Critics enjoy sticking the boot into Beats headphones. Audiophiles hate the brand. They criticise the build quality, the muddy mid-tones, and overexuberance of the bass. But Beats is one of the most recognisable headphone brands on the market. Fans love them, despite the bad press. And back in 2014, Apple paid $3 billion for the brand.
Celebrity endorsements and slick marketing have done much of the legwork. So too has the branding: flashy colours and bold vivid designs. Whether you can understand why or not, Beats is a popular brand.
Sony appears a little more muted by comparison, but it has a longer history in the industry. It has a larger range, too. You can buy Sony headphones for as little as $30 or for $300+. It’s current active noise-cancelling technology (in its WH-1000XM3 and WH-1000XM4 headphones) is an industry leader.
If you put a gun to an audiophile’s head and asked them which they’d choose, they'll all say Sony. But buying decisions aren't always about just the technical specifications. Personal preference plays a part.
It depends on what you’re using the headphones for. What your personality is. Which specific features are more important to you. For some, it’s the active noise-cancellation. Others will demand clarity on phone calls or clear sounding mics for online gaming. Musical preferences can make a difference. The design or the colour can, too. The comfort. The brand identity. A price tag. They can all overrule a tech specification comparison table.
As consumers, we buy with emotion but justify with logic. Beats are no different. Fans will always defend them. Critics will always attack. But if you're ready to start shopping, then which is better - Sony headphones or Beats?
We're going to summarise some of the main pros and cons of both Beats and Sony. They'll be some reference to specific models like the Beats Studio 3s and the Solos and Sony's WH-1000XM3 and XM4. They’ll be some general points about each brand, too.
- Beats definitely have the edge on individual design. The Studio 3, for example, comes in a wider range of colours than Sony’s XM3s. As you look down the Beats product line, you’ll notice there’s more colour choices. Some are quite garish. Others more muted. One reason why Beats are so popular is that they make a statement. Most other brands stick to variations of silvers, blacks and greys.
- Beats headphones tend to have a stronger clamping effect on the head. This makes them good for exercising in as they won’t slide off the ear or need readjusting. Remember to add moisture-proof headphone covers though, as they're not sweat-proof.
- Beats headphones are easier to set up within the Apple ecosystem. If you’re an iOS user, then you’ll find pairing devices much easier.
- There’s denser foam in the Beats Solos which makes this specific model more comfortable on the ears.
- Beats headphones take advantage of Apple's W1 and H1 chips. These make it easier to pair devices as well as increase Bluetooth connection and battery life. W1 chips are in Beats Studio 3 and Beats Solo 3 Wireless. The H1 chip is in Beats Solo Pro headphones. You'll only find these in Apple products.
- Fast Fuel can be a lifesaver. 5-minutes of charge gives enough battery charge for 3-hours playback. Ideal, if you're ready to head out with a low-battery warning.
- Some of the features aren't available to non-iOS users.
- Beats are known to be heavy on the bass. This infuriates some users.
- The mid-tones are often described as ‘cloudy’ and ‘muddy’ by audiophiles, indicating the sound isn’t clear enough.
- They’ve also been derided for poor build quality. Tech journalists have literally dismantled the headphones and then priced up the individual internal components. Needless to say, it doesn't look good. It's one reason why Beats have a reputation for style over substance. The headband is particularly vulnerable to damage. The earpads can crack and peel when exposed to moisture over a period of time, too.
- Beats do have a tighter fit. Some people like how secure they are, but others have complained about how uncomfortable the Solos are.
- Critics argue that when you pay for a pair of Beats, you’re paying for the brand name. They see it more as a fashion label rather than a serious set of headphones.
- Sony offers some of the best anti-noise cancelling technology on the market right now. Both its WH1000XM3 and the WH1000XM4 have superior noise isolation, too.
- Sony offer a much wider range of headphones. Starting at around $30 up to $300+. It's easier to find a suitable product at a price point that people are comfortable with.
- Both the WH1000XM3 and XM4 headphones have a downloadable app where users can control equalisation. This gives the headphones a level of audio versatility not offered by Beats.
- There’s longer battery life, too. The XM3 has 30 hours compared to the 22-hours of Beats.
- The WH-1000 XM3 has three microphones
- There’s better mid-tone quality with Sony.
- The WH1000XM4 has a speak-to-chat function. It detects your voice and will then turn the music down to an ambient level so you can hear conversations. There's an auto-pause, too.
- Sony's designs are stylish, but they're very safe. There's nothing distinctive about them.
- The three mics on the XM3 aren't great for answering phone calls.
- The XM3 only connects to one device at a time.
Overall, Sony’s flagship anti-noise cancelling headphones are the better choice but those looking for easier integration into the iOS family (and maybe a bolder choice of colour), may be more tempted by Beats.
Whichever you’re buying, remember that moisture can kill headphones. Add a moisture-resistant headphone cover to help keep yours smelling and looking fresh even when you’re working out.