I can still remember when Beats released their first set of headphones.
They were unobtainium, worn by celebrities, some of the most expensive mainstream headphones on the market, and many us in the audiophile community questioned the brand to value ratio. What were you paying for? Branding and aesthetics or quality engineering? One thing is for sure; people were jumped while wearing them walking down the street. No one can argue that they weren’t desirable.
A lot has happened since Dr Dre and Jimmy Lovine introduced Beats by Dr Dre to the market back in 2006. Their range grew, Apple acquired them for an eye-watering 3 billion USD and more recently, they’ve moved into the cheaper end of the consumer audio market, thankfully.
Beats Flex is the latest evolution of the BeatsX Wireless Earphones that entered the market back in 2017.
Priced at $79.95AUD RRP, how do the Beats Flex stack up in the sea of semi-wireless consumer earphones that are flooding the market?
Unboxing the Beats Flex reveals the earphones and cabling in a nicely moulded box with a choice of earbud tips to give you the best possible fit. I was able to establish a comfortable sealed fit with the earbud tips that came fitted at unboxing. According to Beats, the packaging itself comprises 87% plant-based materials sourced from recycled fibre and/or sustainable forests—points for being environmentally conscious.
How long will they last? Battery life and power saving features
Beats claim that these earphones will provide 12 hours of listening on a single charge. While I could get about 11 hours of listening from one charge, that’s not factoring in times when I paused my listening to speak to someone while they were in use. Beats Flex also has a fast charge feature that will allow 90 minutes of playtime after just 10 minutes of charging if they do run flat. That feature saved me on two occasions, once when I was about to head out on my lunch break and another when my wife left her iPhone earphones at work and needed to borrow a pair with a microphone for a teleconference.
A neat feature is the magnetic fasteners that sit in the back of each earbud. For example, if you remove the buds from your ears to chat with someone, fastening the buds together with the magnetic tips, will pause listening. This great feature both saves on battery but saves you losing your place with where you’re up to in a podcast. Nice!
Using Beats Flex in the real world
Now, let’s discuss usability. The first issue I uncover is a bugbear of mine: there is no carry case.
I regularly commute on public transport and carry these in my bag when they’re not in use. Not only can the earbud tips get dirty (and there are all matter of things in the bottom of my bag), but they can quickly go missing if they come loose from the earphones. A pouch or imitation pelican case like Fiio offer would suffice. Just something to keep it all together.
I prefer over the ear set up like many IEM’s (in-ear monitors). On the Beats Flex, however; the tangle-free cables are designed to drape over your neck. There’s too much cabling for my liking and the electronic componentry on the cables seem unnecessarily big- not exactly stylish – I’m surprised that designers at Apple signed off on this. That said, they are comfortable to wear, and the flat cabling sits flush against your neck.
Just how easy are they to setup
Fire them up and if you’re using an iPhone, they’re instantly recognised thanks to Apple’s W1 chipset, you’re prompted to connect to them with a nice animation of the earbuds and a pleasant tune. Neat! I like this kind of simplicity.
Android fans fear not; a Beats application in the play store is available to help pair them. Relatively painless, depending on your perspective. On a side note- these will pair with other audio devices such as Laptops so they are very flexible.
Listening to music. Sweet, sweet music.
Most importantly, what are they like to listen to? Historically, Beats are known for their tendency to emphasise bass. Will these earphones be any different?
For those interested, I’m using Spotify’s “Songs To Test Headphones With” playlist as a reference that offers a wide range of music from different eras and genres.
First cab off the rank is Earth Wind and Fire’s “In The Stone”. Don’t judge! It’s a catchy tune with a significant variation of instruments and vocals to give these Beats Flex earphones a workout.
Immediately noticeable is a lack of mid-range. It’s just a bit muted, and some of the sweet brass sections and strings backing this track aren’t as pronounced as they could be with the low and high frequencies getting priority. The higher-pitched brass sections, along with percussion and high hats/cymbals are more noticeable. The moment any vocals or instruments drift into the mid-range however, they soften – losing detail that seems more prevalent at the low and high ranges.
EWF songs are known for their strong bass lines (not surprising given the disco/funk era they emerged in), so the Beats Flex earphones lean to this genre nicely.
Next up is Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”. It’s a track that offers each instrument and voice the chance to shine and highlights the strengths/weaknesses of any headphone and earbud set out there.
The plucking of the acoustic guitar and of course, Mick Fleetwood’s bass drum kicking away.
Right throughout the track, I feel like the musical instruments are somewhat more elevated than the vocals in this track which is a shame because the angst-laden vocals of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie drive this track.
I listened to several other tracks from this playlist and to my ears, it does seem like there is a more of a focus on the high and low frequencies (treble and bass) with the mid-range going a little missing. It’s not bad by any stretch, but to me, it’s noticeable. The sound stage isn’t expansive, but the image of some space is there with some of the instruments feeling well separated. The way these earphones are tuned isn’t a bad thing – it’s just the market that Beats favour. Don’t be mistaken, they do sound good, but the Beats Flex are engineered with the broader market in mind. Makes sense.
Podcasts and movie viewing – how do they perform?
I also tested these out with a movie – in this case, Oblivion. Movies have a lot going on in them with soundtrack, voice and sound effects; it can overwhelm some audio devices. This movie, in particular, has a cracking soundtrack by M83 and some excellent sound design. The Beats performed admirably and with a good seal in my ear, provided an immersive experience. Voices had great clarity and with the full mix of sound and turned up substantially- no distortion. Podcasts were much the same. I spend my lunch breaks on walks listening to crime and political podcasts such as “Hunting Warhead” and “Your undivided attention”.
I found these great for this purpose especially with the magnetic clip and pause feature which came into play when I stopped for quick chats with colleagues.
For daily use, these earphones will perform well. Their tuning may not be to everyone’s taste for music listening sessions but do they perform well overall? Yes. Are they aesthetically pleasing? Questionable – in something less bright than Yuzu yellow, possibly.
Do they offer value for money at this price point? With the features, battery life and sound quality, Yes. As a “daily driver”, these are a good set of buds and also not so expensive that they couldn’t be a nice (usable) gift that someone would genuinely appreciate. Thanks to the folks at Beats for sending us a pair to review!
- Hybrid In-ear earphones
- Magnetic earbuds with auto-play/pause
- Flex-Form cable provides all-day comfort with durable Nitinol construction, while four ear tip options offer a personalised fit
- Height: 16mm/1.6cm
- Weight: 18.6g/0.66 oz
- Class 1 Bluetooth® via the Apple W1 chip4, providing seamless setup and switching for your Apple devices, with extended range and fewer dropouts
- Wirelessly share audio such as songs, podcasts or films with Beats Flex and another set of Beats headphones or AirPods with Audio Sharing
- Android compatible
- Up to 12 hours of listening time
- With Fast Fuel, a 10 minute charge gives 1.5 hours of playback when the battery is low
- USB-C charge connector (included)
- Rechargeable lithium-ion