The Beats Solo Pro offer excellent ANC and decent sound quality but the on-ear design might not be to everyone's tastes
- Exceptional battery life
- Excellent ANC
- Great sound quality
- No auto-pause
- No ANC adjustment
- ANC doesn’t work well in wind
Beats’ Solo headphones are as about as recognisable as headphones get. Worn by sportspeople, musicians and consumers the world over, more than 30 million units have sold in the decade since their inception. That’s quite a feat, especially when you consider you have to stump up some serious cash to get your hands on a pair.
The Solo Pro are the latest in the line lineup, they’re the brand’s first on-ear headphones to offer active noise cancelling and they sound great, too. Dare I say it, they’re the best headphones Beats has ever made.
Beats Solo Pro review: What you need to know
Since Apple acquired Beats in 2014, Beats headphones have been increasingly optimised for iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. Thanks to the Apple H1 chip, the Solo Pros not only pair instantly with these devices but you can also summon Siri at any time using your voice (without having to press any buttons first).
The signs that these are essentially an Apple product don’t end there. The headphones are charged via a Lightning cable rather than USB-C and, crucially, there’s no 3.5mm headphone cable should you run out of battery (you can buy a Lightning to 3.5mm cable, though).
Unlike some Apple products, however, there are no problems with using the Solo Pro with an Android phone. Simply pair them as you would any other Bluetooth headphones, and you can then check battery status and control ANC from the Beats mobile app. There’s no AptX or Aptx-HD support, as you’ll find with many high-end Bluetooth headphones, but they’ll play audio via Apple’s AAC codec instead.
Irrespective of which phone you have, you can also use the headphones to make calls thanks to the integrated twin microphones.
Beats Solo Pro review: Price and competition
With a launch price of £270, the Beats Solo Pro are priced competitively with the best ANC headphones in the market. Indeed, that’s the same price as both the superb Sony WH-1000XM3 and the excellent Bose Quietcomfort 35 II.
That’s around £100 more than the Beats Solo 3 (£190), which lack their successor’s active noise cancelling and around £60 more than the over-ear Beats Studio3 (£220). The latter do have ANC but the Solo Pro perform better in this regard and also offer superior sound quality.
If you’re after great-sounding on-ear or over-ear headphones but are happy to forgo the active noise cancelling, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT (£180) are among our favourites. The wired-only model (£110) is even cheaper still, as is the equally excellent-sounding Audio Technica ATH-M40X (£70).
Beats Solo Pro review: Design, comfort and features
The Beats Solo Pro look and feel as good as you’d hope from a product that costs close to £300. Although they’re still predominantly plastic, all variants have a matte finish as standard and anodised aluminium arms connecting the earcups to the headband. As with previous Solo headphones, they’re available in six colours, too: black, grey, ivory, dark blue, light blue and red.
The Solo Pro are on-ear headphones, so they don’t have the largest earcups, but Beats claims the synthetic leather earpads are 35% deeper and offer 70% more surface contact than before. That’s a significant difference, and one that’s likely been made with improved passive sound isolation in mind, but it makes for relatively comfortable wearing, too.
You shouldn’t expect anything akin to the armchair-like comfort of over-ear models such as the Bose Quietcomfort 35 II. There’s a noticeably stronger clamping force for a start but, to my surprise, I had no problems wearing the Solo Pro for several hours at a time and they presented no problems as far as my much-larger-than-normal head was concerned.
In terms of controls, the headphones are very easy to use. Unfolding the arms powers them on automatically and you can then start music playback by pressing the Beats logo in the centre of the right earcup. A double-tap on this button skips forward a track, while pressing the top or bottom of the earcup adjusts volume up and down. To summon Siri or Google Assistant, you simply long-press the middle button or, in the case of the former, you can simply say “Hey Siri”, which is a nice touch; you do have to enable this feature yourself, though, because it isn’t turned on by default.
Under the left earcup, you’ll find another button that lets you toggle ANC on and off with a double press while a single press activates transparency mode. This is handy for increasing awareness of your surroundings so you don’t have to take them off or pause the music when, for example, crossing the road. It’s worth noting, though, that the Solo Pro won’t auto-pause if you do take them off, as is the case with some other high-end headphones.
When you’re finished listening, you can stash the Solo Pro in their small, soft pouch which is made from recycled felt. This pouch will keep the headphones from getting scuffed and tangled with your other possessions but don’t expect it to protect them from harder knocks, because there’s little padding. That’s a little disappointing when you’ve parted with £270 for a pair of headphones.
Beats Solo Pro review: Noise cancelling, sound quality and battery life
Rather than giving you the option to fine-tune the level of noise-cancelling to your preference, as you find with some headphones, the Solo Pro use both internal and external microphones to adjust the level of ANC automatically. In other words, if the Solo Pro detect lots of background noise using their external microphone, they’ll crank up the ANC accordingly. Similarly, if you have glasses, hair or anything else that interferes with the passive isolation and results in greater sound leakage, the headphones increase the noise cancelling to compensate.
I was slightly sceptical about how well the Solo Pro might perform in this regard since we were left rather underwhelmed by noise cancelling of the brand’s Studio 3 headphones. However, I needn’t have worried because the Solo Pro delivered with aplomb. Whether it’s the cacophony of the London Underground or the incessant whirring of a washing machine on its spin cycle, the headphones never struggled in cutting background noise back to much more tolerable levels.
I haven’t had a chance to use the Solo Pro on an aeroplane yet, but when I played a recording of the sound you hear within the cabin loudly on my Hi-Fi, the headphones did an admirable job of attenuating the deep rumble of the engines. I’ll be sure to update this review when I’ve tested them on my 24-hour flight to New Zealand later this month, but so far there’s no indication they’ll come up short when compared to their larger rivals from Sony and Bose.
That’s impressive for a pair of on-ear headphones, whose passive noise isolation you might expect to be inferior to that of over-ear models. In fact, my only gripe regarding the headphone’s noise cancelling is that the microphones sometimes pick up and amplify wind turbulence. That’s not a problem specific to the Solo Pro – we’ve seen it on other ANC headphones as well – but it can be quickly remedied by switching off ANC and transparency.
As for sound quality, the Solo Pro do a very fine job indeed. The bass is punchy and tight instead of overbearing but besides this slight boost in the lower registers, the frequency response sounds mostly flat to my ears, with plenty of detail throughout the mids and treble.
Music doesn’t sound especially spacious, even compared with over-ear models like the Bose Quietcomfort 35 II. However, for all but the most discerning of listeners, I’d argue the Solo Pro are detailed and energetic enough to make up for any shortcomings in this regard.
Disabling ANC makes for a sound that’s slightly more expansive – with more width, in particular – but also a little boomier and imprecise at the low end. It’s different, but still makes for an enjoyable listen, which is good news because disabling ANC extends the battery life quite considerably from 22 hours to an impressive 40 hours. As such, it pays to switch off ANC when you can.
It comes as little surprise that there’s no 3.5mm cable included in the box given Apple’s disdain for the connection but it is possible to buy a Lightning to 3.5mm converter should you feel you’d benefit from a wired connection. At £35, the official Apple product is rather expensive but perhaps worth paying if you fly regularly and want to be able to connect to in-flight entertainment systems or listen to your own music without Bluetooth.
Even if your battery is running low you needn’t be without your music for long. Beats promises a mere ten-minute charge will deliver up to three hours of playback, which is handy if you want to top-up quickly before your commute home or a visit to the gym.
Beats Solo Pro review: Verdict
They might not be as comfortable or as spacious-sounding as rivals from Bose and Sony, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the Beats Solo Pro. They deliver emphatically in the areas people care most about and the price is competitive, too.
For iPhone users, in particular, they offer as good an experience as you’ll find from a pair of ANC headphones right now thanks to their instant pairing and hands-free Siri support. For everyone else, it’s not quite so clear cut but there’s still a great deal to like about the Beats Solo Pro.