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Beats Solo Buds review: budget wireless earbuds that get the basics right

The Beats Solo Buds in their red translucent case.
Beats Solo Buds
MSRP $80.00
“The Beats Solo Buds deliver on sound, comfort, and battery, but is that enough?”
  • Affordable (for Beats)
  • Very comfy and secure
  • Class-leading battery life
  • Great sound quality
  • Impressive noise reduction on calls
  • No ANC or transparency
  • No wireless charging
  • No Bluetooth Multipoint
  • Mediocre controls

In 2022, the prospect of buying a set of Apple-designed wireless earbuds for less than $100 seemed like a pipe dream. Apple and its subsidiary brand, Beats, are famously protective of their customer experiences and profit margins. Getting under that $100 threshold would mean dancing dangerously close to upsetting both corporate goals. And yet, here we are, with the $80 Beats Solo Buds.

The situation reminds me of Steve Jobs’ response when asked why, in 2008, Apple hadn’t yet launched a netbook-style budget laptop. “We do not know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk,” he told earnings call attendees, “and our DNA will not allow us to ship that.” Less than two years later, Apple shipped the first iPad, for $499.

Did something fundamental change at Apple that made Jobs step back from his characteristically colorful statement? No. Apple simply figured out what it needed to keep (a great screen, intuitive software, Wi-Fi), and what it could safely discard (a keyboard, USB ports, memory card reader, and a webcam) to make a $499 device that would still delight its customers.

Beats Solo Buds with iPhone 14.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

In the Beat Solo Buds, we can see that same calculus at work. Beats took its successful Beats Studio Buds+ and viciously cut every feature it could. A charging case with its own battery? Gone. Active noise cancellation? Nope. Transparency mode? Toast. Hands-free Siri? Buh-bye. That tiny little USB-C cable for charging? Go buy your own.

By the time Beats was done slashing and burning, it had indeed produced a sub-$100 set of wireless earbuds. The question is, did it go too far?

Let’s start with the biggest change: the case.

It’s truly tiny. I use the word pocketable a lot when describing case size and it couldn’t be more appropriate when discussing the Solo Buds’ case. The only other earbuds that come close to this level of portability are the JLab JBuds Mini. Ditching the case battery not only reduces the cost, but also clearly eliminates the need for a big case.

I like that Beats kept the flip-top lid design. When Skullcandy introduced its EcoBuds (which also lack a case battery for recharging the buds), it went with an open charging dock, which doesn’t protect the earbuds as well as a closed case. It also makes it more likely to catch on other objects in your purse or pocket. Still, the EcoBuds dock has a built-in USB-C charging cable, which Beats should have found a way to do on the Solo Buds’ case.

Beats Solo Buds with iPhone 14.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The other thing you won’t find on the case is an LED charging indicator. Instead, the case communicates relevant info using audible tones, just like the ones Apple introduced on the AirPods Pro Gen 2. There’s a tone when the case starts to charge, another when the earbuds’ battery reaches a low or critical state, and still more tones to let you know when the earbuds are ready to pair or have been successfully paired. (Gone, too, is a pairing/reset button. Instead, you’ll press the right-hand bud button for that functionality.)

Beats says that people find it hard to interpret LED indicators correctly, especially as they relate to a case’s charge versus the charge level of the earbuds. I tend to agree. From company to company and sometimes from model to model, these little lights seem to follow their own rules.

And yet, I’m not convinced that audible tones are better. After the initial tone to confirm charging once you plug in the case, if you want to see the charging progress, you’ll need to bring your phone near the case and open the case lid. Apple devices will show a card on the screen (even when locked) with the Solo Buds remaining battery life and charging status. Android devices will do the same via the Beats app when unlocked.

Beats Solo Buds case (rear).
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

I admit I didn’t push the envelope on usage in my short time with the Solo Buds — no ultra-long flights where I might have been without a way of charging. So while I can’t say for sure if the lack of case-based battery will prove an annoyance, I can say that I’ve personally never gone longer than about 12 hours between plug-ins on any set of wireless earbuds. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

I can also say that Beats’ claim of 18 hours per charge seems to be fairly accurate, give or take 30 minutes. After using them for around three hours, my phone reported 80% charge remaining. That’s a little less than you might expect, however, I was listening at a 60% volume level most of the time, and battery estimates are always based on 50% volume.

Simon Cohen wearing Beats Solo Buds.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Design-wise, the Solo Buds stick to a successful formula, but this time you get a variety of color choices including the red and black variants seen here, plus gray and purple versions. Much like the Studio Buds and Studio Buds+, the Solo Buds have a gently curved shape that I find very comfortable even for longer stretches of up to a few hours. Folks with small ears might find them more comfortable than Beats’ previous models: the Solo Buds are a tiny bit smaller. Four sizes of eartips are included, and I strongly recommend trying several — a good seal will improve audio quality (especially bass) and enhance the passive noise isolation.

That smaller shape and smooth plastic finish make them a bit tricky to extract from their case, but I eventually mastered the technique.

Beats Solo Buds included eartips.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Normally I’m a fan of physical buttons on wireless earbuds. Their tactile nature feels more intuitive and I like that you don’t need to remove a glove in cold weather to use them.

The Solo Buds’ controls, while physical, aren’t as easy to use as those on the Studio Buds/Studio Buds+. Those models use their entire outer surface as a button. Clicking them is effortless. The Solo Buds, by contrast, have a much smaller click mechanism that sits beneath a rubber membrane. It takes more force to press it, and I found it harder to do double- and triple-clicks with accuracy.

I might give Beats a pass on this design if the rubber membrane offered enhanced water resistance, but the opposite is true: the Solo Buds have no official rating for either dust or water protection, whereas the Studio Buds+ are rated IPX4.

Still, Beats says you can use the Solo Buds for workouts and no harm will come to them.

Beats Solo Buds.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The click gestures are simple: once for play/pause, twice for track skip forward, and three times for track skip back. You can then choose what a long-press does: volume up/down (depending on the earbud side) or activate your phone’s voice assistant. Why can’t you have both? I can’t think of a single good reason, especially as there are no ANC or transparency modes eating up one of the other gestures.

Note: In the screenshots below, you’ll see a reference to Automatic Ear Detection. Ignore it; our preproduction evaluation unit was still going through some growing pains as I tested them.

There are some definite drawbacks to Solo Buds’ intense culling of features, but sound quality isn’t one of them. Beats says it built them with the same drivers as the much more expensive Studio Buds+ (which were the same as the original Studio Buds) and I can confirm that they sound really good.

Clarity is superb, especially in the upper mids and highs, while the lows are pleasingly robust.

You’re not going to get the kind of massive bass that the Beats brand was once known for, but unless you’re an absolute bass fanatic, I doubt you’ll feel like something’s missing.

For better or worse, the Solo Buds have no EQ controls. It’s something I’ve gotten used to with both Beats and Apple wireless earbuds, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. At the very least, I think we should have access to bass and treble adjustments. Still, with the exception of the most intense hip-hop or rap, the Solo Buds have the kind of sound signature that works well with nearly every genre.

Stereo separation is excellent, and I think Beats has managed to widen the soundstage from the Studio Buds+. This helps make all music feel more lifelike and immersive, but it’s especially helpful when listening to spatial audio like Dolby Atmos Music.

Beats Solo Buds with iPhone 14.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Call quality is a real surprise. The Solo Buds’ mics (plus whatever algorithmic magic is taking place behind the scenes) are fantastic at blocking loud sounds that might overwhelm your voice and annoy your callers. As I walked past some very busy intersections, there was hardly a hint of the traffic rolling just a few feet away.

At times, this noise suppression is too powerful — if an especially loud noise happened while I was talking, entire words would get swallowed up. If this happens, your callers may object and tell you to speak up, thinking that you’re mumbling. They simply won’t know that a Mack truck just about ran you over.

Indoors, where things are normally quieter, your voice will come through with very good clarity.

The Beats Solo Buds in their red translucent case.
Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

However, the lack of a transparency mode keeps the Solo Buds from being a great companion for calls. Your voice will always sound muffled to you due to the isolation provided by the eartips, and that’s a recipe for fatigue after a few minutes.

The bottom line on these new Beats buds? They absolutely nail the basics, in an ultraportable design that is both comfortable and, frankly, more sustainable. Their 18-hour battery life is astonishing — it makes me wonder why we can’t have that kind of stamina on all wireless earbuds. And, by Beats/Apple standards, the Solo Buds are remarkably affordable.

To achieve their sub-$100 price, however, the Solo Buds give up too many convenience features. ANC, transparency, Bluetooth Multipoint, wireless charging, and EQ control are all commonplace on similarly priced models from Soundcore, 1More, JLab, and Earfun. Unless you’re determined to sport a set of earbuds with the Beats “b” logo, I think you should spend your $80 elsewhere.

Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so. In 2021, when Jabra introduced its Elite 3 earbuds for $80, they had more features than the Solo Buds, and yet I still gave them a 6/10. Three years later, I think we should expect more, not less, for our money.

Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
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