Beats Studio Buds vs. Apple AirPods (3rd Gen): Which should you buy?

Beats Studio Buds Lifestyle
Beats Studio Buds Lifestyle (Image credit: Beats by Dre)

Beats Studio Buds

Beats Studio Buds Black Render

Beats made the Studio Buds appeal to a wider subset of users, meaning you're not just buying these because you think they'll rumble your ears with thick bass. There's more to them than that, which includes decent sound and good comfort and a little flash on the side.

Beats Studio Buds

Comfortable pick

Better than typical Beats sound
Super comfortable fit
Hands-free Siri access
Works well with Android
Decent app support
No H1 or W1 chip for Apple users
No auto play and pause
No wireless charging

Apple AirPods (3rd Gen)

Apple Airpods 3rd Gen Render

Apple gave its entry-level earbuds a slightly different take, but the gist of what's going on inside hasn't changed all that much. New things do make them unique compared to their predecessors, but you still have to deal with the caveats to begin enjoying them.

Apple AirPods (3rd Gen)

Traditional look

Improved audio quality
Spatial audio support
More durable build this time
Excellent call quality
Small charging case
No EQ options
Lightning for charging
Not as resistant to water and sweat

Beats may be a different brand, but it bears many hallmarks that define Apple's products. Both have found themselves among the best wireless earbuds, though neither of these are the best in their own respective product lines. Incidentally, they carry some similarities, including pricing, only to deviate significantly once the music plays.

Beats Studio Buds vs. Apple AirPods (3rd Gen): Standing out

The AirPods Pro are often the measuring stick for any pair of Apple or Beats earbuds, and it would be no different for both of these. But this is a better comparison because the AirPods (3rd Gen) are usually more expensive than the Beats Studio Buds. The question is, which pair gives you the better value at the end of the day. The specs only tell part of the story.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Beats Studio BudsApple AirPods (3rd Gen)
Bud battery lifeUp to 8 hoursUp to 6 hours
Charging case battery life15 hours (24 without ANC)30 hours (20 hours with Spatial Audio)
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.1Bluetooth 5.0
Digital assistant supportGoogle Assistant, SiriSiri
Supported audio codecsSBC, AACSBC, AAC
Speaker size8.2mm drivers6mm drivers
Active noise cancelationYesNo

While there are similarities, there are also distinct differences that play significant roles in how they respectively function. For example, battery life isn't exceptionally good, either way, when each pair's signature feature comes into play. For the Studio Buds, it's active noise cancelation (ANC), and for the AirPods (3rd Gen), it's Spatial Audio. Those two features don't cross over, so they are part of the value proposition involved.

What also matters is which pair plays nicer with Android devices, and that's where Beats holds an advantage. The Studio Buds lack the H1 and W1 chips that connect seamlessly with Apple devices, but are otherwise irrelevant to Android ones. Moreover, the Studio Buds also work with Google Assistant. Though not hands-free, it's at least easy enough to access, which isn't the case with the AirPods.

Coming back to battery life, they aren't far apart, but Beats last at least an hour longer per charge and don't require as much power to play at the same volumes. That matters over time. Even if the AirPods hold an edge with two extra charges coming from the case, plus wireless charging. The Studio Buds' case can only offer two additional charges and bizarrely doesn't offer wireless charging.

Beats Studio Buds vs. Apple AirPods (3rd Gen): Sound and comfort

Airpods 3 Buds

Source: Luke Filipowicz / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Luke Filipowicz / Android Central)

The sound has everything to do with the overall design. The Studio Buds use ear tips and feature a nicely contoured build for better comfort. Larger drivers certainly don't hurt, but the real benefit is in how they fit, which ultimately makes them sound so much better than the AirPods. Like their predecessors, the 3rd-Gen AirPods use an open-fit design that simply can't seal in the audio the way tips can.

They're also a one-size-fits-all concept. How they fit you once is how they'll pretty much feel every time. Unfortunately, that doesn't bode well for how they'll sound because the lack of a tighter seal means you hear less bass. Beats already come with a reputation for ramping up the low end, though the Studio Buds aren't as intense that way. Whatever the case, the AirPods come with a big caveat for how they sound, and there's not much you can do about it.

The chasm grows larger when you factor in ANC or lack thereof. Beats at least give you the ability to drown out as much of the background as possible. Or you can pipe it in with Transparency mode. Noise cancelation isn't all that great, especially in louder settings, but it feels like a world of a difference compared to the AirPods (3rd Gen).

Beats at least gives you the ability to drown out as much of the background as possible.

The lack of Spatial Audio might hurt the Studio Buds, but in fairness, it's probably not a feature you'll miss all that much. Still, it's nice to have on the AirPods, and in quieter situations, it makes a show or movie feel more immersive. It's just unfortunate you can't tinker with the sound all that much beyond that. Beats certainly could've gone further with the sound customization here — like offering a custom EQ for one — but at least they sound pretty good out of the box. Apple only gives you its Adaptive EQ for the AirPods, all of which is automated, so you have no control over it.

Beats has an app for Android users, whereas those features fall under settings for iOS devices. Apple's blueprint does apply similarly to both in certain respects, like a "Find My" option to track them when you can't find them. Neither pair is all that rugged, so don't get them thinking they're ideal for the gym. They each have the same IPX4 rating: very limited water resistance and little else for sweat.

Beats Studio Buds vs. Apple AirPods (3rd Gen): Everything else

Airpods 3 Buds

Source: Luke Filipowicz / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Luke Filipowicz / Android Central)

From a purely aesthetic point of view, it's worth noting Beats offers the Studio Buds in three colors. You can go flashy with red or stay neutral with black or white. They're options at least, which is more than you can hope for the AirPods (3rd Gen), who stick to the tradition of a single choice in white.

Apple has always made the AirPods stalwarts for phone calls, and that does continue here, except much of the same call quality applies to the Studio Buds, too. One could argue the AirPods' stems make calls better, but I'm not so sure that's the case between these two. The Studio Buds have onboard mics for ANC that make calls clearer, and the results aren't bad.

It's safe to say the same is true for onboard controls as well, though Beats gives you physical buttons, which vastly improve overall efficacy. So when you click once, twice, or three times, you'll rarely make a mistake. The AirPods are pretty good with standard all-touch controls, so it's not a route, but the Studio Buds are more consistent.

Beats Studio Buds vs. Apple AirPods (3rd Gen): Which should you choose?

Beats Studio Buds

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

These are two brands under the same umbrella, so while there are some differences, they also don't divert completely. Where they do divert, however, is in areas that matter, like fit, comfort, sound, and accessibility for Android users. For those reasons, Beats is the better option compared to the AirPods (3rd Gen). Why Apple continues to stubbornly stick to an open-fit design that is more a detriment than an asset to audio playback is unclear.

What is clear is that Beats got a different memo and built the Studio Buds to be more like most wireless earbuds. And with some of Apple's DNA inside, they feel familiar and unique by comparison all at once. As a result, you will get better sound, long battery life, and feel more comfortable the whole time, which is worth it when looking at what you pay for either pair.

Ted Kritsonis
Contributor, Audio Reviewer

Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.