There are already a handful of headphones using Apple’s new W1 chip that delivers high quality audio over a power-efficient wireless connection. Combined with the removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, there’s never been a better time to cut the cord.
Apple also produces the AirPods, smarter wireless versions of their mediocre EarPods, in addition to several other models of Beats like the Solo 3 headphones ($299) and workout-focused Powerbeats 3 ($199). Today we’re looking at the latest addition to the line: the BeatsX in-ear headphones ($150).
If you’re looking for an everyday pair of in-ear headphones that use fitted silicon ear pieces, and you want W1 connectivity, BeatsX might just be what you’re looking for. Read on to find out what we thought of them, then enter our competition to win a pair for yourself.
Less Dre, More Apple
There’s a common preconception that Beats headphones are overpriced bass-heavy gaudy bits of plastic worn as fashion accessories, spruiked by celebrities and sports personalities alike. They make over-engineered modern electronic music sound great, but they tend to over-pronounce low frequencies too much for other genres.
But the BeatsX are different. Design-wise, they’re understated, particularly for a Beats branded product. I’m reviewing the black pair, but they also come in modest white, gray, and blue versions. Each earphone carries the Beats “B” branding in a muted tone, to the point where you can’t really tell they’re Beats at all till you’re very close to the wearer.
In the box you get a pair of BeatsX, four pairs of silicon ear buds, two pairs of “wings” to keep the earphones in your ears when exercising, a soft silicon carry case and a short USB-A to Lightning charger. You also get three free months of Apple Music (worth $30), an iPhone-esque quick start guide and a Beats by Dre sticker (they just couldn’t help it).
The Apple Music subscription is a smart move. Not only does it give you something to listen to right away, existing Apple Music customers are eligible for the offer too — a $30 saving for existing customers. This effectively reduces the price to $120, and makes Apple’s AirPods look even more expensive.
Build & Comfort
BeatsX use a “necklace” design where each earphone is connected by a single length of wire that hangs around your neck. This wire features two separate plastic sections (housing the rechargeable battery and the communications) and a traditional three-button iOS remote. From here connection to your smartphone is made over Bluetooth.
This means you can simply pull the BeatsX out of your ears and let them hang around your neck, without having to worry about threading a stereo cable underneath your shirt. Magnets cause the earphones to clasp together when not in use, which makes it even less likely that they’ll slip off your neck.
While wearing BeatsX you’ll find the remote to your left and the power button to your right, while the additional plastic sections that house Apple’s tech are barely noticeable. The soft flex-form cable is slightly thicker where it sits against your neck and holds its shape nicely.
When I first started wearing them I noticed that the cable hung somewhat awkwardly around my chin and neck area, but it didn’t take too long to get used to. You can tuck the neck band down the back of your shirt to minimize this but it’s probably not worth it.
When you first open the box you’ll read the words “great sound starts with a proper fit,” a mantra Apple seemed to forget when designing the AirPods. Fortunately the BeatsX are among some of the most comfortable in-ear headphones I’ve ever worn. It’s a good job that’s the case, because I’ve been wearing them for at least five hours a day since I got them.
In-ear headphones can only ever be so comfortable, and Beats got it right in this department. The included “wings” stop the earphones from moving by wedging them against your ear, but they result in a less comfortable fit. They’re also a pain to slide on and off, so I took them off and never looked back.
Using the BeatsX
Apple’s new W1 chip is a real bag of tricks. To start with, pairing your earphones is as simple as turning them on and holding them near an iOS 10 device. Apple “fixed” Bluetooth pairing, and I’ve had absolutely zero connectivity issues on either iOS or my Mac (which paired with the headphones automatically over iCloud too). You can still connect to non-iOS devices using fiddly old Bluetooth if you really want to.
In addition to effortless pairing, the W1 chip delivers the best wireless audio I’ve heard yet. I can’t compare directly with a wired connection as the BeatsX have no 3.5mm port, but I’d say the vast majority of people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. And the good news doesn’t stop there.
The BeatsX are still bassy earphones, but it feels like their engineers held back a bit this time round. While the low frequencies still dominate, non-electronic genres are not reduced to the muddy mess you’re probably expecting. If you prefer a flatter audio profile then these probably still aren’t the earphones for you, but things are at least better than they used to be.
The bass is fierce and at times drone-like. It’s a powerful sound, but there’s still detail in there beyond the thump of a kick drum or wobble of the bass line. Modern electronic music, pop, hip hop, drum and bass, house — these are the genres which make the BeatsX shine. You may experience some low frequency “fatigue” if you’re not used to (or fond of) the Beats sound.
There’s no active noise-cancelling, but the silicon earbuds do a stellar job of blocking out background noise. With both earphones in and a track playing at moderate volume, you’ll struggle to hear anything but the music. Passive noise isolation also won’t suck up any additional battery power.
The included microphone is typical for this price point. In a quiet room you’ll experience no issues, but as the ambient noise increases then the sound quality deteriorates. It’s certainly good enough for making calls, but it’s a shame Apple didn’t include wireless “Hey Siri!” functionality like they did with AirPods.
Win the BeatsX
Enter below your chance to win the BeatsX in your choice of color!
Life with BeatsX
It might sound like I’m quite a fan of the BeatsX, and that’s because I’m genuinely struggling to find something I don’t like about them. The bass response and leaning toward electronic genres is subjective, the sound is good enough, they’re comfortable, and somehow they get eight hours on a single charge.
You can recover two hours of charge time in five minutes, and the use of a Lightning port means you’ll probably have a charger on you most of the time. Considering the biggest issue for many when it comes to wireless headphones is having to charge them, it really feels like the BeatsX (and W1 chip) has overcome this hurdle.
I’ve been putting the BeatsX around my neck in the morning, knowing at some point I’ll probably use them. They stay paired to my iPhone or Mac most of the time, and I don’t worry about running out of battery since they charge so quickly. Unlike AirPods they aren’t easy to lose, and can just live around your neck when not in use.
There are a few other, less important downsides I should mention. The silicon case is useless, provides no protection, and it’s fiddly to get anything in there; fitting and removing the “wings” is a miserable experience, and the wires are a magnet for every kind of dust particle and hair imaginable.
At $150 they’re not cheap, but they’re also better than everything Beats have ever produced at that price point. They’re much harder to lose than AirPods, and they’re more comfortable to boot.
Less tech than the AirPods, but still probably Apple’s best earphones to for everyday use, if you don’t mind a bit of bass.