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Beats Studio Buds Plus reviewed: clear in design and sound

Quick review

Beats Studio Buds Plus (Studio Buds+) - $269.95
The good
Super cool translucent design for both earphones and case
Decent sound
Magnetic earphone case makes storing the phones a cinch
Better battery life than the original
Supported by an Android app
Works with Apple's FindMy network
The not-so-good
Lacks an automatic pause
No head-tracked spatial audio
No wireless charging
Seems a little overpriced

Offering a unique look and a fairly balanced sound, the Beats Studio Buds Plus are a buds that deliver just a little bit more than their original counterparts.

There’s no shortage of earphone choices, and while some brands take their time, others are just pushing them out. You have wireless earphone choices, especially when it comes to finding models in the high end.

Not everyone is looking in that part of the market, though. The high end earphone world gets pricey fast, and so it’s no wonder so many turn to just under that. Like it does in phones, mid-range is the place to be when you’re searching for value and a bargain, often because technology trickles down from once flagship models into the lower prices points.

For the Apple-owned Beats, that’s some of what happens. It’s been about a year since we saw a new pair of Beats Buds, but the most recent pair grabbed technology from the AirPods Pro 1st-gen, changed the design slightly, and delivered a product made for both Android and iPhone, something Apple doesn’t typically do.

Now Beats is back and doing it again, as it delivers a new generation of 2021’s Studio Buds. Called the Studio Buds+ (or “Studio Buds Plus” depending on how you want to write it), they’re a new generation of Beats’ compact earphones with ANC on-board, priced under $300 in Australia. There’s serious competition above $300, and also solid competition just below. Can the Beats Buds+ rival the best?

Design and features

Sporting a look like only one other pair of earphones out there, the transparent Beats Studio Buds+ stand out in a big way.

Very few gadget makers venture into the world of proper transparency, particularly in design, and with Beats trying that, the Studio Buds+ are exciting. As it is, the only company pair trying this approach is Nothing, with both its Ear (1) and Ear (2) noise cancelling earphones offering a transparent approach to earphone design.

Beats is playing in a category virtually no one else, and that’s one thing that helps the Studio Buds Plus stand out.

Mind you, if the transparent look isn’t for you, Beats also makes the Studio Buds+ in black, ivory, pink, and silver. They’re far less exciting than the frosted transparency look that reminds us of an early iMac or game controllers in the 90s, but you know, some folks don’t like devices that look different.

We do, though. We love this design. It’s just so cool.

These earphones look great. No one will confuse your totally clear Beats Studio Buds+ for another pair of white AirPods. They’re just so different. It’s delightful.

In-use

Of course, the moment you take the Buds from the box, you’ll see that no one could in good faith confuse these earphones for an AirPod. They just look so different.

Find an eartip size you like, pair the earphones with your phone, and you’re good to go, Android or iPhone.

While Apple doesn’t natively support Android, Beats does and you simply need to grab the app on Android to tweak settings, limited as they are.

Regardless of the device you use, the controls are triggered by buttons on each side. It’s a slim button at the back in an earphone that has a bit of a squeezed grip. You’re not going to squeeze the earphone to change anything, but rather press the flat button found here. Press it once to pause and play, twice to skip a track, three times quickly to go back, and hold it down to either change the noise cancellation mode or control volume.

Most of this is fairly normal for a pair of Bluetooth earphones, but the pinched design is one part you’ll need to get used to. Simply put, it can feel like you’re supposed to squeeze the Buds+ to use them, but instead you’re just pressing the click button at the back. That makes the controls not so much innovative, but rather just useful.

Performance

The performance is clearly the most important part, and as usual, we’re putting these earphones to the test using the Pickr Sound Test, which you can try out for yourself.

That starts with electronics, which sees Tycho and Daft Punk deliver some fairly balanced sound offering a punch on the lows, though the mids can sometimes feel a little dulled by comparison to the highs and bottom end.

It’s a vibe we get listening to Carly Rae Jensen, Mark Ronson, and Marvin Gaye — clearly not at the same time — with the overall feeling that something is missing. The highs are sharp and on point, and the lows are clearly punching back, but the sounds in the mid are just that little bit lacking.

We’d go so far as to say the Beats Studio Buds+ are mostly balanced and they work with so many genres, particularly older styles where the mixing hasn’t been focused on over-engineering, something you find more in music of today.

Testing with tracks from David Bowie, Paul Simon, The Who, and The Beatles, the sound from the Studio Buds+ is clear and solid, and delivers a more rounded balance than we’re getting from the more modern tunes in our test list. It’s much the same when we tune into jazz and classical, as well.

Support for Spatial… ish

Interestingly, while Spatial Audio with head-tracking isn’t supported, Beats does support Dolby Atmos without the head-tracking, something you can hear on Apple Music if you use the Studio Buds+, and it’s not what we expected.

While head-tracked Dolby Atmos tunes tend to be rich and well-layered, like what we experienced on the Beats Studio Pro headphones, the Studio Buds+ can sound bright by comparison.

When Ariana Grande popped up on our Pickr Sound Test, Apple Music ran the Atmos version, and the bass was near absent.

Our lesson for the Beats Buds+ is this: run them without Atmos, unless you like your music a touch shallow. They actually deliver a fairly balanced and clear sound when spatial isn’t a factor, and it almost never is.

Noise cancellation

Noise cancellation is an important part of any pair of ANC earphones, and the Beats Studio Buds+ definitely qualify. These earbuds offer a choice of either ANC on, ANC off, or transparency mode, which like we’ve experienced on other Apple and Beats earphones is quite good.

The active noise cancellation performance in the Beats Studio Buds+ isn’t quite where it is on the AirPods Pro and you’ll miss out on the adaptive ANC tech Apple has rolled out to its AirPods Pro, but it does a reasonable job all the same.

In real world testing, we found the hum of every day life was quelled and cut back while listening with the Studio Buds+, with the earbuds able to remove more train noise than Sony’s economical CH720N headphones. It’s not quite the ANC performance of what Apple, Bose, and Sony can get from its top tier noise cancelling earphones, but given the price difference, we’re not thoroughly surprised.

Battery

A little bit better in expectations is the battery, with around 5 to 6 hours of life with ANC switched on and an extra three charges from the case, making for around 20 to 24 hours depending on how you use the earphones.

That’s around the norm these days, maybe a little stronger, though Beats does suggest 9 hours playback time is possible for the Buds+ without ANC switched on. We’re not entirely sure who buys a pair of noise cancelling earphones only to leave the noise cancelling switched on. Not us, and probably not you.

Value

Priced at $269.95, the Beats Studio Buds+ are reasonably compelling for an Apple-owned noise cancelling product with a unique design, something that rarely comes in under $300.

However, as intriguing as this is, you need to factor in the Studio Buds+ direct competition to see where we’re stuck, because Beats offers a better pair for not much more.

Beats Studio Buds+ vs the competition

Nevermind the fact that the AirPods Pro are significantly better for $130 more. That’s no small chunk of change, so we can kind of ignore these as direct competition for the moment.

And you need to keep in mind that one of the features that makes the Beats Studio Buds+ so compelling is the support for Android. Beats offers an Android app for the Studio Buds, as it does for all its earphones. Over in the world of Apple, the AirPods Pro do not offer that same luxury, and gear the AirPods very much for Apple users alone.

But Beats offers a more compelling pair, as well: the Fit Pro.

Last year’s pair of great truly wireless in-ears from Beats, the Beats Fit Pro are one of our favourite pairs because they offer a great and comfortable design, solid noise cancellation, and support for head-tracked spatial audio, a feature missing in action on the Buds Pro, all for $30 more.

At $299.95, the Beats Fit Pro seem like a downright bargain compared to the $269.95 Studio Buds+, which really only have a unique design to make them stand out. We’d consider the Beats Fit Pro to them every time.

Clearly, the pricing needs some finessing, and we think these should be lowered closer to the $229.95 mark and below. If the difference between spatial audio and none at all was closer to $70 than $30, the Buds would deliver better value.

What needs work?

Unfortunately, that’s not all that needs work.

Aside for the lack of head-tracking, there’s no automatic pause and no wireless charging.

What Beats is offering in the Studio Buds+ is a logic all about the clarity. The Beats Studio Buds+ are clear in design and sound, and that’s not bad. They just feel like they need a little more finesse overall.

Final thoughts (TLDR)

That design is just so appealing, though. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been so drawn to the Nothing’s aesthetics because it offers a glimpse into the mystery that is technology. Transparent design is so fun, so cool, and every time we see a clear gadget, we just want it.

In the Studio Buds Plus, that design is just a part, with earphones that deliver decent sound and work across both major platforms, iOS and Android. That’s something you’re sure to love.

There are better options for both, and strangely, one of them is even made by Beats, as well. And frankly, if the Studio Buds+ were better priced, they’d be even easier to recommend.

However if what you’re after is a no-nonsense pair of noise cancelling buds that delivers great looks and decent sound, the Beats Studio Buds Plus are worth checking out. They’re clear in sound and design, and you can’t always say that about every pair.

Beats Studio Buds Plus (Studio Buds+)
Design
Features
Performance
Ease of use
Battery
Value
The good
Super cool translucent design for both earphones and case
Decent sound
Magnetic earphone case makes storing the phones a cinch
Better battery life than the original
Supported by an Android app
Works with Apple's FindMy network
The not-so-good
Lacks an automatic pause
No head-tracked spatial audio
No wireless charging
Seems a little overpriced
4
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