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Beats Solo 4 review: Apple headphones get Android-loving upgrade

<span>These compact on-ear headphones still stand out in the market.</span><span>Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian</span>
These compact on-ear headphones still stand out in the market.Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Solo 4 headphones are a revamp of the fan favourite that helped make Beats a household name, upgraded with longer battery life, better sound and modern Apple and Android-loving features.

The original Solo HD launched in 2009 and was most recently updated as the Solo 3 in 2016 after Apple’s purchase of Beats. Now in their fourth generation, the Solo are the company’s smallest and lightest headphones, costing £200 (€230/$200/A$330), and sit below the £350 Studio Pro.

The design has essentially remained the same but it has been updated with premium materials and colour options. At a time when rivals have veered away from the form, the Beats remain on-ear headphones sitting on top of your ears rather than around them.

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A slight reduction in clamping force on the side of your head and some soft ear cushions makes the headphones more comfortable than their predecessors, but like all on-ear designs they do hurt after a while. The headphones fold up for travel and come with a good, compact case.

The left ear cup has the Beats button that handles playback controls and a volume rocker. A tiny and easy-to-miss white LED shows power and connectivity status next to a 3.5mm headphones socket for the detachable cable – a rarity for wireless headphones these days.

The right cup has the power button and a USB-C socket for charging the headphones, which can also be used for wired listening and calls with USB-equipped devices. The battery lasts for up to 50 hours of Bluetooth playback. The headphones can be used without battery power with the included 3.5mm analogue cable.

Specifications

  • Weight: 217g

  • Dimensions: 177 x 158 x 68mm

  • Drivers: 40mm

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3, 3.5mm, USB-C audio and charging

  • Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC

  • Battery life: 50 hours

Advanced system features for Android and iPhone

Similar to recent Studio Buds+, the big advantage of the Beats is their extensive cross-compatibility with Android and iOS.

They have greater integration with an iPhone than their competitors, including hands-free Siri, access to controls through quick settings and instant pairing.

For Apple products you only need to pair with one device to use them across your iPhones, iPads, Macs and other gear. You also get audio sharing for using two sets of headphones with one device and the company’s personalised spatial audio tech with head tracking for surround sound.

For Android or Google devices, they also support many of the same features, including instant pairing, syncing and switching between Google devices. The Beats Android app offers controls, battery widgets, settings and other features.

Finally, the headphones integrate into Apple’s and Google’s Find My systems, so you can locate them if you misplace them, regardless of platform.

Cleaner Beats sound

Beats sound quality has improved dramatically in recent years and the Solo 4 are no exception. They produce a clean and clear sound with good separation of tones that is easy to listen to across genres, but they require a bit of volume to sound their best.

They emphasise treble, which accentuates vocals, and lack the bass-heavy lean of their predecessors, producing a flatter response with bass only when required. Those looking for big, booming bass may want to look elsewhere.

They lack noise cancelling and have relatively poor passive isolation, so aren’t the best option for quiet listening. Call quality is excellent in quiet or loud environments, coming through clearly with a relatively natural sound while preventing background noise from bleeding into the call for the recipient.

Sustainability

Apple does not provide an expected lifespan for the batteries but typical lithium batteries last in excess of 500 full-charge cycles with at least 80% of original capacity.

Apple will replace the battery out of warranty for £95. The headphones are made from recycled plastic but Apple does not publish environmental impact reports for accessories such as headphones. The company offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

Price

The Beats Solo 4 cost £199.95 (€229.95/$199.99/A$329.95).

For comparison, the Beats Studio Pro cost £350, the Sony ULT Wear cost £150 and the Marshall Major V cost £130.

Verdict

The Beats Solo 4 are a great update to a popular set of headphones. Not much has changed on the design front, with just small refinements here and there, but upgrades across sound and function are very welcome.

Full cross-platform support across Android and iPhone is a killer feature if you live in both camps. USB-C charging and audio plus the 3.5mm headphones socket are all very welcome. The fit is pretty comfortable, but like all on-ear headphones they can be fatiguing for long listening sessions.

The improved, less bass-dominated sound is an upgrade for all but those looking for big, booming low-end. The lack of noise cancelling and smaller features, such as wear-sensors to pause the music when removed, makes them less appealing than similarly priced rivals.

You’re certainly paying for the brand, but the Beats Solo 4 are a solid entry that will no doubt prove just as popular as their trend-setting predecessors, particularly given the decline in competition for the on-ear form.

Pros: good sound cross-platform compatibility with enhanced features for iPhone and Android, head-tracking spatial audio, can use USB-C or 3.5mm cable as well as Bluetooth, long battery life, good button controls, recycled materials.

Cons: expensive, do not pause music on removal, no noise cancelling, design hasn’t significantly changed in years, no higher-quality Bluetooth audio format support.