Beats Studio Buds Plus review: it’s cool to be clear
I can’t stop looking at these earbuds. You might’ve already seen leaks about the new Beats Studio Buds Plus, available beginning today for $169.99, but there’s something even more attention-grabbing about their translucent design in person. Maybe it’s because I came of age in the late ’90s, when these semiopaque finishes were a common sight on gamepads, household phones, and other gizmos. (I’m looking at you, iMac G3.) There’s certainly a nostalgia factor. But Beats also really nailed the execution with these. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself closely poring over all the small inner details now visible: the orange ring around the USB-C port; the way that light reflects off the metal surfaces inside the case as you rotate it in your hands; and yes, the plainly visible battery just underneath the “b” logo.
At their core, the Studio Buds Plus are an upgraded refresh of earbuds that originally debuted in 2021. Though I praised their comfort, I was underwhelmed by the rest of what the Studio Buds had to offer. Now, Beats is trying to address those weak points with this “Plus” model: the sound has been refined, there’s more powerful active noise cancellation, and the transparency mode sounds more natural. Battery life has also been stretched out further.
Beats has stuck to the same outer design for the most part, and that’s good news. Sure, it means the carrying case still lacks wireless charging — you won’t see a Qi charging coil when peering through the back — but it also means that the Studio Buds Plus remain exceedingly comfortable. They’re very discreet, lightweight, and retain the clicky physical buttons on each earbud for controls. But I think the current AirPods Pro gestures are more versatile since you can adjust volume by sliding your finger up or down the touch sensor. If you want to use the long-press gesture on the Beats for volume, you’ll be giving up convenient methods of toggling ANC or activating Siri.
But even if the Studio Buds Plus share a close resemblance to their predecessors, Beats is quick to point out that 95 percent of the internal components are new. The microphones are three times larger and offer better sensitivity, which aids noise cancellation, transparency mode, and voice call quality alike. The case’s battery grew by 50 percent, and the batteries in each earbud grew by 16 percent. The venting system has been reworked for improved air release, less ear pressure, and to allow for greater freedom of movement from the transducer.
Taken individually, the changes don’t seem radical, but all of them together lead to a noticeably superior pair of earbuds. I’ve enjoyed listening to these way more than the older Studio Buds (which will remain available at $149.99), and while the snazzy design helps, the company has also made progress under the surface.
And these sure as hell look cooler. This is going to be subjective, but I prefer the smoked translucent approach to the fully transparent casing used by Nothing. With these, you don’t need to worry about fingerprint smudges or a bunch of hairline scratches building up on the case over time.
The Beats case can pick up some finger oils, but more often than not, it just looks very nifty. Plug the earbuds out, and you’ll notice the magnets beneath their plastic cradle. You’ll spot some wiring if you look closely, but Beats has done a good job keeping the case’s innards neatly tidy, and despite the semitransparent housing, the circular charging status LED doesn’t send stray light anywhere in the case.
Battery life is rated at up to six hours of playback with ANC enabled or nine if you leave it off. The case includes another 18 or 27 hours of juice depending on the same criteria. The earbuds provide IPX4 water resistance, which should make them suitable for daily exercise and occasional weather.
Four sizes of silicone ear tips come in the box; Like the AirPods Pro, Beats now includes an extra-small set. Tragically, the included USB-C cable doesn’t match the translucent theme of the actual product; it’s just a black cable. For shame. You should’ve gone all the way, Beats.
Putting style aside for a minute, it seems unlikely that Apple would ever let a Beats product outshine its flagship second-gen AirPods Pro when it comes to overall sound quality and noise cancellation. The Studio Buds Plus aren’t far off from the AirPods Pro in terms of sound signature; you can tell these teams are comparing notes. The Beats never sound harsh or unpleasant, there’s plenty of clarity to the mids and vocal frequencies, and there’s a satisfying amount of bass to keep you grooving. The AirPods (along with other premium selections from Samsung, Bose, Sony, and Sennheiser) have finer detail and a broader, more immersive soundstage, but if my Pros fell down a sewer grate tomorrow and I could only listen to the Studio Buds Plus, I’d get by just fine.
The active noise cancellation lags several steps behind the AirPods Pro, and this contrast is more noticeable. Beats says the Studio Buds Plus are 1.6 times more powerful than the original Studio Buds, but those never ranked near the top of the class to begin with. The ANC is more useful this go-around across environments like busy coffee shops, noisy Brooklyn parks, and when taking the train, but on average, I could hear more of the general outside world cacophony coming through when wearing the Beats than I did with the AirPods.
Apple’s flagship buds prove their worth even more for those key tests like airplane cabin noise and screeching subway cars, but at least Beats has managed a respectable showing. Transparency mode on the Studio Buds Plus is perfectly decent and clear, but not quite as convincing as what Apple delivers with the AirPods Pro, nor is it “adaptive” and capable of quickly lowering the volume of sudden loud noises.
This can partly be explained by Beats’ decision to use a different chip in the Studio Buds Plus instead of Apple’s own silicon as it does with the Beats Fit Pro. The original Studio Buds also used a unique chip, and here again, it results in an odd mishmash of some — but not all — Apple ecosystem features that iPhone owners might expect. You’ll get the essentials like one-step pairing, Control Center integration, hands-free “Hey Siri” voice commands, and the Studio Buds Plus will appear on Apple devices signed in to your iCloud account. But other bonuses like audio sharing, automatic device switching, personalized spatial audio, and an ear tip fit test are offered. (There’s no head-tracking spatial audio here, either.)
So while there are some compromises for Apple fans, sticking with its existing solution allows Beats to natively support Android features to a greater degree than any AirPods or the aforementioned Beats Fit Pros ever could. The Studio Buds Plus are designed to work with Fast Pair, audio switch, and Google’s own Find My Device platform. Those all work out of the box, and you can install the Beats app for Android to adjust earbud settings or update firmware. Neither side gets every ecosystem bell and whistle, but at least both can enjoy a handful of software features.
Voice call performance is a step up from the regular Studio Buds, but even with that newly improved mic hardware, the Buds Plus still struggled in my local coffee shop when the place was at its busiest. That’s a torture test that not many earbuds can handle, but in more casual conditions, people could hear me without any complaints.
Beats has done a much better job with its second swing at the Studio Buds. The Plus edition is more well-rounded than the first pair two years ago. At just $20 extra, the sound is fuller and richer, the ANC is more capable (albeit still with room for improvement), and that translucent color option feels novel and fun. I could easily see these earbuds having a moment on TikTok thanks to their unique appearance.
Every time I show them to someone, they’re a hit. You can also buy them in black or ivory, but come on. Where’s the fun in that? The AirPods Pro are functionally superior, and the Beats Fit Pro might make better gym companions, but these are a clear standout for their style — and the rest of the package is better than the first time around.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge