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Beats Studio Buds are bangin’ — but a bit of a bad bargain

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Unless you own an iPhone, you probably haven’t thought about Beats much in a few years. Apple bought the company for three billion-with-a-B dollars in 2014, and its more recent products have been increasingly Apple-focused, Lightning charging ports and all.

But the new Beats Studio Buds break with that tradition. Like newer iPads and MacBooks, they charge with the correct cable (USB-C, that is) and support Fast Pair, meaning they’re equally at home on Android as on iOS — and at $150, they look like a bargain next to the $250 AirPods Pro. I’ve enjoyed using them, but some missing features stop the Beats Studio Buds from being an unqualified home run.

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

Absent the prominent Beats branding, there isn’t much that stands out about the Studio Buds’ design — especially not the black colorway, which is downright pedestrian by Beats standards. Their case is a bit bigger than the Pixel Buds A-Series‘s, but smaller than the one for Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro. All that to say it might not fit in your change pocket, but it’s still plenty compact enough to carry without a bag.

The buds themselves are low-profile, too. Figuratively, anyway; these things stick farther out of my ears than any other buds I’ve used recently. But that’s not to say they’re uncomfortable. On the contrary: fit is always subjective, but these things feel like they were made for my ears. They sit very snugly, and despite not having any kind of stabilizing parts, they never felt like they might fall out, even during brisk runs. Other earbuds just feel wrong to me now.

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Left: Pixel Buds A-Series. Right: Beats Studio Buds.

There’s a single physical button on each earbud, and they work about like you’d expect. One tap to play/pause, two to skip forward, three to skip back. Long-presses can be assigned to either call up your voice assistant of choice or cycle through ANC modes (and yes, thankfully, you can set the earbuds to each do one of those things). Because of how well the Studio Buds fit my ears, pressing that button doesn’t jam them farther into my ear canals like can happen with other earbuds. I appreciate that.

In the box, you’ll find the buds, their case, additional ear tips, a short USB-C-to-USB-C cable (nice!), a big ol’ Beats sticker, and a card for a three-month trial of Apple Music. (As an aside, when you order direct from Beats, the earbuds ship in a compostable bag, which is neat.)

Sound quality, features, and battery life

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The red model in particular isn’t very subtle. (The buds also come in black or white.)

The Beats sound is a known quantity: neutral mids with boosted bass (and to a lesser extent, treble). Bass here doesn’t seem quite as prominent as I remember it being in the Beats headphones of yesteryear, but the Studio Buds definitely don’t have what you could call a neutral profile; I’d describe the sound as warm and full. And you know what? I like it. I’m not studying music theory here. You’re kind of out of luck if you don’t feel that way, though — the Beats app doesn’t have any EQ options.

If you want to get technical, the earbuds have 8.2-millimeter drivers and support SBC and AAC codecs — but not AptX, LDAC, LC3, or other high-quality options. Even so, my ears can’t pick out any pronounced compression, and audio-video lag has been a complete non-issue. The buds themselves (but not their case) are IPX4 water resistant, which means they won’t conk out if you get sweaty or caught in the rain.

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Despite weird microphone placement (they’re on the tops of the buds, for some reason, about as far from your mouth as possible), I haven’t had any complaints using the Studio Buds for phone calls and Zoom meetings. When asked, callers said I just sounded a little distant — which is hardly unusual for earbuds.

You can cycle ANC modes by long-pressing one of the buds’ buttons (or by using the Beats app, if you set both buttons to call up the Google Assistant). Noise canceling is okay — not as good as over-ear headphones or something like the Sony WF-1000XM4, but definitively good enough for earbuds. It effectively cuts out a large chunk of white noise — think air conditioning or distant traffic — and muffles everything else well enough for me to be glad it’s here.

I’m almost more impressed by the Studio Buds’ hear-through mode. It’s really good: you can comfortably hold a conversation without taking the buds out. Considering they don’t have sensors to know when they’re in your ears, that comes in handy — in a pinch, you can just pause your music and talk. Voices and environmental sounds are surprisingly lifelike.

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On the Android-specific side, Fast Pair is great to have, as always. When you connect the Studio Buds to your phone, you’ll get a notification that shows the battery level of both earbuds and their case. It’s very useful stuff, and it’s encouraging to see a product from an Apple-owned brand work so well with non-iOS devices.

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Unless you want to change what long-presses do, the Beats app doesn’t really do anything.

Beats says you can expect to get up to eight full hours of playback out of the Studio Buds on a single charge, but that seems optimistic. Just a couple hours of listening at medium volume with ANC on can drain the buds’ batteries by half — which isn’t bad, but don’t expect to go an entire workday without taking them out of your ears, even with noise canceling off. The case holds two additional full charges.

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That’s USB-C, thank God.

Should you buy them?

Sure. I wasn’t really expecting to be impressed with the Beats Studio Buds, but the combination of their fun sound, passable noise canceling, and supremely comfortable fit have sold me. These will almost certainly be my go-to earbuds for months to come.

But at the same time, it’s hard to ignore their shortcomings: wireless charging and in-ear detection are pretty common features in buds around this price. It’s also grating that, even though you can choose long-press functionality, volume isn’t an option; you have to either use your phone or your voice assistant.

On the whole, the Beats Studio Buds are fun, high-quality ANC earbuds that miss the features-to-value sweet spot by just a hair. But frankly, I’m surprised they come as close as they do. If you see a pair on sale (or value the Beats brand enough to pay the premium), snap ’em up. They’re a solid pick.

Buy them if:

  • You just want a fun pair of noise canceling earbuds and $150 sounds fair to you.
  • You catch a sale. These would be a steal at $120.

Don’t buy them if:

  • Neutral (or customizable) sound is a priority.
  • You expect a fuller feature set for $150.

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Where to buy:

Immaculate subtitle by Stephen Schenck. 

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