My Experience with the W1 Chip in the Beats Solo3

I didn’t pick up an iPhone 7 after its announcement, but I was still quite excited by the announcement of the W1 chip that’s going into the AirPods and other Beats products. Bluetooth devices with the W1 chip have a few interesting features:

  • they’re more power efficient
  • they fast-charge, a few minutes can get you hours of battery life
  • you can pair them with an iPhone by just holding them near it and tapping on a prompt
  • once paired with an iPhone, W1-equipped headphones will auto-pair with all Apple devices via iCloud

This last point really got me excited, and that was the bit of Apple Magic I’d been hoping to see. I’ve been using wireless headphones for about two or three years now (first with the Sony MDR-10rBT and then the Jaybird Bluebuds X), and I really can’t go back to using wired headphones on-the-go. I’ll use them at home, but I’ve become spoiled enough that the wires are insufferably inconvenient when I step outside of my house.

I know that wireless still costs in terms of sound quality, and I’m very willing to make that tradeoff, but there’s a limit to that. I bought the Beats Solo3 soon after they came out. They were hilariously expensive at $380 CAD (including tax), but I really wanted the convenience that Apple was touting with the W1.

Pairing with my iPhone really was stupidly easy. I held the power button, set the headphones beside my phone, and the prompt came up, just like they’d said. The Solo3 paired with the phone quickly, and the connection was solid. I basically never skipped a beat during five days of testing. The battery life was also phenomenal: 93% after six hours of listening. Six hours is enough to kill the battery on my Jaybirds, but it only drains 7% of the Solo3’s battery. If one of the bugbears of Bluetooth headphones is crappy battery life and the need to recharge, consider the problem solved in the Solo3.

The other W1 devices don’t have the same titanic battery life as the Solo3, but the AirPods, BeatsX, and PowerBeats3 can all quick charge. The slowest charging speed amongst any of the W1 devices from Apple is 1 hour of battery life from 5 minutes of charging. I think this makes the battery issue negligible for most cases — the Solo3 basically runs on the power of its own sun, and all of the other W1 devices recharge enough juice in five minutes that you won’t suffer much downtime.

This is an iPhone-focused site, but I also think it would be remiss to disuss the Solo3 without talking about how they work with other products. Pairing across devices was very smooth for my iPad and Apple Watch. The Solo3 just appeared as an audio output option in Control Center; so I could tap on the Solo3 while using the iPad and the audio source would switch right over.

Unfortunately, the Mac wasn’t nearly as smooth. In fact, the setup experience was terrible. I un-paired the Solo3 several times, deleted it from iCloud, and even made sure to update my Mac to the latest Sierra build. I took an entire evening to try and solve the problem, and the only thing that worked was to change the name of the Solo3 within my iPhone’s Bluetooth settings. Once I did that, the Solo3 showed up on my Mac like it was supposed to, and worked very well.

I was actually very happy with this whole experience until I decided to compare the sound quality to the other headphones I already owned. That was a shock. In isolation, the Beats sounded fine, but in quick tests against my Sennheiser and V-Moda headphones, they sounded quite flat and muddy in comparison. The music just lacked a surprising amount of depth in the bass section, and they lacked a crispness when it came to the twang of guitars. Once I realized the difference, I just couldn’t go back, and I ended up returning the Solo3 within about 7 days of receiving them.

I will say that I was really impressed with how well the W1 chip integrated with my iPhone and other Apple devices, but the Solo3 just didn’t feel like a good pair of headphones to keep around. However, now that I’ve tasted that level of convenience, it’s likely only a matter of time until I pick up some other model that supports that magical little wireless chip.

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