Redesigned on the inside with almost all new components, the new $170 Beats Studio Plus earbuds feature all-around improved performance and a snazzy translucent option that's a clear win.
Clear is still cool.
Yes, Beats' new Studio Plus earbuds come in black and ivory, but it's the transparent version that everyone seems pretty excited about, because everyone loves transparent electronics. Especially those of us who lived through that whole clear craze back in the '80s and '90s that brought us such classics as the Nintendo Game Boy Color Clear and translucent iMac G3.
That said, I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time talking about the color of these earbuds other than to say that while their see-through plastic shell is a bit frosted and not totally clear, they're more translucent -- and cooler looking -- than Nothing's Ear and Stick buds that have also received some hype for their semitransparent design.
With that out of the way, let's get to what you're probably hoping to learn from this review: how the Studio Buds Plus perform and how they're different from the original Studio Buds that came out a couple of years ago and turned into a surprise hit for Beats.
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First things first: price. The new buds cost $170 (£180, AU$270), or $20 more than the Studio Buds -- and they look almost the same, at least on the surface. The two cases are virtually identical except for minor cosmetic changes and the buds are the same shape and size. They only weigh 1 gram more than the Studio Buds.
The originals fit my ears well with the large ear tips -- and these fit my ears well, too. But some people with small ears had trouble getting a tight seal and secure fit with the originals. So like with its AirPods Pro 2, Apple, which owns Beats, decided to include a set of extra small tips to go along with small, medium and large tips. That addition should help those with smaller ears, but as with all in-ear headphones, I can't guarantee they'll be a perfect fit for your ears.
As with the originals, these don't have touch controls but have a physical control button on each bud (Beats call it a "b" button). I personally prefer this, and it's been upgraded to be quieter and less clicky so when you press the button while the buds are in your ears you don't hear a clicking sound. It's not a huge upgrade, but if you own the Studio Buds, you'll notice the difference and appreciate it.
The big changes are on the inside. Beats says 95% of the components are new and improved, and the buds' "acoustic architecture" has been revised. The speaker drivers remain the same, but the Studio Buds Plus are powered by a new, more powerful custom chipset and have three new microphones in each bud that are three times larger and more sensitive than the ones found in the Beats Studio Buds.
All that, along with better microphone placement and a new venting design, helps improve not only noise-canceling performance but voice-calling performance, which is now quite impressive. It's right up there with the AirPods Pro 2 in terms of background noise reduction and voice pickup. (Watch my companion video review above to hear a sample of a test call.)
The buds also sound cleaner, with better overall bass reproduction. I don't think they offer quite as refined or detailed sound as premium buds from Sony and Sennheiser. But they deliver bold, dynamic sound that's well suited for today's music, whether it's pop, hip-hop, EDM or country -- and everything in between. Lacking that extra bit of accuracy and sonic purity, these aren't quite audiophile-grade earbuds. But they do sound very good for their compact size, so long as you get a tight seal.
The upgraded sound is due in large part to the improved digital processing associated with that faster new processor that's more akin to the H1 and H2 chips found in the AirPods line (the Beats Fit Pro also uses an H1 chip). However, this new custom-designed Beats processor still doesn't support all those Apple chips' features -- for Apple users anyway.
Like the Studio Buds, these are geared toward both Apple and Android users, with Android users able to download the Beats app and take advantage of Google Fast Pair. They're equipped with Bluetooth 5.3.
Interestingly, there's multipoint Bluetooth pairing for Android users with automatic switching between devices linked to your Google account, including Chromebooks. However, if you're an Apple user, the buds link to your iCloud account, but you'll have to manually switch between devices. Some people prefer that because auto switching can be a bit wonky and irritating. (I didn't test it yet, but Beats says the buds do pair with both your iPhone and Apple Watch and the audio gets automatically handed off to your Apple Watch when your iPhone is out of range.)
The only thing that Android users don't get is hands-free Siri -- that's the feature where you can access Apple's voice assistant by just saying the Siri wake command. While there's spatial audio for music listening with Dolby Atmos tracks that support it, there's no spatial audio with head tracking for movie watching. Also, Beats has once again left off ear-detection sensors that pause your music when you take a bud out of your ears and resume layback when you put them back in. You can use either bud independently to make calls. And while there's a Find My feature that helps locate your buds should they become lost, it's not the more advanced precision finding that's included with the AirPods Pro 2.
As I said, the noise canceling is improved. Apple says the buds are 1.6 times better at muffling ambient noise and in my tests on the subway and in the streets of New York, they definitely did a better job reducing ambient noise across a wider range of frequencies. I also thought the transparency mode was better, with virtually no perceptible hiss or white noise that you sometimes hear when you put some buds into transparency mode. Beats says the transparency mode is two times better.
Like the Studio Buds, these are IPX4 splash-proof and I was able to run with them without having them fall out of my ears. But that probably won't be the case for everyone.
Battery life is also improved, thanks to 16% larger batteries in the buds themselves. It's now up to six hours from five on a single charge with noise canceling on, or up to nine hours with ANC off). And you get three additional charges from the case instead of two. There's USB-C charging but no wireless charging; typically buds in this price range have wireless charging.
Alas, for those of you who bought the original Studio Buds, which remain on the market for now, I'm sorry to report that these new Plus buds really are significantly improved. The reality is these now have similar sound quality and performance to the Beats Fit Pro, which carry a higher list price of $200, but often get discounted to $160.
So why would you buy these instead of the Fit Pros, particularly since the Fit Pros include Apple's H1 chip, ear-detection sensors and spatial audio with head-tracking (for iPhone users)?
It comes down to what style of buds you like. Not everybody likes the Fit Pros' design with their integrated sport fins. While I ultimately think the AirPods Pro 2 are superior, some people prefer earbuds without stems -- these are quite discreet; they barely stick out of your ears. And let's get real, if you're an Android user, you're probably not buying the AirPods Pro 2 -- the Studio Buds Plus are the better choice.
As likable as they are, I do think the Studio Buds Plus are a little expensive at $170. The good news is the original Studio Buds quickly came down in price and now sell for less than $100. I expect that the Studio Buds Plus will follow a similar path and ultimately cost $30-$50 less. However, I can see the black and ivory models getting discounted before the transparent version does. Gimmick or not, I do think that model will be popular. As I said, clear is cool -- or different, anyway.