X

Article updated on April 30, 2024 at 7:00 AM PDT

Beats Solo 4 Review: Big Performance Upgrades, but Wait for a Sale

They mostly look the same as their predecessor, but the Beats Solo 4's sound quality, voice-calling performance, feature set and battery life are noticeably improved. But are they worth $200?

Our Experts

Written by 
David Carnoy
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
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 reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
Why You Can Trust CNET
16171819202122232425+
Years of Experience
14151617181920212223
Hands-on Product Reviewers
6,0007,0008,0009,00010,00011,00012,00013,00014,00015,000
Sq. Feet of Lab Space

CNET’s expert staff reviews and rates dozens of new products and services each month, building on more than a quarter century of expertise.

beats-solo4-blue-1
8.0/ 10
SCORE

Beats Solo 4

Pros

  • Improved sound and voice-calling performance
  • Strong battery life
  • USB-C audio
  • Spatial audio with head tracking for Apple users
  • Android compatible

Cons

  • No active noise canceling
  • No ear-detection sensors

Over the years, you've probably seen Beats Solo on-ear headphones on a lot of heads; they're one of the most popular headphones of all time. The latest version, the $200 Solo 4, changes little on the outside, and they remain overpriced at their list price. But upgrades on the inside make the Solo 4 significantly better headphones than past versions. 

Memorial day sale image
Best Memorial Day Deals

Don’t miss our Memorial Day live deals coverage for a real-time look at the best deals as we find them.

See Memorial Day Live Blog

Beats Solo 4 design tweaks

I got a little déjà vu looking at the Solo 4s because Beats is following the same playbook as it did with its Studio Pro ($350) headphones. Those, too, mostly maintained the same design as their predecessor while getting some upgrades on the inside that bumped up their performance along with USB-C charging and a new, improved soft case for the same list price. 

Read more: Best Headphones for 2024

Again, the Solo 4 lists for $200, which is exactly what the Solo 3 Wireless sold for when they showed up almost eight years ago in late 2016. The Solo 4's design is nearly identical to the 3's also, with only small refinements. For instance, the chrome accents on the outside of the hinges have been replaced with a brushed matte finish, and there's now only a small "4" callout instead of the Solo 3 and Wireless labels on the hinges.  

The Beats Solo 4 have small cosmetic changes

The Solo 4 in pink. They look mostly the same on the outside but have USB-C charging and some small cosmetic changes.

David Carnoy/CNET

The other small external change is to the material that covers the ear pads. Beats says it's the same upgraded faux leather that's on the Studio Pro. It's supposed to be more durable and help you get more life out of the ear pads, which, unfortunately, aren't replaceable. From what I can tell, the ear pads do seem like they will hold up well over time. But I tend to treat my headphones better than some people I know, like my kids.

Also, like with the Studio Pro, the case is new, and it's a definite improvement over the previous hard case, as it's more compact and has pockets for its USB-C charging and headphone cables.

Like the Solo 3 Wireless, the Solo 4s are relatively comfortable for on-ear headphones with nicely cushioned ear pads. They are more compact, though, and weigh less -- the Solo 4s weigh in at 217 grams, 43 grams less than the 260-gram Studio Pro. They do clamp a little and the modestly cushioned headband can put a tad bit of pressure on the top of your head. But I was OK wearing them for longer listening sessions with some occasional adjustments. That said, I find the Studio Pros overall more comfortable, though I might be more inclined to wear the Solo 4 on hot days because over-ear headphones can steam up your ears. 

There are physical buttons on the left ear cup to easily control playback and volume. The "b" button acts as a universal control button, and the ring around it acts as a volume control button. You can also mute yourself by tapping the b button when on a call, which is a nice touch and handy for conference and video calls to quickly mute and unmute your line.

beats-solo-4-case

The Solo 4 fold up to fit in their new soft carrying case that's slightly smaller than the case for the Beats Studio Pro. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Beats Solo 4 features

When I first heard rumors of the Solo 4 headphones, I was curious whether they would have active noise canceling, a feature you'd expect to find on $200 headphones these days. The Solo 3 Wireless didn't have it, but the now-discontinued step-up Solo Pro headphones did. 

Well, the Solo 4s remain true to their roots and aren't equipped with ANC, and I can't say I'm not a little disappointed it's missing. You do get some decent passive noise reduction from the cushy ear pads covering your ears. I wore them in the subway, and while they didn't muffle the noise as much as a good set of noise-canceling headphones would, they did block out a fair amount of sound.

Another missing feature is ear-detection sensors that will pause your music when you take the headphones off your ears and resume playback when you put them back on. A lot of headphones in this price range, particularly over-ear models, have it. Alas, the Studio Pros are also missing this feature, and it's one area where Beats is clearly cutting corners. 

solo4-blue-wearing-on-subway

They don't have active noise canceling, but they did passively block out a fair amount of sound. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Beats didn't skimp with other features, though, as the Studio 4s have a similar feature set to the Studio Pro and Beats Studio Plus earbuds minus the active noise canceling. Like those models, the Solo 4s are geared toward both Apple and Android users and are powered by a custom Beats chip, not Apple's H1 or H2 chip. And they're equipped with Bluetooth 5.3. 

Android users are able to take advantage of Google Fast Pair and download the Beats app for Android to their devices. Interestingly, there's multipoint Bluetooth pairing for Android users with automatic switching between devices linked to your Google account. However, if you're an Apple user, the Solo 4 headphones link to your iCloud account, but you still need to manually switch between devices. However, some people prefer to do it manually because auto-switching can be a bit wonky and irritating. 

Watch this: Beats Solo 4 Headphones Review: Same Look, but Better Sound and USB-C

The headphones do connect simultaneously to an Apple Watch and an iPhone (if you walk away from your phone, they stay connected to your Watch). Apple's Audio Sharing feature for iPhone and iPad users is available for the Solo 4 headphones and coming to the Studio Pro and Studio Buds Plus with a firmware update.  

Two other things that Android users don't get are spatial audio with head tracking and hands-free Siri -- that's the feature where you can access Apple's voice assistant by just saying the Siri wake command. The head tracking, in my tests with an iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 15, seems to be on par with the spatial audio you get with the AirPods Max and Airpods Pro 2.

For both Apple and Android users, there's a Find My feature that helps locate your headphones if they're misplaced, but it's not the more advanced precision finding that's included with the AirPods Pro 2.

The Beats Solo 4 initially come in pink, blue and black.

The outside of the hinges now have a brushed finish instead of a chrome finish. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Upgraded sound quality

Ultimately, the biggest improvements are to sound quality and voice-calling performance. The Studio 4s have 40mm drivers (but not the same drivers that are in the Studio Pros) with a revamped acoustic architecture to help reduce distortion. Plus, Beats automated the production process to improve consistency from unit to unit.

It's immediately clear that the Solo 4s sound better than the Solo 3s, producing cleaner audio with better overall clarity and bass definition. There isn't a huge difference in sound quality between Solo 4 and Studio Pro, but the Studio Pros sound slightly more open and are slightly warmer. I went back and forth between the headphones using just regular stereo mode and spatial audio modes and the sound does change with whatever mode you're in. 

The headphones aren't the most accurate or natural-sounding headphones, but they are dynamic and feature crisp, sculpted highs and punchy bass. Bjork's Hollow track, which features very deep bass, didn't play as loud through the Studio Pros as the Solo 4s when I set my iPhone 14 Pro to 70% volume. But the Studio Pros did deliver deeper bass with more energy after I matched the volume levels.  

There are no EQ settings to tweak for the Solo 4s' sound profile. But Beats has come a long way in terms of audio quality from its early days with boomy bass and underwhelming sound quality. The Solo 4s sound quite respectable, particularly for on-ear headphones and the headphones sound ever so slightly better when in wired mode if you're listening to high-res music files.

There are two ways to go wired, by the way. You can connect the headphones to an audio device with a 3.5mm input using the included analog cable. Or you can use the USB-C cable to get a digital wired connection to your computer or USB-C equipped smartphone, another feature trickled down from the Studio Pro headphones. Note that when you're using the analog headphone cable, the headphones don't require power -- and there's no loss in audio quality. That's a nice feature. 

As far as power goes, these do have excellent battery life. They're rated for up to 50 hours of use at moderate volume levels. That's 10 hours better than what the Solo 3 headphones were rated for, and it does help that you're not using any extra juice for active noise canceling since there is none. Beats' fast-charging feature -- it calls it Fast Fuel -- gives you up to 5 hours of playback from a quick 10-minute charge.

Upgraded microphones and voice-calling performance

On the voice-calling front, the headphones were upgraded with beamforming digital MEMS microphones. (They were analog mics on the Solo 3s.) These use the same advanced noise-reduction algorithms as the Studio Pros, so they have very similar voice-calling performance, and it's generally very good. While callers said my voice sounded a bit robotic (or that I sounded like I was in a tunnel), they said they could hear me clearly, and the headphones significantly reduced background noise. If you watch my companion video, there's a test call I recorded that gives you a sense of the call quality, though note the call is recorded via the Internet, so you lose a little bit of fidelity in my voice.

Beats Solo 4 final thoughts

In a nutshell, the Beats Solo 4 on-ear headphones have pretty much the same look on the outside as the 3s but some notable improvements on the inside that bump their performance by about 25% to 30% when it comes to sound quality, battery life and voice-calling. 

Would I pay $200 for them? No, I wouldn't. But if you look at what's happened with the Studio Pro's pricing -- they're sporadically discounted to $200 or $150 off their list price and even dropped to $180 for Prime Day -- the Solo 4s won't always be $200. I'm certain we'll see them fairly soon for what the Solo 3s now cost, which is around $130. They make a lot more sense at that price, particularly if you're looking for a more compact on-ear headphone and don't need active noise canceling.

In that price range, you'll find competing on-ear models like JBL's Live 670NC ($130) and Tune 670NC ($100), both of which feature active noise canceling and also sound good. The step-up Live 670NC sometimes dip to $100 and are the more comparable model to the Solo 4. I think the Solo 4s have a little better build quality and extra features like USB-C audio and spatial audio with head tracking. Still, the Live 670NCs are a decent value, particularly when they are on sale.