Beats on Tuesday announced the Solo Pro, its latest wireless headphones with active noise cancellation.
The on-ear pair will retail for $300 and be available on October 30, with pre-orders starting today. They’ll join the over-ear Studio 3 Wireless, which cost $350, in the Apple subsidiary’s noise-cancelling headphone lineup.
Like the Studio 3 Wireless, the Solo Pro headphones use a form of adaptive noise cancellation Beats calls “Pure ANC.” This has the headphones’ microphones constantly monitor the noise of your surroundings, the music currently playing, and your fit, then adjust the intensity of its active noise cancellation accordingly. You still can’t manually change the strength of the ANC, but Beats says it has fine-tuned the algorithm that drive the Pure ANC tech to better suit the Solo Pro’s on-ear design.
The ANC of the Studio 3 Wireless was a step behind Sony’s WH-1000XM3 or Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II in terms of overall strength, but it was effective enough. Getting something like that here could be nice for those who like the on-ear form factor or want to save a few bucks when the Solo Pro inevitably get a deal online.
New to the Solo Pro is a “Transparency” mode. This isn’t anything new for modern headphones at large, but turn that on and it’ll use the Solo Pro’s external mics to blend outside noise in with your audio. This is typically useful if you need to quickly address someone—a store clerk, let’s say—or just want to be more aware of your surroundings without stopping the music.
I briefly tested the Solo Pro at a briefing in New York City earlier this month and found the Transparency mode to produce a relatively natural effect. Activating it still cut some bass out of real-world noise, but I didn’t sense the sort of artificial gain that’s present on some competing headphones, and any delay was imperceptible. This was just a promising preview, though; I’ll need to test further to get a truer sense of its effectiveness.
As is the case with recent Beats headphones like the Studio 3 Wireless and true wireless Powerbeats Pro, the Solo Pro should hold particular appeal to Apple device users. It has the same Apple-made H1 wireless chip as the latest-gen AirPods and those Powerbeats Pro, with the same simplified pairing process—which links the headphone to any device tied to your Apple ID—improved Bluetooth connectivity, and hands-free Siri voice control support. It charges over Lightning instead of USB-C, too, and it supports Apple’s new audio sharing feature that can beam the same audio stream to multiple H1 or W1 headphones simultaneously. While Beats hardware is generally more open to working with Android devices than AirPods, the Solo Pro looks like it will continue the ongoing trend of specific headphones favoring specific operating systems. Modern times, and all that.
The Solo Pro’s design will be more premium than that of the Solo 3 Wireless, the last on-ear pair from Beats. (Which will continue to stick around, by the way.) The company has buffed up the padding on the headband and the earpads compared to that model (that headband can be flexed and twisted without breaking), and the whole device is water-resistant. The metal bands above the earcups have been tweaked, too: they’re smoother to adjust than the notched steps of the Studio 3 Wireless, with their ends exposed externally. The headphone is still mostly made of plastic, but its matte finish is at least smooth to the touch. There aren’t many buttons: one on the left toggles between the ANC and Transparency modes, a couple on the right control audio playback. You turn on the device by simply unfolding it, which is a mechanic I found highly convenient on Jabra’s Elite 85h. Per usual with Beats, there will be a variety of colors on offer.
Beats says the Solo Pro gets 22 hours of battery life with the ANC or Transparency modes on and 40 hours with both off. (Claims like this are always estimates, so exactly how much power you’ll get will vary based on several factors.) It says 10 minutes of charging will get 3 to 6 hours of battery back, depending on how often you use ANC. You’ll be able to play audio passively with a wired connection, but you’ll need a Lightning-based adapter, which isn’t exactly convenient. The device connects over Bluetooth 5 and, like other recent Beats models, uses a Class 1 Bluetooth radio for enhanced wireless range.
The Apple-shaped shadow
Will the Solo Pro be a noise-cancelling choice than the best from Sony and Bose? I’d be surprised if so: the on-ear form factor just isn’t as conducive to noise cancellation as a tightly sealed pair of over-ears. But at first blush, they seem to continue Beats’ quiet transformation from an audio enthusiast punchline to a maker of genuinely commendable mainstream headphones. Yes, they’re usually too sculpted and bass-heavy to ever sound “accurate,” but plenty of people like that; the bass has been toned down over time, and the infusion of Apple’s wireless engineering has made pairs like the Powerbeats Pro and Studio 3 Wireless worthwhile options for at least some sect of the growing headphone market. (For the record, I’ll have to test the Solo Pro further to get a realistic sense of its sound, but I wouldn’t expect a huge variation.)
Probably the most interesting thing about Beats, though, remains its relationship with its parent company. Beats hasn’t made any radically new hardware since Apple spent $3 billion on the headphone giant in 2014, and company reps continue to stress that while the two companies share resources, they remain separate entities that target different markets. The Powerbeats Pro currently sit as a higher-end alternative to the phenomenally popular AirPods that bear Apple’s name, and the Solo Pro here seem to continue the brand’s push for the premium.
But multiple reports have suggested that Apple plans to release its own noise-cancelling headphones that would sit above Beats’ alternatives. How much competition Beats continues to face from its owner will be fascinating to watch. For now, as long as it has its mega–celebrityendorsements and that little b on the side of its hardware, Beats should continue to sell in large numbers. We’ll see if the Solo Pro headphones’ performance matches their marketing in the coming weeks.