The Beats Flex is a a modernized (and more affordable) take on the brand’s highly popular BeatsX earbuds. To that end, it borrows several cues from its predecessor while welcoming new improvements.
This set of buds has an attractive design, steady playtimes, seamless pairing to iDevices, and some pretty good call quality, helping put it among the best cheap earbuds you can buy — and the best workout headphones too. However, it not perfect. As our Beats Flex review explains, inconsistent audio performance theatens to put a downer on things, though at this price it would be foolish to look past altogether.
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Colors: Black, Flame Blue, Smoke Gray, Yuzu Yellow
Battery life (rated): 12 hours
Size: 4.2 x 0.6 x 34 inches (including cable)
Weight: 0.7 ounces
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Processor: Apple W1 chip
Beats Flex review: Price and availability
The Beats Flex is available at the incredibly low price of $50 and sold exclusively at Apple or Beats. You have a choice of four colors: Black, Flame Blue, Smoke Gray, Yuzu Yellow.
Bundled with the earbuds are a USB-C charge connector, quick start guide, warranty card, and four sets of ear tips, in various sizes. A carrying pouch would have been greatly appreciated.
Beats Flex review: Design
I get it, wires aren’t sexy, but if this is a product that you’re considering owning, then the concept of wires isn’t going to sway your decision. The Beats Flex shares a similar silhouette to the BeatsX, though there are some noticeable changes.
Beats keeps the full plastic construction intact, along with the tangle-free wire and magnetized earbud housing, all of which still feel premium. You’ll notice the inline mic and multifunctional button on the left module have been modified for enhanced usability; no more pulling the mic close to your mouth on phone calls.
In terms of style, these are some of the most attractive buds in any price class or category, thanks to Beats’ portfolio of bold, eye-grabbing colors. Flame Blue and Yuzu Yellow will definitely be the two most popular options for ornate music listening. Black and Smoke Gray look pretty basic, but what is basic for Beats headphones is still trendy; the signature B logo is practically synonymous with aspirational lifestyle.
Since Beats has been on an IPX4 kick with its last two wireless earbuds releases (Powerbeats 4, Powerbeats Pro), we were expecting some form of water-resistant/waterproof protection on the Beats Flex. Unfortunately, there is no IPX rating. Beats did mention the USB-C connector is waterproof and that the buttons are sealed to prevent liquid from seeping in. Whether that’s enough assurance to exercise or swim with the buds, well, that’s a risk you may or may not want to take. Personally, I thought the buds staved off excessive sweat well during cardio workouts.
Beats Flex review: Comfort and fit
At 0.66 ounces, the Beats Flex is lightweight and isn’t cumbersome to wear around the neck when not in use. Your ears won’t feel weighed down when sporting them during exercises. I would say the comfort level is moderate, as I noticed the inner casing was adding slight pressure to the concha. This will only cause issues if you have a low pain threshold or use the earbuds for longer than two hours.
The inclusion of four ear tip options provides a variety of fits to accommodate different ear shapes. Sure, it would have been awesome if Beats added some of the wing tips bundled with the BeatsX, but that doesn’t take away from the Beat Flex’s acceptable fit. If you’re worried about them slipping out during runs, don’t, because the tips grip onto the ear canal and the modules on each side do a fantastic job with weight distribution to keep the buds stabilized.
Beats Flex review: Controls and digital assistant
The Beats Flex makes the most of its real estate, having a vast number of programmed controls that are shared between two modules. The left module takes on the majority of functionality, carrying volume rockers on the side, along with a wide microphone grille and MF button to execute the following commands: play/pause (1x press), skip track (2x press), previous track (3x press), and digital assistant (long press). All you need to know is that the buttons are highly responsive and produce excellent tactility. Good stuff here, Beats.
These buds also have their own automatic playback/call management system that will pause/resume music or answer/end calls when snapping the buds together. No, this isn’t the same as wear detection, where all you would need to do is remove the buds from your ears to stop music. It’s intuitive and serviceable for when you want to stop songs to engage in brief chats.
As with all Apple audio products, Siri operates flawlessly on the Beats Flex. Beats’ advanced mic is capable of picking up vocals in loud environments, letting Apple’s AI work its magic. One of the biggest surprises was how well Google Assistant worked on these buds, awarding me the same accurate performance as Siri, only on my Google Pixel 3 XL. You’ll be able to shout out voice commands and take care of common tasks like setting up calendar invites or voice-to-text friends with ease.
Beats Flex review: Audio quality
Beats has shown great commitment to enhancing sound on its audio products, beginning with the well-received Studio3 and carrying that momentum over to its revamped Powerbeats lineup. The Beats Flex doesn’t follow suit or live up to its “powerful sound” claims, boasting a flat signature that favors video content and podcasts over music.
Beats says it developed new acoustic drivers to produce “accurate bass and precision across the frequency curve,” though the results are more miss than hit. Oftentimes, I heard some hissing on older recordings, or the reverberation on certain tracks (ex. Chaka Demus & Pliers “Murder She Wrote”) created semblances of distortion. The live bass on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Black Spasmodic” didn’t land the same as it did on more warm-tuned earbuds like the Powerbeats 4 or Jaybird Tarah, and it even hindered clarity, which made the rappers’ vocals sound filtered.
When finding the right tracks, these buds showed me the type of sound quality Beats set out to engineer. Pull up The Police’s “Roxanne” to hear what I’m talking about. The staccato guitar chords hit their mark and will instantly stimulate rhythmic foot taps, while the steady hi-hat and Sting’s isolated vocals are reproduced superbly. I was also impressed by well how the Beats Flex handed the synth basslines on Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” and opened up the soundscape for the singer to flex his harmonizing talents.
Again, the best sound is experienced outside of music, with Beats’ drivers emphasizing vocals to hear dialogue better. I loved using these buds to take in my daily dose of political news via CNN clips, along with other YouTube content I normally binge during downtimes. Even poorly recorded podcasts like The Game Informer Show received a boost in clarity.
I attribute the cleaner audio presentation and small glimpses of bass resonance to the Beats Flex’s great isolation. A proper fit establishes a tight seal that blocks out ambient noise from coming into the soundscape, so you can enjoy full sound to the best of the buds’ capabilities.
Beats Flex review: App and special features
The Beats app (iOS, Android) gets zero promotion, and for good reason, as it has very few features. There are only two toggle controls, which are tied to automatic playback and call management. Besides that, you can rename the buds, register them online, view the battery level indicator, or experience a quick tour of the controls. Firmware updates are available too.
Where the real functionality comes into play is in Apple’s W1 chip. It’s the older sibling to the more powerful and faster H1 chip found in the AirPods Pro and recent Powerbeats models, but it’s still a smoother operator. Apple’s easy-pairing feature gets you instantly connected to any iPhone or iPad linked to your iCloud account. Bluetooth 5.0 integration also makes it simpler to pair with Android smartphones, which is a major plus since Apple has made it frustratingly difficult to get older Beats headphones and AirPods running on Google’s mobile OS.
Audio sharing is available too, meaning you can stream audio from one device onto a second pair of Beats headphones or AirPods. That’s about it. You don’t get any of new software perks that H1-equipped devices currently have like automatic switching or standard features (e.g. adjustable EQ, customizable controls) found on competitor models.
Beats Flex review: Battery life
If there’s one thing that Beats has gotten right with every new wireless earbuds’ release, it’s battery life. The Beats Flex doesn’t disappoint, rated at 12 hours on a full charge. Based on my testing, it’s really about 11 hours, which is still highly sufficient for those who want a week’s worth of playback before charging. I used the earbuds for about 1.5 hours daily over the course of 5 days and still had 30% power left in the tank. That was enough to jump on two very long Skype calls before charging.
Battery management is impressive too. I saw battery life drop from 60% to 55% when using the buds sporadically during a two-hour span. You can even leave them paired to a device for hours, inactive, and the battery levels will barely drop.
The Beats Flex delivers higher playtimes than popular models in its price range like the Jaybird Tarah (6 hours) and Jaybird X4 (8 hours), even the BeatsX (8 hours). On the flip side, you have newer models like the JLab Epic Sport2 crushing it with 20 hours. This isn’t a deal-breaker, especially since Beats’ buds come equipped with USB-C and Fast Fuel charging to net you 1.5 hours of use on a 10-minute charge. You’ll either have to carry around a USB-C charger or a power bank with a USB-C port to recharge on the go, but that's a small compromise.
Beats Flex review: Call quality and connectivity
Beats’ upgraded mic array does provide improved voice calling, though the Beats Flex’s call quality remains a level below any of the Powerbeats models and the BeatsX. When taking my wife’s calls outside, she could hear my voice clearly, but also heard the external noises around me; the construction taking place next door and wind were unavoidable. She did praise the volume levels and liked that even with such distractions, I was still audible. Being on Zoom calls inside the house was more rewarding, with a few clients complimenting how loud and clear I sounded.
Connectivity is a hallmark on all Apple-related products, and as I previously mentioned, the W1 chip does a solid job of pairing to devices on multiple platforms. What about wireless range? I’m glad you asked. The standard stable connection for most true wireless earbuds is about 30 to 35 feet away from an audio source, and these buds surpass that mark by about 10 feet. It felt joyous and liberating to stream music around the house while my phone was charging in the bedroom. I didn’t experience any dropout during calls, nor was there any stuttering when streaming Spotify.
Beats Flex review: Verdict
No matter the strengths or weaknesses, the reality is that consumers are going to consider buying the Beats Flex based solely on one factor: price. It’s the truth. So, is Beats’ newest release worth the $50? Definitely. And with that said, you can rest assured knowing there will be plenty of goodness that comes from the purchase.
This includes a fashion-forward design with personalized fit, lengthy battery life, strong mics for effective call quality and Siri use, and exceptional connectivity on both iOS and Android. You just have to be aware that while audio is decent, there are other better-sounding, feature-laden models available at the same price point.
Still, the overall performance the Beats Flex gives you should warrant a higher price, so consider these buds an uber-generous offer from the trailblazing audio brand.