Apple just launched a new Beats headphone model. To replace the BeatsX wireless neckband earbuds, Beats Flex is an even more paired down set of basic headphones. There isn't a whole lot going on with these super low-cost headphones, but considering they're from Apple and they're part of the Beats line, I could see the Beats Flex being a runaway hit for this holiday season.
From the $250 AirPods Pro to the $150 Powerbeats, where do the Beats Flex fit into Apple's headphone lineup? These are the headphones you get your kids for Christmas alongside their new Apple Watch or iPhone SE. These are the earbuds you get for working remotely (or schooling remotely) for convenient pairing across your Apple devices. These are the Beats you buy because you can't justify spending $100 more on those Powerbeats, but you really like the brand.
Having been using the Powerbeats Pro and AirPods Pro for the past year-and-a-half, the bar is set pretty high in terms of audio quality, comfort, and usability and I can't say I'm overwhelmed by Beats Flex. There is a lot to be said, however, for a $50 pair of Apple headphones.
Bottom line: These may not be the best sounding headphones from Beats, and the neckband feels like too much extra, but the price is nothing to sneeze at.
- Lowest-cost Beats/Apple headphones
- W1 chip
- Extra-long battery life
- Comfortable neckband design
- Poor audio quality
- Thick neckband makes earbud placement awkward
Beats Flex sound quality: Not impressed
Sound quality is where Beats Flex loses a lot of points, in my book. The dual-chamber acoustic design with laser cut micro-venting and digital processor make the Beats Flex sound ... fine. But they are nothing to write home about. I never thought I'd say I like the sound of AirPods better, but in this case, I do.
Music is absolutely balanced. Whether you're listening to DaBaby or Tom Petty, everything sounds clear. If you just need something inexpensive that plays music, Beats Flex fills the role.
With all of that balance and clarity, however, comes a flat sound. Whether you're listing to Tom Petty or DaBaby, it all sounds the same, and I mean that in a bad way. There's no depth or richness to the quality. It's like listening to music on cassette tape compared to a vinyl record. It's just flat.
If you're not worried about getting the most advanced music experience, the audio quality for podcasts, FaceTime or Zoom calls, audiobooks, and other talking related activities is perfect.
They're perfect for video chatting and remote meetings. Not just for your input sound, but also for your outgoing sound. I normally use AirPods Pro for my work meetings, so when I tested with Beats Flex, I asked my coworkers what they thought. Some said it was a little quieter but most people agreed that I sounded the same as I always do with AirPods Pro.
They are passive noise isolating, not noise canceling. You'll get a nice sealed in noise just because of the nature of the earbuds, but there is no special software that makes these noise canceling. You will still hear things in your environment. In some loud situations, like when someone is mowing the lawn or when you're on a plane, the outside noise bleed may make it difficult to hear some types of audio, like podcasts.
Beats Flex lose a whole star rating for the mediocre audio quality for music, but these earbuds have a lot more going on than just music listening — features that I think easily justify their $50 purchase. Read on to find out.
Battery for days ... literally
The good thing about neckband style wireless earbuds is that the battery lasts way longer than true-wireless earbuds. Apple claims Beats Flex has a battery life of 12 hours of listening time and I can tell you that I haven't yet had to charge them and I've been using them for hours at a time for five days straight. With AirPods or Powerbeats Pro, I have a limited amount of time before I have to take them out and charge them in the middle of the day. I could never go multiple days without charging, let alone five days.
When you do run out of battery, which will be days later, you can charge up about an hour-and-a-half worth of playback in just 10 minutes using the included USB-C cable and Beats Flex Fast Fuel charging.
Unlike AirPods and AirPods Pro or Powerbeats Pro, Beats Flex don't turn off automatically when you set them on a tabletop. There is no accelerometer to determine their movement. They do, however, go into low-power mode, so you can keep them around your neck when you're not using them and just pop them in your ears when you want to listen to something. It won't affect battery life in any significant way unless you end up taking them off for the night and forget to power them down with the button.
Beats comfort with a little compromise
I've used Powerbeats Pro, Powerbeats, and now Beats Flex, and in terms of in-ear comfort, they're all pretty much the same — comfortable. Powerbeats Pro are still some of the most comfortable in-ear headphones I've ever used, surpassed only by AirPods Pro in terms of comfort.
Beats Flex come with the same four tip options that are completely interchangeable with the other Beats in-ear bud tips. The neckband is also the most comfortable I've used, even more comfortable than Powerbeats. The area that rests against your neck is molded so it rests perfectly against the next. The controls are on both sides of the buds, the volume, play/pause, and Siri controls are on the left while the power/Bluetooth button is on the right. The wires that connect the control panels to the earbuds are a little awkward — they're thick and flat to help avoid tangling, but they are so stiff they feel weird.
Speaking of weird, because the wire is stiff, I found myself fiddling with the buds way more than necessary. The wires pull at the buds so it feels like they might fall out at any time. I would sometimes end up shoving the buds deeper into my ears in an effort to make sure they didn't pop out. I prefer the small in-ear hooks that the BeatsX had because it helped to anchor the buds in better.
The most convenient feature of Beats Flex is the magnetic buds that clip together so the earbuds hang around your neck like a lanyard. It's actually my favorite way to keep my earphones nearby when I'm not wearing them. I don't have to take them out of my bag or stick them in my pocket. They're just dangling there, waiting for me to use whenever I want them.
The onboard controls, which are attached to the wires of the buds right at about neck level, are positioned in just the right way to be intuitive to use, which is good because you can't see the buttons when they're around your neck, so you have to be able to recall from memory what each button does and where it is (and which side it's on).
The W1 Chip: Siri and Continuity
Here's where that $50 is well-spent. In my opinion, all fifty of those dollars is worth it for this one feature: Beats Flex are Apple connected. That means you can pair one time and they will just appear on your list of connectable headphones on every device signed in with your Apple ID, including your Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV.
That also means you can automatically switch between devices, depending on what you're doing on any one of them. For example, I can listen to music on my iPhone and hit the pause button on the iPhone, open up a Google Meet on my Mac, and Beats Flex will automatically pair to my Mac so I can use them for my work meeting. When the meeting is over, all I have to do is tap the play button on my iPhone and the Beats Flex will reconnect to the iPhone so I can continue to listen to music.
The W1 chip also means you can use Audio Sharing, the feature that makes it possible for two people to listen to the same device with their own pair of Apple headphones. If you want to watch a movie on your TV with your partner while the kids are asleep, Each one of you can have your own pair of Beats Flex on and have both of them paired with your Apple TV so you can listen to the movie's audio quietly while the kids are asleep.
Apple's W1 chip connects your Beats Flex to Siri, so you can ask about the weather or the time, get directions, and more. Apple upgraded its headphone chip to the H1 with AirPods Pro, which adds better Bluetooth switching and "Hey, Siri" compatibility, but the W1 chip in this $50 pair of headphones takes advantage of Siri using on-device responses instead of built-in to the chip.
When it comes to Apple headphones, the closest competition is the Powerbeats, which are $100 more, but have better sound quality and the H1 chip, as well as a different design, though they are also neckband style wireless earbuds.
The Jaybird X4 are pretty much the most comparative competition, spec-for-spec, and you can usually find the Jaybird X4 headphones on Amazon for $50.
We've got a great list of the best alternatives to BeatsX, which is the predecessor to the Beats Flex, so the list is completely relateable.
Who are Beats Flex for?
You should buy this if ...
You want the convenience of Apple headphones without the price
The W1 chip makes these headphones worth every penny, hands-down. For just $50 you get all of the conveniences of Apple brand headphones without paying the higher price.
You need a pair of earbuds for video chats
Now that more of us are working from home and going to school remotely, a good pair of earbuds or headphones is invaluable. Beats Flex provide the technology you need for a good price.
You prefer neckband headphones to true wireless
No matter how much or how little you spend on a pair of headphones, losing one of them is a complete hassle and potentially a waste of money. Not everyone likes worrying about always keeping track of those tic-tack sized earbuds that can get lost just about anywhere because they're so dang small and not connected to anything else.
You should not buy this if ...
You value good quality sound
Some people aren't worried about rich lows and bright highs and all the beautiful robust sound in between. Others are picky about how music sounds when it's reverberating around inside our ears, and Beats Flex just do not meet my standard of quality.
You want true wireless
Beats Flex are wired wireless. That is to say, they are wired to each other, not to your iPhone. If you want a true wireless pair of headphones, I highly recommend AirPods Pro for comfort and reliability or Powerbeats Pro for astounding audio quality.
You're waiting for Apple's over-the-ear headphones
Just because Apple released a new Beats headphones right when we thought it was going to announce the rumored over-the-ear AirPods Studio doesn't mean we won't see those in the future — possibly even the near future (like November). Don't rush to buy if you can wait. I think your patients will be rewarded.
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