The Beats Solo3 are super stylish, but lack of noise cancellation ultimately dooms them in my quest for perfect wireless headphones.
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.
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.
I wish I liked the Solo3 headphones more: They really are quite beautiful, and fit over my ears much more like an over-ear model. The sound quality is excellent, though a bit bass-heavy, and spoken content is just as good. But at $299, the Solo3 is bumping up against the price points of much more comprehensive headphones — and without noise-cancellation and touch controls, it's hard to justify buying the Solo3 when options like the Bose QC35 and Sennheiser PXC 550 are only $50 and $100 more, respectively, and cheaper on-ear options (with noise cancellation) are available in headphones like the Libratone Q Adapt.