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

You can argue over whether Beats made a mistake not redesigning its flagship headphone on the outside, but it does perform significantly better and now costs less online.

carnoy-headshot-2019-2
David Carnoy
carnoy-headshot-2019-2

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 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.

See full bio
6 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

The Beats Studio3 Wireless reviewed here was released in September 2017, and it remains one of our top picks for wireless noise-canceling headphones. While we don't rate it as highly as the Sony WH-1000XM2 and Bose QuietComfort 35 II, the price for the Beats Studio3 Wireless has dropped in recent months -- you can get it for less than $225 (£200 or AU$400) online. That makes it a more attractive option in this category.

beats-studio-wireless-3-blue-2
8.0

Beats Studio3 Wireless

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 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 good wireless noise-canceling headphone and significantly increased its performance.

Update, June 1, 2018

Check out CNET's best headphones for more information on competitive products.

The original review of the Beats Studio3 Wireless -- first published November 30, 2017 and otherwise mostly unchanged -- follows.


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 $215, £200 or AU$400. 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 it 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.  

Beats Studio3 Wireless
Enlarge Image
Beats Studio3 Wireless

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.

I personally think Beats' headphone's inability to fold flat for travel is a weakness. I rarely used the carrying case because I found it too bulky. If there's a design upgrade Beats needs to make, it's to add another hinge. Most other premium wireless noise-canceling headphones (Sony, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins PX) folds flat, which allows for a slimmer case that fits better in your bag. 

Beats Studio3 Wireless
Enlarge Image
Beats Studio3 Wireless

The headphones fold up to fit in the same somewhat bulky hard carrying case that came with the previous model -- but they don't fold flat.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The upgrade in noise canceling is more pronounced. Beats' new proprietary noise cancelling technology, which it's calling Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling or Pure ANC, is constantly monitoring your environment and calibrates the noise canceling to the sound around you, whether it's plane, train, restaurant or wind noise.

Similar to Sony's MDR-1000X and new WH-1000XM2, the headphone also has a microphone on the inside of each earcup to calibrate the noise canceling to the fit of the headphone, adjusting for "leakage caused by hair, glasses, different ear shapes and movement of your head as you go about the day," company reps told me.

Beats says the W1 chip is what allows the adaptive noise canceling to be always monitoring the world without draining the battery.

I mainly used the headphones in the streets of New York and on the subway. While the noise canceling is a slight step behind those of the Bose's and Sony's, I was still pretty impressed. It's significantly more effective than the previous model's noise cancellation. It's almost as good at muffling voices in a open office environment as the Bose QC 35 II, but the Beats has a very faint hiss, while the Bose doesn't. You won't hear that hiss when your music is on, but turn the music off and you hear it. 

It's also worth mentioning this headphone works well as a headset for making phone calls. As you're talking, you can hear your voice, which keeps you from talking too loudly. Callers said they could hear me clearly.  

beats-studio-wireless-3-red-2
Enlarge Image
beats-studio-wireless-3-red-2

The stitching on the earpads has been tweaked to make the pads slightly softer.

David Carnoy/CNET

Am I disappointed Beats didn't upgrade the exterior design of this headphone? Yeah, a little. While Beats claims it was very pleased with the headphone's acoustic design and ergonomics and wanted to unlock its full potential with new components, I think there's some room for improvement on the design front.

Fold-flat gripes aside, this was and still is a comfortable, durable headphone that's enjoyable to listen to and worked reliably with rock-solid Bluetooth performance. Beats has taken a good wireless noise-canceling headphone and significantly increased its performance. It may not be better than competing models from Bose and Sony, but I still liked it a lot. Of course, it would be nice if it cost a little less.   

Studio3 Wireless key specs

  • Redesigned acoustic components and an upgraded manufacturing process

  • Integrated Apple W1 chip, which enables one-step Bluetooth connection to iPhone via proximity pairing. Additionally, iPhone users can switch between devices logged into the same iCloud account to easily move from an iPhone conversation to watching a movie on your MacBook. (The headphone also works with Android and other Bluetooth-enabled devices.)

  • Nearly double the battery life of the Beats Studio3's predecessor, totaling 22 hours of wireless playback with Pure ANC on

  • Turning Pure ANC off you get up to 40 hours of nonstop playback in low power mode without sacrificing audio quality

  • Fast Fuel feature gives you up to three hours of playback after just 10 minutes of charging via the included Micro-USB cable (headphone must be powered to use)

  • Class 1 Bluetooth provides optimal connectivity for fewer drop-outs and extended range from your iOS or Android devices

  • Built-in controls and microphone allow you to make calls, skip songs, control your volume and activate Siri

  • Pure ANC uses advanced algorithms to continuously monitor your listening environment, so that it can best block out ambient noise -- not only on an airplane, but also in a noisy café or a busy office

  • Pure ANC also evaluates fit and adjusts for leakage caused by hair, glasses, different ear shapes and movement of your head 

  • Additionally, Pure ANC simultaneously checks what you're hearing while noise canceling is applied against the original music content to adjust and ensure optimal audio fidelity

  • The headphone comes in four base colors (white, red, blue and matte black) and two special-edition colors (shadow gray and porcelain rose)

beats-studio-wireless-3-white
Enlarge Image
beats-studio-wireless-3-white

The buttons and controls are the same. 

David Carnoy/CNET
beats-studio-wireless-3-blue-2
8.0

Beats Studio3 Wireless

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 9Value 7