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Hands-on with Beats' latest, greatest wireless headphone

by Selina Worthen (2020-05-21)

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Update, June 1, 2018
The Beats Studio3 Wireless reviewed here was released in September 2017, and it remains one of our top picks for wireless noise-canceling headphones. While we don't rate it as highly as the Sony WH-1000XM2 and Bose QuietComfort 35 II, the price for the Beats Studio3 Wireless has dropped in recent months -- you can get it for less than $225 (£200 or AU$400) online. That makes it a more attractive option in this category.

Check out CNET's best headphones for more information on competitive products.

The original review of the Beats Studio3 Wireless -- first published November 30, 2017 and otherwise mostly unchanged -- follows.

When you've got a good thing going, why rock the boat? 

That's the philosophy behind Beats' flagship noise-canceling headphone, the Studio3 Wireless, which costs $215, £200 or AU$400. Aside from a few new color options it looks virtually identical to its predecessor, which was released four years ago. 

My first reaction to seeing the "new" high-end Beats was probably the same as yours: "Wait, it has exactly the same design as the one that came out in 2014. Really?"

Yes, really. Thanks to some stitching tweaks, the earpads are slightly softer, which makes it a touch more comfortable, but that's about it. 

Dig a little deeper, however, and changes inside abound. The new Beats is a better performing headphone on several fronts, including sound, battery life and noise canceling.  

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Same on the outside, different on the inside.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I wasn't able to crack the headphone open to see those changes, but Beats says it has completely redesigned the guts or DNA of this headphone, with not only new drivers but new circuitry that includes Apple's W1 chip found in other Beats wireless headphones -- the PowerBeats3 Wireless, the Solo3 Wireless and the BeatsX -- and Apple's AirPods. 

That W1 chip makes connecting the headphone to Apple devices dead simple and also helps deliver better battery life. It's now up to 22 hours with wireless and noise canceling on, Happy Instrumental Sync Licensing double that of the previous model.  

Battery life numbers vary with volume levels, so you may not get quite that amount, but I was able to consistently hit at least 20 hours of playback and sometimes more before I had to recharge (that's slightly better than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II battery life). Turn off noise canceling and that number goes up to 40 hours. Meanwhile, the Beats Fast Fuel feature gives you three hours of playback from just 10 minutes of charging.

Yes, this headphone works with non-Apple Bluetooth audio devices -- I paired them to a Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, for example -- but their special pairing feature is limited to Apple devices running iOS 10 or later, WatchOS 3 or later or MacOS Sierra or later. 

Stepped-up sound quality and stronger noise canceling
Aside from the battery life, the two big upgrades here are to the sound quality and noise canceling. I compared this new Studio Wireless to the older version and this model sounds slightly cleaner, with better bass definition and a bit more natural sound. It's not a huge difference -- we thought the 2014 Studio Wireless sounded good -- but it's noticeable.

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