The title for best-sounding wireless earbuds is a neverending debate, but there’s no denying that Apple’s AirPods Pro is the most popular choice on the market. Having its dedicated column on the Apple website and an evaluation that clouds entire business entities, the AirPods Pro is both influential and fundamentally good-sounding.
But if you’re shopping for a pair — whether on Apple’s website or at a store — don’t be surprised to find stocks of Beats Studio Buds nearby. The infamous Beats label, which once lived on the ears of every walking athlete and celebrity, was acquired by Apple in 2014. Since then, Apple has been selling Beats-made headphones and earbuds in its own stores. The Beats Studio Buds, for one, can be purchased by going to Apple.com, clicking the Accessories tab, scrolling down to “Shop all Wireless Headphones”, and then finding the product listing. Easy enough, right?
Clearly, Apple isn’t pushing the $149 Beats Studio Buds as much as it does for the $249 AirPods Pro. But that doesn’t mean that if you’re on the market for a pair of wireless earbuds, you should count the former out. In more ways than one, the Beats competitor may be more favorable for your needs. To help you decide, let’s compare the design, features, and performance of the two earbuds.
Design and fit
In hardware alone, Beats and Apple have taken opposite approaches to how their respective earbuds look and feel. The Apple AirPods Pro, like previous AirPods, has a glossy white unibody with a short stem that rests against the bottom of your ears. The stems serve as capacitive touchpoints for pausing and playing music, prompting Siri, and toggling between different noise-canceling modes. While not as polarizing as the original AirPods, the Pro’s design is ever so iconic and only available in Apple’s signature white finish. It’s a look that has aged gracefully since its 2019 launch, but one that is rather limited.
Those who favor a little more character will find the Beats Studio Buds appealing. Available in six colors, including Ocean Blue, Sunset Pink, and Beats Red, the Studio Buds bring a vibrancy that the AirPods Pro lack. Depending on your colorway of choice, the earbuds’ charging case follows suit. This isn’t the only hardware difference between the Beats and AirPods, though. The Studio Buds are sculpted to fit in the curvatures of your ear, not needing any stems or hooks to keep them snug. Instead of stem-based controls, the Beats have a pill-shaped button on the outside of each bud for audio controls.
Both the AirPods Pro (5.4 g) and Studio Buds (5 g) are lightweight and certified with IPX4 ratings. That means that comfort and resistance to rain and sweat shouldn’t be an issue with either pair. It also helps that the two earbuds come with cushioned tips that not only mold to the shape of your ear but serve as passive noise-canceling mechanisms. More on sound performance shortly.
Sound and features
When it comes to pairing the earbuds, iPhone users and only iPhone users can take advantage of the H1 chip built into the AirPods Pro. With a flick of the charging case lid, the earbuds seamlessly connect to nearby Apple devices that share the same iCloud account. If you’re on Android, Windows, or any non-Apple-based hardware, you’ll have to resort to the traditional Bluetooth-pairing method.
While not as flashy, the Beats Studio Buds support Bluetooth 5.2 (versus 5.0 on the AirPods) and one-touch pairing for iPhones and Android. By pressing the pairing button on the back of the charging case, the Beats can utilize Google’s Fast Pair feature to effortlessly sync to any Google-powered device. There’s also a Beats companion app that’s just as feature-rich on the iOS platform as it is on Android.
As for audio performance, the Apple AirPods Pro is arguably the better sounding of the two. You can expect a more complete sound stage when listening to various genres and the AirPods just do a superior job at keeping mid-to-high frequencies clear, while packing enough bass to give listeners the kick they desire.
The Studio Buds lean more towards a bass-heavy profile than anything else. If you frequent house, EDM, and dance genres, then your ears will appreciate the extra thump that Beats products are notorious for. Just don’t expect the underlying instruments to play nicely with vocals and higher-pitched percussions.
Both units support Apple Music’s Spatial Audio, which creates an immersive soundscape that amplifies certain instruments and voices based on where you’re facing. This feature can be enjoyed on iOS and Android.
It helps that the AirPods Pro has some of the best active noise-cancelation (ANC) and microphones that we’ve tested. From morning commutes to work meetings, the AirPods do an effective job at blocking out ambient sound and keeping your voice front and center. The Studio Buds is not that far behind with ANC levels but mutes a smaller frequency of sound.
Battery and charging
You can expect a total of 24 hours of total playtime from both offerings. That includes charge cycles in their respective cases and ANC turned off. As standalone earbuds, the Beats are rated for up to eight hours of playtime, lasting longer than the AirPods Pro’s five hours. Does that make a significant difference in daily usage? Probably not. But you’ll have less battery anxiety with the Studio Buds.
Both the AirPods Pro and Studio Buds support fast wired charging. What differs is the type of connection/charging ports and the AirPods’ ability to wirelessly charge. In Apple fashion, the AirPods rely on a Lightning port for power delivery. That means that if you’re an Android user, you’ll have to dedicate an output just for the USB-C to Lightning cable that Apple includes in the box.
On the contrary, the Beats Studio Buds charge via USB-C, a port that is more universally accepted. However, users who have assimilated to a cable-free lifestyle will be disappointed to know that Studio Buds do not support wireless charging.
Going by official pricing, the $249 Apple AirPods Pro is significantly more experience than the $149 Beats Studio Buds. The $100 difference alone may be enough to help you decide which pair to buy. However, it’s worth noting that the AirPods have been out for nearly three years, and finding a new pair at a discount is very common.
Ultimately, I’d recommend the AirPods Pro if you value a balanced sound performance, class-leading ANC and mic quality, and own any variation of Apple products. If you’re on Android, the AirPods are still a decent pickup, but the Beats Studio Buds should play better with Fast Pair compatibility. They’re also superior to the AirPods when it comes to color options, bass performance, and affordability.
Alternatives to consider
The Pro version of the AirPods, believe it or not, is not the latest earbuds offering from Apple. That would be the third-generation AirPods, which look similar but sell for significantly less at $179. The earbuds support Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, have an adaptive EQ to fine-tune various audio experiences, and sit in a case that can charge via MagSafe.
From Sony, the LinkBuds S are lightweight, comfortable to wear for hours, and can switch between noise canceling and ambient sound. The latest earbuds from Sony also have an IPX4 rating, which makes them resistant to sweat, rain, and splashes. Best yet, the LinkBuds S plays just as well with the iOS version of its companion app as it does on Android, giving both parties extensive access to fine-tune the audio profile.
For something more affordable, check out the OnePlus Buds Pro. While meant to compete against the AirPods Pro, the OnePlus Buds are close to half the price but offer similar features like active noise canceling, wireless charging, and a stem-shaped design.