FOX11, Los Angeles - Earlier this year, when Apple announced the iPhone 7, they also talked up their new W1 chip which allows compatible peripherals to easily, instantly pair with the iPhone. At the same time, they also announced a new line of wireless Beats by Dre headphones powered by the new W1 chip, the Beats Solo3, Powerbeats3 and BeatsX. Since I’ve tried the Beats Solo2 and was impressed by just how much Beats had improved the sound quality over the first gen headphones, I had to try the Solo3’s and see if they’d made any further advances in either sound or build quality. Let’s take a listen, shall we?
I don’t actually own an iPhone so I didn’t test the instant pairing prowess of the W1 chip, but what I can tell you is that these Beats Solo3’s paired effortlessly over their Bluetooth connection with an iMac, a Moto Z, Google Pixel XL, iPad Pro 12.9 and a 2015 Macbook Pro. The great thing about the W1 chip is that the apple device you’re using it with doesn’t need to be the iPhone 7 as it will work with older iPhones. It paired instantly with my iPad Pro and did something my previous Bluetooth devices didn’t… give me a few hundred feet of travel. Yes, one of the differences between W1 equipped products and the current crop of Bluetooth LE is distance. LE currently maxes out around 30 feet or so. Apple is now using the high powered Class 1 Bluetooth standard which is supposed to be good up to around 300 feet. This is great if you’re wearing headphones while working at home and walk to the bathroom, or if you’re cleaning house and don’t want to drag your phone around with you in a pocket, or any of a multitude of other situations where you’re streaming music to headphones and don’t want to have to worry much about how close you are to the source. Matter of fact, I was recently in a co-working space and got up from the place I was sitting to go to a meeting room all the way across the large, open space, about 40-50 feet away when I received a phone call. I answered my phone and wondered for a second why there was no sound, then realized I was still connected to the Powerbeats3 Wireless I’m also testing.
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While the W1 chip is nice and all, that isn’t the reason you buy a pair of cans at this price point. $300 to be exact. Nope, you’re here for the high quality sound (hopefully). Now, what you determine to be high quality is purely a matter of taste and when it comes to that taste, the world seems to be divided into two camps: those who like bass-tuned cans and those who appreciate a neutral reproduction. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably in the former camp, or are considering Beats despite the rumors of their uber ear damaging bass. First, let me tell you, the bass tuning is definitely not “uber ear damaging.” Stop listening to internet hyperbole. Second, to their credit Beats greatly improved the sound reproduction of their headphones beginning with the Solo2 Wireless and the Solo3 continues those efforts. Though sound signature isn’t very different from the Solo2’s and that isn’t a bad thing at all.
I subjected the Solo3’s to my headphone test playlists, which includes music streamed at the “High” setting from Google Play and several .flac files which span genres from Dubstep to Classical, to acoustic tracks from O Brother Where Art Thou. Everything was lushly reproduced with very clear highs, punchy mids and robust bottom end which booms at times. The Solo3’s are on-ear headphones which I find tend to bring the soundstage in a bit from over-ear (circumaural) headphones but despite that they still have the ability to reproduce a pretty spacious soundfield when I listened to Down To The River To Pray by Alison Krauss. The reproduction was even crisp enough that when I streamed the her “Live” a capella version of the song with Union Station, you could clearly hear some of the artifacts in the track. Listening to Daft Punk’s Contact is a buffet of sound frequencies with a variety of sounds in the highs, mids and lows for your ears to feast on; especially the 24bit/94kHz .flac version.
The Fast Fuel feature is great and 5 minutes of charge gets you 3 hours of playback and a full charge will get you a purported 40 hours. In my own use, I’ve found that depending on your listening habits, an hour here, couple hours there, you could go a couple weeks between charges.
At the end of the day, you’re one of two kinds of people: those who want Beats headphones and know they’re going to pay a premium and those who look elsewhere for their headphone needs. If you’re in the former category, you won’t be disappointed- though, I don’t think you’d be either way. The mix of solid sound reproduction, with seemingly inexhaustible battery life, and phenomenal distance connectivity makes for a really good experience. Combine that with a set of analog cables to use in case you do run down the battery and I’d say, “go buy ‘em” if you were on the fence. You can find them right now for $250 though the MSRP is $300, making it an even better deal as that prices them competitively with other headphones in the space.
Disclosure: Apple provided me with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.