Beats Studio3 Wireless Could Be The New King of Active Noise Cancelling
FOX11, Los Angeles - I've reviewed most of Beats By Dre's second generation headphones and the improvement over generation one was quite audible. The sound more balanced. Still tuned, but balanced. Much better clarity in the high end, and the mids punch through without punching my eardrums. A sentiment shared by many of my colleagues in the tech industry. So, when it was time to check out the third generation of their top-of-the-line Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones, I jumped at the chance. The Studio Wireless 2 had an issue many active noise cancelling headphones are plagued with, high end hiss which you couldn't solve by simply turning ANC off. The folks at Beats really are showing me how much they're listening to their fans though! Their engineers took the Studio Wireless back to the drawing board and returned with a high tech beast which may very well be the new king of noise cancellation.
We'll talk noise cancellation in a moment, but let's take a look at the outer hardware and some specs first. When you open the box, you're greeted by headphones which look very much like the Beats Solo 3's. These are larger as they're the top-of-the-line over ear (circumaural) product, but the styling queues are very much in line with Beats current design language. You'll find the power button, power LEDs and micro USB charge port on the right earcup. The left earcup is where you'll find the volume and phone call controls as well as an indicator light which tells you whether or not Pure ANC is active. And that's really it for external controls. They are simple and intuitive.
When Beats announced the new Studio3 Wireless, they said they upped the comfort level of the ear padding for all day wear and they weren't kidding. The earpads are among the most comfortable I've worn at this price point. Bonus: the padding is thick enough and creates such a quality seal that a lot of background noise is actually blocked passively; just by wearing them alone.
In the box, along with the headphones, you'll get a nice, soft case, micro USB charge cable, and 3.5mm aux cable to go wired if you need it. In most instances you probably won't, especially if you're using the headphones with an Apple product. The Beats Studio3 Wireless have Apples W1 chip built in, which is a great addition and will get you up to 22 hours of playback with Pure ANC on, and around 40 hours in low power mode with ANC turned off. And if your power should drain to 0 you can charge for 10 minutes and get around 3 hours of charge. The W1 chip also ensures that your connection to all of your iCloud connected wireless products is instant. Once you've paired with one, you should be good to go with all of them. So, connect to your iPhone and your iPad and MBP receive the Bluetooth connection data via iCloud, and you're automagically paired across all products without having to repeat the pairing process.
In addition to the W1 chip, the Studio3's also have class 1 Bluetooth built in which is a higher powered radio than previous generation Bluetooth radios and gives you stronger, more reliable connections to your devices across longer distances. So far, all of the products with class 1 radios in them that I've tested have lived up to the hype and these Beats headphones are no different. During wear I've walked from my kitchen to my back bedroom with no breakup in signal, or static. Crystal clear all the way through. I don't live in a mansion, but it's no shotgun house either. Given how finicky past implementations of Bluetooth could be even when the wind blows as you wear them outdoors, this is a pretty solid feat and one I welcome. This is also a great thing when you're in the gym with your tunes going and you have your phone in your gym bag by you as you workout. When you want to walk to the nearest water fountain, you can, and the music doesn't cut out. Even if that fountain is on another wall across the way, 50 feet or more from where you're working out as it is in my gym. Nice!
Now that we have the looks and the tech covered, let's get to what you really care about, the performance.
Much like my experience with the Solo3 Wireless, the Studio3's show that Beats took the time to listen to users and create an audio experience which is tuned, not flat, but well balanced. The Beats By Dre signature sound is definitely there, but without sacrificing clarity in mids and highs. To put it plainly, the Studio 3's sound great! I put them through my usual battery of .flac files and streaming music and they reproduced everything with aplomb. Everything from Nas, to Fela, to Paul Simon, to Skrillex and Daft Punk, sounded glorious. I even went back to the source for Beats and listened to some lossless Dr. Dre cuts off his iconic Chronic album. I figured it apropos given what device I'm listening to. Much like Paul Simon, Dr. Dre is known for his perfectionism and attention to detail when it comes to music mastering and it shows when you listen to a song like "Nothin' But A G Thang." You can pick out nuances in the track like the depth of the reverb on Dre and Snoop's vocal tracks, or how the tambourine appears more present stereo right, the guitar riff centered, the different samples on the chorus and how the various record scratches bounce from one side of the stereo image to the other. Some items in that digital image more obvious than others, but the subtle nuances like that reverb are bright and clear.
For those within earshot of you, they'll be happy to know that if they don't want to be in on your little party, the won't be. I asked several different people to tell me what they heard when next to me while I was blasting tunes and none of them heard anything. So, sound leak? Nope. Not a problem. Not even in the slightest, which means that you can also listen on an airplane without worrying about annoying your neighbor.
Let's start with what you experienced in the 2.0 version of the Beats Studio Wireless. There was noise cancellation that turned on when the headphones did but it was an always on affair. In addition, the noise cancelling tech in the previous gen suffered from ambient hiss like many of their competitors. Not that it was annoying or distracting, per se. With the music up, you couldn't hear it. Even during low volume play it really wasn't audible. Beats solves both of those issues in their Studio 3 Wireless headphones. Now their Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling is an on demand feature. You can activate it via the power button on the right earcup. Just double tap that button to turn it on or off. And that hiss? It's gone. How'd they achieve that?
Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling (Pure ANC) technology is actually quite the technological beast. What is it exactly? It's software which uses algorithms to calibrate your listening experience by sampling your environment, operating at up to 50,000 times a second, according to Beats. It also takes into account and adjusts for "leakage" or the amount of sound that comes out of the earcups while you're wearing them that might be the result of you wearing glasses, or a particular hair style, or the shape of your ears. This all happens in real-time and takes approximately 5-seconds for an adjustment to occur when adapting to one's environment.
I played with some ambient noise files to get a feel for how well Pure ANC works, but it was no more apparent than when I tested the technology out in one of FOX 11's machine rooms where quite a few of the servers, converters and other tech are racked. This room's hum is LOUD! I took a video of it and included it in the video review, so definitely check it out.
Once inside the machine room I donned the headphones and turned on Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes." In order to see just how well ANC works, I turned the volume up just mid way with the feature turned off. I listened for a bit to see if I could hear that loud hum from all of the equipment. I could. Very clearly. It was muted a bit because, as I stated previously, the seal from the earcups actually makes for some pretty solid noise cancellation but WOAH! What a difference turning on Pure Adaptive Noise Cancellation makes. It's this very pleasing effect where you can hear the background noise melt into nothingness. It's almost soothing as you listen to it happen if you're in an active listening state. If you really want to hear just how adaptive the technology is, you can change environments then hear the cancellation adapt to the varying frequencies. I did this by going from the machine room to a noisy office where people were having conversations in an open workspace. Walk into the room and you can hear the faint sound of people's conversations, but within seconds, they again melt into nothingness and you're in your own world again. Ahhhhhh. "Quiet."
I found only one "reviewer's caveat" where Pure ANC is concerned. I call it a "reviewer's caveat" because it's something I don't think the average listener will hear. I have 15 years of sound engineering, sitting for hours in quiet rooms listening to and QC'ing sound which has made me quite sensitive to certain audio frequencies. To whit: If you read around the web, one of the criticisms you'll find is that noise-cancellation technologies often come at the sacrifice of sound quality. Listening to the Studio 3's, what you'll find is that there is no sacrifice in sound quality just a slight difference in soundstage. The difference is so subtle, I doubt most listeners will hear it. With Pure ANC activated, I noticed that the soundstage in the songs I was listening to creeps in a bit. In other words, the image loses some of its 'airiness' at the top end of the frequency curve. That's probably due to the fact that active noise cancellation has a harder time cancelling out high frequency sound and is strongest with cancelling droning low frequency background noise. In this case, the Studio 3's were able to cancel that high frequency hum of the machine room, even cancelling the high frequency sound of people having conversations around me. Something most noise-cancelling headphones cannot do.
That said, you can't hear this soundstage creep at all when playing bass heavy tracks like those from hip hop, dubstep or trap artists. It's only really audible when listening to a track like Down By The River to Pray off the O' Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. And even then the soundstage is still expansive, it's just ever so slightly less so than with Pure ANC deactivated.
Much like many products with a loyal following, if you're a fanboy/girl, the only thing you really should be asking yourself when it comes to the Studio 3 Wireless is "which color am I going to be buying them in?" Now, if you aren't one of the Beats By Dre fanboys or fangirls, you're going to ask yourself if the price premium is worth it. That is until you look at the price point of competitors in the noise-cancelling market segment. Beats' $350 MSRP is right in line with premium products from Bose and Sennheiser.
If you're not a fanboy/girl, let's look at this from a features perspective. The noise cancelling is better than its competitors', especially when you consider the fact that you aren't sacrificing the sound inside the 'phones to get rid of the sound outside them. Audio reproduction is one of the best at this price point. They're supremely comfortable, highly fashionable and actually fold up fairly small for over-the-ear headphones. The controls are simple and easy to use. You can hook them up via wire if you do happen to tax that battery. The only con the Beats carry is a subjective one, the tuning. There are those who prefer a pair of headphones with a "flat" sound signature. If flat is your game, you are already looking elsewhere. Beyond that, the pros far outweigh any cons and the Pure ANC is so good we may just have a new king of noise-cancellation.
Disclouse: Apple provided me with a demo pair of Studio 3 Wireless headphones for the purpose of this review.