Beats Studio Buds+ hands-on review
Beats Studio Buds+: Specs
Price: $169 / £179 / AU$269
Colors: Black/gold, ivory, transparent
Battery life: 9 hours (ANC off); 6 hours (with ANC and/or transparency enabled); up to 36 hours total (with charging case and ANC off)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3
Size: Approx. 0.9 x 0.8 x 0.6 inches (per bud)
Weight: Approx. 0.2 ounces (per bud)
The Beats Studio Buds+ have arrived. After weeks of rumors, the 'Plus' version of Apple's most popular Beats' wireless earbuds are finally official, offering enhanced features for both iOS and Android users with improvements to active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency, and call performance, as well as longer battery life.
The good news is that the new Studio Buds+ version retains much of what made the original Studio Buds so popular. They ranked among some of the best wireless earbuds when they launched in 2021, but tech advances come fast in the wireless earbuds sector, and a Studio Buds update had felt overdue for some time.
Luckily, I got some hands-on time shortly before the official launch to find out whether the feature and performance enhancements have pushed the newest version of the Beats Studio Buds on, and whether they are worthy of the $20 price increase. Keep scrolling to find out in my initial thoughts in my hands-on review, which I'll be updating to a full review shortly.
Beats Studio Buds+: Price and release date
Beats Studio Buds+ are available to pre-order today (May 17) from the Apple Store in three color options, including black & gold, ivory, and transparent. They go on full sale on May 18 priced at $169 / £179 / AU$269.
Additionally, it's pretty safe to say that I expect to see the Beats Studio Buds+ on sale at Amazon following the accidental listing, along with Best Buy.
That's a $20 increase for the Plus version over the price of the original Studio Buds, which launched at $149 in June 2021. At the time of writing, there's no information about whether the new Plus version will replace the original or whether they will run alongside.
Beats Studio Buds+: Design and comfort
Unlike the 6 colorful options available for the original Studio Buds, the Plus comes in just three colors including black & gold, ivory, and transparent options. The buds come with a matching USB-C charging case. The transparent option is clearly (no pun intended) the most interesting option to look at, and although I didn't manage to secure the transparent finish for this hands-on review, I imagine it will show off the earbud's internals to good effect in much the same way as the Nothing Ear (2). I'll certainly pass on my thoughts here when I do get to see the transparent version in the flesh.
The ivory color option that arrived for my hands-on review looks nice enough and feels well finished, but I've seen more sophisticated looking designs like the OnePlus Buds 2 Pro for a similar price. The charging case has an eggshell-like texture and is the same shape and size as the original. It doesn’t support wireless charging, which feels a let down given the price increase and the number of models that now do, and ships with a short USB-C-to-USB-C charging cable.
As before, the Studio Buds+ have a pill-shaped outer that protrudes slightly out of the ear. It has the iconic Beats “b” displayed on top for the world to see.
The Studio Buds+ retain the IPX4-rated water resistance of the original, which is also the same as the AirPods Pro 2 and sufficient enough to protect against sweat and light water splashes. They come with four different ear tip sizes including XS, S, M, and L to fit all kinds of ears. The medium size gave the best acoustic seal for my ears, but there's no ear fit test to check that they are correctly inserted into your ears.
Comfort levels were good during my initial hands-on tests, and I managed to do an hour at the gym without them slipping or falling out.
Beats Studio Buds+: Controls and digital assistant
Like the original, the top of the earbuds is a press to activate multifunction button. The force sensor has perhaps been adjusted though as we criticized it for being too sensitive in our original review, and requires a positive action to receive the commands. Controls run to press once to play or answer a call, twice to skip, three times to skip back, and a long-press to activate noise cancellation or switch to transparency mode.
Of course, Apple Music subscribers automatically get spatial audio playback for Dolby Atmos mixed tracks, but there's no head tracking or audio adjustments such as an equalizer. The Beats Studio+ app looks pretty basic when connected to my iPhone 12 Pro, and lacks the level of personalization features I've seen on rival brands for the same price. You can, of course, make sound adjustments through the settings on your playback device and music streaming service.
The Studio Buds include hands-free Siri support if you’re using an Apple device, and were quick to activate and respond to my commands. I've yet to try out Google Assistant support on my Android device, and will update here once my testing is complete.
On-ear detection doesn't appear to be enabled, and removing one or both earbuds doesn't pause playback.
Beats Studio Buds+: Sound quality
Without a pair of the original Studio Buds to compare to, the sound from the new Plus version was different to what I expected. Beats has long had a reputation for adding bass gravitas to the sound of whatever you're listening to, and I was surprised by how lean the lower bass levels sounded on the Beats Studio Buds+.
The press information I received suggests that the transducer design inside the buds is a dual-layer speaker design, offering balanced bass levels with lower distortion. Additionally, Beats says "three new acoustic vents improve audio precision and gently relieve pressure for a more comfortable all-day fit."
While I can't argue with the levels of comfort, it does seem to me that the frequency balance is now erring on the lean side. There's a lack of bass depth and warmth that I wasn't expecting when listening to Loreen's Eurovision-winning song "Tattoo" streamed via Apple Music, particularly when listening at lower volume levels.
Increasing the volume level does help to fill out the bass and bring more energy, but it needs to be pushed to louder than I'd expect to achieve full-spectrum sound. Additionally, treble details sound brash and hard side at times, but I'll give the Studio Buds+ further listening time with a range of different music tracks and report back on my findings.
Beats Studio Buds+: Active noise cancelling
Active noise cancellation is said to be up to 1.6x more powerful, while transparency performance is said to be twice as good as its predecessor.
At the gym, the ANC blocked out most of the noise from nearby fellow exercisers and dulled out the sound of my neighbor's gardening tools effectively, although the sound of notifications pinging away on my work laptop still managed to break through. I'll need to do further testing with a train commute to see whether the Beats Studio Buds+ rank as one of the best noise-cancelling earbuds on the market.
Transparency mode felt effective when I was walking back to the car after my gym session, and I was fully aware of my surroundings. But as with its predecessor, I couldn't see any way to adjust the amount of sound that gets through.
Beats Studio Buds+: Battery life
Apple has increased the Beats Studio Buds+ battery life playback time to 9 hours from a full charge. This translates to 6 hours with ANC or transparency modes enabled plus 3 additional charges. Fast charging is supported and gives 1 hour of playback from just a 5-minute charge. A full system recharge takes 2 hours.
Beats Studio Buds+: Outlook
The new Beats Studio Buds+ have plenty going for them. They retain the iconic design of the original but add improved ANC performance, stronger transparency mode, and hands-free Siri support. While the increase in battery life looks like a winner, it's pretty standard compared to today's rivals. Whether the Beats Studio Buds+ rank as one of the best noise cancelling earbuds at the price or whether performance is outclassed by rivals remains to be seen.