For a while, Beats by Dre became the whipping boy of the headphone industry, with many critics pointing to shoddy builds and unbalanced audio. But this is a new day. Beats and Apple have teamed up to give us the Beats Solo Pros ($299). The first on-ear noise-cancelling headphones in the Beats lineup, the Solo Pros deliver fairly balanced audio, 22 hours of battery life and impressive noise cancelling that should put Bose on notice. Thanks to Apple's H1 chip, these headphones also give you seamless pairing and integration with iOS devices, all in a sophisticated take on Beats brightly colored aesthetic.
Beats Solo Pro design
I've got the blues — in a good way. As is customary with Beats by Dre, the headphones come in a cadre of eye-catching hues. There's Black, Ivory and Gray for music lovers who desire a more understated aesthetic, as well as the Pharrell Williams-designed More Matte collection, which consists of Dark Blue, Light Blue and Red.
For this review, I chose Dark Blue, and I am really pleased with my choice. The trademarked lowercase b looks great in blue and draws your gaze as soon as you look at the ear caps. The matte finish means I get a massive pop of color (which I love) but without the chintzy-looking glossy finish.
But as nice as the cans look (and believe me, they look great), I'm disappointed that neither Beats nor Apple have made the move to incorporate more metal into the overarching design. The yokes and joints of the cans are made of stainless steel, but the majority of the frame is made of plastic. Still, I appreciate that the underside of the band is made of a cushiony, soft-touch plastic. It's almost as soft as the leatherette ear cups.
The aforementioned joints mean that the headphones fold up nicely and won't take up too much space in a bag. Beats bundles a stylish fabric soft case to protect the Solo Pros from getting scuffed during transit. You also get a Lightning charger, because Apple refuses to join the big, beautiful world of USB Type-C.
Beats Solo Pro comfort
Normally, I'm not really a fan of on-ear headphones. After a while, the smallish cups tend to put uncomfortable pressure on my tiny ears. It was the same story with the Solo Pro –– at first. The more I wore them, however, the more comfortable they became. After breaking the Solo Pros in, I could wear them for 2 hours with no real discomfort.
Are they as comfortable as the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 headphones? Not at all. But that largely has to do with the 700s being over-ear headphones not on-ear cans. The 700s' large oval cups sit over my ears, creating a comfy seal that meant hours of pillowy-soft comfort.
Speaking of the Bose, they're just a smidgen lighter than the Solo Pros, weighing 9 ounces compared to 9.4 ounces.
Beats Solo Pro controls
"It's so simple, a child could do it." The bulk of the Solo Pro's controls are accessed via the hidden multifunction button in the right earcup. Press the center of the b once to pause and once again to play. Use the same commands to answer and end a call. A quick double tap skips songs forward, while a triple tap goes backward. In order to summon your digital assistant, just hold down the button. To adjust the volume, tap above the b to increase the sound and below to decrease.
Need to switch between the two ANC modes? Just tap the small button on the bottom of the left ear cup to toggle.
In practice, the multifunction button provides firm, springy feedback with an audible click when pressed, so I had no problem mastering the multiple-tap cadence. The headphones gave a near-instantaneous response to all my poking and prodding.
Beats Solo Pro pairing and Siri support
Button pressing is nice and all, but where modern Apple audio products shine is the blink-and-you'll-miss-it pairing and other seamless functionality made possible by Apple's H1 chip.
Pairing the Solo Pros to my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or Apple iPhone 10 XS Max was as simple as unfolding the cans and putting them on my head. By the time I accessed the Bluetooth-pairing feature on my Note 8, the device had already discovered the Solo Pros. I quick-pressed on the name, and I was ready to jam. On my iPhone XS Max, as soon as I unfurled the headphones, the message box showing my headphones were connected appeared.
But that's not all the chip can do. It also gives you hands-free Siri. Instead of fumbling around for a button to launch the digital assistant, I just said, "Hey, Siri," and there it was, ready to answer any inane question or carry out any command I had. And I didn't even have to raise my voice.
Beats Solo Pro noise cancellation
The Solo Pros are not Bose killers, but I was floored when I experienced their Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling. It's pretty damned close to what I've been enjoying from the Bose 700.
Riding the subway, I managed to drown out a crowded train car by playing music at about 50% volume. When I wasn't playing music, it sounded like everyone else was far away. I could hear conversation, but it sounded like the car was several rooms away.
At home, I put the volume on my LG's 55-inch E8-Series (OLED55E8PUA) TV at 31 and lowered the volume on my phone to test the ANC. I got the volume down on my music to about 40 before I could hear anything from the television. And when I muted both the TV and the music, there was just silence — at least until the high-pitched chirp from my hard-wired smoke detector kicked in. But it definitely wasn't as shrill with the headphones in place.
As impressed as I am with Beats (and I am very impressed), they're not good enough to take Bose's seat as the ANC king. On the train, I can ward off the sounds of my morning commute with Spotify or Tidal playing at approximately 40% volume wearing the 700s. And if I just wanted to sit in quiet repose, it was just a few decibels above whisper quiet and it felt like I was watching the world on mute. At home, I managed to get my Note 8's volume down to around 30% before I could slightly hear the television. And when I muted everything, the Bose's dedicated six microphones reduced everything to a barely there peep.
Beats Solo Pro transparency mode
I've heard pass-through modes on other ANC headphones, but the Solo Pros may be the best at this to date. When enabled, the headphones allow ambient noise into the soundstage, mixing it into the music. This sounds weird, and it is, but it's also pretty cool. It meant that when I was listening to Big Sean's "Paradise," the already aggressive bass line got an assist from the passing C train. For a few seconds, I thought the rumbling from the tracks was a legitimate part of the song.
In the peace and quiet of my house, Transparency mode allowed me to listen to Outkast's "Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac)" while watching Halloween Wars on Food Network. I was impressed that I could clearly hear both audio sources without any real clashes.
But the feature really came in handy when I was in the office. It allowed me to have a discussion with my writers without having to pause my music. And since I was fully engaged in the conversation, they were none the wiser.
Beats Solo Pro audio quality
Beats has come a long way on audio quality. In the beginning, the brand catered to bass junkies and tuned its headsets' drivers accordingly. This is not the case with the Solo Pros. The 40mm drivers are tuned with balanced delivery in mind, which is better for genre-jumping music fans like myself.
I started with Kevin Ross and his beautiful, near a capella take on Outkast's "Prototype." Listening to the song on the Beats, I was impressed with how clean the snaps were as well as how clear the vocals were. The sparse instrumental accompaniment, such as the tinkling piano and bass machine, were just present enough. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Compared to the Bose 700, I got cleaner details and an overall warmer presentation.
When I played Megan Thee Stallion's "Big Ole Freak," the bass was somewhat diffused, which crowded the soundstage. However, the delicate electronic wind instrument and Megan's commanding vocals managed to shine. The lows on the 700s were better balanced, so not only did you get the thumping bass, but you also got it without distorting another part of the song.
I closed out my listening session with Chris Stapelton's "Nobody's Lonely Tonight," and the two headsets were in a dead heat. Each pair placed the singer's forlorn tenor at the top of the track and accurately captured the grit in the vocal delivery. However, the piano solo was the other star of the track on both pairs of headphones, with clear reproduction of the cymbals, toms and bass drum.
Beats Solo Pro battery life and Bluetooth
The Beat Solo Pros have an estimated 22 hours of battery life with ANC activated. When this feature is disabled, the battery life jumps to 40 hours. Compare that to the Bose 700 and its estimated 20 hours of charge (with ANC on).
After I charged the Solo Pros to 100%, I started my weekend, wearing the Beats off and on for at least an hour at a time, which included a 3-hour cleaning session, 1 hour to talk to my folks, and 2 hours watching countless YouTube videos and engaging in a random music-listening session. By the time I came into work on Monday, the headphones had 56% battery life left. I like to wear my headphones all day, so I really want a way to turn off the power when the headphones aren't in use that doesn't involve taking them off and folding them up.
When it's time to recharge the headphones, Beats' Fast Fuel technology will give you 3 hours of listening time with 10 minutes of charge.
Thanks to Bluetooth 5.0, the Solo Pros deliver faster and more-stable connections. You can also expect at least a 50-foot range. During my testing, I left the phone upstairs on the dining room table and still got a strong signal in my office.
Beats Solo Pro call quality
When I called my mom using the Beats Solo Pro, she said I sounded pretty clear; she could even tell that I had a small cold. It was so clear on my end that I heard her TV playing in the background. The Bose 700s' call quality was just a little bit cleaner, but not by much.
I also made a couple of calls while walking the busy (and noisy) New York City streets. When I called my colleague wearing the Beats, he said my voice sounded clear. He heard only faint background noise, like people talking, when I started speaking. I could hear my colleague pretty clearly, and he sounded distinct.
The call quality was noticeably better on both ends when I switched over to the Bose 700. My caller said my voice sounded warmer, a sentiment I shared as he sounded more present than he had on the previous call. As for background noise, he could barely hear anything as I walked along Bryant Park, but as I got closer to Times Square, he said he could faintly hear cars.
Beats Solo Pro app
Nowadays, any headphones worth their drivers have a companion app of some sort. So goes it for the Solo Pros. The free app (Android, iOS) is clean and intuitive but also pretty sparse. Using the app, you can adjust the ANC (On, Off, Transparency) and access a feature tutorial to help you get acquainted with your new pair of cans. You can also rename and register the headphones, as well as grant or revoke location-access privileges.
I really wanted to see an equalizer or a set of customizable audio profiles in the app, as it's something Apple users have been requesting. But alas, the masses shall be left waiting.
Beats Solo Pro Audio Sharing
Thanks to the H1 chip, the Solo Pros are capable of Audio Sharing with other Beats headphones and earbuds - provided they have either a W1 or H1 chip. That means that you and a friend with Airpods (1st or 2nd Gen), Powerbeats Pro, Powerbeats, Beats Solo3 Wireless, Beats Studio3 Wireless or BeatsX can have your own private jam session.
All you have to do to start the party is swipe up on the notification screen on your iPhone and hit the Airdrop symbol. From there, tap the Share Audio prompt and you’ll get a notification telling you to bring the second pair of headphones close to the iPhone. When I used the Powerbeats Pro, I was prompted to press the button inside the charging case. After 5 seconds, the indicator light started flashing and I was sharing my music with my coworker. Using the iPhone, I controlled the volume and song choice, which was cool. What wasn’t as fun was the fact that my coworker heard me typing on the keyboard.
However, we were both impressed with the range the functionality provides. I walked approximately 50 feet away holding the phone before the connection to the Powerbeats Pro started to cut out.
Beats has always been the cool brand. Many of your favorite celebrities have rocked a pair on camera at one point. However, Beats headphones weren't really known for their audio or build quality. That all changes with the Beats Solo Pro. For $299, you get a pair of headphones with great audio quality, near-instantaneous pairing and seamless integration with Apple products. And as the first on-ear noise-cancelling headphones in the Beats catalog, they actually give Bose some stiff competition. And yes, you can still get a colorful, eye-catching pair of cans.
I just wish the fit weren't so tight out of the box. Having to break the headphones in can be a literal pain. It would also be nice if Apple would stop trying to make Lightning charging happen. And while the audio quality is great for Beats, the brand still has a way to go to match the Boses and Sennheisers of the world. But if you're looking for a stylish pair of noise-cancelling headphones for $100 less than the Bose 700 headphones, there's no question that the Beats by Dre Beats Solo Pros are the cans for you.