Apple’s AirPods Pro are some of the best noise-cancelling true wireless earphones on the market, but at $249, they’re among the most expensive. Apple owns Beats, and the Beats Studio Buds are loaded with AirPods Pro-like features for just $149.99, including active noise cancellation (ANC), Spatial Audio for Apple Music’s new Dolby Atmos-mixed tracks, and one-touch pairing for both iOS and Android devices. From an audio standpoint, the Studio Buds deliver a powerful, bass-forward experience, and manage to keep the highs crisp. Noise cancellation is decent, but you definitely get what you pay for. And while many of the included features share similarities with the AirPods Pro, they aren’t as polished.
Ready for Android and iOS
Available in black, red, or white, the Studio Buds are on the tiny end of the true wireless earpiece scale. Their small size can make them a little more difficult to place in your ear at first, and their slick surface doesn’t necessarily help. Once in place, however, they offer a secure in-canal seal that stays put over long listening sessions. The Studio Buds ship with three pairs of oval eartips in small, medium, and large sizes.
Internally, the audio is delivered by 8.2mm dual-element dynamic drivers. The Studio Buds are compatible with Bluetooth 5.2, and support AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but not AptX.
The earpieces feature a modest IPX4 water-resistance rating, which means they can withstand light splashes from any direction. But don’t clean them off under a running faucet, and keep in mind the case itself isn’t water resistant, so only place completely dry earbuds inside.
On-ear controls are mirrored on each earpiece. The outer panel with the Beats logo is a button. Pressing it once controls playback and call management, pressing it twice skips forward a track, and pressing it three times navigates backward a track. A long press cycles through ANC on, Transparency on, and ANC off. There are no onboard volume controls, which is a bummer, but certainly not uncommon.
There’s no wireless charging, which on its own isn’t necessarily a negative, but the Studio Buds ship only with a USB-C charging cable. If you don’t have a USB-C port to connect them to, the lack of wireless charging means you’ll be buying a USB-C-to-USB-A cable, as there’s no included adapter.
The charging case is oval, with a flip-top lid and an interior pairing button that you might not ever need to use thanks to one-touch pairing for Android and iOS. The bottom panel houses the USB-C port for the charging cable, while the front panel has a status LED.
Beats estimates battery life to be roughly five hours with ANC on or eight hours with ANC off, with an additional 10 hours in the charging case when ANC is on or 16 hours when it’s off. These numbers are fairly average for the category, and your results will vary depending on your volume levels and ANC usage.
Interestingly (for an Apple product), the Studio Buds are made with native support Android and iOS in mind. One-touch pairing and Find My Device are supported in both Android 7.0 and iOS 14.6 or later. There’s an app for Android, while in iOS, the Beats experience is similar to that of the AirPods: In the Bluetooth menu, you can access a settings page by tapping on the Beats Studio Pro info icon. Here you can assign the press-and-hold function on either ear to activate ANC (this is the default setting) or Siri, or you can have each ear assigned to a different function. You can also manually switch between ANC on, ANC off, and Transparency modes on this screen, as you can do in the iOS control center by pressing and holding on the volume icon, which reveals a mini settings page for the Studio Buds.
Noise Cancellation and Mic Performance
The Studio Buds deliver average active noise cancellation for the price. They use a fixed filter, not adaptive ANC like some previous Beats products. It’s not identical to the AirPods Pro’s ANC, either.
The earphones offer decent noise cancellation in scenarios with deep, low frequency-noise, like airplane rumble—the lows are dialed back, but we hear a high-frequency hiss added to the signal. As for mids and highs, the Studio Buds show similar performance with a recording of a busy restaurant full of chatter and dishes clanging—the lows and mids are dialed back significantly, but the highs make it through, and there’s an audible hiss. Compared with the AirPods Pro on these same tests, the Studio Buds handle the lows and mids similarly, but they add notably more hiss to the equation.
The hiss seems present whenever the ANC is on. Particularly in a quiet room, turning on the ANC makes it obvious just how much high-frequency hiss is added to the signal. It’s not an unpleasant sound (think faint white noise), but it’s a hallmark of less-than-top-notch noise cancellation. It’s also possible that, with ANC engaged, the bass response is dialed back ever so slightly, but for the most part the sound signature seems unchanged whether ANC is engaged or not.
Transparency mode (which lets you hear your surroundings without removing the earphones) is easy to switch to, and does a great job of offering a fairly realistic reproduction of your surroundings. There’s some added hiss, but volume levels are well matched, and the overall clarity is solid.
See How We Test Noise-Cancelling HeadphonesSee How We Test Noise-Cancelling Headphones
The multi-mic array offers good intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone, we can hear some Bluetooth distortion, as is common with true wireless in-ears, but the mic signal is strong, and the clarity is as well. Even with some slight fuzz, the mics seem to accentuate frequencies that make it easier to be understood, and the beam-forming array targets wind noise.
Sound Quality and Spatial Audio
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Studio Buds deliver some seriously deep low-frequency thump, even at moderate volumes. At top, unwise listening levels, the powerful lows on this track don’t distort.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the general sound signature. And holy moly, do the here sound extra thunderous, cavernous, and massive—it feels like you’re standing inside the kick drum. Almost magically, however, the high-mids are boosted and sculpted enough to make the track sound balanced, so this is a bass-forward sound signature, with bright, crisp highs to match. Purists seeking accurate audio performance will run in fear, but if you like added, deep bass depth that doesn’t overwhelm the clarity of the mix, Beats has done a good job of dialing up the lows without destroying the rest of the mix.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives an ideal high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punch, but it also gets plenty of extra bass depth we often don’t hear applied to the loop. The vinyl crackle and hiss that’s nestled into the background takes a slight step forward, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with subwoofer-like body. So you have some seriously dialed-up bass from drivers that handle powerful lows gracefully, matched with very sculpted high-mids and highs that somehow don’t add much sibilance to the vocals. It may not be accurate, but it’s an exciting sound signature.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get a bit more low-frequency depth than they need—things would sound tubby and muddy if the highs weren’t so boosted and sculpted. Thus, clarity doesn’t suffer, but there’s a little more richness and bass depth through the Studio Buds than there usually is.
As for Spatial Audio in Apple Music, it has been described in Apple’s promotional videos as sound that is physically leaving the earphones behind, placing it above and around you. Be that as it may, Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio still needs to harness the power of stereo drivers in order to deliver it, so lest there be any confusion here, this is stereo, left-right audio, dipped in spatial effects.
With the AirPods lineup, the internal accelerometer enhances the experience by adjusting the audio to match your head movements. The Studio Buds lack this feature, and the accelerometer-free version of Spatial Audio sounds a whole lot like stereo, with reverb and EQ added in. Deep bass seems to sound a little deeper, and sibilance sounds a bit brighter, but a magical experience this is not.
Ultimately, we are nowhere near a moment of experiencing true surround sound from wire-free earphones, or even anything that sounds like surround. All of this said, it’s a harmless inclusion and it can sound cool despite not delivering on its fully immersive promise. Just remember that films mixed in Dolby Atmos take advantage of specialized features in soundbars and other speakers when they’re available, such drivers that aim the audio in different directions on systems that, in some cases, have taken full measure of your room’s acoustics beforehand for maximum effect. When you listen to curated Spatial Audio/Dolby Atmos mixes in Apple Music through the Studio Buds, you’re getting a track that has been mixed to sound especially good through these drivers, but any idea that there’s true surround or spatial feel here is pure marketing.
Are These Buds for You?
If you’re looking for the best true wireless noise cancellation, you’ll be spending a lot more on the aforementioned AirPods Pro, the $280 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, or the $280 Sony WF-1000MX4. For $150 and below, there are few standout ANC options, though Anker’s $130 Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro earphones offer a more balanced sound signature than the Studio Buds and do a laudable job with noise cancellation. That said, they lack the iOS integration and one-touch Android pairing that make the Beats pair a little more interesting. So while the Beats Studio Buds are far from flawless, if you like boosted bass and don’t need top-tier noise cancellation, they deliver a solid experience for the price.