Beats Studio Buds Plus review: It’s cool to be clear

I can’t stop looking at these earbuds. You may have already seen leaks about the new Beats Studio Buds Plus, which are available starting today for $169.99, but there’s something that draws even more attention to their translucent design in person. Maybe it’s because I came of age in the late ’90s, when these semi-opaque finishes were common on gamepads, household phones, and other gadgets. (I’m looking at you, iMac G3.) There’s definitely a nostalgia factor. But Beats really nailed the performance with this one, too. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself paying close attention to all the little inner details that are now visible: the orange ring around the USB-C port; the way light bounces off metal surfaces inside the case as you turn it in your hands; and yes, the clearly visible battery just below the “b” logo.

Essentially, the Studio Buds Plus are an upgraded refresh of the earbuds that originally debuted in 2021. While I praised their comfort, I was impressed with the rest of what the Studio Buds had to offer. Now Beats tries to address those weaknesses with this “Plus” model: the sound is refined, there is more powerful active noise cancellation and the transparency mode sounds more natural. Battery life has also been further extended.

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Beats has largely stuck to the same outer design, and that’s good news. Sure, it means the carrying case still won’t support wireless charging – you won’t see a Qi charging coil if you peer through the back – but it Also means the Studio Buds Plus remain exceptionally comfortable. They are very discreet, lightweight and retain the physical clicky buttons on each earbud for control. But I think the current AirPods Pro gestures are more versatile, as you can adjust the volume by sliding your finger up or down on the touch sensor. If you want to use the long-press gesture on the Beats for volume, specify convenient methods for switching ANC or activating Siri.

Usually you don’t see the magnets that hold the earbuds in place, but you do with this one.

Clear goes with every outfit.

But even if the Studio Buds Plus bear a lot of resemblance to their predecessors, Beats is quick to point out that 95 percent of the internal components are new. The microphones are three times larger and offer better sensitivity, which benefits noise reduction, transparency mode and call quality. The case’s battery grew by 50 percent and the batteries in each earbud by 16 percent. The ventilation system has been reworked for improved air evacuation, less ear pressure and to allow greater freedom of movement of the transducer.

Taken in isolation, the changes don’t seem radical, but they all add up to a noticeably superior pair of earbuds. I’ve enjoyed listening to these more than the older Studio Buds (which remain available for $149.99), and while the snazzy design helps, the company has made progress under the surface, too.

You can’t help but feel a rush of nostalgia for vintage translucent gadgets.

There is an orange accent (probably a water gasket) around the USB-C port.

And these sure look cooler. This will be subjective, but I prefer the smoked see-through approach to the completely transparent case used by Nothing. With this, you don’t have to worry about fingerprints or a bunch of hairlines accumulating on the case over time.

The Beats case could pick up some finger oil, but more often than not, it just looks really handy. Pull out the earbuds and you’ll see the magnets under their plastic holder. You can see some wiring if you look closely, but Beats did a good job of keeping the inside of the case neatly organized, and despite the semi-transparent case, the round charging status LED doesn’t direct stray light anywhere inside the case.

The Studio Buds Plus are small and lightweight.

Battery life is rated at up to six hours of playback with ANC on or nine if you leave it off. The case holds an additional 18 or 27 hours of juice depending on the same criteria. The earbuds offer IPX4 water resistance, which should make them suitable for daily exercise and the occasional inclement weather.

There are four sizes of silicone ear tips in the box; like the AirPods Pro, Beats now includes an extra small set. Unfortunately, the included USB-C cable doesn’t match the translucent theme of the actual product; it’s just a black cable. For shame. You should have gone all out, Beats.

Style aside, it seems unlikely that Apple would ever let a Beats product surpass its flagship second-generation AirPods Pro when it comes to overall sound quality and noise cancellation. The Studio Buds Plus aren’t far off the AirPods Pro in terms of sound signature; you can see these teams compare notes. The beats never sound harsh or obnoxious, there’s plenty of clarity in the mids and vocal frequencies, and there’s a satisfying amount of bass to get you grooving. The AirPods (along with other premium selections from Samsung, Bose, Sony and Sennheiser) have finer details and a wider, more immersive soundstage, but if my Pros fall into a sewer grate tomorrow and I can only listen to the Studio Buds Plus, I’d manage just fine.

Beats and Nothing take a slightly different approach, but both sets of earbuds stand out for their unique design.

The active noise cancellation is a few steps behind the AirPods Pro and this contrast is more noticeable. Beats says the Studio Buds Plus are 1.6 times more powerful than the original Studio Buds, but they were never at the top of the class to begin with. The ANC is more useful in environments like busy coffee shops, noisy Brooklyn parks and when taking the train, but on average I heard more of the general cacophony of the outside world when wearing the Beats than I did with the AirPods.

Apple’s flagship buttons prove their worth even more for those important tests, like the sound of airplane cabins and screeching subway trains, but at least Beats put on a respectable show. The Transparency mode on the Studio Buds Plus is perfectly decent and clear, but not quite as convincing as what Apple delivers with the AirPods Pro, nor is it “adaptive” and able to quickly lower the volume of sudden loud noises.

The overall design is the same as the Studio Buds, but many components inside have been upgraded.

There’s no wireless charging coil, but that means you’ve got more to look at.

This can be partly explained by Beats’ decision to use a different chip in the Studio Buds Plus, rather than Apple’s own silicon as with the Beats Fit Pro. The original Studio Buds also used a unique chip, and here again it results in a strange mix of some – but not all – Apple ecosystem features iPhone owners should expect. You get the basics like one-step pairing, Control Center integration, hands-free “Hey Siri” voice commands, and the Studio Buds Plus appear on Apple devices signed in to your iCloud account. But other bonuses like audio sharing, automatic device switching, personalized spatial audio, and an eartip fit test are omitted. (There’s no head-tracking spatial audio here either.)

The earbuds are IPX4 rated for water resistance, but I wouldn’t want to spill coffee on them.

So while there are some compromises for Apple fans, Beats can provide native support by sticking with the existing solution Android features to a greater extent than any AirPods or the aforementioned Beats Fit Pros ever could. The Studio Buds Plus are designed to work with Fast Pair, audio switch and Google’s own Find My Device platform. Those all work out of the box and you can install the Beats app for Android to adjust the earbud settings or update the firmware. Neither side gets every whistle and whistle from the ecosystem, but both can at least enjoy a handful of software features.

Voice call performance is a step up from the regular Studio Buds, but even with that newly upgraded microphone hardware, the Buds Plus still struggled in my local coffee shop when the place was at its busiest. That’s a torture test that not many earbuds can handle, but in more casual circumstances people could hear me without complaint.

You can see the case’s battery below the Beats logo.

Beats did much better with his second swing in the Studio Buds. The Plus Edition is more rounded than the first pair from two years ago. At just $20 extra, the sound is fuller and richer, the ANC is more capable (albeit still with room for improvement), and that translucent color option feels new and fun. I could easily see these earbuds having a moment on TikTok thanks to their unique looks.

Every time I show them to someone they are a hit. You can also buy them in black or ivory, but come on. Where’s the fun in that? The AirPods Pro are functionally superior, and the Beats Fit Pro might be better gym companions, but these clearly stand out for their style – and the rest of the package is better than the first time around.

Photography by Chris Welch/Acutely

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