Fast Fuel charging
Great ANC, especially for on-ears
Bluetooth 5.0, Class 1
H1 chip, hands-free Siri access
No 3.5mm input
The Beats Solo Pro mean business. These are the company’s debut noise-cancelling on-ear headphones, but you’d never guess that from their great ANC performance and tasteful design. Let’s dig in and see if the on-ear head pain is worth these otherwise great on-ear headphones.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on June 7, 2020, to address the AKG N60NC as a much more affordable alternative.
What are the Beats Solo Pro like?
Beats showcases its mature, tempered side with the Solo Pro. The modest, yet distinct design is well executed: concealed hinges and sliding mechanism make the noise-cancelling on-ears look graceful. Each ear cup rotates to make the fit more comfortable, but this is immediately rendered ineffective due to the extreme pressure placed on one’s ears. After listening for just 30 minutes with glasses, or one hour without, it felt more like I was removing a pricey clamp instead of headphones. I did happen to push beyond the pain to the two-hour mark, and the headset’s removal made me keenly aware of my sharp headache.
The headband’s vice-grip does serve a purpose, as it’s a major reason the noise-cancelling performance is so impressive. Suppose the Solo Pro had a loose fit to them. They would be more comfortable but they’d also let in ambient noise. Consequently, your music quality would be at the mercy of auditory masking, which is when loud noises make it difficult to perceive quieter ones.
The Beats Solo Pro effectively quiet the noise around you and look stylish while doing it.
As far as build quality is concerned, these are surprisingly sturdy. I’m typically apprehensive about using Beats headphones sans-case, but not with the Solo Pro. The headphones depart from the budget plastic used in the Solo3 Wireless. Instead, the company went with a matte finish available in six colorways: light blue, dark blue, red, black, gray, and ivory. Regardless of your color selection, you’re afforded a zippered carrying case and Lightning cable. Beats omitted a 3.5mm input, so wired listening is a no-go for those of use whose phones retain the vanishing headphone jack.
Is the noise cancelling any good?
Beats smashed it out of the park with these noise-cancelling headphones. Going into the Beats Solo Pro review, I was skeptical of the ANC effectiveness. However, SoundGuys’ objective testing yields promising results. The headset uses real-time audio calibration to adjust noise-cancelling intensity, and it works. If you want even more effective noise-cancelling on-ears, look into the AKG N60NC.
In the chart above, the higher up the line, the quieter a given frequency range. For instance, high-pitched sounds at 10kHz are attenuated more than 40dB, while 150Hz frequencies are hushed ~12dB. It may not sound like a lot, but decibels follow a logarithmic scale. This means a 70dB sound is 10-times louder than a 60dB sound. It’s really hard to get ANC on-ears to work this well because they don’t passively block noise well, by nature of being on-ear, rather than over-ear, headphones. You need the foundation of good passive isolation before you can achieve good active noise-cancellation.
You can cycle through three sound modes: ANC, transparency, and extended power by pressing the button located on the bottom of the left ear cup. Transparency mode is great for when you need to remain aware when crossing the street or listening for a train stop.
Microphone quality could use some improvements
In fact, voice transmission is pretty bad as demonstrated by the sample below. Sure, Beats packed in plenty of sensors and accelerometers to improve voice transmission, but it was all for naught. My friends and family couldn’t stand the sound quality and I dare not subject my co-workers to it during conference calls. You should avoid using the on-board microphone system whenever possible.
Beats Solo Pro microphone demo:
Connection quality and battery life
Apple-owned Beats included the same H1 chip that’s in the AirPods (2019) and Beats Powerbeats Pro. Unfolding the headset automatically pairs the Solo Pro to your iPhone, assuming you have one. Android users will still have to go through the Bluetooth menu systems. Once paired, the headphones automatically reconnect to the most recent device. They use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and support AAC streaming. Again, this is mainly to the benefit of iOS users as AAC performance on Android devices is unpredictable. If you’re an Android user who wants high-quality wireless audio, you’ll have to look into some Beats alternatives.
With noise-cancelling turned on, SoundGuys squeezed 21 hours, 53 minutes of playback from the headphones, which is just seven minutes shy of Beats’ listed 22-hour battery life. By deactivating noise-cancelling and transparency audio, you can get closer to 40 hours of listening on a single charge. To charge them up just connect the Lightning cable for about two hours. If you’re crunched for time, just 10 minutes of charging supplies three hours of listening.
How to update the Beats Solo Pro firmware
Apple devices operating on iOS 10.3 or later will automatically update the Beats Solo Pro firmware, thanks to the H1 chip. Anyone with an older Beats model like the BeatsX benefit from the same functionality courtesy of the W1 chip. Android users, however, have to download the Beats updater for Windows. You must be running Windows 10 in order to update the following products: Solo Pro, Studio3 Wireless, Studio Wireless, Solo3 Wireless, Solo2 Wireless, Powerbeats3 Wireless, Powerbeats2 Wireless, Powerbeats Pro, Pill 2.0, Beats Pill Plus, and BeatsX.
How do the Beats Solo Pro sound?
Sound quality is what we’ve come to expect from Beats: bass-heavy. Sub-bass notes are reproduced twice as loud as vocal (midrange) frequencies. This can make it seem like some notes are “missing” from your music, again a consequence of auditory masking. That said, the Beats Solo Pro do a good job of reproducing a seemingly realistic representation of 3D space. In order to get the most out of the default sound, listen to genres like hip-hop, pop, and rap. Otherwise, you can always EQ the sound to your liking. If you’re using a streaming service, you may be able to choose from a variety of presets. You can also download a third-party application to create a sound profile.
Beats Solo Pro vs. Beats Solo3 Wireless
The Beats Solo3 Wireless headset is the Beats Solo Pro’s three-year senior, and has outdated hardware. That said, some of this is beneficial, especially for listeners who still want the option to enjoy wired audio; the 3.5mm input makes up for the microUSB charging port.
Of course, there are some features you’re missing out with the Solo3 Wireless: for one, the old headset uses Apple’s W1 chip. Sure, it still allows for snappy switching between iOS devices, but you’re missing out on hands-free access to Siri and improved power efficiency afforded by the H1 chip. The other major feature the Solo Pro has over the Solo3 Wireless is noise-cancelling; this is a must-have for frequent flyers and subway commuters. Although the cancellation can’t compare to Sony’s flagship headset, it’s certainly better than relying on passive isolation alone.
Want a headphone jack? Then you may want to go with the older Beats Solo3 Wireless over the Beats Solo Pro.
ANC is a power-hungry technology, though; so you will see a major decrease in battery life from the old to the new Beats on-ears. The Beats Solo3 Wireless boast just over 45 hours of playtime on a single charge, which is more than double what the Beats Solo Pro provide with noise cancellation on. After about the 24-hour mark, battery life longevity becomes overkill and a way for companies to flex on spec sheets, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
On the whole, the Beats Solo Pro are a better buy for listeners who absolutely need noise cancellation in a more portable form factor than over-ear headphones. Sure, you could just get true wireless noise-cancelling earphones, but the battery cells in those aren’t built to last due to size limitations and constant drainage cycles. If, however, you don’t need ANC and value wired audio, the Beats Solo3 Wireless is still a good option for iPhone users.
Should you buy the Solo Pro?
Yes, the Beats Solo Pro are the best of the Beats Solo line yet. If microphone quality isn’t a big deal to you and you’re willing to sacrifice comfort for noise-cancelling effectiveness, the Beats Solo Pro is a great all-in-one package.
If you’re apprehensive about any of the headphones’ drawbacks, there are plenty of great alternatives out there like the Sony WH-1000XM3, which are standout ANC over-ear headphones and are markedly more comfortable than the Solo Pro. Another great pick are the Bose QuietComfort II headphones, especially since they’ve dropped in price with the advent of the Bose Headphones 700.
Go cheaper with the AKG N60NC
The AKG N60NC on-ear noise-cancelling headphones are nothing new, but the recent price drop to $100 makes them a tempting alternative. Listeners who aren’t bothered by the microUSB input and dubious pivot points, should save a buck and go with AKG. Its headset is $200 cheaper than the Solo Pro, are more comfortable than Beats’ headphones too.