After building up my expectations for Studio3 to be an industry-leading wireless headphone based on the momentum of the fantastic Solo3 that preceded it, Apple’s infinite resources and talent, and the groundbreaking W1 chip, I ended up being extremely disappointed with Studio3. Beats had the opportunity to change the headphone industry with their flagship wireless headphone much in the same way AirPods created a new category, but instead settled on complacency and mediocrity.
The design is the high point of Studio3 as it retains Beats’ signature stylish understated look, but even the aesthetic feels dated since it recycles the design from the 2013 Studio 2.0 model. Of the six colors available at launch, Shadow Gray and Porcelain Rose showcase gorgeous color schemes and make a better case for an upgrade; however, it’s a testament to how poorly Beats handled the development of Studio3 that the two colors that look fresh and fashionable are not sold at most retailers.
Studio3 falls short in this regard as the overall construction feels hollow rather than reassuring. While Studio3 is unlikely to be as problematic as Studio 2.0 due in part to new stitching on the ear-pads that is supposed to rectify the issues many had with the previous model, it also does not feel as premium as the design makes the headphones appear from a distance. The plastic creaks when I put them on my ears and move my head, the hinge mechanism feels loose and imprecise, and Studio3’s design as a whole is lacking a solidness to it that would be expected at this price point. (This is not due to the relatively lightweight nature of Studio3, the headphones simply are lacking a rigidness that would classify them as high-end.)
It does seem that Beats takes care in developing the comfort of its headphones, and it shows with soft, moderately comfortable ear-pads that are well-padded. They are quite shallow relative to other headphones, which I assumed was by design to provide a better bass response and more stable fit but neither came to fruition in my testing. However, this design does provide a solid level of passive isolation. While Studio3 is perfectly fine for sitting at a desk for a few hours at a time or walking around, in my personal testing I found they were not well-suited for exercise. At the gym I found myself re-adjusting them a dozen times, never happy with the fit, and they were not stable enough to run in. Mileage will vary in regards to fit, but the Studio3 while fairly comfortable did not provide a stable enough fit for me to continue actively using them.
Basically the same unboxing experience Beats has featured for the past few years. Clean, sophisticated, luxurious. The hard case included feels premium and is easily a luxury item. If we were judging Studio3 on packaging alone, it would receive top marks.
“Studio-quality” sound signature
Sorry Beats, you blew it on sound. It’s not exciting enough to be a fun headphone nor is it clean enough to be an audiophile-grade headphone. Instead, it is in an awkward consumer-compromised middle ground.
Studio3 has a sub-bass roll-off that makes the bass presentation too focused on the upper bass, which leads to the bass lacking the fullness that would give it impact and body. This mid/upper-bass emphasis can add weight to certain bass notes, but on a whole leaves the bass lacking the emotion and definition that would be expected.
Unfortunately, the mid-range can come off as muddy and slightly cluttered. There is a sense of clarity that is missing on Studio3.
Studio3 would not be defined as “bassy”; rather, Studio3 is a balanced headphone that lacks the resolution that should come from a relative lack of bass impact. Yet, the mid-range manages to almost sound as muddy as it does on headphones that have a much more pronounced bass tuning due to a focus on the upper bass/lower mid-range.
Inaccurate at times but the treble does cover a full range and can bring out the best in certain instruments. This is the one aspect of the sound I cannot really fault.
Also note that Studio3 has a closed soundstage which means that instruments do not have as much space between them as discerning listeners would prefer.
Surprisingly, I find the sound signature to be best-suited for listening to music at about 50% volume as it is quite well-balanced even if it is not adequate for studio mixing or critical listening. Regardless, Beats has reverted back to providing audio that underperforms for the price and that is disappointing. Studio3 isn’t competitive at its price point as $349 can buy premium build quality and sound from other brands.
Active Noise Cancellation (“Pure ANC”)
Studio3 provides above-average active noise cancellation that doesn’t compare to its closest competition. It is capable enough to block out certain low and high frequencies, but is inadequate at providing total isolation. Bose’s QC35 II and Sony’s 1000X line provides far more isolating ANC at a cost to the sound. What Beats’ Pure ANC lacks in strength, it makes up for in clarity as it does preserve the quality of the audio and I found Studio3 with ANC enabled to provide a better listening experience than with it disabled. There is a hiss when ANC is enabled that I find is not as pronounced on similar ANC headphones; consequently, I do wish the ANC was more transparent in this regard even though the hiss does slightly dissipate over time. Pure ANC will be good enough for most users though, especially those not seeking the total sanctuary of Bose or Sony’s ANC.
Beats totally wasted their opportunity to create the first no-compromise over-ear wireless headphone while Apple’s W1 chip is still a year or two ahead of the competition in connection strength, reliability, and range. Apple has developed the best Bluetooth technology on the market, and the AAC Bluetooth codec Apple uses to transmit audio from iOS/Mac OS makes it so that there is truly zero quality degradation between wired and wireless when it’s used with sources like Apple Music that stream AAC files.
While the W1 chip is the foundational feature of Studio3 and provides wireless audio with zero compromises, Studio3 presents compromises in every other area.
Beats took three steps back after Solo3 turned out to absolutely exceed every expectation I had for them, and BeatsX punched above its weight as a wireless headphone with performance that competed with wired headphones at the same price point.
Studio3 is iterative rather than innovative, and after four years that is not enough.
Purely wasted potential.
Note to Beats by Dre:
Beats is expected to produce fun, energetic headphones.
Rather than sculpting the sound as Beats has on every Studio model, keep it simple like Solo3’s almost excellent signature which features a mostly even boost throughout the entire bass range, scooped mids that manage to sound natural, and a rolled-off but fairly articulate treble; undoubtedly, Solo3 is the best headphone Beats has produced to date in my opinion (and the opinion of audiophiles like Tyll from Innerfidelity).
Focus on developing innovative new tunings and driver technologies to produce quality sound while still retaining a healthy, linear bass boost of 5-10dB. I would not expect Beats to attempt to imitate audiophile brands like Sennheiser as Beats has its niche; effectively, Beats should be figuring out better ways to reach its end goal of bringing out the emotion in a song while also providing the details the artists intended listeners to hear. Ultimately Studio3 is a misstep which doesn’t have a lot of bass presence and also doesn’t have a particularly clean sound signature.
I do truly believe Beats has the potential to make the best wireless headphones on the market; in fact, in many ways I firmly believe Solo3 is best-in-class. An over-ear headphone with an exciting bass boost and clarity throughout all the other frequencies could be a game-changer, and Solo3 has proved that Beats is capable of producing the type of sound that they so masterfully market.