Beats has been owned by Apple for 5 years now, but it’s with their latest headphones, that it’s more apparent than ever. To that effect, the new Beats Solo Pro headphones are a stellar pair of on-ear wireless headphones with active noise cancellation that might just be best-in-market.
The new Beats Solo Pro don’t look so different from previous generations, but they certainly feel different. They are a quality and well-engineered product complete with anodized aluminum, leather, and metal joints. They’re far from “plasticky”. It feels like an Apple make-over, inside and out. They kept the iconic design but there is a lot more simplicity and durable components. We also can’t help but love the beautiful bright matte finish.
Hands down, our favorite feature is the power button – or lack thereof it! There’s no pressing-and-holding, and no switches or tapping. Simply fold them up to shut them off and open them up to turn them on. It’s so obvious and intuitive!
There’s a tri-fold design where each ear cup folds into the headband. They’re really portable and can easily fit into most jacket pockets. There’s only one small button that’s visible and a port that’s not USB-C, but lightning. Unfortunately, there’s no auxiliary port to plug a cable in, and our lightning-to-headphone adapter did not do the trick. You’ll need to buy a special cable from Apple. The single button controls noise cancellation. There’s a covert multi-function button on the right ear cup’s Beats logo. Above and below that button is volume buttons. You can do everything you need to with the buttons and there’s no complicated touch buttons, swipes, or press-and-holds.
These are on-ear headphones and not over-ear. Usually, brands hold the premium features and quality for the over-ears, but it seems like Apple didn’t skimp here. These are pretty competitive with Sony and Bose’s popular noise-canceling over-ears. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Beats Solo Pro are more comfortable than most over-ear headphones. They have large and well-cushioned ear cups that are larger than almost any ear. I did find the comfort to eventually wear off and have to give my ears and head a break every hour or so. With that said, they have a really sturdy fit that will get you through most any activity including sit-ups or running. They’re great at the gym.
We’re absolutely blown away by how amazing active noise cancellation (ANC) has become. Sony and Bose have been leading the market, and we believe the Beats is as good, if not better. There are two things good ANC headphones need: they have to silence ambient noise (of course), and they need to sound normal with no music playing. You shouldn’t be able to hear the noise cancellation and a hiss or a weird tone. Beats nails both of these. They can almost make a moving subway car sound silent, and without a clear indication that the feature is enabled. Beats have better natural noise isolation given their tight on-ear fit — this plays a role with the exceptional noise cancellation. There’s a transparency feature that you can turn on to hear voices and surroundings, but we rarely needed it.
Apple’s smart to not over-brand these and preclude Android users, but if you’ve got an iPhone you’ll get a little extra out of these Beats. They feature the same new H1 smart chip in AirPods that enables features like “Hey Siri”, a really fast sync process, and a stronger connection. There’a few other iOS perks like auto-syncing to all other devices on your iCloud account and being able to stream music to two pairs of Apple headphones from one iOS device. Android users won’t even resize they’re missing out on anything though, especially considering the Bluetooth 4.0 support. We were sad to see there’s no app or means to change preferences. These headphones are ripe for personalization and this is a point deduction for Apple against the Sony/Bose competition. Another surprising omission is there’s no sensors for auto-playing and pausing music when you put them on or take them off.
The battery can technically last for 40 hours without noise cancellation, which is a serious amount of time. Since ANC is turned on by default, and usually preferable, you’ll see about half of that (22 hours). In practice, the battery felt to last shorter just getting me through a week of normal usage. Thankfully it takes just 10 minutes of charging to get three hours of playback.
We were surprised that these Beats had such a relatively balanced sound profile. Historically, we’ve found Beats to be on the extra bassy side and tuned specifically for harder and rappier music. The bass is still amazing; it’s thumpy and natural sounding while not overshadowing mids and vocals. With a more balanced signature, we found every genre really enjoyable to listen to. The mids are very clear and present, the highs are nice and crisp. Overall they sound incredible with little distortion. There’s a lot of vibrancy and detail. Out of the box, we like the sound better than the popular Sony over-ears, however, Sony offers the ability to tune the headphones and Apple does not. While the sound quality is pretty subjective, we found these Beats are neck and neck with the competition in the same price range — but we still deduct points for not offering the ability to tune/tweak the audio profile.
We knew with Apple’s involvement the microphone and phone calls would be good, and we weren’t wrong. Like AirPods, and the Powerbeats Pro headphones, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make the microphone one of the best on portable headphones. There’s a speech-detecting accelerometer and dual-beam forming microphones that can isolate your voice and separate it from background noise. You’ll have no problems making phone calls outside, even in a noisy city.
We were hoping for USB-C, an app for customization, better smart features, and a more competitive price point, but all of these omissions are forgivable. In any case, we can’t help but love the Beats Solo Pro’s portability, top-notch active noise cancellation, amazing sound quality, and usability. Hats off to Apple and Beats for finding a solid harmony between brands. The Beats Solo Pro have Beats’ pizazz, strong brand, and bold aesthetics, combined with Apple’s dedication to build quality, audio quality, and ease-of-use.
The Beats Solo Pros are currently available in 3 matte color finishes as well as ivory, black, and gray for $299.95. This is an over-ear price tag on an on-ear pair of headphones but at least we found Solo Pros to give the comparable over-ears some real competition.