Apple's New Beats Studio Buds Look and Feel Better Than AirPods But Lack a Big Feature

  • Apple's new Beats Studio Buds look better than AirPods and are more comfortable but lack the H1 chip that syncs across Apple devices.
  • They're the first headphones to pair easily with both Apple and Android devices.
  • Apple owns Beats, so it wins whether you buy these or AirPods.

The Beats Studio Buds from Apple are now available for purchase for $149.99. I've been testing them for about a week and, in some ways, they're better than Apple's regular $159 AirPods. They're more comfortable. They're also the first set of headphones from Apple that quickly pair with iPhones and Android devices. Still, you'll miss out on important options that AirPods offer if you own multiple Apple devices.

Apple owns Beats, so Apple wins whether you buy AirPods or these new earbuds. But, by making it easier than AirPods to pair with Android devices, it now has buds that will appeal more to people who don't even own iPhones. It's smart.

Here's what you need to know.

What's good

Beats Studio Buds
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Beats Studio Buds

The Beats Studio Buds look better than AirPods. They don't have the long stem that hangs down below your ear. They're small and fit snugly inside my ear canal, and they stayed in even during long runs when I got sweaty. They're also really light, so they didn't really bother me after several hours of listening.

One unique feature that I've never seen before: When you open the Beats Studio Buds case, you'll be prompted to pair them right away with either an Android phone or an iPhone. Typically, Beats offer fast pairing for iPhones but you still need to move through a few more steps to pair them with an Android phone.

The Beats Studio Buds also have active noise canceling, a feature that's not even available on the more expensive Powerbeats Pro. It's subtle, though, and not quite as good at blocking background noise such as cars or lawnmowers as Amazon's recent Echo Buds 2 or more expensive headphones such as the AirPods Pro and Sony's new $280 WF-1000XM4.

I love that the pill-shaped case is much smaller than the Powerbeats Pro case. It's still larger than an AirPods or AirPods Pro case, but it fits just fine in a pocket. The earbuds offer up to 5 hours of battery life with noise canceling on or up to 8 hours with it off. That's more than the 5 hours of listening time you get with regular AirPods, which don't have noise canceling. Including the case, which recharges the buds, you get up to 15 hours with ANC on or 24 hours with it off. That's on a par with AirPods' promised 24 hours of battery life.

What's bad

Beats Studio Buds
Beats Studio Buds

The Beats Studio Buds don't use Apple's H1 chip, which means they don't register with your iCloud account and automatically sync to all of your Apple devices. So, if you pair them with your iPhone, you then have to pair them again with an iPad or a Mac. You can't just select them on those devices like you would with AirPods. That's a big problem for me since I'm constantly switching between devices. And you can only pair them with one device at a time, which would have made this less of a problem. So, in my case, I have them paired with my Apple Watch for runs, but every time I want to listen on my iPhone I have to pair them again. 

While you can still say "Hey Siri" to request a new song or something on a run, I found the button controls to skip or pause songs to be a little finicky. While I was running, for example, sometimes a double-tap didn't register. There's just not enough of a "click" to each press. And there aren't volume controls on the buds like there are on the more expensive Powerbeats Pro. 

And while the audio quality is fine, it lacks the boosted bass you'd find in something like Powerbeats Pro, which I really like while working out. It just amps me up a little more. These sound a bit duller compared to those headphones, even if they're still balanced well.

Lastly, the case doesn't have wireless charging. It's convenient to have if you wirelessly charge your phone, too, but it's not a deal breaker for me. The standard USB-C charging works fine, and most Android phone owners, or folks who have newer Macs and iPads, already have that charger lying around.

Should you buy them?

Beats Studio Buds
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Beats Studio Buds

It depends. I like the size a lot, and I think they look cooler than AirPods. And I'd buy them myself if they had the H1 chip that let them pair easily with other Apple products. Android users will like the easy pairing.

They sound better and are more comfortable than regular AirPods, so I think they're the better buy if you don't care about easy device switching. If you have a bigger budget for headphones, though, consider the AirPods Pro or the Powerbeats Pro. The former has better noise cancellation, while the latter are better for working out.

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