Solo Pro are the best sounding headphones ever from Beats

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Wed October 30, 2019

Beats has already had a big 2019 with its in-ear Powerbeats Pro, but now the attention turns to over-ear, with Beats Solo Pro. It's the biggest update to the Solo line in a while, and that's a big deal.

Sound is improved tenfold, with new drives and a setup that resembles what we loved in the Powerbeats Pro. Glossy finishes are out, and six matte color options are in. And finally, Beats is giving its core on-ear headphones noise cancellation with a few tricks.

I've been rocking these for well over a week and it's time to drop the microphone on my full review.

A sleeker build that doesn't skimp on comfort

While this is a rethinking of the Solo line, Solo Pro keeps the heritage. These still look like Beats and have the well-known logo in the center of each ear cup. The lowercase "B" on the other side is the only glossy part on Solo Pro. Overall, it's a pretty clean design with minimal clutter.

The left side features a button that feels really great to press, perfectly weighted and easy to hit with any finger, while the right gets a Lightning connector for charging (you have to love being in the Apple ecosystem, right?) and a tiny LED indicator. The last piece of control is on the right ear cup. It feels very plastic-like, but you can push it in to play or pause music. I really wish Beats had opted for a touch gesture or sensor of some sort here. It would have complemented the experience a lot better.

Of course, these also feature hands-free voice control via "Hey Siri," thanks to the H1 chip inside, the same custom chip that's found in Powerbeats Pro, AirPods and AirPods Pro.

For the comfort of your ears, there is ample padding and cushioning on the ear cups, which is crucial for any on-ear headphones. Unlike the Studio 3s from Beats or the Bose 700, which wrap around your ear, these just sit on them. Depending on the size of your head, you might feel some pressure with extended use. For more comfort, even after several hours, there's also padding on the top headband.

As with any headphones, you can extend the sizing a bit and bring the ear cups a bit lower. Beats went high-end by choosing aluminum sliders for this experience, and they look great. It's a really sleek choice and gives you the sense you're getting a premium build for the money.

Sticking with that trend is a fully matte finish. I've been testing the gray model, but you can also get Solo Pro in black or ivory. There's also the "More Matte Collection" which consists of dark blue, light blue and red. You can choose from those six for now, but chances are Beats will have more colors on the horizon.

With daily wear, I've been really enjoying them. I wear glasses, and I didn't feel much pressure from the ear cups or the headphones themselves when wearing them. I did notice some pressure from my ear cups after about four hours, but your mileage may vary on that, depending on your individual preferences. These ear cups have a smaller circumference than other over-ear headphones, but the headband is plenty stretchable. At a minimum they're more comfortable than the Solo 3s — that extra ear cup padding makes a big difference.

Fully wireless cans with battery life to make them last

The biggest change with Solo Pro is the removal of the headphone jack. Yes, there is no audio jack on the Solo Pro, and that makes these fully wireless. With iOS and macOS, the H1 chip will make this transition super simple thanks to fast pairing. And with Android, you can download the Beats app to enable a quick pairing experience. You can also just go into settings and pair to Solo Pro as you would with any Bluetooth device.

The addition of the Lightning port on Solo Pro is primarily for charging, and these do support Fast Fuel, Beats' proprietary fast charging technology. For $35, you can get a Lightning port to audio jack, but I don't find myself missing the port. Bluetooth works great and battery life is quite good on the Solo Pro.

Beats says you can get up to 40 hours of battery life with noise cancellation off, and about 22 hours with it on. And it's pretty much been spot on for me. It's seriously impressive to hit 40 hours and really lets you take the Solo Pros with you pretty much anywhere. With noise cancellation turned on, I got pretty close to 22, falling just short at about 21 hours. But it's still quite impressive, especially for a pair of wireless-only.

Fast Fuel still works well. It gives you three hours of playback with active noise cancellation on for just 10 minutes of charging. That works when you're in need of an ultra-fast solution.

Rich and wide sound with ANC and Transparency

I am really impressed with the audio on the Solo Pro. You get a wide soundstage, but even more importantly, low, mid, high tones come across crisp and clear. And in true Beats fashion, the bass is rich. Putting on the Solo Pros and turning up the jams delivers an enjoyable experience.

Walls of sound, bass lines and vocals get overlaid nicely. And the mix aims to present all genres pretty clearly, with nice reproduction of the original recordings. There isn't much compression occurring from the device to the headphones, and I didn't experience any distortion at higher volumes. With a track like "Love Myself" by Hailee Steinfeld, the high-tone vocals come through clear, with a heavy bass beat underneath. "Paper Rings" by Taylor Swift is a similar experience and is presented in a lovely way. Classic rock like "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones hits a great opening with the crisp and vibrant guitar intro. And a more soothing track off Bruce Springsteen's "Western Stars" lets you hear the breadth of sounds the Solo Pros can produce.

The audio quality is great, and these are easily the best sounding headphones Beats has ever produced. There are two more ticks, though: Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency.

The first is exactly what it sounds like. These on-ear headphones are loaded with microphones to block out the noise around you. It's my secret weapon for writing at my desk in an open office. And while it doesn't always block everything out, ANC turned on with music at about 70% does block out the sounds. It performed pretty well on an airplane, but on that score, the Bose 700s are still the clear winners with an over-ear design.

With Transparency, the Solo Pro lowers noise cancellation and pulls the environmental sounds into the equation. And it doesn't deliver a boxy, echo-y or tunnel-like experience, but rather it's a mix that allows you to hear conversations or if someone calls your name. It also lets in environmental noises like walking, air vents and typing on a keyboard. Most importantly, though, it picks up your own voice, so in a conversation, it comes through naturally. It's a cool trick.

Bottom Line

At $299.99, the Solo Pros are a terrific pair of on-ear headphones that are really feature-filled — ANC, Transparency, Apple H1 chip, long battery life and more.

For $49 more, you can get the over-ear Studio 3 headphones, but the Solo Pros pack in more features. It just comes down to personal preference — on-ear versus over-ear.

I'd say the Solo Pros bring more than enough to the table to justify the switch to an on-ear set of cans. They don't leak out much audio, and the ample padding and cushioning create a very comfortable experience. The H1 chip gives you a deep integration with the Apple ecosystem, and the big batteries will last all day.

Sure, they cost $300, but you get a big value with Solo Pro, and you can show off your personality with color in a sleek build.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.