The Beats Studio Buds were one of Apple’s worst-kept secrets, having been leaked multiple times in the lead up to their release on June 14.
For months in advance, we knew how the Studio Buds would look, which colors they would come in, and that they’d sport active noise cancellation.
What we didn’t know is that they’d be the first Beats headphones (and by extension, the first Apple headphones, as the tech giant owns the brand) to support one-touch pairing with Android phones, as well as iOS devices.
They don’t even come with the H1 headphone chip (nor its W1 predecessors) that’s seen across the AirPods range of headphones and wireless earbuds. Is Apple putting distance between its own audio devices and the Beats brand? It certainly looks that way.
Whether you’ve used Beats headphones or not, you’ve almost certainly heard of the brand. It was founded by rapper Dr Dre and record producer Jimmy Iovine in 2006, and quickly became a leading company in the world of personal audio.
Its large market share and cool branding is likely what attracted Apple, which acquired Beats for an astonishing $3 billion in 2014.
Since then, Apple has worked hard to rectify Beats’ reputation for putting out overly-bassy headphones that no real audiophile would go anywhere near, with the sporty Powerbeats Pro making strides towards a well-balanced soundstage.
The Powerbeats Pro even came with the same H1 headphone chip found inside the Apple AirPods and the AirPods Pro, allowing for fast pairing times and the ability to summon Apple’s AI assistant Siri, with your voice alone.
In all but name and design, the Powerbeats Pro are essentially a pair of AirPods, coming with all the functionality you’d expect from a pair of Apple headphones – and that includes optimization with iOS devices.
It’s all in the chip
The Beats Studio Buds, however, are different. Instead of coming with the H1 headphone chip, they sport a proprietary Beats chip – and this allows for one-touch pairing with Android devices, as well as iOS devices.
This is a first for any pair of Beats headphones, and it suggests that Apple is taking a different approach with the brand compared to its own headphones, which are traditionally ‘locked in’ to the Apple ecosystem.
Sure, you can use a pair of AirPods with an Android phone, but you miss out on a lot of quality-of-life features, like automatic switching between devices and the ability to listen with a single earbud.
The Beats Studio Buds bring some functionality back, like built-in controls, the ability to check your battery level, and firmware updates via the Beats app – and that all-important one-touch pairing feature.
However, the use of a Beats headphone chip means you do lose out on some AirPods features; they don’t support iCloud device syncing or multipoint pairing, for example.
So, they can’t be said to be the best Beats headphones for Apple devotees, especially if you like to be able to switch between your Macbook Pro and your iPhone with minimal fuss. But, they might just be the best Beats headphones for Android users – and by extension, the best Apple headphones for Android.
A different approach
Does this mean Apple is distancing its own products from Beats headphones? We can’t know for sure, but the fact that the Studio Buds work just as well for Android as they do for iOS does suggest as much. After all, Apple isn’t exactly known for being OS-agnostic.
Furthermore, the Studio Buds have an uncharacteristically low price compared to other Beats and Apple headphones. They cost $149.99 / £129.99 / AU$199.95, which is far cheaper than the Apple AirPods Pro. Of course, that’s not cheap for a pair of true wireless earbuds, but it’s certainly not at the higher end of the price scale, either.
Apple has surprised us in the past with low prices – just look at the $99 / £99 / AU$149 HomePod mini – but undercutting the competition isn’t in the tech giant’s nature.
So, it’s possible that the Studio Buds represent a new focus for the Beats brand – to offer more affordable, less Apple-centric versions of its owner’s audio products. We’ll have to wait and see what Beats does next, but don’t be surprised if we see a pair of AirPods Max-style over-ear headphones with Android compatibility and a cheaper price tag in the near future.
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