Looking at Beats’ current headphone line-up, it’s impossible to miss two nearly identical models: the Beats Solo 3 and the Beats Studio Wireless. How come then that the less expensive of the two, the Beats Solo 3, is newer, lasts longer on a single charge, and features Apple’s new W1 chip that promises to offer significant performance and connectivity benefits?
Beats Studio Wireless vs Solo 3
|Beats||Beats Studio Wireless Over-Ear Headphone||274.9|
|Beats||Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones||189.99|
The answer has a lot to do with marketing and not much to do with the actual performance of the headphones. If you’re trying to establish yourself as a music producer, you better be ready to spend big money to get started. At the very least, you will need a capable computer, digital audio workstation software, a couple of microphones with stands, an audio interface, and a pair of studio monitors. Given that even the most basic setup can easily cost several grand, paying around $350 for the Beats Studio Wireless headphones suddenly doesn’t seem like a big deal.
But if you don’t dream in beats and verses, justifying such a big purchase isn’t as easy. Costing around $100 less than the Beats Studio Wireless, the Solo 3, with their state-of-the-art wireless chip, seem like the perfect choice for enthusiastic music listeners who like the look and sound of the Studio Wireless, but not their price.
Connectivity: Where the Magic Happens
Perhaps the most significant advantage of the Solo 3 compared to the Studio Wireless is the presence of Apple’s new W1 chip. You may already know this chip as the brain behind the Apple AirPods. According to Apple, “It can tell when you’re talking and listening, manages battery life for up to 5 hours on one charge, handles changes between calls and listening to music as well as improves the sound quality, all on its own with no added steps from the person using them.”
It also considerably simplifies the pairing process, turning what would otherwise take several steps to a single tap on the screen. To get the most out of the W1 chip, you should own the iPhone 7/7 Plus, but even older iOS devices running iOS 10 or later are supported. It’s only Android users who are out of luck. Yes, it’s still possible to use the Solo 3 with Android smartphones, but it’s back to the traditional Bluetooth pairing process.
So, how does pairing with the W1 chip work? It’s similar to NFC but with a longer range, actually. As soon as you turn the headphones on close to your iPhone, the pairing card pops out, and all you need to do is hit the confirm button. It’s a minor usability improvement, but one that’s easy to get used to and hard to live without once you have it for a while.
Winner: The W1 chip gives the Solo 3 a huge advantage over the Studio Wireless. In time, Apple will definitely update all Beats headphones to include it, but it could take a while.
Build and Design: On-Ear Versus Over-Ear
Apart from the W1 chip, the second most significant difference between the Solo 3 and the Studio Wireless headphones is that the Solo 3 earcups rest against the ears while the Studio Wireless wrap entirely around the ears.
This construction difference has several implications. For starters, the over-ear design of the Studio Wireless is much more comfortable when listening for extended time—just like a sound engineer or music producer would in a studio. What’s more, the Studio Wireless isolate significantly more outside noise.
Apart from this, the two headphones are nearly identical. Both feature invisible control buttons around the Beats logo, with the logo acting as the pairing button. Both have soft padding on the inside of the headband and plush earcups that feel great against the skin. Both can also be folded and carried around inside the provided case—a hard-shell case for the Studio Wireless and a soft pouch for the Solo 3. Finally, both come with a detachable audio cable for wired listening. Unfortunately, even when connected through the cable, both the Solo 3 and the Studio Wireless only work with the battery charged.
Does the inferior comfort of the Solo 3 mean that the headphones aren’t suitable for serious listening? Not at all! It just depends on what you mean by serious listening. To us, a serious listener is anyone who keeps up with the music industry, or at least follows a few favorite artists, and who actively tries to find the time to listen to music, be it while traveling to work or school, working, or when just chilling in the evening. We’re willing to bet that most serious listeners don’t wear headphones for more than an hour at a time. For those people, the Solo 3 will work great. But if you’re someone who basically lives with headphones on, the Studio Wireless will likely be a better choice.
Winner: The Studio Wireless turned out to be more comfortable than the Solo 3 thanks to their over-ear construction.
Sound Quality: Apple’s Take on Beats Headphones
The sound signature of Beats headphones and earbuds is so unique that it often is mentioned even when talking about headphones from other manufacturers. It implies accentuated lows, forward mids, and decent highs—the ideal combination for listening to hip hop, dubstep, and pop. It doesn’t, however, imply that headphones with “the Beats sound” are great for classical music, rock, or jazz, just to give a few examples.
Apple is clearly trying to change this image and reality and make Beats headphones more neutral. The Solo 3 do have tamer lows, but the difference is, for the most part, not even worth mentioning. You could easily achieve the same end result by playing with the EQ settings on your phone. Hopefully, future versions of the Solo 3 and the Studio Wireless headphones will improve the level of detail and the overall tonal balance even further.
For the time being, you get the expected Beats experience with both headphones—great, pumping bass and warm sound. While the over-ear construction of the Studio Wireless can keep most of the bass contained, the on-ear construction of the Solo 3 struggles at above 60 percent volume.
The sound leakage of the Solo 3 is redeemed by the fantastic range and superb battery life. The W1 chip really delivers, and we were able to listen at distances of up to 80 feet and for up to 40 hours. The Studio Wireless only work at distances of up to 30 feet and last merely 12 hours.
Winner: The Solo 3 and the Studio Wireless sound remarkably similar, but the W1 chip has massively improved the battery life and the range of the Solo 3, making them the winner in this category.
The generational gap between the Studio Wireless and the newer Solo 3 is undeniable. So it the difference in comfort and suitability for professional use. When Apple releases an updated version of the Studio Wireless, it will be much harder to justify the purchase of the Solo 3, which would lose their most significant advantage. As it is, the Solo 3 are actually a sound choice over the Studio Wireless, but only if you don’t on wearing them for multiple hours at a time.