Beats really knocked it out of the park with the Power Beats Pro, its first fully wireless earbuds, and then again with the Beats Solo Pro – the company’s first on-ear noise-cancelling headphones. You’d expect the Beats Flex to follow the same trajectory, but in truth they are a different animal in terms of performance and audio quality.
The Beats Flex are quite clearly a pair of budget earbuds. They only cost £50, and the fact that Beats is making a pair of budget headphones at all is a remarkable development. The Beats Flex are essentially the successor to Beats’ 2016 neckband headphones: Beats X. What’s different is that the Beats X cost £130, £80 more than the Beats Flex.
Budget buds do make sense, however, considering that Apple no longer bundles in a free pair of headphones inside the box with its new iPhones. These are very much for the casual listener on the hunt for a cheap – and decent – EarPods replacement.
Both Beats Flex and Beats X look extremely similar, with the two earbuds connected via a long cord, intended to snake around the back of your neck. It’s not a heavy design, but it does feel a bit strange walking around with a necklace comprised of an unwieldy nickel and titanium cable.
One advantage of the cable being made out of nickel and titanium is that it aligns around your neck, maintaining its elasticated curved shape. This means that the volume controls, the large battery unit and the multi-feature button sit neatly on your chest. Another advantage is that they don’t get tangled up if you stuff them in your pocket.
Thanks to that battery unit, the Beats Flex last a whole 12 hours before needing another charge. The earbuds charge via USB-C, and the headphones are packaged with a short USB-C charging cable in the box. Like the iPhone 12, there’s no USB-C charging brick included, so you’ll actually have to invest in one if you don’t already. The earbuds also provide a nice 1.5 hours of extra battery life on a ten-minute fast charge.
The major issue with the Beats Flex is the fit. While the earbuds come with extra double-flange and large tips, you’d generally hope that any tip would fit snugly in your ear. These don’t. They’re a little loose and are quite prone to falling out. You’ll really need to experiment with the included tips to see which one fits best for your earholes before giving these a whirl.
When you aren’t using them, you can magnetically click the two earbuds together. This pauses any music playing, but also saves battery life. The Beats Flex are a little less intuitive than Apple’s AirPods. Unlike the AirPods, there aren’t any sensors in the earbuds to detect when you take an earbud out of your ear. Playback will only pause itself if it detects that you’ve magnetically attach the two earbuds together.
So if you’re one of those people who like to take one earbud out to talk to someone and then plug it back in after you’re done – you’ll have to physically press the pause button or just have your music continue to play in your other ear as you talk. It’s a first-world problem, of course.
One thing we really enjoyed was Beats Flex use of micro-venting, which helped to relieve ear pressure from the suction in the ear canal. Once we found our ideal fit, the beauty of the micro-venting emerged, especially when we were wearing these for extended periods of time.
As for the sound quality? Well it’s pretty middle of the road. As with many of the budget headphones on the market right now, the highs and lows are brilliant, but the mids not so much. So, though the sound is clear and crisp, songs which don’t rely as much on bass tend to struggle slightly.
The audio can even veer towards tinny when you’re streaming a show or a film on Netflix. Watching Steve McQueen’s Small Axe with the Beats Flex in wasn’t an entirely pleasurable experience. Dialogue was quite hollow, and that’s largely because of the headphones’ limited soundstage. That said, all this should be couched in that we should really be comparing these to the EarPods. And in that respect, the sound quality is a huge improvement.
The other thing to note is that although there’s no active noise cancellation on the earphones, if you manage to find an adequate ear fit, you’ll get a good level of passive sound isolation. It doesn’t support iOS 14 features like the ability to automatically switch to another device because the Flex is running on Apple’s H1 chip, but you’ll still get audio sharing, which is neat.
Overall, the Beats Flex are decent. They’re not mind-blowing, but that’s to be expected from a £50 pair of earbuds. The real star of the show is that impressive battery life, and if you need a new pair of headphones now that the EarPods are no longer included in the box, then the Beats Flex are a solid choice.
The Beats Flex are available in four different colours – black and a garish Yuzu Yellow for now, while Apple has announced that blue and grey Beats Flex will be arriving early next year.
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