So you don’t want Beats to pump out your beats, while you may be concerned about what the competition has to offer, there are plenty of trendy, bass-heavy headphones that aren’t Beats. Who knows, you may end up preferring them over the Dr.’s auditory prescription.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on March 24th, 2020 to reflect changes in pricing and to include new information.
The Sony WH-1000X M3 is the best Beats Studio3 Wireless alternative
The Sony WH-1000XM3 caters to commuters and all-purpose users alike; while it lacks the “Studio” moniker that the Beats competitor has, it boasts many of the same features and outperforms the Studio 3 Wireless handily as it applies to noise cancelling capabilities (and equalizing your music).
Both models are over-ear headphones that retail for around $349 USD, but Sony’s WH-1000XM3 is the far better buy. It supports an array of Bluetooth codecs including LDAC, which provides the best streaming quality at 990kbps. What’s more, its sound boosts bass more than the previous iteration, aligning it with the bass-heavy Beats signature by default.
By providing effective noise cancelling, your music will sound better and you’ll likely avoid hearing damage.
If the main feature drawing you to the Beats Studio3 Wireless is noise cancellation performance, then the Sony cans should be your pick. Deciding what’s physically comfortable is more subjective, but we’re confident you’ll be happier with the Sony WH-1000XM3 than with the Beats headphones.
What you should know
Before spending your money on something as expensive as a pair of Beats headphones, it’s good to know what some alternatives are. After all, that’s why you’re here right? But before you spend money on anything at all, there are some things you hsould know that could potentially help you with your purchase decision. We’ll keep it simple for the purposes of this article, but there are links to all of the deep dives down below if you feel like becoming an expert on anything.
WhatWhy are Bluetooth codecs important?
What isRepresented is the max transfer rate (kbps) of each respective Bluetooth codec (greater is better). Each waveform depicts a transfer rate of 100 kbps.iPhone users should pay close attention to Bluetooth codec support. If you’re unfamiliar with the technology, a Bluetooth codec determines how data is transmitted from a source (phone) to a receiver (headphones). Ideally, there wouldn’t have to be any sacrifices made in quality for the sake of efficiency. However, we don’t live in a perfect world and different codecs provide different transfer rates and qualities.
Since Beats by Dre is now part of the Apple conglomerate, and has been since 2014, the company’s wireless headphones and earbuds integrate the W1 chip or H1 chip and support the AAC Bluetooth codec. iPhone users should get headphones that support AAC, and Android users should look out for aptX or aptX HD support. That said, if you’re looking to get the absolute best audio quality, wired listening is still running laps around wireless.
What is frequency response?
Beats headphones are loathed and loved for their bass-heavy frequency responses, but the company doesn’t have a patent on low-end exaggeration. Thus, finding a product that emulates that sought-after sound isn’t an arduous journey. Many of these headphones and earbuds also reproduce emphasized low-end notes. While this usually means you’re enjoying a more consumer-friendly sound, tinkerers (those who often EQ their music) may want to look into studio headphones. Those with neutral frequency responses are easier to EQ because they’re less prone to harmonic distortion.
Alternative doesn’t mean poor quality
Sometimes it’s worth it to invest in the real deal. However, just because a product is off-brand, so to speak, doesn’t make it inherently poor quality. More often than not, a direct competitor to a Beats model will be cheaper than the household name. The price disparity isn’t indicative of a lack of quality, rather it likely just reflects a smaller profit margin for the company, which means more money for you to put toward MP3s.
If you’re interested in the Beats Solo3 Wireless, save money and get the AKG N60NC instead
While the Beats Solo3 is one of the company’s most accessible products, it lacks one major feature touted by the AKG N60NC: active noise cancelling. While the noise cancellation found on the AKG cans isn’t going to beat the Sony WH-1000XM3 abilities, it’s better than not having the feature altogether.
But it’s not just about having a feature to say that the feature is there; no, the AKG N60NC attenuation is effective enough to prevent you from maxing out the volume. Not only does the lessening of outside noise improve audio quality, but it also steers you away from damaging your hearing.
Of course, the other main benefit to going the AKG route is the price. These headphones run less than $175, nearly half the price of getting the Beats Solo3 Wireless brand new. Plus, you’re still getting both AAC and aptX support; compared to the Solo3 Wireless, these are a real bargain.
The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex is a versatile alternative to the Beats Pro
One glance at the Beats Pro and it’s apparent that it’s the most durable pair of Beats headphones, but the V-Moda Crossfade Wireless Codex is MIL-STD 810G certified, meaning it’s officially tough as nails.
The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex isn’t just tough, though; it sounds good too. If you opt to listen sans wires (or maybe your phone manufacturer left you without a choice) then you still benefit from AAC and aptX codec support. Things sound especially good if you plug in, though, seeing as these headphones are Hi-Res certified and allow for zero-latency which is great for gaming.
Additionally, when you buy a pair of V-Moda headphones, you’re not just buying a single one-and-done product. No, the company stands behind its albeit pricey lineup with its Immortal Life Program.
The Audio-Technica ATH-CK55BT features a similar build to the BeatsX
These earbuds support both aptX and AAC, so regardless of what system you’re using, watching videos and making remote commands is a lag-free process. What’s more, unlike the BeatsX, the ATH-CK55BT use an integrated amplifier while keeping the price below $100.
Admittedly, battery life isn’t anything stellar with these earbuds and is rated at seven hours, but the standalone battery life clocks in at 200 hours to compensate. As far as sound quality is concerned, Audio-Technica uses brass to mitigate unwanted harmonic distortion; this results in improved clarity, particularly in the mids and highs. What’s more, the earbuds house large 10.7mm dynamic drivers—well, large for in-ears that is.
By including aptX and AAC support, you’re not limited to choosing between an iOS or Android device during listening sessions.
Although you’re not getting the same style of neckband earbuds as you would with the BeatsX, you’re benefiting from aptX and AAC compatibility, which provides notably better sound quality for Android phones, as AAC is really only acceptable on iPhones.
The Jaybird Vista is a solid Beats Powerbeats Pro alternative
Beats’ debut true wireless earbuds are making a splash in the world of consumer audio. If you aren’t interested in the Powerbeats Pro, then the Jaybird Vista is a great option. These are IPX7 water-resistant like standard wireless Jaybird X4 and Tarah models. While they don’t have the same earhook design as the Powerbeats Pro, the angled nozzles and proprietary wing tips successfully keep the ‘buds in place. In fact, they work so well that it’s at the detriment of comfort: after one hour of wear, I experienced outer ear pain.
You’re afforded USB-C quick charging whereby five minutes in the miniature case yields one hour of playback. Standalone battery life clocks in at 5.62 hours of listening. While this is about half of what the Powerbeats Pro provide, it’s certainly more than enough to cover a few workouts. Unfortunately, the Vista earbuds don’t offer high-quality codec support, but that’s forgivable seeing as these are intended for gym use, rather than analytical listening. Plus, you’re granted a lot of leeway with the sound signature by way of Jaybird’s free app. You can create and save EQ settings which may also be shared with other Jaybird users. These are a great, more affordable alternative to Beats’ workout earbuds.
Alternative Beats alternatives
- OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2: These earbuds are a BeatsX doppelganger and support aptX. Isolation is great as is microphone quality. When it comes to daily earbuds, these are hard to beat.
- Sennheiser HD1 In-Ear Wireless: This neckband earbud provides aptX and AAC support and is made out of more premium materials than those found on any Beats product, but they’re expensive compared to the BeatsX or PowerBeats3.
- Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3.0: If you’ve thought about getting the Beats Studio but were turned off by the design, Sennheiser’s latest noise cancelling cans may be up your alley. These feature premium materials, great ANC, and a very comfortable fit with excellent sound quality.
- Anker Soundcore Vortex: This pair of headphones costs just a smidge more than $50 but fits comfortably and supports aptX and AAC. It’s a real steal when compared to either the Solo3 or Studio3 Wireless models.
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: The new Bose headphones are another great option for anyone looking for sleep design, great battery life, and solid active noise canceling. If you’re not a fan of the Sony headphones on this list, definitely check these out.
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II: Just because there’s a new Bose product on the block doesn’t make the previous beasts of ANC any less appealing. These are still more comfortable and offer many of the same great features as the newer ones.
- Focal Listen Wireless: These headphones mimic the bulky design that Beats headphones are recognized for and perform exceptionally well when it comes to passive isolation. They’re also comfortable to wear with or without glasses.
- Audio Technica ATHM50X BT: Audio-Technica transformed its ever-popular ATH-M50X to a wireless headset that listeners can take on the go. It operates via Bluetooth 5.0 and supports aptX and AAC codecs.
- JBL Live 650BTNC: As far as sub-$200 noise cancelling headphones go, these are some of the best. They effectively attenuate external noise and are comfortable to wear for long periods of time due to the deep, plus ear cushions. Plus, with full Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa integration, little tasks like replying to incoming texts are made easy.
- House of Marley Exodus: Listeners who value style and durability should look into these. While they didn’t receive the same MIL-STD 810G rating as the V-Moda cans, the aluminum components paired with FSC certified wood make these feel premium and resilient.
Related: Best Google Assistant headphones
How we chose
We have our own internal testing methodology, but the long and the short of it is that we run three basic tests: battery life, frequency response, and isolation to get a broad-strokes, objective understanding of how each pair of headphones or earbuds operates. From there, we use the headphones in our daily routine, taking note of a product’s follies and triumphs.
Ultimately, we respect that audio is subjective to a point—and believe it helps us, and you the reader, to know a product’s objective performance as well.
Why you should trust us
We’re dedicated to this site as our full-time jobs and individually have accrued multiples years of experience when it comes to keeping track of the evolving audio industry. In being so involved, we’re able to quickly pick out the good from the to-be-improved products.
Our main goal is to ensure that you enjoy your purchase, whether you’re looking for workout earbuds, soundbars, or noise cancelling headphones. We just want you to be happy, and none of our writers may benefit from lauding one product over another. If you so choose, we recommend that you read our full ethics policy.
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