There are three reasons why wireless headphones mostly suck and I’ve steered clear of dropping serious dough on a pair: poor sound quality, frustrating pairing and weak battery life.
Beats’ new Solo 3 wireless on-ear headphones solve all three. And they do so while looking stylish and recognizable on top of your head for hours.
Announced with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the Solo 3 headphones improve on the Solo 2 in every possible way.
They’re still a little pricey at $300, but for the wireless pairing convenience and battery life alone, I think it’s money well spent. Sure, you could get a pair of sleeker B&O BeoPlay H8 or noise-cancelling Bose QC35 for $100 and $50 more, respectively, but the Solo 3 hit the sweet spot.
From the outside, the Solo 3 look virtually indistinguishable from the wireless Solo 2. Beats could have went with some more upscale materials like metal, but that would have also made them heavier. Plastic will have to do.
As they are, the Solo 3 are super light, the ear pads soft and the adjustable headband comfortable to wear all day long. They also fold up and fit snuggly into an included case.
They’re available in six colors to match the newest iPhone palette: white, silver, gold, rose gold, matte black and gloss black.
A battery LED indicator on the bottom of the right ear cup shows you how much battery power is left and there are play/pause and volume buttons embedded into the left ear cup (these are real buttons, not touch-sensitive gesture controls).
Beats provided a gloss black pair that matches my jet black iPhone 7. I’m just a breathing mask, cape and boots short of being Darth Vader every single time I step out of my home. Do not buy this color if you hate seeing smudges and fingerprints.
Ask any person with a pair of Bluetooth headphones and they’ll tell you pairing can be a real bitch. You never know how well the pairing process will go. There’s always something that creates interference. Or your computer can’t detect the headphones. Or the battery died and the next time you go to pair them, they don’t.
The Solo 3 are one of four pairs of new headphones (the others are the BeatsX, Powerbeats 3 and AirPods) from Apple and Beats that contain a tiny chip called the W1. The headphones are still connecting to devices via Bluetooth, but the W1 chip essentially acts like an assistant, talking to Apple devices (iOS devices, Macs and Apple Watch) to make pairing dead simple.
And I really mean dead simple … if you’re pairing them to an iPhone running iOS 10, which I am. To connect, just press the power button for a second and place them near your iPhone. A screen slides up asking to connect, and that’s it. No listening for beeps. No jumping into Bluetooth settings. No waiting for your headphones to appear on a list of nearby Bluetooth headphones. It even shows you the battery percentage.
Better, the headphones can pair with your Apple Watch, iPad or Mac easily using your iCloud login.
It feels good to finally be able to say, “It just works” — which is Apple’s unofficial tagline of making complicated processes idiot-proof.
Unfortunately, if you’re pairing the Solo 3 to iOS devices running iOS 9 or earlier, you won’t get the pairing magic. Nor will you get it if you pair the headphones to an Android phone or other standard Bluetooth-supported devices; it’s back to “pairing mode” and all that junk for you.
Aside from the W1’s awesome pairing sauce, the chip also provides another major advantage: long battery life.
With the W1 chip, Beats was able to improve the Solo 2’s 12 hours of battery life up to 40 hours, an increase of over 3x.
The best wireless headphones, some of which cost more than the Solo 3, only get up to half the battery life of Beats’ new headphones. The only one that I could find that matches the Solo 3 on battery life is Sony’s DRBTN20, which seems to have middling sound.
Beats was able to improve the Solo 2’s 12 hours of battery life up to 40 hours.
On a weekday, I average about two hours of music listening during my commute to and from work, about four hours during the work day and another two hours when I’m at home. That’s up to eight hours per day. I went five days before I ran the battery down from 100 percent.
The BeoPlay H8s I tested last year needed to be charged every two days. The QC35s needed to be charged every three days for my listening habits.
If you don’t listen to music as much as I do, you could easily go a few weeks without needing to charge the Solo 3 headphones again. Say you only listen to music on a two-hour roundtrip commute; that’s up to 20 days of usage.
On top of that, the headphones have a “Fast Fuel” charging feature, which is basically like the quick charging features on many smartphones. With five minutes of charging, the headphones can give you up to three hours of listening time. That’s more than enough to juice up in the morning and get you through your commute to work, where you’ll be able to plug the Solo 3 in and charge them proper.
If you prefer, there’s also a cable that plugs into the left ear cup for wired listening. The only downside is you’ll need to supply your own 3.5mm headphone jack-to-Lightning or USB-C dongle if your phone doesn’t have a headphone port.
Any way you slice it, the Solo 3 come out on top in terms of battery life.
By now, you’re probably thinking, “Ray, it’s great they pair easily and battery life is awesome, but how do they sound? Do you they still sound like Beats?”
The answer is yes. But not like the old Monster-era Beats when they were tuned mainly for heavy bass and sounded terrible for everything else.
The Solo 2 reworked the sound for a wider range of music and the Solo 3 offer more or less the same audio experience. Mainly, they sound great on the low-end with dubstep and EDM and today’s heavily audio-tuned vocals.
That’s intentional. Beats headphones are tuned for today’s music, not Bob Marley or The Beatles. If you want a pure listening experience for the classics instead of Eric Prydz or Frank Ocean or Kanye, you’d be better served looking elsewhere. Beats headphones are made for modern digital music and your average millennial could care less.
So yeah, the Solo 3 sound like Beats and you know what? I have no issues with that. They’re better than EarPods, but not as clean as more expensive wired headphones. For wireless headphones, they sound great to my “regular” ears in bed, on the subway and at work.
They don’t have noise-cancellation like the Bose QC35s, but the noise-isolation from the ear cups are quite good in blocking out ambient sound.
It’s a mistake to dismiss the Solo 3 for a modest update because it doesn’t look any different from the Solo 2. What Beats has achieved with the W1 chip in terms of convenience and power efficiency is game-changing.
Years from now, when wireless headphones won’t need to be charged for months, we’ll be laughing at charging headphones every week (like I am now at existing wireless headphones that need to be charged every two to three days).
Audiophiles will never like Beats, but the company couldn’t care less. Who needs to please audiophiles when the majority of people are streaming their music on Apple Music or Spotify, anyway?
Beats Solo 3 wireless on-ear headphones
Super comfy • Sound great • Insane battery life • W1 chip makes pairing painless • Comes in six colors
Still kinda pricey • Doesn’t include any adapters for Lightning or USB-C
The Bottom Line
These are the wireless headphones you are looking for if you’ve got $300 to spend.