Want to get to know a pair of earbuds? Go on a run. A long, sweaty one. One of two things will happen: either you’ll spend half the time fumbling with them or you’ll forget you ever put them in. I realize not everyone can or does run (some mornings I feel like I’m electively grounding down my knee cartilage for fun), so hopefully you have your own method.
A good athletic lifestyle pair will simply stay put. One not suited for the task will start loosening up quickly, like a poorly installed hubcap on a pothole-filled road. This spirals quickly. You soon find yourself adjusting and jiggling, all while the sweat exacerbates the situation. All of a sudden, you’re accidentally playing/pausing and skipping tracks.
Not all earbuds need to be running earbuds, of course. Take the Sony LinkBuds S. They’re currently my favorite in a lot of ways (sound, comfort), but I avoid running in them at all costs. I learned that lesson the hard way. They’re too top-heavy and often loosen by the first mile. Then the chaos.
I long ago came to accept that no earbud will be right for everyone in every setting. Beats’ new Studio Buds +, for instance, don’t sound as good as the LinkBuds S. Their noise-canceling also falls short. But when I went for a couple of early-morning five-mile runs along the coast in Santa Cruz over the weekend, they felt great. Ditto for the treadmill runs I’ve done before and since.
The size and fit are great, with some slight tweaks to the regular Studio Buds it announced two years back. Having not used their predecessors in some time, the geometry of the buds took a bit of re-acclimation, both in terms of getting them into the ear and back into the case. That seems to be one of the minor drawbacks of making them this small.
The other is a lack of surface area, but Beats addressed that with physical buttons. These are, again, great for running. The company says it “revised the design of the multifunction ‘b’ button for better product interactions and to reduce the likelihood of accidental button presses.” Play/pause and track skipping are accomplished with button presses. Holding it will toggle active noise-canceling on and off.
The limited space means there’s no volume slider, but you can customize button hold to accomplish this. One side is assigned volume up and the other volume down. Honestly, that’s probably overcomplicating things. Noise-canceling is the way to go there.
Noise-canceling is improved here, but it doesn’t match up to the best on the market. Ditto for sound. It’s more than enough for casual music and podcast listening, but if audio is your main priority, look elsewhere. At $169, they’re $20 more than the Power Beats were at launch, which puts them between the AirPods 2nd and 3rd gen ($129 and $179, respectively) and well below the AirPods Pro ($249).
Again, if cost is your top concern, you can get a decent pair of buds for a lot less, but $169 is a good price point for premium buds (the lower end of premium, mind). Interestingly, Beats hopped off the Apple H chip train in favor of its own “proprietary platform” with the Studio Buds. The Buds +, meanwhile, run on the second generation of that platform. But you still get features like instant pairing and spatial audio.
Frankly, battery life is probably the biggest upgrade. At 24 hours, the Studio Buds were a step down from the 30 hours the company posted with the Beats Fit Pro’s massive case. The Studio Buds + best the both of them at 36 hours total. That includes nine hours on the buds alone and 26 with just the case, up from the Studio Buds’ eight and 16 hours, respectively. The short version is you’ll be able to fly across the continental United States with the buds alone. They’re also comfortable and the ANC does a good job with plane white noise.
When Beats contacted me about review units, they gave me a choice between two colors. The truth of the matter is 99% of the time I couldn’t care less about such things. You pick one and if they run out, whatever. That happened the other week with the Pixel 7a. Google told me they didn’t have my choice, I thought about it for roughly three seconds and then moved on with my day.
With the Studio Buds +, on the other hand, I’m not sure if I’d have gone through with the review. The black is perfectly fine. It’s a perennial favorite. There are gold and ivory versions as well. They weren’t on offer, but I wouldn’t have gone for them if they were. It felt like transparent or nothing here, and thankfully Beats didn’t make me choose.
A transparent set of earbuds will invariably draw comparisons to the Nothing Ear line. It’s unavoidable. But Beats transparent is a whole different vibe. Nothing has cultivated an aesthetic of clean and clear lines. It’s a kind of boutique-industrial, if you will, down to text inspired by circuit board etchings.
The Studio Buds + are a throwback to the turn of the millennium. It was a time when the first iMac and Volkswagen’s New Beetle felt like the height of industrial design. In fact, the former inspired a wave of transparent and translucent product design. With its semi-frosted plastic and rounded edges, the Buds + feel like a kind of spiritual successor to the iMacs of the late ’90s. I dig it.
It’s also always fun getting a peek at what’s going on inside. It feels like a little insight into how small and seemingly precarious things are behind the scenes. It’s fun, and Beats is going to sell a lot of them.
The Studio Buds + offer some nice tweaks to their predecessor, but they certainly don’t warrant an upgrade if you still have a pair. The $20 increase is annoying, but $169 is a fine price for what you’re getting here: a decent pair of buds to wear on the go and at the gym. And as for the best color, that was frankly never up for debate.