easy to operate by feel. The new W1 chip makes it supersimple to pair with Apple devices.

The Bad

It's expensive, and doesn't sound quite as good as other wireless headphones that cost $300.

The Bottom Line

Beats has taken the same headphone that so many people know and love and improved its battery life dramatically, but the price is still too high.

The headphone works just fine with Android and other Bluetooth-enabled devices and the battery life rating is the same for iOS and Android -- a whopping 40 hours. That's a huge jump over the 12 hours that the Beats Solo2 Wireless is rated at and this has the best battery life of any Bluetooth headphone I've tested so far (I used it for a week without recharging). It also features Beats' Fast Fuel feature, which gives you 3 hours of battery life from a 5-minute charge.

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The Solo3 Wireless in silver.

Sarah Tew/CNET

However, unlike the new BeatsX, which uses a Lightning cable for charging, this model sticks with a Micro-USB charging cable.

On the plus side, my wireless connection using the headphone was rock-solid and the W1 chip makes it easy to switch between Apple devices you've paired the headphones to. Overall, the headphone performs very well, and I've always liked its compact size and how it folds up to fit into a relatively small carrying case (yes, that carrying case is included).

For better or worse, Beats hasn't upgraded the sound. The Solo3 Wireless sounds very good for an on-ear Bluetooth headphone and will appeal to bass lovers who prefer a sound profile that accentuates the bass but manages to avoid being too boomy. However, it doesn't sound quite as clean as Beats' more balanced Studio Wireless over-ear model, which has come down in price and I find more comfortable (the Beats Solo3 Wireless offers a very snug fit -- the headphones do stay securely on your head, even while running -- they end up pressing down on your ears somewhat firmly).

This is a headphone that's designed to be worn outdoors, and the extra bass did come in handy when I was walking the streets of New York and was competing with a lot of ambient noise, including the subway when I went underground. The headphones passively seal out a good amount of sound, but some ambient noise does leak in and the extra bass doesn't sound as accentuated outside (you really hear it in quiet rooms, however) and the headphones comes across as a little more balanced.

As with all stereo Bluetooth headphones, this model has a built-in microphone for making calls, and call quality was decent, though the step-up Studio Wireless has an advantage in this department. Some headphones in this price range, including the Studio Wireless, feature improved communications performance and noise-canceling features that muffle ambient noise so callers can hear you better. This Beats is not in that class.

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The controls for answering and ending calls, volume and skipping tracks forward and back are on the earcups.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Competing models include Bose's SoundLink Wireless On-ear, Sennheiser's Momentum 2 On-ear Wireless and Plantronic's Backbeat Sense. Both the BackBeat Sense and the Bose are more comfortable headphones, applying a little less pressure to your ears, and the Plantronics is clearly the best value at about $125.

In its favor, the Solo3 Wireless has that iconic Beats design, and the headphone does come in several attractive finishes. (I personally like the matte black and the silver featured in our photos.)

Ultimately, Beats' value proposition is that it's taken the same headphone that so many people know and love and improved its battery life dramatically and made it really easy for Apple users to connect to their phones and other Apple devices.

That's fine, but it would have been nice if Beats had brought the price down at the same time, considering the headphone's design and sound hasn't been upgraded. As it stands, this headphone is in the realm of what superior over-ear noise-canceling wireless headphones such as the Bose Quiet Comfort 25 cost. And while the Beats' own Studio Wireless delivers only about 12 hours of battery life and is a bigger headphone, it costs around $50 less ($250) after starting out at $379.

The long and short of it is that the Beats Solo3 Wireless is a likable on-ear wireless headphone with great battery life, but $300 is a lot to pay for it.

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7.8

Beats Solo3 Wireless

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 7Value 6