Bottomline: Beats Solo has gone Pro and brought with it active noise cancelling Lightning charging, and a new set of colors (including More Matte red).
Gorgeous matte colors
3 different audio modes
H-1 chip support
Incredible audio balance
Uncomfortable fit (subjective)
Loses some deep bass EQ
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Since the launch of the Powerbeats Pro, I've been excited about the direction that Beats are being taken. No longer are we listening to bass-heavy tunes that muddle the clarity of some of our favorite guitar riffs. The Powerbeats Pro are my new favorite in-ear headphones, so when the Solo Pro active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones were announced, I was very excited to see what else could come from the Beats line. I've had the Beats Solo Pros crowning my head every day for hours per day for two weeks now and have my full review below, including comparisons with Powerbeats Pro and Beats Solo 3 headphones.
For Rene Ritchie's full review, check out the video below.
How do they sound?
Reference my review of the Powerbeats Pro for more information on the details of why Beats no longer have that deep bass sound, but the TL;DR is that the audio engineers at Beats have decidedly take a different route with how they EQ for sound. The Beats Curve is no longer designed to "front the bass." At the same time, however, the Solo Pro headphones do not work in the high end range of audio balance.
With the ear cups resting firmly on my head, isolating outside noises, the Solo Pro headphones remind me of listening to the HomePod for the first time. Because I'm hearing music piped directly into my ears with almost no other ambient sound, I'm hearing vocals with impeccable clarity (including the labored breathing of Johnny Cash as he sings The Man Comes Around or the two-dozen individual choir singers behind Leonard Cohen as he belts out Hallelujah).
I've been listening to a variety of music for as many hours as possible over the past couplr of weeks and can say without question that the Solo Pro headphones never distort bass or muddy up crunchy guitar tracks. Sound is clear, crisp, highs are bright and lows are clean.
With the Powerbeats Pro, the balance is amazing on songs that don't have intended bass boost, but turn up the thump when you're listening to beat-centric riffs. The Beats Solo Pro headphones don't offer that same heavy bass tone when listening to beat-centric music, like cuts from Dr. Dre's Chronic. It's there, but not as noticeable. This is likely due to the nature of ANC, which can sometimes introduce some added high-frequency waveforms.
For a lot of people, this lack of bass heavy tone isn't going to matter. If, however, you're a fan of the "Beats Curve" and want your headphones to front the bass when you're listening to rap and hi-hop, you're going to be disappointed in the EQ of the Beats Solo Pro.
How much sound do they cut out?
These are active noise canceling headphones, which means there is a system built in that measures outside sound and sends out an opposite patterned waveform to cancel it out. While turned on, the Solo Pro headphones cut out most audio sound, but not all.
Can you use them while cutting the lawn with your gas-powered lawn mower and still hear your podcasts? Yes. You'll still hear the lawn mower — they don't work like ear plugs — but you don't have to turn the volume up to 11 to hear even quiet tracks like an audio book.
You'll still hear that baby screaming next to you on the airplane (though you won't hear the airplane's engine), but it won't distract you, or even wake you up if you're wearing the Solo Pros while you're sleeping.
Ambient noise is still audible (if it's loud enough), it just doesn't compel you to turn up the volume. I never managed to turn up the volume on anything above halfway, and that was loud in some situations. The Noise app was only registering sound at around 35 - 55 dB.
What about when ANC is off?
The Solo Pro headphones are active noise canceling, but you don't have to keep things active. In fact, ANC is a battery hog and you'll probably want to leave it off in situations when you don't need to isolate audio. To turn off ANC, all you have to do is double-press a small button at the bottom of the left ear cup.
The Solo Pro actually has three settings, ANC, Transparency, and both features off. Transparency filters in ambient sound so while you're walking down a busy street you can hear those cars flying by and won't accidentally end up in a dangerous situation.
Transparency is a bit awkward because it filters in ambient and environmental sound. When you're walking down the street and need to be sure that you're spacially aware of cars going buy, cyclists on the path, and other sounds nearby, Transparency is absolutely fantastic. It's not distracting. It hits you weirdly at first, but after a minute or so, you're used to the ambient noise mixed in with your selected audio.
If, however, you're in the house and turn on Transparency, you'll notice things like the refridgerator or fan making a lot more noise than it does without headphones. I'd say that Transparency isn't meant for otherwise quiet environments because it tends to make those white noise sounds seem louder than they should be.
When you turn off both ANC and Transparency, you get passive noise canceling, which is when the design of the headphones, not any software inside, blocks out ambient and environmental sound. It's not as isolating as ANC, but it works well enough if you don't need ANC on the entire time. You can hear the sound of cars driving by, but it's very quiet. You can hear that baby crying behind you, but you don't have to crank up the music to drown it out.
Does the battery last a long time?
I'm used to wearing earbuds that pretty much need to be recharged after about five hours of listening, so the stark difference between those and the Solo Pro headphones is noticeable. I received my review unit with 75% of battery life left. I didn't have to charge them up until about five days after my first listen
The product description notes that the Solo Pro headphones can have up to 22 hours of ANC-on listening time and up to 40 hours if you turn off ANC and Transparency. I think that's a fairly accurate representation of the battery's performance.
How do calls sound?
Because you can cancel practically all outside noise, listening to your friends and family tell their day's stories is great. Nothing is going to distract you from your conversation. Voices are clear. There isn't any distortion. People don't sound canned.
Your voice is also clear and crisp to your caller. I tested this while walking down a busy street in downtown Sacramento and was able to carry on a normal conversation just fine. My call partner could hear cars driving by, but didn't need me to repeat myself due to noise disturbance.
How do they fit?
OK, now here's where things start to fall apart.
As far as size and variety of size, the Solo Pro headphones really hit the mark. They fit well on my average-woman-size head, but can also be resized to fit on my significant other's larger-than-average-man-size head.
The ear cups don't take up the entire side of my head. They're slim. The don't look like Princess Leia buns.
The soft inner lining of the ear cup is comfortable. They do make your ears a little sweaty if you're susceptible to that. There is no airflow feature that keeps them dry. It's similar to sitting on a leather couch. The material breathes, but the nature of the fitted design means there isn't a lot of airflow.
Are they comfortable? Not at all. Not for me, at least.
This is the most frustrating aspect of the Solo Beats Pro. Every single other thing about them is amazing, but they hurt my ears so much while I'm wearing them that I feel fatigued after about an hour.
My ears are sore and my head feels like I've been wearing a too-tight hat all day. I can feel the muscles in my shoulders tightening up from the stress I'm feeling on my head and ears.
I made Rene Ritchie of Vector wear his review pair for at least an hour straight to determine whether they were uncomfortable for him, and he reports back that they aren't uncomfortable at all, even with glasses.
So, clearly the problem is me, not the Solo Pros. So, of course, I had to figure out what's going on.
Through a variety of headphone adjustments (shortening the size, lengthening, cups forward, cups back), and finally figured out what is causing me so much pain.
Even though the Solo Pro headphones band fits properly on my head, it turns out, when I legthened the band (as if my head were larger than it is), and kept the cups properly rested on my ears, it felt like a normal pair of on-ear headphones. This doesn't work because the headphones are too big with this setup, so I cushioned the space between my head and the band with a small piece of cloth and, bingo! It fit without pain.
I tell this anecdote for a reason; Just because the Solo Pro headphones hurt me, doesn't mean they will hurt you. I highly recommend heading to your local tech store to put these on your head, and wear them for at least 10 minutes. If, after 10 minutes, you don't start to feel pressure on your skull, you're probably not like me and will probably not suffer the same pain that I have.
One of the questions I've been asked about the Beats Solo Pro is how they compare to other headphones, specifically the Powerbeats Pro and Beats Solo 3 (I've also been asked about Beats Studio, but I don't have a pair of those), so I'm going to spend a little time addressing how these compare to Beats' other popular headphones.
How do they compare to the Beats Solo 3 on-ear headphones?
Beats Solo Pro are the upgrade version of the Solo 3 headphones, so some of you want to know how they compare.
In terms of sound, the Beats Solo Pro audio has a much better balanced EQ, so music is clearer, crispers, highs are bright and lows are clear. The Solo 3 headphones, however, really know how to pump the bass, and if you're listening to your favorite rap or hip-hop tunes, you're going to miss that sound. The Solo Pro headphones kinda take the wind out of the sails of bass-heavy beats.
In terms of connectivity, the H-1 chip is miles ahead of the W-1 chip. You can switch from Mac to iPhone to Apple TV to Apple Watch without missing a beat. They connect for the first time like AirPods do and stay registered across all devices your Apple ID is signed into, even if you haven't yet connected them to a different device. Just pop into the Bluetooth settings and they'll already be there ready to connect. Solo 3, on the other hand, aren't quite as seemless. It's first-gen technology. It works, but it has its painpoints.
In terms of comfort, the Solo 3 headphones are more comfortable for me. The Solo Pro headphones are markedly heavier than the Solo 3 headphones. It's noticable ... especially when sitting on your head. I still feel a level of discomfort with the Solo 3 headphones, after all the design is the same as the Solo Pro model, but it doesn't kick as fast. I get about two hours of listening before I start to feel pain and its never as intense as the Solo Pro headphones.
The Solo Pro headphones have a very similar design to the Solo 3 headphones. They're made out of the same material, the ear cups are the same. The main difference is that the Pro model incorporates a bit of brushed aluminum around the earband. The folding hinges are also a bit stronger and the headband pad is thicker. The overall style feels a little more "pro" but they look very much like their non-pro counterpart.
I do have to mention how much I love that the Solo Pro headphones turn off when you fold them. I regularly forget to power off the Solo 3s and drain my battery unnecessarily, but the Pros shut down the moment I fold them up. It's brilliant.
How do they compare to the Powerbeats Pro in-ear headphones?
I'm assuming this question relates to the audio more than the style and comfort fit, but the short answer for style in comfort is that I find the Powerbeats Pro to be significantly more comfortable than the Solo Pros. Since the Powerbeats Pro launched, I've replace all other headphones with it, including the AirPods. Not everyone likes in-ear style headphones though, so again, your personal taste is going to determine which style you prefer.
In terms of sound, I find the Powerbeats Pro to be the best of the three models compared here. The EQ balance is fantastic and they bring it, in terms of bass sound. If I didn't know that there was a lot of hard work and research put into developing the audio quality of the Powerbeats Pro, I'd call it magic. With that in mind, however, the Solo Pro headphones have the same quality balance with a clear sound that doesn't make guitar-heavy songs sound too muddy.
In terms of connectivity, the Beats Solo Pro headphones and Powerbeats Pro have the same H-1 chip and work identically. Connect across all your devices seemlessly. There isn't a delay. It doesn't take a few seconds to connect to your iPhone or iPad. The H-1 chip really has perfected what Apple is trying to do with headphones and connections to our gadgets. Siri is also more responsive with the Solo Pro, similar to the Powerbeats Pro. It's not perfect, but it works better on both of these headphones/earphones than on the Solo 3s.
Battery life? Solo Pro wins this by about a thousand. The Solo Pro headphones have about 22 hours of listening time when you have ANC turned on and about 40 hours when ANC is off. The Powerbeats Pro, while a lot for in-ear headphones, only get about 9 hours of listening time.
Beats Solo Pro: Conclusion
The Solo Pro is defitely a pro upgrade from the Beats Solo 3 with better material, H-1 chip support, and of course, noise-cancelling. The EQ balance is much better for the majority of listeners, but if you're used to the heavy sound of the Beats Curve, you're going to notice the drop in bass sound with these Pros.
The fit and feel of the Solo Pro headphones is standard fare if you're familiar with on-ear style headphones, but I find them to be uncomfortable enough that I can't wear them for very long. They are heavier than the Solo 3 model, which makes that normaly ear press feel worse.
Overall, I love the Beats Solo Pro headphones, even though they're uncomfortable and I'll keep wearing them as much as I can until they "wear in" more and don't feel quite like a vicegrip on my head. The sound is that good. So good that I'm willing to deal with the pressure.
I highly recommend you try these on yourself, keep them on for at least 10 minutes, before you make a final decision to purchase. If it weren't for the comfort level, these would be five-star headphones.
Similar Solo design. New ANC sound.
Beats Solo has gone Pro and brought with it active noise cancelling, Lightning charging, and a new set of colors (including More Matte red).
Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books. If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).