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Beats Studio Buds + review: A little bit better in every way

The new version comes with changes to ANC, battery life and more.

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

An Amazon listing may have spilled the beans early, but today Beats is officially debuting its latest true wireless earbuds. That premature appearance was mostly accurate: the Studio Buds + have a familiar design with loads of improvements on the inside. Those upgrades include better battery life, retooled call performance and updated noise cancellation. There’s also a new transparent design option that offers a look at all of those internal components. However, they come with a slightly higher price tag at $170, which means the new version isn’t quite as good of a deal as the original.

Design

While the IPX4-rated Studio Buds + may look identical to the previous model at first glance, there are some subtle changes. The most significant is the addition of acoustic vents on both the front and the side. Beats says the updated design improves airflow to the transducer, which not only increases movement for sound but also allows for more effective active noise cancellation (ANC) and a better transparency mode. Interestingly, changing up the airflow was a key aspect of the improvements to sound quality Apple achieved in the second-gen AirPod Pro.

Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget

Like the Studio Buds were before, the Studio Buds + remain the best Beats option for most people. Factor in noticeable improvements to ANC and other tweaks, Beats has another compelling true wireless model here.

Pros
  • Improved sound and ANC
  • Longer battery life
  • More reliable onboard controls
  • Transparent color option is neat
Cons
  • No automatic pausing
  • No wireless charging
  • Sound could still be better
  • Ambient sound isn’t as natural as AirPods
$170 at Beats

The vents also help relieve pressure so that the Studio Buds + are more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. I found that claim of increased comfort to hold true throughout my testing. Additionally, Beats added an extra small ear tip size this time around. The company says it did this after analyzing “fit success” for a variety of people and conducting hours of testing. With the new size the company says it can provide a better seal, and in turn improved sound quality, for more people.

The overall design is unchanged, but Beats says 95 percent of the internal components have been swapped out for new parts. This list includes custom-built transducers which it claims delivers “cleaner” bass with minimal distortion while providing overall “powerful, balanced” sound. The new microphones are three times larger and there’s 16 percent more battery capacity. There are also upgrades to the battery in the charging case and Beats managed all of the power improvements without increasing the size of either the buds or their holder.

Another key aspect Beats tweaked is the “b” button that facilitates the onboard controls. With the original Studio Buds, it was very easy to accidentally hit when trying to adjust the fit. The company says it “revised the design” for “better product interactions” and to cut down on “accidental button presses.” Reliability of the controls was never an issue and that remains true on the Studio Buds +, but after testing I’m happy to report the errant presses are a thing of the past.

Software and features

Beats Studio Buds + review
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

When it comes to the companion software for the Studio Buds +, there are no big changes. As before, everything is still baked into iOS for iPhone users. That includes one-touch pairing, iCloud device pairing and hands-free Siri. More settings are accessible via the device name on the Bluetooth menu, where Beats gives you battery percentage and noise control (ANC, transparency or off), alongside the ability to tweak the press-and-hold action, how you prefer to end calls and microphone priority. There’s also a shortcut to show the earbuds in the Find My app here. As is the case on other Beats devices, you can quickly access noise control via the volume slider in Control Center too.

On Android, there’s still a separate Beats app for button customization and firmware updates, but some features are available directly in the OS. One-touch pairing via Google Fast Pair as well as linking the earbuds to all of your Android and Chrome devices is here. Once those are synced, you can quickly switch between them thanks to the Studio Buds + multipoint pairing. These new Beats earbuds will also show up in Find My Device on Android, helping you locate them should they be misplaced.

The addition of onboard volume controls addresses one of my key gripes with the original Studio Buds. However, you’ll have to sacrifice noise control – the ability to toggle between ANC, transparency or off – directly on the earbuds. You’ll also forfeit the ability to summon a virtual assistant manually, which is key for Android users. Once you enable volume controls, the long press on one side turns the sound up while the other will turn it down. You can choose which you prefer on which side though, so there’s that.

Sound quality and active noise cancellation

Beats Studio Buds + review
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Beats hasn’t always been known for balanced sound and clean bass, but that’s what the company is promising on the Studio Buds +. The overall tuning here is indeed a solid mix of highs, mids and lows – all of which stand on their own and cut through the mix with ease. Even more bass-heavy tunes like Underoath’s “Damn Excuses” are quite neutral sounding. The thumping kick drum and driving bass line don’t overpower the gritty, distorted guitars, backing vocals or the more subtle synth and keys underneath.

In fact, I’d like a little more bass on the Studio Buds +. Or perhaps a little fuller bass. There are times where the low end feels flat, like on other songs from Underoath’s Voyeurist. Hip-hop tracks fare better, but the driving, almost droning quality across Run The Jewels’ catalog is noticeably subdued. Beats certainly succeeded in achieving a balanced sound, but it did so by zapping some energy from the bass section of the EQ. And this holds true with both spatial audio and “regular” tunes alike.

In terms of noise canceling performance, Beats touts a 1.6x improvement thanks to the upgraded microphones, vents and the company’s second-gen chip. It’s a modest gain, but there is a discernible jump in the ability to block constant noise sources. There’s still work to be done when it comes to things like human voices and the random racket, though. The first Studio Buds did an adequate job of noise suppression and these are slightly better.

I don’t usually call out transparency mode in reviews because most of the time it’s just… there. But Beats says it improved this ambient sound thanks to the new mics, vent design and sound processing I’ve already mentioned. Indeed, there’s a noticeable difference on the Studio Buds + as compared to the previous version, but it’s nowhere near the level of what Apple achieves on some of its AirPods. Part of the reason for this is that Beats doesn’t feed the sound of your voice back through the earbuds. So while AirPods Pro and AirPods Max can make it seem like you’re not even wearing them in transparency mode, the Studio Buds + aren’t on that level.

Call quality

Beats Studio Buds + review
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Beats says it “completely redesigned” the voice setup in the Studio Buds +. It did so by swapping out components and adding a new algorithm with the aim of suppressing unwanted noise and better focusing on your voice. To develop the algorithm, Beats explains that it used machine learning for the first time to train the system versus “a wide variety” of noisy scenarios with more than 7,000 hours of testing. In addition to new mics and a redesigned port to house them, the company says the larger components have an improved signal-to-noise ratio. The voice mic port was also relocated to the bottom side to underneath the multifunction button for upgraded voice detection.

All of that looks great on paper, but plenty of audio companies make lofty claims about call quality that rarely pan out as advertised. The promise of better noise blocking from the voice system does hold true and I consistently noticed less background roar in calls and recorded memos. However, the overall quality is good but not great. There’s a slightly muffled quality to your voice, and it lacks the clarity some other earbuds can provide. What’s more, the Studio Buds + confusingly disables transparency mode when you start a call if you have it active. Couple that with the fact that the ambient sound feature doesn’t pipe in your voice and that’s a perfect recipe for you to get shouty during a meeting.

Battery life

Beats promises improved battery life with the Studio Buds + over the previous model. The new earbuds can muster six hours of use with ANC or transparency mode on with three additional charges in the case. Turn noise cancellation and ambient sound off and you can get up to nine hours in one go (up to 27 additional hours with the case). That’s one more hour in the buds themselves and 11 more in the case. It’s a significant improvement and during my tests was an accurate representation of battery performance.

Indeed, I managed to hit six hours easily during my testing with a mix of ANC and transparency mode for both music and calls. In fact, I still had six percent remaining at that time, so you’ll likely get slightly better than Beats’ stated figures out of the Studio Buds +. The one knock against this model when it comes to battery is the lack of wireless charging. The first Studio Buds didn’t have it either and the company didn’t see the need to add it this time around.

The competition

Beats Studio Buds + review
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

The best alternative to the Studio Buds + comes from Beats’ own stable of audio gear. The Beats Fit Pro are my favorite in the company’s line right now, with fully adaptive ANC, and spatial audio that utilizes head tracking and personalization. I also enjoy the balanced, punchy bass on these. Battery life isn’t quite as good as the new model with ANC off, but it’s the same with noise cancellation enabled (six hours). No wireless charging here either, but the wingtip design offers a more secure fit for workouts. The Fit Pro debuted just months after the first Studio Buds in 2021, so perhaps they’re headed for a refresh too.

If you’re looking for a non-Beats option, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 remains our top pick for the best wireless earbuds. Simply put, no one comes close to the full suite of features the company offers. On top of great sound and effective ANC, the earbuds can automatically change settings based on your activity or location. What’s more, handy tools like Speak-to-Chat make quick convos a breeze thanks to automatic pausing via voice detection. iPhone users will have to sacrifice the tight integration with iOS, iCloud device sharing and hands-free Siri though.

Wrap-up

Like the Studio Buds were before, the Studio Buds + remain the best Beats option for most people. They have the design with the most general appeal and work in lockstep with iOS. The company has done significant work to make sure the earbuds sync up better with Android too. Factor in noticeable improvements to ANC and other tweaks, Beats has another compelling true wireless model here. With the price increase, these have crept out of the mid range and are approaching premium status. That makes them a less obvious value than the original model, but it’s far from a dealbreaker. Let’s just hope the company has some upgrades planned for the Beats Fit Pro too.

The Beats Studio Buds + are available starting today in black/gold, ivory and transparent color options for $170. The new model is currently for sale at Apple in the US, Canada and China.