If you're like some of my friends and colleagues (shout out to Joe Kernen) who say that AirPods and other in-ear headphones just don't fit or feel comfortable, you should consider the new Beats Solo Pro headphones.
They have lots of the same features, like noise cancellation and support for speaking to Siri, but sit comfortably on your ears instead of in them.
Apple's Beats brand is super popular, so these are likely to be big sellers during the holidays. Beats says it has sold more than 30 million Solo-branded headphones, and the Solo Pros push the brand forward with new features and a more premium design than earlier models. With noise cancellation, it's poised to compete against the best from Sony and Bose, too.
Here's what you need to know about the Beats Solo Pro.
Even though they're sold under a different brand, you can think of the Beats Solo Pro as a larger alternative to Apple's AirPods Pro. They have many of the same features, have longer battery life and all work really well, but the design is different.
The highlight feature is noise cancellation, which wasn't offered in the previous Solo3 model. (They'll still be sold, but at a $100 discount.) Noise cancellation works really well and can be toggled on or off by tapping a small button on the side of the headphones. It's good enough for blocking out the background noise of an office, or even the streets while you're walking. When I needed to hear things, like a pilot's announcement on a recent flight to Seattle, I was able to tap that same button to turn on transparency mode, which lets in the noise around you. It didn't seem as loud as transparency mode on my AirPods Pro, which I used on the same flight, so sometimes I ended up pulling the earphones off entirely to hear what the pilot was saying.
My wife and I were able to watch a movie on the same iPad using Beats Solo Pro and a set of AirPods Pro. That's because iOS 13 lets two sets of Apple Bluetooth headphones listen to the same iPad or iPhone. And each person can control volume individually. It sure beats using a headphone splitter. Also, like other Apple headphone products, once you pair your Beats Pro with a single Apple product signed-in to your account, such as an iPhone, you can easily use them on your other Apple devices, like an iPad or MacBook. No additional pairing is required. Just look for it in your list of Bluetooth devices.
Music and movies sounded really good and nicely balanced. Beats is known for pumping up the lows (bass) in its products, but the company said it's not really doing that anymore. Instead, it's focusing on a more balanced sound so you can hear the mids and highs just as clearly. They sound awesome — just as good as my older Bose QC35s — and I think a bit better than even AirPods Pro. That's probably because there's more room in them for hardware.
I found the Beats Pro to be comfortable most of the time, but when I gave them to my wife for another leg of our flight, she said they got uncomfortable and hurt her ears a little. In general, though, the cups are soft, and I thought they were fine during long periods of listening.
I like a bunch of other features about the Beats Solo Pro that show attention to detail. They're made of nice, strong metal, for example, instead of plastic like the Solo3. They turn on when you unfold them and turn off when you fold them shut and place them back in the included soft carrying case. There's Lightning charging, too, instead of the older microUSB technology, so you can use the same cable to charge them that you do for your iPhone.
And the battery life is great. They last much longer than AirPods Pro. They're rated for up to 22 hours of battery with noise cancellation or transparency mode on, or up to 40 hours with those features off. That's plenty for two flights across the country without having to worry about plugging them in, and I've been using them for about a week occasionally without having to charge them up.
Also, I like that Apple's H1 chip lets you speak to Siri. I don't often talk to myself in public but was glad I could ask Siri to call someone, bring up directions to my parked car with voice-guided walking navigation as I listened to music, and to start my playlist "Todd's Good Tunes 2019."
Noise cancellation is good for most things, but like the AirPods Pro, it didn't feel as strong as my Bose QC35 headphones. Bose has always been a go-to for frequent travelers, and I think the AirPods Pro are small enough that there's a nice trade-off in size for a bit less noise cancellation. But the Bose QC35s are better at blocking out cabin noise and the engines of a plane than the Beats Solo Pro, so you may want to consider those if you fly a lot. If you don't, the noise cancellation is good enough for pretty much everything else.
Also, they take up more space on your head and in your bag than a set of AirPods Pro do. So, if you don't mind in-ear headphones like AirPods, then I recommend just getting those. But, if you like on-ear headphones because buds don't normally fit, then these are the next best option with many of the same features.
And at $299.95, they're not cheap. But noise canceling headphones often aren't. You should expect to pay at least that, or more, for a similar set from Sony or Bose. And you won't get as easy pairing as you do with the Beats Solo Pro, support for "Hey Siri" or the easy pairing between multiple Apple products. And, if you fly with someone else, you won't be able to listen to the same iPad or iPhone at the same time as them if you're using a non-Apple product.
Yes. They're great and do exactly what Beats says they'll do. But most people should buy AirPods Pro because they're $50 cheaper, more portable and have similar features. Again, if you don't want buds, then these should be next on your list. And if you fly a lot, consider the latest from Bose or Sony. The newer QC35II model launched for $350 but are regularly on sale for $279.95.