Apple

Music: BeatsX Review

My new Gray BeatsX wireless in-ear headphones arrived on Saturday, March 11. The black and white BeatsX headphones were available several weeks ago, but the new gray and blue colors just started shipping out this week. Yes, the unboxing experience is very Apple-like and I will not torture you with details about all the pull-tabs, lift-outs, lovely textures, etc.

Pictured: gray BeatsX wireless (Bluetooth) earbuds next to gray iPhone 6s silicon case, for shade comparison. They are a hair lighter than the case on my Space Gray iPhone 6s (Space Gray metal itself looks darker in person than this, depending on the angle). Note back-to-back magnetic snapping, a very cool and useful feature (see: Portability, below.) Weird but pleasant-to-the-touch, black silicon BeatsX carrying case that almost fits the headphones they ship with. Actual black silicon absorbs all light and all dust in the vicinity. Short, stubby black charging cable is the only charging apparatus in the box.

(Not pictured: ships with more sizes of silicon in-ear pieces, as well as wing tips that I have not tried on nor needed.)

Three-Way Comparison

I am comparing these to my trusty old Apple In-Ear Headphones (I have bought several pairs of these in a row, with good reason), and to the new Apple AirPods, which I was able to try in an Apple Store (yes they spray them off with disinfectant every time). BeatsX are not available to try out in store. The support rep said my best bet was to read reviews and/or just buy them, try them out, and return them if they were not up to snuff (my words, not hers).

This table is trying to make the point that there are a lot tradeoffs in creating actual purchasable devices and the fact that it depends on what you are looking for and what is non-negotiable for you. (For me, the AirPods did not block out enough outside noise because they did not fit; and they just stabbed my left ear, which means I would never have been able to wear them. If they fit you and you don't need to block out your surroundings (and you like the sound quality) then you should consider trying the AirPods out at the store.)

  Apple's fancy new wireless AirPods New BeatsX In-Ear Wireless Headphones Apple's (ten years old?) In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic
Price $159 $149.95 $79
Sound Quality (hardware, speaker drivers + conduction, clarity; richness) 6 (surprisingly not terrible; good even; not great) 7 (surprisingly rich (<60 Hz) bass; unsurprisingly thin, tinny, feverish, Beats-"missing-mids" sound -- this was my biggest worry and the biggest strike against the BeatsX, and combined with software encoding (bandwidth) limitations, make me want to listen to certain types of music less; mids can be partially corrected with EQ, which is a small plus -- should not need to: maybe Trent Reznor and Dr. Dre have sustained some heavy hearing loss? or have not ever used good sounding headphones? or are cynical and are selling what people want -- the Escalade / SUV of the headphones world?) 9 (there are loads of high-end over-ear headphones that are better but these are amazing; astonishingly good, at least to me; full, rich, deep, warm, clear (flat) sound, sets a high bar)
Sound Quality (software encoding) 7 (ditto →) 7 (the quality is actually pretty good overall; no noise or pops since it is digital, not analog; highs (cymbals, strings) are just a bit better than ear-grating, but pretty noticeable on certain types of music; podcasts sound great; yes, I tested these with high bitrate (320KB/s) MP3s that are not already compressed to hell, and sound fabulous in the first place, at least on →) 10 (no software/digital reëncoding)
Background Isolation / Lack of (Headphone) Sound Leakage 3 (or a high score if you need to hear your environment, for safety; also, these leak sound to your neighbors since they are not in-ear) 10 (if you are working and are trying to block out your surroundings, and safety is not an issue) 10 (ditto)
Comfort 3 (this has to do with my ears, but the sharp edges of the AirPod make no sense to me and do not make a good fit -- your ears may vary) 9 (less cord noise than → and do not catch on clothing, the world, etc.; not over-ear so do not make outer ear (pinnae) hot and sweaty and tired like big earphones; ear canals get a little tired and irritated after a few hours, but not that bad) 7 (see: Wires)
Controls / Convenience 4 ("tap" (stab) your ear twice -- fun! volume, tracks: use Siri... are you kidding... what a trainwreck; rating would be worse, but the 'take one out and auto-pause' solves 40% of use cases) 10 (real controls available: volume up/down, play/pause, back, forward) -- important to me; so good I forget if I am connected to my Mac or my iPhone, and I forget where I set down my phone; Siri is supported, as on ←) 10 (ditto)
Wirelessness (low score = Wiry) 10 (futuristic alien technology) 8 (yes, they are wired, but they give you 95% benefit of wirelessly walking around the room, exercising, etc.) 1 (tangly-ness in my bag/pocket and electrocution (when wearing a fleece or shorts with pockets made of the wrong material), cable catching on things, etc.; score could be worse because you can stick the wire under your shirt and that mitigates many of the problems, so you can do stuff like shoot hoops without injuring yourself)
Portability 7 (must keep track of carrying case; see Battery Life) 9 (just pause or power down and unplug from ears, then magnets snap and create a small lanyard so you won't lose them; I lost a pair of → when I thought I had them in my shirt but not in my ears; little BeatsX gobbler silicon case should help keep them from tangling in bag; weird but practical case -- if only they fit slightly better in the case) 5 (fit great in pocket when wound up, but annoying to unwind to use them; see Wirelessness / Wiry)
Durability 6-8? (depends on if you drop or lose them but no cables to bend, catch, snap, fray, and break) 5-7? (have not owned them long enough to determine how long the cable strain relief will last) 1 (I have gone through many pairs and they fray at the clicker on the right ear cable after a year or so of heavy use)
Battery Life 5 (must keep track of carrying case and keep inserting them to recharge) 8 (battery sipping technology: just pause (or easy to power down) since power management is really good; easy to charge via lightning cable -- at my desk this will not be a problem; also, 5 minutes charging for two hours (out of a total of 8 hours) of charge (when low) is wondrous, or 15 minutes for 4 hours) 10 (never an issue and does not get worse with age; also, better for iPhone battery life)
Pairing 9 (Apple's custom W1 chip plus macOS and iOS integration makes switching devices a pleasant experience) 9 (same technology as ← is on the BeatsX / other parts of the Beats line; kudos; a few hiccups here and there but very good in practice) 10 (just plug in to... the... oh, you have a headphone jack, right?)
Average Score 6.1 (and they cost more) 8.3 (not cheap, but if they last then not bad; wireless is really nice) 7.3 (good starting place but still not cheap; replacing often is expensive)

Conclusion

This is all very arbitrary and subjective, but I think I will keep the BeatsX and see how I like them a year from now. Wireless is really nice: now I can connect to my work laptop without the cable (1) hitting the keys of my keyboard, making it hard to type or (2) yanking my laptop off its stand if I forget that I am tethered. And I can stay connected to my Mac and walk around the office. Nice.