If you’ve ever said to yourself “man, I really love the ANC and Transparency features of the AirPods Pro, I just wish they were on-ear!,” then the Beats Solo Pro might be your huckleberry. They sound great, offer killer features you won’t find in other products, and have a premium feel. But they’re also not without their own issues.
If you weren’t already aware, Apple bought Beats back in 2014. The two brands have done a pretty good job of operating as individual companies, so you’d be forgiven for not realizing the connection immediately. As soon as you really start looking at modern Beats headphones, though, it becomes pretty clear—-all the company’s recent offerings all charge over a Lightning connection, for example.
The Solo Pro is the company’s newest on-ear headphones, which seemingly build off of what was started with the Studio 3. But they’re also a totally unique set of headphones, even in Beats’ current lineup.
Build and Features: Premium Quality, Useful Features, and Intuitive Controls
Right out of the box, I was incredibly impressed with the premium feel of the Solo Pro. I mean, for $300, I would expect them to feel premium, but you never know how things are really going to be until you get to feel them. Features like a smooth matte finish and “hidden” headband adjustment give the Solo Pro a very clean overall look.
They come in six different colors, and they all look stunning in pictures on Beats’ website. But when it comes to color, I usually go one of two ways: if it comes in black, buy it in black; or red. I love matte colors, and there’s basically a 100 percent chance that if something comes in matte red, I won’t be able to say no. As you can see from the images, this was one of those times. The matte red on the Solo Pro is so hot. I absolutely love the color and the smooth finish. The embedded aluminum Beats logo on each earcup is also a nice touch.
But I also get that bright-ass matte red isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. After seeing these, though, I feel pretty confident that any color you get is going to look amazing. Especially the black ones. Man, matte black…maybe I’m having second thoughts about the matte red.
But I digress. Regardless of what color you roll with, the function and layout are the same. These are Bluetooth only (there’s no wired options available at all), and turning them on couldn’t be easier: just unfold them. That’s all there is to it—they turn on and off automatically when you unfold/fold them. It’s neat.
The right earcup has all the controls by way of a big ol’ button. The top half is volume up, the bottom is volume down, and the center is play/pause plus track controls. A single press on the center button will play or pause your tunes, a double-press will jump to the next track, and a triple-press will go back one track. It’s simple, intuitive, and easy to use thanks to the fact that these are physical buttons and not janky touch controls. I’m not sure what else you could want.
The bottom side of the right earcup is where you’ll find the only port on the headset: a Lightning port for charging. This is easily the biggest annoyance when it comes to actually using the headphones. I get that Apple owns Beats, but there is literally no reason on this planet to go with a proprietary charger for a product that should be more encompassing.
They do come with a black Lightning cable for charging, but honestly it would make so much more sense to just use USB-C for a product like this. Having Lightning on a non-Apple product is just annoying…unless you’re an Apple-only user, I guess. Heh.
The bottom of the left ear cup is where you’ll find the ANC/Transparency button. Pressing the button will instantly switch between the two modes, and it’s like pure magic. In my testing, the noise canceling works exceptionally well, blocking out ambient outside noises and even muffling voices, cars, and the like. It does what noise canceling should do.
Just like with AirPods Pro, Transparency Mode is one of my favorite features on the Solo Pro. This mode allows you to keep your headphones on and still hear what’s going on around you—literally the opposite of noise canceling. But it doesn’t just activate the microphones and pump the sound into your head like most other forms of this feature from other manufacturers; it uses the mics combined with specific audio processing to offer a very natural-sounding experience. Really, it’s like you’re not even wearing them. It’s awesome.
Fit: Like a Vice on Your Head
As nice as the features and build of the Solo Pro are, there’s one big downside: these things are tight. And, even after several weeks of use, they show no signs of loosening up.
During my testing, the longest I was able to wear them without a break was about 45 minutes. After that point, though, I have to take them off for a few minutes because they honestly just make my ears hurt. I wouldn’t say I have an unusually large head (I wear a S/M in Flexfit hats, if that helps), so folks with big ol’ heads may want to stay away from these headphones specifically. It also doesn’t help that I wear glasses while I’m working, so the headphones pushed my ears into the arms of my glasses.
Of course, it makes sense that they’d be tight. A good seal is needed for ANC, and this is the tradeoff. On the upside, the earpads are thick and soft, as is the headband. So those things help with comfort even if it doesn’t alleviate the discomfort completely.
Sound Quality: Balanced, Not Boomy
I don’t know about you, but when I think of Beats headphones, I think of tons of bass. And while I see the appeal of bass-heavy headphones, I personally prefer audio quality to be more balanced. The good news is that the Solo Pro doesn’t have that all-the-bass-all-the-time sound profile that you may think of when Beats comes to mind—nay, these offer a well-balanced and clear listening experience. In fact, they may lean a bit more towards mids than bass, but overall they sound really good.
But don’t get me wrong here–there’s plenty of bass in these cans. It’s just not overbearing like on past Beats headphones because it’s more balanced with the treble and mids. For example, on The White Buffalo’s Rocky—a hard-rocking acoustic track with plenty of punch, a killer pounding drum beat, and prominent bass line—every instrument is easy to pick out of the mix thanks to the overall clarity in these headphones.
On a lighter track, like Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah from his Live at Sin-e album, the crystal clear clean tones of his Fender Telecaster and Fender Vibroverb amp come through with astounding clarity, while the slight reverb on his vocals make it sound as if you’re sitting in the room with him. Ugh, what I would give to go back in time and see this performance in person. Rest in peace, Jeff.
Another track on the playlist I use for testing headphones that really stands out is Widower by Make Them Suffer. This is an incredibly heavy modern metal track with layers ranging from low-tuned guitars to multi-tracked vocals and even piano work and synth thrown in from the group’s keyboardist. In other words, there’s a lot going on in this song. But each instrument (and even each track) stands on its own and is easily separated when listening through the Solo Pro.
But what of hip hop or electronic music, which often rely on totally different tonal characteristics than other genres? I usually use Hold On (Shut Up) by Machine Gun Kelly (warning: explicit lyrics) and Bass Head by Bassnectar to test these genres, as these two tracks have tons of textures, heavy bass, and varying styles of vocals. MGK and Young Jeezy’s vocal tracks both stand out from the mix on Hold On, though some of the lower bass frequencies on the track don’t stand out as prominently as I’d like on the Solo Pro. The upper bass frequencies hit harder and stand out from the rest of the bassline, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—just one worth noting.
The response on Bass Head, on the other hand, is incredible. The bass frequencies used in this track are very well suited to the Solo Pro (and other headphones, for that matter). This makes the entire track sound full and rich, especially in contrast to the higher notes in the song. There are plenty of layers to choose from here, which makes this an especially great track for testing audio balance and the overall tonal qualities of a set of headcans.
Of course, this audio clarity and balance are further emphasized when ANC is activated, as this eliminates distracting background audio and lets you focus on the music. You’ll get a bit of a quality drop with Transparency Mode enabled, but in the situation where you need to hear what’s going on around you, the tradeoff is worth it.
It’s also worth mentioning that there isn’t an app available for the Solo Pro to allow you to fine-tune your audio experience, which is something you can often get with other headsets. So if your preferred music player doesn’t offer an equalizer (and most don’t), then you’re simply left with what you get out of the box. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it’ still worth considering.
I’ve been using the same playlist to test headphones for years, and if you’re interested in learning more about how picked the songs (and build your own headphone-testing playlist!) or see the full playlist, check out this post.
If I had to sum the Solo Pro up in one sentence, I’d say that they’re an on-ear version of the AirPods Pro. They have the same H1 audio chip as AirPods Pro, as well as Active Noise Cancelling and Transparency Mode options. They instantly pair with Apple devices, too (pairing with other devices is the standard affair—put them in pairing mode, choose them from the list on your device, etc. etc.). As I said, if you’re looking for what adds up to an on-ear version of the AirPods Pro, this is as good as it gets—just be aware that they’re a tight fit so you may have to let your ears rest every half hour or so while wearing them.
Here’s What We Like
- Excellent sound quality
- Active Noise Canceling and Transparency Mode are great
- Superb build quality and finish
And What We Don't
- Very tight and get uncomfortable quickly as a result
- Lightning connector for charging is just stupid
- No wired option