My buying advice on the cheapest wireless earbuds Apple currently sells (and they're not AirPods)

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ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • The new Beats Solo Buds are budget earbuds at $80 and available to purchase now. 
  • Their compact size, fun colors, and 18-hour battery life make them earbuds appealing to Beats devotees.
  • Other earbuds offer features these earbuds lack — like active noise cancellation and Bluetooth multipoint — for less money.

These days, you can buy earbuds with up-to-date features for less than $100, thanks to advancements in and increased accessibility to audio technology, like noise-canceling and sound quality. As a result, headphones and earbuds keep getting better and better — and you don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to get a decent pair, making the budget earbuds market more competitive than ever. 

Also: The best budget earbuds: Expert tested and reviewed

So when Beats sent me the Beats Solo Buds, the company’s newest budget earbuds, I was eager to give them a listen. The Solo Buds are Beats’ latest venture into budget-friendly audio gear, following the release of its midrange on-ear headphones, the Beats Solo 4.

There are plenty of great earbuds out there for less than $100 (some less than $60), so how do the Solo Buds fare in a jam-packed market with so many distinguished competitors? Read on as I try to answer that question.

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What are the Beats Solo Buds’ best features?

Right out of the box, you get a teeny-tiny case shaped for maximum pocketability, four ear tips to ensure a tight fit, and earbuds. The Solo Buds come in matte black, gray, purple, and transparent red. I love the soft purple color option, and the case is convenient for bringing them anywhere.

Beats Solo Buds in purple

Nina Raemont/ZDNET

The Solo Buds are comfortable to wear with no pressure buildup after continual hours of listening, and I appreciate the four ear tips for XS, S, M, and L ears.

Also: Beats just refreshed its most popular headphone line, and they sound great

The earbuds get plenty loud, and the audio playback from the microphones sounded clear when I recorded a voice note. At 18 hours, the earbuds will surely deliver at least a week’s worth of battery life if you use these to exercise at the gym or a few days of desk-side listening as you work at the office.

These earbuds will please people who want long battery life and some iOS-specific features for less than $100. The Solo Buds will best serve people who don’t require extra features or stellar sound from their earbuds but want a no-frills solution that will do the trick for casual use.

What I’d like to see in the next model 

I’d like to see Beats pump more valuable features into this $80 pair of earbuds that its competitors include in their products, like active noise cancellation, lighter and less uncomfortable touch controls, an IP rating, in-ear detection, and multipoint Bluetooth.

The Solo Buds’ sound feels flat and tinny at times, especially at low-to-mid volume. These are earbuds for people who don’t demand impressive audio quality and value spending less money on name-brand earbuds. Beats omitted active noise cancellation from the Solo Buds, and I heard everything in my environment when I listened to music. Higher-quality sound and noise-canceling tech would make these earbuds far more competitive.

Beats Solo Buds in purple

Nina Raemont/ZDNET

Most people use earbuds to exercise, and most buds have an official IP rating to notify consumers how much sweat and water their buds can handle before irreparable damage occurs. Unfortunately, Beats chose not to formally IP test the Solo Buds. I asked Beats if the Solo Buds have any protection against water or sweat damage, and a Beats spokesperson confirmed that they have some defense against liquid intrusion. I concluded that Beats likely tested these earbuds for water ingress but excluded an official rating to keep the retail price at $80.

Also: The best earbuds: Expert tested and reviewed

Beats could improve the the Solo Buds’  comfort through touch controls. Unlike other earbuds that use light taps to pause, play, or skip music, these earbuds come with buttons you have to press and click. While pausing and resuming, I had to press hard to get the button to register, which uncomfortably pushed the earbuds further into my ear.

My last gripe with the Solo Buds is that the packaging doesn’t include a USB-C charging cord. I assume that’s because these earbuds debuted in time for the iPhone 15‘s USB-C-ification; people can use the USB-C cords they already own to charge these buds. By leaving out the cord, Beats can cite environmental friendliness while cutting manufacturing costs. Still, I can imagine some non-USB-C smartphone owners becoming frustrated when they have to search around their house for an old USB-C cord to charge their new earbuds.

ZDNET’s buying advice 

After a few days of testing and listening, I’ve found that the Beats Solo Buds fail to compete with other budget earbuds I’ve tested and loved. You might be better off looking elsewhere for a pair of earbuds with all the features Beats neglected to add to the Solo Buds. There are a few thoughtful features I enjoyed, but ultimately, I look forward to the improvements and advancements Beats will make in the next model of this product.

At debut, the Solo Buds are overpriced; if they go on sale this holiday season for $40 to $50, buy them if you want a pair of bare-bones earbuds. These earbuds are for people who want comfortable, affordable buds with a long battery life. If that’s you, you’ll enjoy these earbuds. 

If, however, you want earbuds for even less money that have a charging cord, noise-canceling, and an IP55 waterproof rating, consider the JLab JBuds ANC 3. For stylish earbuds with upgraded software features, consider the Nothing Ear (a) earbuds.