The Studio Buds aren’t the first true wireless from Beats (that would be the Powerbeats Pro), but they are the first from the company aimed at the core, mainstream market.
And as such, they actually give parent company Apple some competition, who have their massively successful AirPods in the same area of the market.
The Studio Buds differ in a number of ways, but which out of the Beats Studio Buds vs Apple AirPods is the true wireless to go for?
Price and availability
The Beats Studio Buds have a price of £129 / $149 / €149 / CA$179 / AU$199.
The Apple AirPods are older than the Studio Buds by two years (they went on sale March 2019) and are likely to be surpassed soon by the anticipated AirPods 3. They currently come in two variants, one that requires a wired connection for charging and another that supports wireless charging.
The former has an RRP of £159 / $159 / €179 / CA$219 / AU$249, while the latter is priced at £199 / $199 / €229 / CA$219 / AU$249.
Look around online and the AirPods carry a similar price as the Studio Buds. Call it a draw for the time being, but as we’ll see, there’s one true wireless that offers better value for its price.
What’s the difference in the design?
When they went on sale, the updated AirPods model virtually carried the same aesthetic and shape as the first-gen model. As we’ve noted many times before, this wasn’t necessarily a positive nor did it prove to be as much of an upgrade as many had hoped.
The AirPods feature the stem design they helped popularised but is arguably beginning to wane in the market. Listeners have access to tap controls that govern playback, volume and Siri voice control.
The AirPods are sleek but the fact that they sit on the cusp of the earlobe means noise isolation – that’s the earbud design’s natural noise blocking characteristics – are weaker than other designs. If you want to hear what’s around and don’t like the feel of earbuds in your ear, then the AirPods serve a purpose. But if you want to listen to music in busy areas, these aren’t such a good a choice.
They’re also not great for exercise and gym work either. There are prone to falling out during more strenuous activities, and Apple never confirmed nor denied an IP rating for its AirPods, so while you could use them for exercise, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to withstand dirt, sweat or water as well as other options.
Which is where the Studio Buds prove to be a much better fit, quite literally. More ergonomic in shape, the Studio Buds slot into the ear providing a much better seal against external noises. That fit isn’t necessarily the best we’ve experienced as the Studio Buds can feel a bit fussy in terms of how they sit. But at least there’s reassurance that they won’t fall out as easily.
They’re comfortable to wear over prolonged periods and use physical touch controls that cover playback and swapping through the various sound modes. There’s no volume control on the earbuds, so volume needs to be operated through your mobile device.
The IPX4 rating ensures they’re designed to cope better with water and sweat, and combined with the better fit, it means they’re more appropriate for fitness activities.
The Studio Buds also come in more colours, with red and black joining the white finish. That allows for personality, something the AirPods have lacked. We’ve always resisted the glossy white finish on the Apple earbuds for its tendencies to attract dirt and smudges.
In terms of design it’s an easy win for the Studio Buds. Unless you’re someone who doesn’t like the design of the Beats pair, it’s the more practical of the two.
What’s the difference in the feature set?
The Studio Buds feature noise cancellation, which instantly gives them a leg up on their older cousins. It’s an advantage they’ll likely maintain when the AirPods 3 drop too.
The performance of the Studio Buds’ is reasonably good and one of the better efforts at this price point. Commutes were smoother, vehicle noises reduced and everyday sounds were solidly dispelled. It’s not as good with voices but all-in-all it’s a reliable performer.
Battery life matches that of the AirPods with 24 hours each. This drops to about 15 hours for the Studio Buds when noise cancellation is activated.
The entry-level AirPods doesn’t support wireless charging and neither do the Beats. While the more expensive AirPods model does come with the wireless charging case, it’s £70 more just for that feature. Fast-charging is supported across all models.
Where the Studio Buds eke out another advantage is their support for fast-pairing and Find My earbud feature on both Android and iOS devices. Considering the AirPods are absolutely rooted in the iOS ecosystem, the Beats open themselves up for use with other devices.
The Beats use the same H1 chip that’s on the AirPods, so they’re almost a match for the AirPods with support for features such as Spatial Audio, Siri integration and auto-switching. What they don’t have is the Audio Sharing feature or wear detection.
It’s another win for the Beats. The support for noise cancellation sees them offer more value, as well as the wider compatibility. The AirPods still have some features the Studio Buds don’t have, but not enough to close the gap.
Is there any difference in the sound?
To answer the question above straight off the bay, the Beats are the clear winner in our minds.
Beats was a brand known for their bass-heavy tuning, but recent efforts have seen them turn it around and the Studio Buds are another product with both feet planted in a balanced presentation. Clarity and detail levels are good, they’re well-balanced across the frequency range, with a natural sounding mid-range, sharp high frequencies and solid basslines.
If there’s a complaint we do have, it’s that the soundstage can be small, but they’re punchier, more confident in a rhythmic sense, and offer more dynamism than the AirPods. By comparison the AirPods have a weak bass-response, and unlike the more assured handling of the Beats, they can struggle with complicated tracks, which lack clarity and organisation.
There’s a good focus on vocals but the design comes back to haunt them as you’ll struggle to hear your music in noisier areas such as transport or populated areas. With the Beats, you have the design as well as the noise cancellation to count on, so your music is always the focus.
It’s another win for the Beats.
It’s a pretty easy win for the Beats Studio Buds over the Apple AirPods. The inclusion for noise cancellation, the fast-pairing support for both iOS and Android devices, as well as the better design and audio performance makes them a much more attractive true wireless for the price.
While the AirPods still have some positives, they’re increasingly looking out-of-step with where the market is going. In fact, we wonder the Beats herald what we could expect from the Apple’s AirPods 3…