Apple’s W1 chip gives the Beats Solo 3 speedy pairing and a stellar battery life
- 40-hour battery life
- Light and comfortable
- Ridiculously simple pairing
- Sound not to everyone's taste
- Quite expensive
The Beats Solo 3 arrives at a crucial time in the wireless headphone business. Apple has drawn a line in the sand with its decision to boot out the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and, regardless of your thoughts on Apple’s intentions, this has pushed wireless audio tech very much into the mainstream.
The cable-free design of Apple’s AirPods might have become an ergonomically disputed icon for the wireless revolution, but the real powerhouse is Apple’s W1 chip – the company’s new wireless communications processor. Providing a shot in the arm to Bluetooth pairing and battery life, it’s the W1 chip that arguably makes wireless headphones a more practical reality – and it’s the W1 chip that goes a long way to making the Beats Solo 3 a standout pair of headphones.
Beats Solo 3 review: Design
Visually, there’s nothing revolutionary here. In fact, You’d be hard-pressed to find any major aesthetic differences between the Solo 2 and the Solo 3. Beats has stuck with plastic over metal, which doesn’t provide the Solo 3 with any obviously upscaled touches, but it looks stylish and keeps the headphones lightweight.
The top band is cushioned, as are the ear cups that mould snugly to your head. Fold the headphones up and they fit tightly into the supplied compact case, and they snap back into position with reassuring firmness.
Beats has taken a page out of Apple’s book when it comes to simplicity of design, with buttons and other flim-flam kept to a minimum. There’s a small button on the right earpiece to turn the headphones on and off and to pair the headphones. Below this is a row of five small LEDs that indicate battery life.
On the left earpiece, there’s a big central button to play/pause audio, and buttons above and below to control volume. These aren’t touch-sensitive gesture controls, but rather physical buttons embedded into the outer surface of the ear cup.
To match the iPhone 7, the Solo 3 is available in a range of six colours: gloss black, gloss white, silver, gold, rose gold and black. The matte black pair I received didn’t chip or peel during my time with them, but if you go for the gloss coat then you’ll have to get used to seeing your own fingerprints.
Beats Solo 3 review: Battery life
The battery life on the Beat Solo 3 is frankly excellent. The Solo 2 was able to muster 12 hours before charging, and more expensive headsets such as the Bowers & Wilkins P7 can make 17 hours. Thanks to the W1 chip, the Beats Solo 3 blows these out of the water with a hugely impressive 40 hours of battery life.
That’s enough to cover you for six transatlantic flights worth of music, radio and podcast listening, or your entire working week, Monday to Friday. If you listen to music with headphones only sparingly – say, two hours a day – it could be three weeks before you need to recharge the Beats Solo 3.
Even if, like me, you’re slightly obsessive about having the power stores close to 100% each morning, the Solo 3’s quick-charging “Fast Fuel” feature translates five minutes of charging to three hours of listening time – seriously useful, if you find yourself running out of juice just before heading home. And if you can’t wait five minutes then there’s always the Solo 3’s headphone jack. Beats includes a 3.5mm cable for wired listening, although you’ll need to connect that with Apple’s stubby adapter if your phone doesn’t have a 3.5mm port.
Beats Solo 3: Pairing
Aside from battery life, the W1 chip makes pairing with the Beats Solo 3 a painless task. While Bluetooth pairing has improved across the board in recent years, the W1 chip gives an added leg up to Apple products.
It uses regular Bluetooth along with the AAC codec to transfer audio, but offers instant pairing with your iPhone, Apple Watch and Mac (with macOS Sierra).
As long as you’ve updated to iOS 10, you only need to hold your phone next to the headphones and a screen will slide up asking you to connect. You don’t need to root around Bluetooth settings or a list of connectable devices, just accept and you’re on your way.
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My experience with the Solo 3’s pairing was seamless. Following a week of use, I didn’t encounter anything in the way of drop-outs or forgotten connections. Each time I turned on the headphones, they’d connect to my iPhone within a few seconds and maintained connection throughout.
The downside to all this is, if you have iOS 9 or earlier or an Android device then you won’t benefit from the W1’s ease of pairing. Instead, you’ll have to use the standard pairing mode. This still seemed to work in practice when tested with a Samsung Galaxy S7.
The Solo 3 also has a built-in microphone for making calls that does the job, but in my experience it doesn’t capture voice as clearly as holding a phone to your face. It’s a useful addition, though, and stops you having to tear the headphones away from your face before answering calls on the go.
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Beats Solo 3 review: Sound quality
The name Beats carries a number of associations, very much dependent on who you’re asking. Placements with high-profile music and sports stars have helped catapult the brand to a level of popularity few other headphone brands have achieved. Among audiophiles, however, the name is synonymous with sound levels that emphasize bass over all else.
The Solo 3 doesn’t quite scoop out the mid-level range to the extent of older Beats headphones, but it’s still very much tuned to heavy lows and highs. This means the Solo 3 packs a punch when you first use it, but lacks a degree of subtlety on closer listening. Compared to the high-end wired Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7NC, for example, the constituent parts of music can come across less like a surgically precise map, and more like a clouded glass of sound.
Whether this is something to care about largely depends on the type of music to which you listen. Contemporary pop and hip-hop sound great, but detail-rich electronica and classical music can sound muddied. Of course, Beats is aiming straight down the barrel at millennials with mainstream tastes and a bit of disposable income, so while the sound quality in the Beats Solo 3 can’t compete with a handful of expensive, wired audiophile headsets, it’s pitched very well for modern popular music.
Unlike the Bose QuietComfort 35 and AKG N60 NC, the Beats Solo 3 lacks active noise cancellation, but its close-fitting on-ear cups do a good job of cutting down environmental sounds without detaching you completely from what’s happening around you.
Beats Solo 3 review: Verdict
Looking at sound quality on its own may leave you questioning the £250 price tag, but Beats has never been about sound alone. The argument used to be that you’re paying for fashion, but with the Solo 3 you’re paying for a lot more than that. You’re also getting great battery life and the exclusivity and ease-of-use of Apple’s new wireless audio technology.
It may look a lot like its Solo 2 predecessor, and it remains pricey, but the W1 chip adds a great deal to the Beats Solo 3 package. If you’re an audiophile or need noise cancellation then you’ll want to look elsewhere – maybe towards the more expensive Bowers & Wilkins P9 or the superb Bose QuietComfort 35 – but if you want a mainstream-leaning pair of wireless headphones with a dash of style, the Beats Solo 3 is a contender.