It’s not just Apple that is announcing new products on Tuesday: the company’s Beats subsidiary has unveiled its latest set of wireless headphones, the Beats Flex, as well. The new model is up for preorder today for $ 50 on Apple.com and will begin shipping on October 21.
The Beats Flex are the successor to the BeatsX, which the manufacturer released in 2017. Like that pair, the Flex are neckband-style wireless earphones. That means they connect over Bluetooth but aren’t totally devoid of wires a la Apple’s AirPods or Beats’ own Powerbeats Pro. Instead, the Flex’s earpieces are attached via a cable that extends behind your neck and has built-in modules for its microphone and call/music controls.
Beats is promising improved sound quality compared to the BeatsX with the help of a redesigned driver, along with greater clarity during phone calls and a design that’s 8 percent lighter. (For reference, the BeatsX only weighed 0.05 lbs.) The earpieces can still connect magnetically when not in use, and Beats says the whole thing now supports auto-play/pause, so they’ll automatically stop or resume your audio whenever they’re removed or put back on.
Beats rates the Flex’s battery life at 12 hours, a step up from its 8-hour estimate for the BeatsX and a solid-if-unspectacular figure in general. The earphones now charge over USB-C instead of Lightning, too, which should make them more accommodating to iPads and Android devices.
That said, the Flex still utilize Apple’s W1 wireless chip, which gives iPhone and iPad owners a simplified pairing process and the ability to quickly switch between devices synced to an iCloud account. The Flex also supports Apple’s “Audio Sharing” feature when used with AirPods or other recent Beats headphones. Beyond that, there’s a Class 1 Bluetooth radio that should help keep a steady connection over longer ranges. (This was a strength of the BeatsX previously.)
It’s worth noting that the W1 is not Apple’s newest wireless chip for audio products, though: that would be the H1, which the company launched in March 2019 and implemented in the most recent AirPods, AirPods Pro, and several other Beats headphones since. The Flex misses out on that chip’s hands-free Siri support, battery efficiency, and faster connect times. Likewise, Beats did not mention any ability for the Flex to pair with multiple devices simultaneously, and it did not specify any IPX rating for sweat resistance. So, they may not be ideal for workouts.
Still, Beats is hoping the Flex’s relatively low price will be enough to offset any trade-offs. At $ 50, the earphones come in well below the BeatsX’s original $ 150 MSRP and technically stand as the cheapest product with Apple audio silicon. Beats headphones have generally been more open to Android users than AirPods, too, due to their having a companion app on the platform.
Personally, I reviewed the BeatsX favorably around the time they first launched. I found them comfortable with a respectable bass-first sound and strong passive noise isolation. A smattering of users did report issues with that pair’s reliability over time, however, and the neckband design is harder to forget about than true wireless headphones.
In general, Beats continues to exist in a somewhat awkward position as its parent company grows increasingly invested in personal audio. Its headphones remain hugely popular, but its lineup now competes directly with Apple-branded devices like the AirPods and AirPods Pro. The company first made its name selling expensive—some would say overpriced—headphones bolstered by high-profile marketing, but with the Flex, Beats is in the rare position of explicitly targeting budget-minded buyers. With the latest iPhones ditching their pack-in earbuds, though the Flex may appeal to those who’d like a pair of Apple-made headphones but don’t want to pony up for AirPods.
Listing image by Beats