My oh my…
Everybody heaped a ton of shit on Apple when they announced their wireless AirPod earbuds and I was right with the chorus: they look eminently lose-able, way too expensive, and just goofy-looking. I still think that’s accurate… for the AirPods.
However, Apple announced two other headphones that are also powered by their new W1 chip (this is the magic part that allegedly strips the suck out of Bluetooth, a notoriously shitty, finicky protocol that has historically been so bad that I’ve refused to use it for anything audio-related): the Beats Solo3 (traditional over-the-ear cup headphones) and some PowerBeats designed for the gym use (and, therefore, instantly out of my consideration).
There’s a lot of reasons I’ve avoided wireless headphones up to this point:
- The aforementioned audio issues. It’s only been the recent release of BT4.2 on some devices that I find the quality of audio over Bluetooth (a protocol that requires compression of audio data to work) at all acceptable. It still ain’t great, but I’d listen to already-compressed music, a podcast or a phone call over it now, at least.
- Battery Life: it’s been shit to this point. Just total garbage. Even the new AirPods are unacceptable; due to their tiny size, you get 5 hours of playtime on a max charge. I can barely accept the idea of charging headphones at all in the first place so it’s gotta be better than that.
Due to these factors, I paid little attention to the announcement. Until somebody pointed out the 40 (!) hour battery life on the Solo3 model.
That’s… that’s a number I can live with.
I still waited for a lot of reviews to come out on all W1-powered headphones before biting on buying these things. The Solo3’s are not exactly cheap. But, so far, they live up to the promise and have been worth it. Some pros and cons:
- Apple is absolutely not joking about the battery life. I charged them up when I got them last week Tuesday. I’ve used them probably 1-2 hours a day every weekday since (they don’t get much love on the weekends when I’m home; I use wired cans at home). They’re still in the upper nineties %-wise on charge. That’s RIDICULOUS.
- The W1 pairing stuff, which a lot of people couldn’t roll their eyes hard enough at, is no joke. I turned them on, held them kinda near my iPhone, iPhone said “you wanna use these?” right away, I said “yes” and boom, every Apple device I own now knows about these things and will pair with them no problem. I have yet to lose pairing on any device, either, which is downright miraculous for something running over Bluetooth.
- The sound is pretty decent. I remember laughing at the first-generation BeatsByDre headphones because they were so overwhelmingly bassy, I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to listen to them. They’ve come a long way since then; the sound still leans towards a heavier bass response than I would prefer, but it also has pretty nice mids and highs. Good cut-through on hi-hats and quieter parts… I still prefer my wired V-Moda set for recording music through, but for general listening, these are just fine.
- The range; go ahead and wander away from your phone to hit the fridge or something, they’ll be fine. Unlike every regular Bluetooth device I’ve ever used, the W1 chip seems to be able to retain its grip on both ends of the tether over quite the distance. I can’t get them to drop no matter where in our condo I go, including the balcony.
- For the price, you’d like to see a lot less plastic in the construction. My V-Moda’s, I’m pretty sure I could fastball into an intruder’s face, then pick up and keep using without issue. I’m not sure these Solo3’s would survive an aggressive taking-off-of-head movement.
- For fuck’s sake, a Micro-USB connection for charging? Goddammit, Apple, YOU HAVE THE LIGHTNING PORT. YOU’RE PUSHING USB-C AS WELL. Why were NEITHER of these better choices used here???? This and the fucking Kindle are the last goddamned things I own that use this connector, and I cannot wait for the day when I can happily pitch all of these shitty cheap Micro-USB cables into the fuckin’ garbage where they belong.
Those are not insignificant cons, but I think the pros outweigh them considerably. That I’ve got comfy, reasonably good-sounding cans with no fuckin’ wires tripping me up nonstop that’ll also last, at my usage patterns, weeks between charges is something I didn’t think would ever be possible even a year ago. Apple’s figured some shit out here, and for unfucking bluetooth audio alone we should be building a statue of Tim that’s at least 60% of the size of the one we should make of Jobs.