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Beats Studio3 Wireless review: A worthy Bose QuietComfort 35 rival?

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
300
inc VAT

Beats' Studio 3 Wireless are easy to pair with Apple devices, but other headphones offer superior sound quality

Pros 
Seamless Bluetooth pairing
Long-lasting battery life
Excellent build quality
Cons 
Noise cancellation isn't as effective as the QuietComfort 35's
Sound quality could be better, for the price
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Beats headphones have unfairly earned a reputation over the years for favouring marketing spiel over sound quality, but since its Apple takeover, it’s been all change. Last year’s Beats Solo3 were great headphones – despite the on-ear design – they were comfortable, sounded pretty good and, thanks to the presence of Apple’s clever W1 Bluetooth chip, paired with iPhone and iPad completely seamlessly.

With the Beats Studio3 Wireless, Apple is adding the same benefits to its top-end over-the-ear headphones, and in the process go head-to-head with the most popular, pricey wireless ANC headphones on the block: the Bose QuietComfort 35.

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Beats Studio3 Wireless review: What you need to know

Just like last year’s Solo3, the Beats Studio3 Wireless are Bluetooth headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC). That means they monitor ambient sound and play a sound wave along with your music to cancel it out.

The Beats Studio3 Wireless’ main distinguishing feature – certainly over its rivals – is the presence of the Apple W1 Bluetooth chip, which allows it to pair by simply holding the headphone next to your iPhone or iPad and allows for seamless switching via iCloud, with any other Apple devices.

Otherwise, they’re regular noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones, albeit with a rather impressive battery life. Beats say you get up to 22 hours with ANC and Bluetooth enabled and up to 40 hours worth of wireless connectivity without ANC.

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Beats Studio3 Wireless review: Price and competition

The Beats Studio3 Wireless cost £299, which is quite an investment for a pair of headphones, but it seems this is a price that manufacturers are settling on as a sweet spot for their flagship wireless headphones.

As such, there’s a pretty broad selection of rivals. At £329, the best noise-cancelling headphones around are the Bose QuietComfort 35 and just behind them for noise cancellation, but with better sound quality, are the Sony MDR1000X and the Bowers & Wilkins PX. These are all excellent headphones, so the competition is hard-fought.

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Beats Studio3 Wireless review: Design and key features

It should not be understated how brilliant Apple’s W1 Bluetooth chip is. It turns what could otherwise be a rather fiddly, fussy procedure into an absolute breeze.

The first time you pair them with an iPhone or iPad, it’s like watching Dynamo perform some kind of incredible magic trick right in front of you. Hold the Studio3 near your phone, tap ‘Connect’ on the pop-up and, hey presto, everything’s taken care of.

What’s more, if you own other Apple devices, this is the only time you’ll ever need to set them up. So long as your iCloud account is active and your other devices are connected using the same Apple ID, they’ll be set up for you automatically – even your Apple Watch.

This is no proprietary tech, though. The Beats Studio3 Wireless work well with other devices, too. In fact, I found they paired much quicker than your average wireless headphones with Android phones and Windows laptops alike and range is excellent as well. If you happen to pop into another room and leave your phone or tablet behind, they’ll likely keep playing music without the signal dropping out.

But they’re not without their foibles. There’s no power-off or power-on tone, which means if you want to be certain you’ve turned them off, you’ll need to remove them and watch as power LEDs all wink out in sequence when you hold down the power button. There’s also no quick way of using the Studio 3’s external microphones to patch in the outside world as you can with the Sony MDR1000X. If you really want to listen to the in-flight safety announcements, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: by taking the headphones off.

Design-wise, however, there’s not much these headphones get wrong. They fold up nice and neatly and feel comfortable on your head and around your ears. And it's good to see that they have a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can carry on listening when the battery dies.

The controls are intuitive and easy to locate: the left ear cup hosts a central pause/play button behind the Beats logo and there are volume controls embedded into the plastic ring surrounding it. The LED status lights, such as they are, aren’t too bright or garish and there are no touch-sensitive controls in sight.

Build quality appears to be excellent, too, with a steel band providing the headphones’ endoskeleton and scratch-resistant matte plastic adorning the finishing touches.

I was supplied with the dark grey and gold version for this review - a surprisingly subtle combination - but the Studio 3 are also available in all-red, pink, white and all-black - and all models look very pretty indeed.

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Beats Studio3 Wireless review: Sound quality and noise cancellation

Along with seamless Bluetooth pairing, the Studio3 Wireless has a couple of neat tricks up its sleeves. The extra power provided by the W1 chip means the headphones can add an extra layer of processing, meaning noise cancelling should be ultra effective. There’s also what Beats calls “leak protection”, whereby the internal microphones are used to compensate for those times when the earpads can’t create an airtight seal around your ears - when you twist your neck to look behind you, for instance.

These two extra goodies go together to provide highly effective noise cancellation. It isn’t quite as good as the Bose QuietComfort 35 at creating that eery bubble of silence – you can still hear the hiss of the noise cancellation wave in quiet environments – but the flipside is that there’s less of a sensation of pressure created by the ANC than with the Bose.

Sound quality is decent, too, but again it can’t quite match its rivals. That said, there’s nothing horribly wrong with the way the Beats Studio3 kicks out music. There isn’t too much bass, trebles are reasonably crisp and mids are perfectly balanced, but there isn’t the sense of space and scale you get with the Bose, Bowers & Wilkins or the Sony MDR1000X.

Listened back to back with the Bose QC35 and it’s easy to hear the differences. There’s just more depth, drama and emotion to music listened to on the Bose. Although again, there’s no fundamental flaw here, just that the sound quality produced by the Beats Studio3 is a little flat by comparison with its rivals.

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Beats Studio3 Wireless review: Verdict

If you’re really interested in the best possible sound quality and noise isolation for £300, I’d advise you to forget about ANC headphones altogether and opt for a pair of wired earphones instead. If you spend the same amount of money you'll get much better sound quality than this.

If you prefer over-ear cans, though, and you’re an iPhone owner, the Beats Studio3 Wireless are still a worthwhile purchase. Bluetooth pairing is seamless, battery life is very good and they’re nicely designed as well.

For everyone else, the decision is pretty easy. Go for the Bose QuietComfort 35: they sound better and deliver more effective noise cancellation.

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