Beats X Review: Are Apple's Premium Earbuds Worth It?

When Beats first appeared on the scene in 2006, the company's headphones came in numerous loud colors with the signature stylized lowercase "b" adorned on the earcups or earbuds. Beats is now owned by Apple, which has had significant influence on the design of the brand's newest product line, BeatsX, which launched earlier this year. These $150 earbuds are a nice departure from the gaudy design of years past, but are they worth it? Here's our take.

Design

The BeatsX fall into the "necklace" style of earbuds that connect the left and right buds using a single cable. Built to sit around your neck, behind your head, the BeatsX may be the first pair of headphones with a balanced, no-tangle cable design. They use two 2-inch pods, equidistant from the center of the cable, that contain the batteries and electronics. e The right pod contains a single button that's used to power on the headphones and activate the pairing feature, while the left pod contains a charging port that utilizes Apple's Lightning connector.

Although the Lightning port should please iPhone users, as an Android phone user, I found this design choice a little frustrating. Included with the connector in the box is a black charging cable, which, at just shy of 8.5 inches, seems a bit short if you're planning to leave the headphones on a table rather than a floor while they're charging. 

There's also a second, smaller pod along the left side that contains a Siri-compatible microphone for taking calls. The center button also functions as play/pause, next track (quickly pressed twice) or previous track (quickly pressed three times) and is bookended by the volume rocker. The back of the buds also contain a small magnet that allows you to secure them around your neck when you're not listening.

Likely taking design cues from parent company Apple, the BeatsX are available in only four colors: white, black, gray and a muted blue.

Comfort and fit

When I first began using the headphones, I was a bit leery of the potential comfort of this necklace design with the weighted pods. However, over a few listening sessions, they actually became fairly unnoticeable yet functional.

Compared to the V-Moda Forza Metallo Wireless headphones, which use a titanium-lined portion of cable that gently squeezes around your neck, the BeatsX design was actually more comfortable for me. Instead of an undue pressure on your neck, there's just a gentle weight to keep the cable at bay.

Something I noticed right off the bat was the 33-inch-long cable. On one hand, the last thing you want with this style of headphones is a short cable that causes the earbuds to pop out of your ear when you do something so slight as twist your head. However, a cord that is too long could get caught on items as you walk by. But this may not be an issue, depending on the length of your neck..

While the plastic earbuds aren't the coziest I've tried, they aren't outright uncomfortable, either. The BeatsX have an angled driver design, allowing them to sit on the inside of your ears without exerting any unnecessary pressure, and their relatively small size means they don't protrude as some other earbuds do.

Audio quality

Although the BeatsX are certainly an acceptable pair of everyday wireless headphones, their sound quality didn't really wow me.

In the past, Beats has been known to tweak the bass levels to be anything but natural. The BeatsX's bass isn't over the top, but it's not as tight and clean as that from other headphones I've used. I do, however, applaud Apple and Beats for designing much more natural-sounding headphones compared with the brand's prior models.

Overall, these earphones offer a relatively even sound profile among the bass, treble and midrange. However, I found that some instruments including the cymbals and strings, which should shimmer left me feeling a bit uninspired.

The opening of Cypress Hill's "(Rock) Superstar," which features a distant echo in both the right and left earbuds, was fairly clear and understandable, while the grimy bass line was pronounced but not overdone. By comparison, the  same track on the Metallos sounded a bit warmer and had a more spacious soundscape, which let me hear distinct portions of the track more clearly.

Acoustic tracks sounded a little distant; the flamenco-inspired guitar picking was a bit lacking and dull on Jesse Cook's "Havana." The Metallos delivered a more intimate play-through, which, while muddy, was clear enough that I could just make out the strums of the guitar.

In those quiet moments between tracks, I noticed that the BeatsX had a slight, but definitely audible, hiss. I couldn't hear it when the music was playing, but I did wonder if it affected the overall audio quality. 

Battery Life

Beats claims that the BeatsX headphones offer 8 hours of playback, and I found that estimate to be fairly accurate. The headphones lasted 7 hours and 25 minutes as I jammed out while I ran errands, worked out at the gym and just relaxed in my house. However, the Metallos delivered 8.5 hours of listening time.

Wireless-headphone makers have begun incorporating the fast-charge concept commonly found in cellphones. For example, Apple has included its W1 wireless chipset, the same one found in its AirPods, to allow for quick charging. This brings the buds to a 25-percent charge in 5 minutes, providing 2 hours of playback, according to the company

Bottom Line

The $149 BeatsX headphones are certainly not going to blow away audiophiles with their sound, they should work fairly well for most folks, especially Apple fans.  The flat, tangle-free, balanced cable is more comfortable than the designs of other similar models and is quite functional, while the in-line remote and mic work well and offer clear sound for people on the go.

However, if you want warmer. more accurate sound with several customization options, the $169 V-Moda Forza Metallos are the way to go. But ultimately, the BeatsX Wireless headphones are a great choice for music lovers searching for a comfortable pair of headphones that handle a daily commute, the gym and everything in between.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide

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