Just four short years ago, we were warning you about Beats. Folks were tearing apart old sets of Solo headphones to find bad build quality and extra metal pieces that were seemingly there only to make the headphones a little heavier. Rude! As Beats released new models over time, we fretted about how flimsy Beats were, despite the high price tag. But now, Beats headphones are being reborn under the guardianship of Apple’s industrial design team. This resurrection doesn’t come cheap, but it is impressive.
The new on-ear Beats Solo Pro look just like the old on-ear Beats Solo3 Wireless if you squint. They’ve got that lowercase “b” logo stamped on the round ear cups, and the streamlined headband you’re used to seeing on older models. (The new Beats Solo Pro weigh 9 ounces, while the old ones are a little over 7.5 ounces.) What’s new are two anodised aluminium pieces that connect the two and a certain heft that the old Beats Solo lack. The aluminium is the same material you’ll find in the base of an iMac computer, and that’s not an accident. The Solo Pro are the first Beats headphones to be built completely under Apple’s supervision. The company says it took three years.
Using the new Beats for a week left me wondering why Apple didn’t intervene sooner. Indeed, the iPhone-maker has owned the Beats brand for five years now, and we’ve seen some Apple features trickle over into the Beats lineup. In 2017, for instance, the Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones got the same W1 chip that debuted in Apple’s AirPods. That made pairing with Apple devices easier and generally made the headphones more dependable. But the design of the Studio Wireless, as well as the Solo, remained dreadfully similar to the pre-Apple Beats headphones. Then, earlier this year, Beats offered a glimpse at its future with the Powerbeats Pro truly wireless earbuds, which were the first Beats product to be revamped by Apple’s design team. The new Solo Pro are the first headband-style headphones to get the treatment.
I like what Apple’s done with the place. The Beats Solo Pro feel as sturdy as any set of headphones should. You can drop them on the floor, and they don’t bust into a hundred pieces. You can twist the headband to an alarming degree, and it won’t snap. I can’t imagine these Solo headphones have any extraneous metal pieces added for fake heft. They feel hefty enough on their own. But they’re also not heavy in a weight that hurts your head after extended wear.
The twist is exhilarating. Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)
Meanwhile, wearing the Beats Solo Pro is a pleasure. For the first time, these Solo headphones feature active noise cancelling (ANC). It’s the same technology used in the over-ear Studio3 Wireless, and while I can’t say its as powerful as the noise cancelling on models from industry leaders like Sony and Bose, the Beats’ ANC is good enough to help me hear my podcast on the subway without blasting the volume. There’s also a good amount of noise isolation through the headphones’ redesigned ear cups. They have more cushioning, which also makes the on-ear headphones more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. I did notice that the Beats Solo Pro felt a little tight at times, though that might be because I have a big head. However, it’s safe to say that folks with colossal heads might have trouble wearing these. With the ear cups fully extended, they still seemed a bit small on me.
Using the headphones is a breeze, though. There’s no power button because you just unfold the headphones to turn them on and connect them to your device. Connectivity was seamless with both iOS and Android devices, based on my tests. The right ear cup features a sleek volume rocker and a single button in the centre to control playback. There’s also a button on the left ear cup that controls the level of noise-cancelling, in case you want to hear more of your surroundings. Thanks to the new H1 wireless chip, you can also use always-on microphones to beckon Siri and control your music (e.g., “Hey Siri, play Daft Punk”).
The light and flimsy Beats Solo3 Wireless (top) versus the strong and sturdy Beats Solo Pro (bottom). Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)
Believe it or not, the Beats Solo Pro sound good, too. I’m surprised by this because Beats have always bugged me with its bass-heavy tendencies. The tuning of the Solo Pro is less so and provides a more balanced sound. “Barcelona Nights” by Ottmar Liebert sounds less muddy than it does on older beats. On the same token, “Goodbyes” by Post Malone sounds less thumpy, in a good way. “Africa” by Toto sounds simply dreamy on the Solo Pro. Then again, “Africa” by Toto sounds dreamy no matter how you listen to it.
I like the Beats Solo Pro. It feels like the company has turned a corner, leaving behind a scattered history of making questionable headphones and charging towards a brighter future. As such, I’m excited about the inevitable upgrade to the Beats Studio flagship.
The only problem is that the new Beats are more expensive than old Beats. The Solo Pro will set you back £270, which is the same sticker price on the excellent Sony WH-1000XM3 and the also great Jabra Elite 85h. They’re also £90 more than the Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones, which, admittedly, aren’t as good as the new Pro model. And although I realise I complain a lot about headphones being too expensive on this site – £270 is a lot of money! – this price hike bugs me. Beats could have decided to upgrade the Solo lineup and leave prices where they were, but no. How would the company line Apple’s coffers even more without a bit of gouging here and there?
They still look like Beats. Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)
Beats will nevertheless sell a lot of these headphones. Those who do fork over three C-notes for the Solo Pro will surely enjoy using them. They’re good headphones. And there I said it: Beats made good headphones.
- Sleek design and surprisingly sturdy build quality
- Comfortable, if a little tight for big-headed people
- Nice, balanced sound quality
- £90 too expensive