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Apple Beats Solo3 review: Gorgeous but flawed over-ear headphones

"Ooo, shiny."

After two months with Beats's Solo3 headphones, this is still my first reaction when pulling the company's on-ear wireless headset from my bag. The headphones I bought for this review are bright, almost fluorescent violet, with white highlights; they catch both light and eyes almost everywhere they go.

For good reason, too: The Solo headphones made the Beats brand famous, and while they haven't quite reached the iconic heights of Apple's white earbuds, they're still instantly recognizable.

Apple's W1-chip upgrade has brought easy wireless connectivity and new colors to the Solo line, but is it enough to warrant upgrading from an older on-ear option? Read on.

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The music is the message

Beats's reputation and style carries these headphones: While I'm no audiophile, I can appreciate the overall sound of these cans, though they do have the heavier bass tones distinctive of the Beats line. It's an easy tweak in Apple's EQ settings for those who are not all about that bass, but something to be aware of.

Otherwise, the headphones have been largely unremarkable for everyday listening and video conferencing: I've listened to my usual array of work music, chatted on Google Hangouts, and even played the occasional podcast or two. I like my headphones to just give me my tunes and tracks without too much interference, and on that front, the Beats Solo work like a charm.

Battery life for days (literally)

The Solo3, like its fellow W1-chip headphones, provides an incredibly easy connecting experience to all iPhones, iPads, and Macs — once you pair, you're good to go on any device you have connected to your iCloud account. Having used my AirPods and Beats X pretty much everywhere, it feels utterly natural on the Solo3. Many third-party headphone manufacturers have apps these days that will let you quickly switch between devices, but even the best don't come close to the seamless switching experience of the W1-chipped headphones.

The battery life on these things is ridiculous — even moreso than Bose's QC35s. Apple estimates a whopping 40 hours; in real time, I used these at a café for an entire week without dropping into the 20% range. I do wish that, like the Bose, the Beats Solo gave you a voice estimate of your percentage when you first turned them on, but it's easy enough to check on your iPhone or iPad.

I will note one downside: When you finally do need to charge, the Beats Solo still uses micro-USB charging rather than the Lightning-equipped charging options found in the Beats X and AirPods. It's not a huge nitpick, but it does mean one more cord to bring along when traveling.

Fit and finish

I've spoken at length above about the "shiny" factor of the Beats Solo headphones, but I'll add just a little bit more here: It's the fashion-conscious who will fall head over heels for this model. I'm not even that much of a style geek, but the Product RED and violet models of the Solo had me wishing my Bose headphones had just a bit more flair to their utilitarian design.

Apple's color process is, quite simply, fabulous. I had a chance recently to see Product RED headphones with the Product RED iPhone 7, and the two devices look absolutely stunning together.

I also appreciate how solid these headphones feel both on your head and in your bag — Despite having plastic components, the Solo3 doesn't feel plastic, and it hides it well. The ear cups and headrest are both quite well-padded, with the cups fitting almost entirely around my ears; save for some light pressure after multiple hours of use, they don't feel like on-ear headphones at all.

My only regret is that Apple didn't also anodize the metal rails that provide ear-cup extension for larger heads: They remain silver. It's not a bad look, and was probably done to prevent any sort of color flaking on slide. That said, pulling the headrest up only to see more bright violet would be a dynamite look, no?

Wishing for noise-cancellation

Here's where the Beats Solo3 really fall flat for me: I've gotten spoiled by noise cancellation on pretty much every wireless on-ear and over-ear option I've used; without it, I have to crank up my music (or deal with the sounds of my fellow Starbucks patrons).

The Solo3 claims noise isolation, but it's not nearly as effective as its in-ear Beats X sibling: Listening to a conference call or a podcast is a complete no-go in a noisy environment — these headphones have great mids for vocal tones, but there's just too much miscellaneous background noise to focus.

For some, this may not be an issue. Heck, I dealt with headphones lacking active noise cancellation for years without issue. But I use them so often now that any option lacking noise isolation or active cancellation stands out as "less" than the competition: Even if the sound is superior, the fact that I can hear a blender or dog barking during a video editing session keeps me too distracted to notice.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

20 Comments
  • Yeah, I tried them on and they fit great and were comfortable. Every other thing kinda sucked. And, the boost in bass is just unnatural.
  • I may have missed it, but I think it's important to highlight that the range on these things are amazing! I have a 2800 ft single floor home and I can enjoy uninterrupted sound in every room and everywhere along the exterior of my home no matter where my phone is located. It's extremely impressive and was a big selling point for me. I can't praise this performance enough. Also for those that want these but in a low-key config, there's a matte black option available. It's mature looking and not flashy. The metal bits are anodized on that model too for that all blacked out look. People can now pick these up for under $200 (except at the Apple Sore). 40+ hour battery life, long range, and good sound make these a great buy at $200 or less. They also fold up nice and compact for travel with the included case. If you're not a fan of active noise cancellation, like me, I'd pick these up stat! Just not at $300.
  • Yup totally agree! :)
  • It is fair to say that noise cancellation, if important for you, is a great feature to have. If I were to travel often, it would be a must. That being said I did choose these in Matte Black over the QC 35 headphones. At the time they were on sale for $249.00 and honestly I didn't think that the noise cancellation feature was worth the extra hundred dollars in my particular case. I do listen to lots of EDM and R&B Music for which these headphones are well suited and the Bose didn't quite measure up in my opinion. They sounded good, but a little flat in comparison. The battery life in these is insane and I will admit at $300 they are a bit pricey. I used to wear them lots but since I picked up the Airpods, it is just more convenient to grab them and go and these mostly stay at home for right now. Still great headphones and I would make the same choice today as I did then.
  • Exactly. I bought these _because_ of the bass. Like you, it suits the music I'm into. :)
  • I just noticed you said they're missing touch controls. What do you mean by that? On the left ear portion of the headphones, you can play/pause/skip tracks by pressing the Beats "b" just like the inline remote on EarPods. You can adjust volume by pressing above the "b" or below it. Seems like this review was lazily done. No mention of Bluetooth range, included accessories, and portability. And it appears you didn't even know there was touch controls. Talk about attention to detail.
  • I mean touch in terms of "multitouch", not physical buttons (which the B is). Clarified in the review. Bluetooth range I don't mention because I've done reviews of all the W1 headphones, and they all do this (and it's awesome).
  • Dude chill. We have these things called “lives” nowadays.
  • I tried these for three weeks but ultimately decided they were not right for me. My main complaint was comfort and these cans were not a good fit for my slightly small ears. After I returned them, I bought the Beats X which have turned out to be great for my everyday use.
  • I had a play with these the other day. They are beautifully crafted and look less naff than other cans from Beats, but for close to $300 they are eclipsed in noise quality by others at half the price, and the premium isn't worth it for the seconds taken fiddling in bluetooth settings that the W1 chip saves. The epitome of style of substance.
  • Beats Studio Wireless has the noise cancellation you are looking for.
  • Yeah - but not the W1 chip...
  • I tried the Air Pods for jogging, Sweat made them slide out at 3/4 mile. The Powerbeats wireless would stay on my left ear OK but my right ear seems shaped funny so it slid out at 2 miles. I now wear the Solo 3 for my runs and it stays on for the full 3 miles that I typically do as well as for sprints. For me, noise cancellation would not be a good option as I may not hear the traffic too well. (I try and stay off roads as much as possible but still have to use them a bit from time to time). My wife is a yoga enthusiast and she likes the Powerbeats wireless the best. They stay on no matter what pose she does, even head stands. The Air Pods might be good for casual listening like on an airplane or car but definitely not meant for sports. I might have to sell these on kijiji as they've been in my duffle bag essentially unused for the two months I've had them.
  • I ran a half marathon and do interval training with my Airpods. They have yet to fall out. The fit depends on the size of your ear.
  • I wanted to like these so much. Battery life and range are amazing and I enjoyed the punch of the base most of the time. But on-ears are just not for me. After a short listen my ears hurt from being crunched by any on-ear headphones I tried. I got the QC35s and AirPods and love them both for separate listening use cases.
  • I'm a big fan of the Solo3. Maybe it's a matter of everyone else boosting their bass, but I was surprised at how restrained the bass was, compared to what I was expecting. I have a nice pair of wired Sennheisers and the separation and clarity are very close, and there is not a huge difference in bass. Beats have a wide reputation for being super bass heavy, and I wonder if that reputation has preceded them a bit unfairly at this point. At any rate I've been wearing my Solo3's 20-40 hours/week every week since I got them for Christmas. Battery life is so ludicrous I get close to forgetting that I need to charge them. When it was colder out the battery would die (as it can in any device) if I went for a walk longer than 15-20 minutes - but for Bluetooth the range and stability of the connection are ridiculous. I can go *anywhere* in my house (with three living levels). I only discovered this when I forgot I was connected to my MBP and not my iPhone and wandered around the house. I have never had noise cancelling headphones, so maybe I don't miss what I've never had, but yeah, I'm a fan.
  • Yup. Everything you said. I love mine.
  • Well, first the complaint about the 'heavy bass' would be an effect of listing to the lack bass you get with the ear buds. Yes, they have bass, but there are far worse out there. I have found them to be able to go surprisingly low, lower than most any headphone I've had before. Noise cancelling? You are aware these are the 'value' headphone right? The big boys have noise cancelling, and are much larger. The solo are not the headphone that put Beats on the map, and bringing headphones back in to being cool. It was the large over the ear headphones that defined the Beats effect on our culture. The solo's have always been a lower cost option you settle for. I bought mine from Amazon for 70 dollars off of the 300 list. Still kind of expensive but I think the value of not having the cord and the W1 chip makes it worth it. After all the number one reason to buy them is the W1 chip, and that means you have an iPhone. Having an iPhone means you are willing to pay a premium price for a premium experience. These do give that, not having a card is a great thing. I think the cultural hate for Beasts from many audio snobs has more to do with Dr. Dre and hip hop than it does with the headphones themselves. I can remember the audiophile reaction to subwoofers, bass is evil. Yeah sure, whatever. I suppose most people listen to music with those crapy speakers in their television and their laptop, and off course those garbage earbuds. Yes, Apple's earbuds are better than most, still garbage sound. The real issue with bass is that it varies depending on who mixed the music, and I think the criticism about the bass has more to do with that. Playing something besides the 'mastered for iTunes' and they are more balanced, since the bass is exaggerated in the recoding in the first place. It is also much easier to cut the bass than it is to turn it up, since recording levels are already set so high they are clipping. The depressing part about buying higher end audio gear can be the realization that you can hear 'into' the recording, like the punch ins and outs, the background noise. Things you don't hear when you are listening to crap, which is sadly what music is produced for. So the bass is perfect for my 80s pop recordings and audiophile recordings. It is the cut in the high range by about 3db that is kind of annoying.
  • "Having an iPhone means you are willing to pay a premium price for a premium experience." True, but that doesn't apply to Beats headphones for which you pay a premium price for a mediocre experience, and I for one am not willing to compromise audio quality for the convenience of the W1 chip. Plus as these are made by Apple and aimed at those fully entrenched in the Apple ecosystem I'd expect a USB C connector, not a micro USB one.
  • The jet black ones I bought have black anodised metal rails… must've been a design choice for those purple ones. As for micro USB… yeah it's a bummer (maybe Solo4 will go lightening) but I carry a xoopar octopus which goes a little way to easing the pain…