Everybody could do with a good pair of wireless headphones. If you get the right ones for you they really do make your wire-free life considerably easier.
But should you buy an eye-catching pair of Beats, trust Sennheiser’s German engineering, cancel out the noise with Bose, or maybe go for something by Jabra, Sony or Skullcandy?
There are so many options that the choice can sometimes get a bit overwhelming! That’s where this article can help.
In this piece I will be reviewing just the one pair: the Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones, released in September 2016.
Table of Contents
Wireless headphones? Really?
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
Wireless headphones don’t sound all that great, the Bluetooth is annoying to connect every time, the battery life is never long enough. All fair points. Beats headphones have definitely suffered from all of these in the past.
In fact, these are problems which could put you off any Bluetooth headphones.
Or perhaps I should say these were problems.
This Solo3 model is a game-changer for Beats.
OK, but… Beats?
Beats have been around since 2008, and in that time they’ve become a household name in the audio world.
You may have seen Beats speakers in laptops, cars and phones. You may have heard of Beats Music (now Apple Music) or Beats radio. You may also have seen lots of celebrities and hip hop stars promoting Beats in their slick ad campaigns or product placements.
But, of course, the original Beats product is their headphones. And these are their best headphones yet.
What’s so special?
Once upon a time, Beats were little more than a fashion statement with some loud bass. Kinda like driving a certain type of car around the center of New York (not a real Beats car, yet).
They were always striking to look at, and especially popular with fans of bright colors. Were they cool? Absolutely, just not all that great to use on a regular basis.
With the Solo3 Wireless, Beats have truly turned a corner and produced a pair of headphones that do more than make you look good with them hanging round your neck.
Beats (or should I say Apple?) have solved many of the issues previous models and other Bluetooth headphones suffered from. This means the Solo3 are now a viable alternative for those who care about audio quality and practicality too.
Oh, and, yes, they do also look awesome!
Below is a quick summary of the key features and the main pros and cons of the Solo3 Wireless:
- Brand new Apple W1 chip
- Beats’ signature bass-heavy audio
- Touch controls on left ear cup
- Foldable, cushioned on-ear ear pads
- Adjustable headband
- Class one Bluetooth
- Much-improved overall sound quality
- Much longer battery life
- New “Fast fuel” rapid charging feature
- Simpler and quicker pairing option
- Still look great (with big choice of colors)
- Designed more for today’s digital sound than the classics
- The new, quick pairing won’t work for all devices
- No noise cancellation
- The price
Inside the box (and a bit about the box)
Since Apple bought Beats in August 2014, little has changed in terms of what comes in the box.
Indeed, the sturdy, black matte box is itself impressive and pleasant to slide open.
Opening it, the first thing you see is the familiar “Change the way you hear sound” message. Beneath this, you will find a neoprene travel case which contains the headphones themselves.
There is also a 3.5mm RemoteTalk cable for wired listening (which has a mic as well), along with a USB-A to USB Micro-B charging cable, a clip for the carrying case, a Beats sticker, a Quick Start Guide and the warranty information.
Design and controls
If you owned a pair of Solo2 Wireless headphones, you may struggle to see any difference in design between this updated version and the previous one. Certainly, nothing jumps out at you.
The famous Beats logo remains on the outside of each ear cup, something which is unlikely to change any time soon. The mini-USB charging port is on the right ear cup, along with the small power button and five LED lights.
When you switch on the headphones, the power button lights up and the five lights give you an idea of how much charge you have. The lights then switch off soon after, so to check the charge you tap the power again.
The left ear has the 3.5mm port and a further LED light for Bluetooth. It blinks when unconnected and stays solid once paired.
The left ear cup also has the volume controls (press above or below the Beats ‘b’) and the play/pause/skip forward/back button. It may sound confusing, but in fact all of these things can be controlled by a single button. You just need a bit of practice to master it.
Press the ‘b’ once to play or pause, twice to skip forward, and three times to skip back. Once you get used to it, you realize it’s actually pretty neat you don’t need to move your fingers around.
Finally, they fold up to a pretty small size, which is always a handy feature.
The materials used appear to be the same as the Solo2 model: light, bright, shiny plastic for the exterior, small rectangles of exposed metal at the points where the headphones fold up, and the same convincing-but-fake leather for the ear pads.
Admittedly, some would prefer the stainless steel and real leather of the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, but then again Beats don’t aim to produce classic, understated headphones. They’re a Bugatti, not a Rolls Royce.
Do you hate the sight of fingerprints on your tech? If so, it may be best to avoid the gloss black matte color. It seems to attract them rather easily. At the time of writing you have a choice of 8 to match the iPhone 7’s color range.
In terms of how the Solo3s feel to wear, again I notice no difference from the Solo2 Wireless. The ear cups are actually very comfortable, which is significant because the adjustable headband is quite a tight fit.
I personally like this, as it means that the headphones barely shift, no matter how much you move about. You can shake your head long and hard or run around the block (I have done both, sometimes at the same time) and they will stay nicely in place. They do get a little tight after an hour, though, which is the flip-side of the Beats headband.
My only issue here is with durability. The Beats still feel a little delicate to me, and the travel case they provide is a softshell which looks cool yet offers little protection. If you want to be able to stuff these in a bag, it may be worth investing in a tougher case.
Ok, now we arrive at the deal-breaker for some when it comes to wireless headphones.
The first thing to note is there is almost no difference between the wireless and wired audio. As stated earlier, there is an audio cable supplied, and as far as I can tell it makes no difference.
Good so far, but how good is the sound?
Well, Beats/Apple themselves claim that ‘these headphones deliver premium playback with fine-tuned acoustics that maximize clarity, breadth and balance.’
Premium playback is the least you would expect if you buy these from Apple’s website at the full price of almost $300!
I would be lying if I said that the sound is as good as the Momentum 2.0 or most things by Bose. It just isn’t.
What it is, however, is the best Beats sound yet: very good for the lows (hip-hop, dubstep, digital tracks and audio-tuned vocals), much-improved for the higher pitches and, erm, not so good on the mid-range.
As stated earlier, you shouldn’t opt for Beats if audio quality is your only real concern. That has always been the case and still is the case (for now anyway).
The same is true for noise cancellation technology. If that is a must-have for you, then the Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones are a better choice. If not, then the combination of loud bass and snug ear pads does a fine job of blocking out surrounding sound.
What the comfortable pads are not so good at, though, is keeping the sound in. If you listen to anything on a high volume, the people around you will be able to sing along with you.
Choose your tracks carefully!
This is where things become interesting.
Remember that Apple W1 chip from earlier? What does it do, you may ask?
Well, the Solo2 Wireless headphones had a battery life of roughly 12 hours. According to Beats/Apple, the Solo 3s last for up to 40 hours.
Yes, that’s right, 40 hours.
I’ve tested this a few times now and the average was roughly 34, which is still damn impressive. It means charging your headphones once every 2 weeks if you listen to around 2 hours of music a day.
And there’s more.
Since the power efficiency of the W1 is way better, there is now a new feature called Fast Fuel. 5 minutes of charging gives your headphones 3 hours of playback.
Yes, again that’s right, 5-minutes gives you 3 hours of charge.
Not bad, huh?
The W1 chip also makes a difference for Bluetooth.
As well as providing a more reliable connection, it also speeds up the whole “connect to Bluetooth” process.
After you pair them for the first time, in future all you need to do is turn on your Beats, place them near the phone and you a box appears on the screen asking you to connect. Tap this and, boom, paired. You also get a precise battery percentage for the Beats in the same box
Unfortunately, though, that phone has to be an iPhone 7 or else have iOS 9 or later. Anything else and it’s the same process as normal.
At least the Bluetooth is class 1 for all pairing devices, with a range of up to 100m.
As they were only released 3 months ago, this may not change for a while, but there is one special deal to look out for in 2017.
In June 2016, Apple announced a special deal as part of their Back to School promotion. If you bought any Mac computer from their physical or online store you got a free pair of Solo2 Wireless headphones.
It ran from June to September, so look out for a possible similar deal on the Solo3 Wireless in 2017.
So there you have it, a comprehensive guide to Beats’ latest offering, the Solo3 Wireless headphones.
If you want to go wireless, but clarity of sound is the only thing you really care about, then have a look here instead.
For everyone else, look no further.
The Solo 3s are awesome inside and out, and I wholeheartedly recommend them.