I tried Beats Studio Buds Plus and they confirmed my love for AirPods Pro 2

Beats Studio Buds Plus case held in palm of hand
(Image credit: Future)

My impression of the Beats Studio Buds Plus when I first saw them online was they were unusually cool-looking earbuds – an impression that intensified when I later held the actual Beats Studio Buds Plus case in my hands.

As a regular AirPods Pro 2 user, I’m used to having ridiculous white stems sticking out of my ears. But given the AirPods’ ubiquity, such a look has become commonplace and so there’s no need for me to feel self-conscious when wearing the AirPods Pro 2, the best wireless earbuds for iPhone owners.

The Beats Studio Buds Plus, on the other hand, look positively metal, and I mean that in the best possible way. They may be available in black/gold, ivory, and transparent options, but for me, transparent, with its H.R. Giger vibe, is the only possible Beats Studio Buds Plus choice. Taking them out of their matching case and putting them in my ears, I feel like a cyborg, which is very much the opposite of the feeling I get from AirPods Pro 2.

At $169 / £179 / AU$269, the Beats Studio Buds Plus are priced midway between premium noise-canceling wireless earbuds like the AirPods Pro 2 and the original Beats Studio Buds, which sell for $149.99 / £129.99 / AU$199.95. What is it about the new model that earns it a Plus designation? 

For one, it has up to 1.6x higher noise-canceling capability than the original, according to the company. It also has a rated battery life of 9 hours and up to 36 hours with the charging case. That's a big battery boost over the Beats Studio Buds, which maxed out at 5 hours for the buds, and 15 hours with the case. Unfortunately, similar to its predecessor, the Plus doesn’t support wireless charging – a feature that, as an AirPods Pro 2 owner, I’ve come to depend upon. (A USB-C to USB-C charging cable is included).

Beats Studio Buds Plus case against gray and green background

The transparent Beats Studio Buds Plus case has a cyborg-like look that's anything but boring (Image credit: Future)

One AirPods Pro 2 feature the Beats does have is Find My in iOS (and there’s also Find My Device in Android), which is great because the buds themselves are small, more so than any other wireless earbuds I’ve handled. There’s also Spatial Audio support, though you don’t get the same head-tracking capability found on Apple’s buds.

The Plus buds use a custom two-layer transducer and there are three acoustic vents on each that Beats says help to improve both audio quality and comfort. Mics on each bud are also three times larger than the ones on the previous Beats Studio Buds, a factor that’s said to improve both noise canceling and call quality.

Beats Studio Buds Plus buds are IPX4 sweat and water-resistant, making them a good option for working out, and they come with small, medium, large, and extra-large eartip options. Using the medium eartips the buds shipped with, I found them to be a comfortable and secure fit, with multiple gym workouts, including sweaty spin cycle sessions, failing to dislodge them.

Convenient Beats Studio Buds Plus features include one-touch pairing, a native Apple tech that lets them instantly connect with all devices in your iCloud account, and there’s also Google Fast Pair for Android devices. Always-on Siri support gives you hands-free control over streaming and phone calls, and multifunction buttons on each bud provide user-configurable controls for music playback, calls, and Siri voice assistant.

Beats Studio Buds Plus in listener's ear

The compact Beats buds have a secure and comfortable fit (Image credit: Future)

Ears on with the Beats Studio Buds Plus 

To get sonically acquainted with the Beats Studio Buds Plus, I started things out casual, mostly listening to podcasts and internet radio news stations. I also tested out noise cancellation at the gym, a place where I find good noise-canceling headphones to be a necessity.

The Beats Studio Buds Plus immediately struck me as having a crisp sound, though a bit too treble-forward. I could easily hear this with news announcers on radio programs, where sibilants were emphasized. Listening to a few podcasts I subscribe to, there was also a mid-range leanness, something that was especially evident with the male voices I’m used to hearing regularly.

Noise cancellation was good for the most part. Midrange sounds, like the voice of a dude on a stationary bike near me who was having an annoyingly loud and extended phone conversation – tended to cut through more than I would have liked, but higher-frequency sounds were mostly eliminated.

Beats Studio Buds Plus bud held in hand against green background

The Beats Studio Buds Plus earbuds are smaller than your average buds (Image credit: Future)

Back home, I switched over to music listening and had mostly similar impressions of the Beats Studio Buds Plus. Streaming PJ Harvey’s Water via Tidal, the snare drum had a crisp but somewhat papery sound, and the kick drum, while deep, lacked definition. The Beats seemed to have a scooped-out “smiley face” EQ, one that emphasized the highest and lowest frequency ranges with the consequence that mid-range sounds such as Harvey’s voice “floated” in the mix in a somewhat disembodied way.

Playing a Spatial Audio mix of Beck’s Thinking About You on Apple Music next, the edgy treble I had heard with both podcasts and the PJ Harvey track was in evidence, and so was the good bass extension but less good bass definition. This track has several layers of acoustic instruments like guitars, mandolin, and harmonica happening, and the natural quality of those sounds were obscured to a good degree by the somewhat aggressive sonic signature of the Beats Studio Buds Plus.

Switching over to my AirPods Pro 2 buds and playing the same Beck track, the sound was more balanced, and it allowed for subtle overtones of the acoustic instruments to come through clearly. And when I listened to the PJ Harvey one, the snare drum sounded crisp, but with a fuller envelope, and the kick drum had much better definition.

Voices on podcasts also sounded more full and natural with the AirPods Pro 2, and when I compared noise cancellation with Apple’s earbuds to that of the Beats Studio Buds Plus, I found the AirPods Pro 2 to be more adept at blocking out a wide range of external sounds.

Beats Studio Buds Plus setup app on iPhone

The Beats Studio Buds Plus setup app for iOS (Image credit: Future)

While I’m comfortable with my early assessment of the Beats Studio Buds Plus, it’s still early in the review process, and I may find other qualities that balance out its good, but not stellar, noise cancellation and its somewhat edgy sound. As stated up top, I’m completely smitten with the design, and find the touch controls easier to work with than those on the AirPods Pro 2.

That being said, after taking the Beats Studio Buds Plus for a spin, I’m finding I like my AirPods Pro 2 more than ever, and at $199 – just $30 more than the Beats – they strike me as an excellent deal.

Al Griffin
Senior Editor Home Entertainment, US

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. 

When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.