BeatsX review: BeatsX wraps AirPods tech in a neckband-style headphone for less

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The Good The BeatsX is a comfortable, lightweight, water-resistant, neckband-style Bluetooth headphone with a secure in-ear fit and good sound quality. It pairs instantly with Apple devices, rolls up to fit in an included carrying case, and charges quickly via Lightning, not MicroUSB.

The Bad Slight treble push; cords may seem a bit long for some users.

The Bottom Line The slickly designed BeatsX is an appealing neckband-style wireless headphone that offers a lot of the "magic" of Apple's AirPods in a more conventional, sports-friendly design.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

Like 'em or hate 'em, Apple's AirPods have been the talk of the headphone world ever since they were announced alongside the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus back in September 2016. But there's another Apple wireless headphone from the company's Beats by Dre subsidiary that's also received its share of buzz: The BeatsX ($150, £130, AU$200). And like the AirPods, the BeatsX was also delayed, but it's officially available as of February 10.

The BeatsX employs Apple's new custom low-power Bluetooth chip, the W1, which is also found in the AirPods, PowerBeats3 Wireless and the Solo3 Wireless, and allows for automatic pairing with Apple devices updated with the latest versions of its operating systems (iOS 10, MacOS Sierra and WatchOS 3). But among that trio of new Beats models, the BeatsX is the only truly fresh model, and the first one designed with the help of Apple's design and engineering teams. (The PowerBeats3 Wireless and Solo3 Wireless just updated the previous models in their respective lines with Apple's new wireless chip.) Another bonus: the BeatsX is the only one that charges with a Lightning cable.

Ultimately, the BeatsX is a fresh take -- or really Apple's take -- on the neckband-style wireless headphone that LG made so popular with its Tone headsets and has been copied in recent years by an assortment of other companies. As in the past, Apple and Beats haven't reinvented the mousetrap so to speak, but they have built a better one.

The Beats X comes in black and white at launch, with blue and gray colors available later.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The BeatsX's neckband -- Beats calls it 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. (Side note: the soft-to-touch rubber carrying case is a bit of a dust magnet.)

It's also worth noting that the cable is anchored to your neck with two equally weighted bulges in the cord, one of which houses the battery and the other the headphone's electronics. This really isn't any different from what you find with other current neckband-style headphones, such as Skullcandy's affordable Ink'd Wireless, but the BeatsX's design is decidedly slicker and seemingly more durable.

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