AirPods vs Beats: An In-Depth Comparison of Apple‘s Headphone Brands

Before AirPods exploded in popularity, Beats by Dre headphones were the iconic Apple audio product, sported by athletes, celebs, and everyday listeners alike. But with Apple now selling both AirPods and Beats, which brand offers better sound, design, and value for your money? This comprehensive comparison examines all the key differences.

A Brief History of AirPods and Beats

First, a quick history lesson. The original Beats headphones launched in 2008, co-founded by rapper and producer Dr. Dre and music exec Jimmy Iovine. Focusing on stylish design and bass-heavy sound tailored for hip hop and other popular genres, Beats quickly became a fashion statement. Apple acquired the brand in 2014 in a $3 billion deal as it aimed to boost its music and accessories business.

AirPods came later, first releasing in late 2016. With a truly wireless design that paired seamlessly with iPhones, the iconic white earbuds were a runaway success for Apple. Multiple generations have followed, adding features like wireless charging, noise cancellation and Spatial Audio.

Now in late 2022, you have two major headphone brands under the Apple umbrella – each targeting slightly different users and priorities like sound quality, price, design and device integration. Let‘s see how they stack up.

AirPods vs Beats: Model Lineup Comparison

The AirPods lineup consists solely of earbuds in various styles – there are no over-ear headphones under the AirPods brand (the closest thing is the AirPods Max, reviewed later). In contrast, Beats offers a full range spanning in-ears, on-ears and over-ears, though its wireless earbuds get the most attention these days.

Here‘s how the latest headphone model lineups compare:

AirPods Lineup

  • AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) – Updated for 2022 with improved noise cancellation, Transparency Mode, Spatial Audio, and 6 hours of battery life. Retails for $249.
  • AirPods (3rd Generation) – The latest entry-level model has Adaptive EQ, Spatial Audio, Force sensors, and 6 hours of listening. Retails for $179.
  • AirPods (2nd Generation) – Initially released in 2019, still available for $129, now with a standard wireless charging case included.
  • AirPods Max – Over-ear headphones with stellar noise-cancelling, Spatial Audio, and 20+ hour battery. Very pricey at $549.

Beats Lineup

  • Beats Fit Pro – Sports-focused true wireless earbuds with wingtips for stability and Active Noise Cancellation. $200.
  • Beats Studio Buds – Direct AirPods rivals with a sleek, minimalist design, noise cancellation, and 5 hours of listening per charge. $150.
  • Beats Flex – Budget-friendly neckbud style earphones touting 12-hour battery life. $70.
  • Beats Solo Pro – On-ear cans with a slick, foldable design, Transparency Mode, and multi-device pairing. $300.
  • Beats Studio3 – Over-ear flagship headphones promising superior acoustics and noise isolation plus 22-hour playback. $350.

There are also many special and limited edition models available from Beats not listed above. As you can see – Beats edges out AirPods in breadth of headphone selection. Next let‘s see how they fare in more detailed head-to-head matchups.

AirPods Pro vs Beats Fit Pro

The AirPods Pro and Powerbeats Pro are two of the most advanced and capable wireless earbuds you can buy – though with quite different designs and strengths.

Audio Quality: The AirPods Pro have a very balanced, accurate sound profile plus customizable EQ through iOS devices. Beats Fit Pro pumps up the bass and lower mids substantially for a lively, powerful tone aimed at pop/hip hop genres – less accurate but very punchy.

Design: Apple‘s earbuds have an open, universal fit suited to most ears, while the Beats Fit Pro feature integrated wing tips to lock firmly into the ear for active lifestyles. This gives Beats the upper hand for exercise and sports. AirPods may feel more comfortable over long listening sessions though.

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AirPods Pro (left) vs. Beats Fit Pro (right) – very different designs!

Noise Cancellation: Both brands offer excellent active noise cancelling (ANC) that dampens ambient noise considerably. The AirPods have a slight edge on range/bandwidth thanks to Apple‘s latest H2 chip. But the Beats counter with their unique Transparency audio passthrough that really keeps you aware of your surroundings for outdoor safety.

Battery Life: Pretty even at around 5-6 hours of continuous playback, with another 1-2 charges stored in the wireless case. Beats Fast Fuel quick-charging can pump out 1.5 hours of play from a 5 minute USB-C top-up.

Connectivity: No surprises here as both pair seamlessly with Apple devices thanks to the custom Apple chip inside. You also get hands-free "Hey Siri" support. Android compatibility is still quite usable if not totally optimized.

Price: Retail is $249 for the latest AirPods Pro or $200 for the Beats Fit Pro. Both come down fairly regularly though in sales.

For most iPhone loyalists, the richer feature set of the AirPods Pro makes them a slightly better companion to their device. But the Beats Fit Pro earn their keep for iOS users needing something more rugged and bass-forward for active lifestyles, especially at their cheaper price.

Android owners may gravitate toward Beats for wider codec support and tuning that‘s less accurate but potentially more fun.

AirPods Max vs Beats Studio3: Clash of the Cans

Here we have a legendary matchup – Apple‘s first on-ear headphones against Beat‘s long-standing over-ear flagship model. Let‘s unpack where each dominates in this AirPods Max vs Studio3 face-off.

Audio Quality: Both are extremely capable performers, powered by Apple‘s special H1/W1 chips to faithfully render a wide frequency spectrum. Overall though, the richer 40mm drivers and computational audio of the AirPods Max give them the nod – delivering sparkling clarity, gorgeous instrument separation, tight bass and arguably the best sound quality you‘ll find in a wireless pair of cans today. The Beats counterpunch with darker, boomier bass while rolling off the highest treble for a signature sound tailored pleasingly for popular genres if not technical accuracy.

Noise Cancellation: Another win for the AirPods Max with superb ANC that noticeably drops nearby chatter and ambient noise to inky blackness – really immersing you into music or movies. The Studio3 model isn‘t too far off, but its isolation isn‘t quite as impressive side-by-side.

Design + Build: Here the vintage Studio3 shows its merits with a hip, durable design available in slick matte colorways. Those lawsuit-baiting headbands are comfy too. The AirPods Max are undeniably striking too with their knit mesh fabric and pillowy memory foam – but way more delicate and twice the price! For portable use, the Studio3 fold up, while Max don‘t collapse at all.

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Apple‘s AirPods Max (left) next to Beats‘ Studio3 (right) – both fantastic headphones!

Battery Life: Both claim around 20+ hours in ideal conditions. Real-world mileage is dependant on usage of noise-cancelling and other features. Another close matchup.

Connectivity: No major differences as both leverage Apple‘s latest wireless chips for strong, reliable connections to iOS/macOS devices out to 100+ feet and moderate Android performance as well.

Price: Now we get to one massive discrepancy. The AirPods Max demand a steeeep $549 MSRP that‘s $200 more than the Beats Studio3 at $349 retail. And Beat‘s model much more frequently benefits from discounts and sales, sometimes dipping as low as $200 making them an incredible value. Unless you must have the last word in acoustic performance, the extra cost of the Max is very difficult to justify.

For buyers that want a do-it-all set of Apple over-ear headphones with little regard for budget, the AirPods Max deliver sizzling flagship-level sound. But for more price-conscious shoppers, the Beats Studio3 get you 80% there for a lot less. Their stylish design, good audio chops and much cheaper pricing makes the venerable Studio3 hard to pass up.

AirPods (3rd Gen) vs Beats Studio Buds: Battle of the Budget Buds

Here we have two of the most affordable wireless earbud options between AirPods and Beats. Let‘s see how Apple‘s latest entry-level model fares against the impressive Studio Buds.

Sound Quality: Both squeeze impressive clarity out of tiny drivers, though as expected the Beats bump up the bass and lower mids substantially – filling out the bottom end with thunderous impact on hip hop or EDM tracks but sacrificing accuracy. Midrange detail and treble extension take a further hit at louder volumes however. Meanwhile the AirPods (3rd Gen) retain their even-keeled sound signature across the frequency curve for very balanced, genuine playback. Their open design limits richness but produces a pleasing clean tone.

Noise Cancellation: Only the Beats Studio Buds sport active noise cancelling, and it‘s modest but helpful in reducing ambient noise slightly for improved music immersion. Still, flight engine roars and noisy nearby talkers won‘t disappear completely. The AirPod design offers basic passive isolation. Good enough for quieter indoor settings but don‘t expect miracle silence.

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AirPods 3rd Gen (left) vs Beats Studio Buds (right)

Battery + Charging: AirPods squeak out a little over 6 hours of continuous playback compared to the 5 provided by the Beats buds. Their wireless charging case also holds 3 full charges rather than 2 for the Studio Buds‘ case. Both recharge quickly via Lightning or USB-C. Nicely competitive on both sides.

Call Quality: Thanks to Apple‘s beamforming mics and speech-detecting accelerometers, call clarity on the latest AirPods remains exceptional with background noise filtering on phone calls or video chats. Beats don‘t quite match this lofty bar, but callers still find the Studio Buds microphones perfectly usable.

Design: Here we get distinct styling choices. The Beats go for a sleek, low-profile look that nestles nicely into the ear for a subtle statement. AirPods stick with the iconic dangling stem – very recognizable but potentially more intrusive for some ears. With different tip sizes, both can achieve a comfy in-ear fit. AirPods likely handle active use better with their grippy texture.

Connectivity: No huge shocks as both leverage Apple‘s excellent wireless chips. Slight advantage to the H1 chip in the AirPods powering hands-free Siri access. But the Beats aren‘t far behind for iOS pairing and are noticeably better for Android users.

Price: The 3rd Gen AirPods sell for $179 retail, with occasional 10-15% off sales. Beats Studio Buds sticker at $150 without as many major markdowns, selling fairly close to MSRP year-round. Given their noise-cancelling features and cheaper cost, they‘re arguably the "better buy" of the two.

For budget-focused iOS users who want open-style earbuds with great call quality, access to Siri and tight Apple device integration out of the box, the fresh AirPods 3 are appealing all-rounders.

But shoppers wanting modern conveniences like noise cancelling at a more affordable price will love what the Beats Studio Buds bring – they‘re compact, well-designed, and sound great for the money while covering the basics well. Compared to far pricier Pro models, these deliver core features without breaking the bank.

AirPods and Beats – Which Brand Should You Pick?

We‘ve covered a lot of ground comparing AirPods vs Beats across their model ranges. Let‘s sum up what each brand provides to different types of buyers.

🎧 For iPhone/iOS users wanting ultimate integration: Stick with AirPods models all the way. Hands-free "Hey Siri" and multi-device syncing with iCloud just can‘t be matched by Beats. Audiophiles should grab the stellar-sounding AirPods Max in particular.

🎧 For buyers wanting style choices + bass focus: No question, roll with Beats. Their brand has always been about vibrant, fashion-forward design combinations paired with lively, bass-rich audio. Models like the Solo3 really live up to this formula.

🎧 For gym rats/runners needing workout buds: We actually give Beats the nod here – the very sporty Powerbeats Pro is purpose-built for active lifestyles with earhooks and sweat resistance. AirPods aren‘t designed for such intense activities.

🎧 For noise-cancelling on a budget: Check out the impressive yet affordable Studio Buds, keeping ambient noise at bay for just $150. AirPods don‘t offer ANC below the $249 Pro models.

🎧 For Android phone owners: Beats generally offer wider codec support and audio tuning better optimized for non-Apple devices. Definitely consider them first for Samsung, OnePlus or Google Pixel handsets.

Hopefully it‘s easier to parse the differences between these two audio titans owned by Apple. In some cases, choosing between them is mostly a matter of personal taste. But once your priorities are set based on sound, features, price and design – the right pick should emerge! Both AirPods and Beats produce great headphones for Apple users; yours just depends on what‘s most important day to day.

What about you – which brand do you side with, AirPods or Beats? Have any particular model recommendations or advice? Let me know in the comments!

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