Beats Solo Pro review: Better Beats

Beats Solo Pro review: Better Beats

“Beats' Solo Pro are the company's most polished headphones yet.”
  • Comfortable for most users
  • Active noise-canceling works well
  • Turns off when folded
  • Better sound than prior Beats
  • Battery life is just ok
  • No headphone jack

Beats’ most popular line of headphones just got an update. Following the Beats Solo 3 Wireless are the Beats Solo Pro, redesigned with sustainability, simplicity, and noise-canceling in mind. They are also supposed to sound more balanced than previous Beats editions.

With that in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Solo Pro might make a compelling alternative to the Sony and Bose headphones that currently sit at the top.

Comfortable, no power button

The Beats Solo Pro are sleek and minimalist. The two available buttons are all but invisible, and even the one LED indicator light doesn’t call attention to itself. In terms of style, Beats has the competition, well, beat.

The metal slider on the headband uses anodized aluminum, and it’s easy enough to slide up and down with your hands when not on your head, but I felt it difficult to make on-head adjustments due to quite a bit of resistance.

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The headband padding is improved, but the grippy surface of the rubbery material covering the padding still bugs me when it pulls on my hair. The clamping force isn’t excessive, but you’ll definitely feel the headphones when you wear them. They don’t disappear on your head as the Bose Active Noise Cancelling 700 do.

Longer listening sessions had me wanting to take the headphones off, but I’m talking about an hour and a half of use, and to be clear, I am more picky about fit and pressure than most — on-ear headphones just aren’t my bag. If Apple/Beats is aiming this headset at “creators” as their website indicates, I can see the comfort level being fine for that intended audience. I would not, however, recommend the Solo Pro as a long-haul travel companion.

They’re not just attractive — they make a statement.

I’m a fan of the matte finish for its durability and easy-cleaning, but can we talk about the colors for a second? Yes, they come in classic, muted tones such as black, grey, and ivory, but I’d recommend opting for the Pharrell Williams editions, which come in more exciting light blue, dark blue, and red colors. They’re not just attractive, they make a statement.

Simplicity is the theme here, and that’s seen in elements beyond aesthetic design. For example, there’s no power button. Similar to the Sennheiser Momentum 3, unfolding the headphones will power them on and put them into a pairing state. Folding them in turns the headphones off.

While this is intuitive, it does mean the battery will continue to wear down when worn around the neck or left unfolded on a desk.

Time will tell if this concern is warranted. Personally, I’m happy to see the feature here, as it means one less button to fiddle around with.

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If you like that, then you’ll love the only visible button on the headphones. It’s satisfying to press. You tap it once to turn on active noise-canceling (ANC), and tap it again to turn on transparency mode, which allows you to listen to the sounds around you without needing to take the headphones off.

You double-tap it to turn both ANC and transparency off. That’s it. There aren’t multiple levels of noise-canceling to customize — it’s simple. A three-way rocker on one side of the headphones that lets you toggle volume, change tracks, take calls, and activate a voice assistant.

Beats is following Apple’s approach of building its products in a way that’s better for the environment, which is why the Solo Pro are made out of 36% recycled plastic, and the felt case that comes with it is also made of recycled plastic. The packaging for the box uses up less space, which helps reduce Beats’ carbon footprint, and is made with 70% recycled material.

Unlike Powerbeats Pro, which have an IPX4 rating for water and dust resistance, there’s no rating on the Beats Solo Pro. Don’t fret. However, Beats says you can use the headphones in heavy rain, and sweat won’t affect them either.

Smart noise canceling

The key feature on the Beats Solo Pro is active noise-canceling, bringing the series up to speed with the rest of the market. Unlike other headphones with ANC, there are no varying levels of noise-canceling to toggle through, similar to the system Beats uses on its Studio 3 Wireless.

Turn it on with the only button on the bottom of the headphones, and Beats’ proprietary algorithm will work with the two microphones on the exterior, listening for ambient sounds, as well as with the two interior microphones listening for leakage and volume, to tweak the level of noise-canceling based on your environment.

This algorithm, according to the company, is dynamically creating filters and adapting 50,000 times a second. That might sound like it would feel jarring, but it isn’t. The transitions are smooth and virtually unnoticeable.

If you’re in a quiet coffee shop, the Solo Pro delivers a certain level of noise-canceling. Walk outside to the bustle of traffic and cars honking, and that level will automatically increase to block out the sound as much as possible. It’s smart. I don’t need to press a button to tweak the level of noise-canceling. I can let the headphones do the work for me.

I don’t need to press a button to tweak the level of noise-canceling; I can let the headphones do the work for me.

The Beats Solo Pro don’t cancel noise as well as the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 or the Sony WH-1000xM3, but they do a respectable job. The passive noise isolation does plenty of work on its own and the ANC swings around to take the edge off. Add the sound of music or a movie, and you aren’t going to hear much of the world around you.

Surprisingly, transparency mode is more impressive. It sounds closer to not wearing headphones than any competing model we’ve tested yet. Only the new AirPods Pro do better.

Improved sound quality

This is the best-sounding set of Beats cans yet. The over-hyped bass we’ve been complaining about for years has toned down to an acceptable level. I still get plenty of bass with a deep presence in the lowest octaves, maintaining the notion that you can feel the bass as well as hear it.

The midrange is also improved, in part thanks to the bass being placed under control. As a result, the Solo Pro don’t have to boost the upper midrange as much to create a sense of clarity and transparency.

And the treble? I’m into it. The highs are bright yet tasteful — zesty, even — but never move into harshness territory. Transients are also well-executed, with sufficient detail around the pluck of strings and tapping of percussion.

Bonuses for Apple fans

Thanks to the Apple’s H1 chip, you get access to features like proximity pairing, making it fast and easy to pair the headphones to your phone, and there’s also iCloud pairing so you can listen from any other iCloud-connected products with ease, like your MacBook. The chip enables the microphones to constantly listen for the Siri trigger for easy access to the assistant. You can also long-press to activate Google Assistant on Android phones. Many of these features are available for Android phones through Beats’ app.

The headphones also support Apple’s Audio Sharing, introduced in iOS 13. This means you can share your audio, be it music or audio from a movie, with another Apple device owner so your friends and family can listen in without needing a headphone splitter.

They also notice when you’re talking on the phone and employ external microphones to eliminate ambient sound, so the call quality is unaffected by the noises in your surroundings. It works quite well for background clatter, but not so much for wind. In fact, wind created quite a bit of noise inside the headphones themselves.

Battery life

Beats claims 40 hours of music playback on the Solo Pro, but if you use active noise-canceling or transparency mode, playback time cuts down to 20 hours. That’s a little less than competitors like the Sony WH-1000XM3, which maintain 30 hours of playback with active noise-canceling. While you may not have listening sessions that last that long, it still means less time between charges.

beats solo pro with apple family
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Speaking of plugging in, it’s a shame Beats is still using Apple’s Lightning port on the Solo Pro. You get the same Fast Fuel technology as before, which delivers three hours of playback in 10 minutes of charging, and that’s nice and all, but it’s time for Beats to start using USB-C. It’s more widely-used — even on Apple’s MacBooks — and it’s the better, more versatile choice.

I don’t think the world at large is ready for headphones with no headphone jack.

Now, speaking of not plugging in: There’s no headphone jack. Sure, there’s also no headphone jack on many phones today, but I can think of several sound sources that aren’t wireless, not the least of which is the armrest on your airline seat, where a 3.5mm headphone jack is the only way you’ll hear the sound that goes with the blockbuster you’re watching on a 7-inch screen. I don’t think the world at large is ready for headphones with no headphone jack.

A black Lightning cable is included in the box for Android phone owners that may not have a Lightning cable lying around. Also, you can listen to music while the Solo Pro are charging.

Price and availability

The Beats Solo Pro cost $300 and are available now. You can order here. Beats, a brand under Apple, now offers AppleCare for its wireless products. You can pay $29 extra to cover your headphones for two years, and that includes accidental damage protection.

The pricing makes them more affordable than the excellent Sony WH-1000XM3, but that $50 difference comes with a sacrifice in long-term comfort and noise-canceling quality. On the other hand, the Beats Solo Pro are way more Apple-friendly and quite a bit more stylish.

Our Take

The Beats Solo Pro deliver exactly what their target audience wants: style, simplicity, and refined sound. It’s tempting to compare them to popular models from the likes of Sony and Bose due to their cost and features, and in some ways, they compete effectively. However, the Solo Pro aren’t looking to land a spot in a frequent flyer’s travel bag, and that’s just fine. If you’re looking for better travel headphones, we’ve got the best right here.

Is there a better alternative?

In terms of style and simplicity — and appeal to Apple fans — the Beats are at the top of their class. For better audio quality, the Sony WH-1000xM3 are a great choice. For noise canceling and call quality, the Bose ANC 700 are a top pick.

How long will it last?

The Beats Pro Solo feel durable, according to my short-term stress tests. The only limiting factor here is the same found on any wireless headphone. The battery.

Warranty

The Beats Solo Pro come with Apple/Beats limited one-year warranty. You can read the fine print here.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you are a Beats fan and you want one of the most stylish headphone options available today, the Beats Solo Pro are a stand-out choice. That the sound quality has improved and noise-canceling is in the mix is a welcome change and an encouraging new direction for the brand.

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