Apple’s recent announcement that it was releasing some goofy-looking wireless earbuds for $159 netted plenty of attention, but the geek vitriol overshadowed a key point—that Apple had developed a new wireless chip called the W1. The signaling around the W1 made it clear that this was going to change everything about wireless audio for the better, so much so that you would soon wish you never even heard of a headphone jack in the first place, philistine.
AirPods will contain the W1, but beating them to market is the Beats Solo3, a set of headphones powered by the same technology. Solo3 is of course an update to the best-selling Solo2, the more compact and wireless version of the classic Beats headphones. This on-ear model has a near-identical appearance to the prior version (the Solo3 is 10 grams heavier but is otherwise a total lookalike) and even includes the same acoustic technology as its predecessor, including noise isolation and Beats’ iconic, big bass driver.
The biggest news here surrounds the W1, which makes all other Bluetooth headphones suddenly look like a tin can and string. Designed to make pairing seamless, one button press auto-pairs the headphones not just with your iPhone but with any other iOS device you have linked up to iCloud. Controls in iOS 10 let you switch between sources with just a few taps. But the even bigger draw might be the insane range that the W1 makes possible. While a typical Bluetooth connection craps out at about 25 to 30 feet (at least in my house), the Solo3 delivered perfect sound a whopping 120 feet away from my phone. From there it stuttered, finally dying completely at 135 feet away.
Also under the hood is an upgraded battery, which is totally worth the extra 10 grams. Apple’s spec pegs the Solo3 at 40 hours (my testing found that to be understated), a vast improvement over the 12-hour life of the Solo2. In typically moderate use, you will probably be able to use these headphones for weeks without having to charge them—and when you do, the new Fast Fuel feature will give you 3 hours of run time with just 5 minutes of USB-powered juicing (works as advertised). The integrated microphone isn’t outstanding, but it’s good enough at least for a quickie phone call.
Despite all the upgrades, $300 is still an awful lot to pay for headphones, even if they are as much status symbol as audio device. (You can even get them finished in rose gold to match your fancy new phone.) Some may find the fit to be exceptionally snug, even after adjusting, and that bass can often be a bit much, particularly on songs that already have too much boom boom boom already. But when it comes to sound, the world has already divided itself into pro-Beats and anti-Beats camps. Presumably at this point, you already know who you are.
9/10 – Nearly flawless. Buy it now.