Beats Studio 3 Wireless headphones review: Apple pairs noise cancellation and the W1 chip

Apple has slowly updated its Beats wireless headphones line over the last two years to include the company's auto-pairing W1 chip: We have the sport-based PowerBeats 3, on-ear Beats Solo 3, in-ear Beats X, and now, the over-ear Beats Studio 3 Wireless has arrived to complete the line.

I've been eagerly awaiting Apple's revision to its top-tier Beats product, especially once I heard that the Studio 3 would include active noise cancellation (ANC). The headphones supposedly weren't shipping until later in October, but when I visited iMore editor-at-large Rene Ritchie's local Apple Store, I found a pair of the matte black Studio 3 Wireless hanging out on the shelves.

See at Apple

Unboxing the Beats Studio 3

Needless to say, I immediately picked up a pair — even if I did have to avert my eyes from their bank-account-crushing $349.95 USD/$399.95 CAD price tag — and unboxed them right at the mall, for your (and my) viewing pleasure.

After unboxing, I took the Beats Studio 3 home with me; I've been testing them for about a day now and wanted to quickly jot down some observations. This is a living review, so I'll be updating this article as I spend more time with the headphones and get to know them a bit better.

Fit and finish

First and foremost, they're comfortable. They should be, for their price, but it's a nitpick I've had with both the PowerBeats and the Solo 3 — the Beats line has often sacrificed padding for good looks, and I'm happy to say that isn't the case here. The ear cups are large and encompassing without feeling bulky or pinching larger ears against your skull, and the padded headband is slim but functional.

They still don't quite have the "soft-as-a-cloud" embrace the QC35 does so well, but they're not far off. (Neither headphones set, sadly, has a perfect solution to headband padding — I usually get top-of-skull fatigue before ear pain when wearing just about any set of over-ear headphones.)

The padded ear cups on the Studo 3 are quite nice, though its folding mechanism tends to catch my hair (like pretty much all other folding headphones).

Like most of the larger headphones I've purchased, the Studio 3 folds up for an easier packing experience, stacking one ear can atop the other. Unfortunately, the nature of this process means that there are plenty of hinges for long hair to get stuck on or tangled in – Like the QC35s, these are headphones that might be better off hung on a stand than around your neck when you're not using them if you plan on keeping your hair on your head.

The hard shell packing case for the Studio 3 is significantly nicer than its Solo 3 counterpart, though I don't love that Apple ships the same shoddy carabiner for clipping it to a bag; I've bought better clips from a convenience store, and if Apple wants to keep the carabiner look as part of the Beats line, it should ship something that won't break off your bag and ditch your $300 headphones in the first week.

Beats Studio 3 (Image credit: iMore)

If only that case came with a carabiner that wasn't so thin and rickety, I might actually use it on my bag.

Speaking of shoddy: The headphones ship with a perfectly functional cord if you choose to use them wired, but I'm less impressed with the inline remote. It's a little thicker, but it feels about as plasticky and the buttons as responsive as the default Apple EarPods cable. It feels like either an oversight or a cost-cutting measure (because, hey, who's going to use our awesome wireless headphones while wired?) but whatever it is, I'm not fond of the decision. (Additionally surprising: The Studio 3's built-in volume and music controls remain physical buttons, rather than touch-sensitive controls.)

And since I'm on a complaining streak here: Micro-USB charging over Lightning?! Really? I'd hoped that the Beats X and AirPods having Lightning chargers would usher in Lightning across all Apple's wireless headphones, but no luck.

Beats Studio 3 (left) vs Bose QC 35 (right).

Pairing and noise-cancellation

Okay, having gotten the nitpicks out of the way, pairing is where these headphones shine. The W1 chip (an unsung masterpiece from Apple's silicon team) helps power and extend the Studio 3's Bluetooth connection; Between its instant pairing to the iPhone, automatic sync via your various iCloud devices, and almost 100-foot range, it's hard not to give the Studio 3 anything but acclaim here. Of course, this is also true for any of Apple's other W1-chip headphones — so you don't have to pony up for a giant set of over-ear headphones if that's not your style.

Once paired, I was able to immediately tune in to the Studio 3's noise-cancelled environment. Unlike the Bose, the Studio 3 gradually brings you in and out of the noise-canceling bubble — it feels a bit like falling in and out of a music trance, rather than a punch in and out of reality.

And let's be frank: Apple's "Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling" (Pure ANC) experience is a great one. There are a lot of companies who try to provide solid noise canceling experiences, but Bose has long reigned supreme; Apple won't steal that crown with the Studio 3s, but the company has made a strong entry into the field.

In my early testing, which involved listening to several songs on both the Bose QC35s and the Studio 3s and a song played simultaneously into both headphones at once, the Studio 3 definitely has warmer mids than the QC35s, but loses some of that magic on quieter songs. It does best on loud rock and rap, unsurprisingly — I've listened to the QC35s at top volume before, but I don't think I'd ever want to do that with the Studio 3s unless I wanted to try and blow an eardrum.

I haven't yet done a ton of testing outdoors with the Studio 3, but in limited wind tests, it suffers from the same occasional "whistling" the Bose QC35 (and other ANC headphones) receive when walking quickly somewhere or moving through a windy environment.

Battery life

Apple estimates about 22 hours of listening with ANC enabled, and a full 40 with it disabled. I haven't run against either limitation, though I'll note that the sound quality of played audio is relatively similar in either ANC or regular W1 Bluetooth mode. You mostly notice outside noises; for instance, with ANC enabled at my desk, I can't hear my typing, but disabling it allows me to hear the clicks of the keyboard through the music.)

I will note that Apple appears to require the headphones to be powered on to use in either ANC, non-ANC, or wired mode — unlike the Bose QC35s, if you run out of battery, you'll either need to use a 10 minute Fast Fuel charge over USB to give them extra time, or go without.

I've so far done very little testing with video and audio, though I saw minor delays in both watching TV and recording audio. They shouldn't be enough for most people to find them noticeable, but I wouldn't use these headphones when podcasting, for example.

Serenity Caldwell

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.