It's been more than three years since Beats last updated the Solo line and in that time the on-ear headphones have become the brand's most popular product, with more than 30 million pairs sold.?
So it's understandable, then, that with Beats Solo Pro, the latest update to the Solo lineup, Beats would try to deliver more than just an iterative upgrade. In that sense, Solo Pro live up to the promise.?
The headphones have been completely redesigned, with a new band and bigger, cushier ear cushions that are designed for minimal sound leakage and better noise cancellation. The on-ear design will still look familiar to anyone who has seen and used Solo 3, but they definitely look sleeker, and more like a "pro" product.?
The downside? The same qualities that make for great noise cancellation also make for an uncomfortable fit that's impossible to ignore. But, if an extra tight fit isn't a dealbreaker for you, then there's a ton to like about Solo Pro.?
Beats goes "Pro"
The first thing you notice about Solo Pro is that they look much nicer than previous headphones in the Solo line. They still sport the same on-ear design, but they look and feel more like the high-end headphones you'd expect with a $300 price tag.?
The ear cushions are thicker and the headband is no longer entirely shiny plastic. The ear cups connect to the band with an aluminum slider, which makes it a bit easier to adjust the fit, and gives the headphones a much more elevated look overall. The band itself is still plastic, but all of the headphones have a more matte finish (Beats is also introducing three new "more matte" colors with Solo Pro: red, dark blue, and light blue.)
The controls have also changed up quite a bit. Beat Solo Pro come with a lightning port for charging, but there's no 3.5mm headphone jack. Given the fact that Apple hasn't made an iPhone with a headphone jack in more than three years, a move that most other phone manufactures have since copied, it's understandable Beats would opt for a wireless-first approach.?
And Apple does sell a $35 lightning to 3.5mm audio cable for those who want a wired connection. But it's still kind of a bummer that almost-$300 headphones don't come with an audio cable included — especially considering one of the main places people tend to use noise cancelling headphones is on airplanes, which usually require a 3.5mm cable for in-flight entertainment systems. Sigh.?
That aside, other changes are definitely for the better. There's no longer a dedicated power switch — instead you simply fold and unfold the headphones to turn them on and off. Playback controls are built into the right ear cup: Tap on the top to bottom to adjust volume, the sides to skip forward and back, and the center to play or pause.?
There's also a new button on the bottom of the left ear, which you use to switch between noise cancellation and "transparency" mode, which allows you to hear ambient noise from your surroundings. (You can also adjust these settings with Control Center on an iOS device, like you can with AirPods Pro.)
And Beats still blows AirPods out of the water when it comes to battery life. Some people might be disappointed that Solo Pro only get about 22 hours of battery when noise cancellation is enabled (when it's disables, they'll get the same 40 hours as Solo 3), but I think 22 hours is more than enough. That will easily get you through even the longest of long-haul flights and then some.?
Great sound, with a catch
The upgrades also carry over to how Beats Solo Pro sound. While there was once a time when Beats was criticized for over-emphasizing bass, Solo Pro have a clear, balanced sound regardless of genre.?
I've spent several hours listening to everything from EDM to podcasts, and the sound has been consistently good, regardless of whether noise cancellation is enabled. That said, noise cancellation definitely enhances the experience. I found that my Solo Pro headphones were much better at blocking out background noise like office chatter than AirPods Pro. Conversely, "transparency mode" was much more effective with AirPods Pro — neither of which is particularly surprising considering Solo Pro cover your entire ear.
Unfortunately, the improved sound and noise cancellation come with a major hitch: comfort.
The biggest drawback of the new Beats, though, is something that's more difficult to overlook. While the redesigned ear cushions feel comfy when you first put the headphones on, that quickly degrades the longer you wear them.
Because the one-ear headphones were designed for optimal noise cancellation, which requires a tight seal around your ears, this also means they are just too tight for extended use.?
Throughout my testing, I consistently had to take them off after about two hours because they simply put too much pressure on my head and ears. After a couple hours, they created weird pressure points on the sides of my ears that became downright painful if I didn't take them off. I experimented with fit and even tried stretching them out a bit and, though this helped a bit, I still always felt the squeeze.
I have very small ears and sometimes have issues with fit with many different types of headphones, so I asked a colleague to wear them for awhile and share his thoughts. He had a similar complaint: after two hours they became uncomfortable due to the pressure on top of his head.?
I realize this might not be the case for everyone. I've never found AirPods uncomfortable, for example, but I know many people do. Likewise, some might not have an issue with the feel of Beats Solo Pro (other reviewers seem to have mixed opinions about comfort). Depending on the shape of your head and your ears, what's too tight for me might be just fine for you.?
So, definitely try before you buy. But if you're a Beats fan looking to upgrade, the addition of noise cancellation alone could make the upgrade worth it. Just make sure you like the way they fit.