Long-awaited successor Beats Solo 4 in the test: Not big enough

It's been eight years since Beats last updated its most popular and affordable headphones. The successor, the Beats Solo 4, is now appearing. He's doing a lot of things right. The test reveals why it is still not a good choice for everyone.

Eight years is a long time. In 2016, Germany hoped to win the European Championship and Donald Trump wanted to become president. Both are true now – and yet the world has continued to move rapidly since then. A lot has also happened on the headphone market. Can the Beats Solo 4 keep up?

There are initially no major experiments in design. The Solo 4 relies on the typical Beats look. The plastic casing, available in black, light pink and a chic shade of blue, looks familiar. The ear cups are now made of soft faux leather and are comfortable on the ears.

Beats Solo 4 in the test: Not for big-headed people

The Solo 4 don't completely cover the ear, they just rest on it (“on-ear” instead of “over-ear”). So that they still block out external noise, they sit very tightly on the ear. The firm fit also has the advantage that the headphones do not slip easily even when moving and stay firmly on the ears when walking or doing sports.

But that can also be a disadvantage: for both me and my wife, the Solo 4 were simply too small. After a while, the pressure from the pillows on my ears becomes rather uncomfortable; after an hour, the shells left me with visible pressure points and redness.

The adjustable temples didn't change that: they increase the distance between the ear cups, but more upwards than in width. After a while I had to admit to myself: Unfortunately, these headphones are not built for me.

With its jack connection, the Beats Solo 4 can even be used for older audio devices such as an iPod Nano

© Malte Mansholt / stern

Tweaked the sound

This is particularly a shame because the Apple subsidiary has done a lot right when it comes to sound. The speaker architecture has been completely redesigned. The Solo 4 offer the typical bass-heavy Beats sound without crushing the highs and mids. Modern music in particular comes into its own with them. Since there is no equalizer, Beats relies on a very balanced mix that works well across many audio formats, but does not stand out in terms of sound in any of them.

A big plus: Unlike the manufacturer's more expensive models, the Solo 4 can still be used with a cable. Beats promises that there will be no differences in sound between connecting via jack, USB-C or Bluetooth. The only exception: Lossless formats can only develop their full sound splendor via cable.

Some audio innovations from recent years are also on board. The most important one is certainly spatial audio. For the first time, the Solo headphones now also support 3D sound. Provided you have the right media, it looks as if there are 64 speakers distributed throughout the room. This already sounds strong with music, but it has a special effect on films and series. Every raindrop, every rustle and every explosion can be precisely located in the room. An effect that also works great with the Solo 4. To enhance the effect, they also detect the movement of the head and adjust the sound accordingly.

With the Micro, Beats also relies on revised technology: thanks to AI training, the microphone unit now filters out background noise even better to make calls appear clearer.

No premium features

It's a shame: The Solo 4 doesn't offer noise canceling, i.e. active noise suppression, nor does it offer a transparency mode. At Apple, these functions remain reserved for the premium models. However, when it comes to noise, the tight-fitting ear cup can do a lot on its own: If you only listen to quiet music, conversations or traffic noise can only be heard in the distance.

Of course, this also has disadvantages. During the test, I didn't notice several times that someone was trying to talk to me. You should therefore not wear the Solo 4 on your bike. A transparency mode in which the outside noise is passed on to the inside would be really desirable here.

The Beats Solo 4 in Slate Blue

The predecessor still relied on Micro-USB, the Beats Solo 4 charges via USB-C. Good: if it is connected to the smartphone, you can continue listening while charging

© Malte Mansholt / stern

Other missing premium functions are more convenience functions. Unlike the one that is no longer manufactured Beats Solo Pro (you can find the test here) the Solo 4 does not switch off when you fold in the brackets. In addition, it does not recognize whether it is currently being worn. Instead, you always have to switch it on and off manually using a button – or it will continue to whine away.

This of course reduces the running time: According to the manufacturer, the Solo 4 should last for almost 50 hours, and in the practical test this seems realistic. If the Solo 4 is empty, it's not the end of the world: the headphones can be filled with juice for up to five hours in ten minutes using the new USB-C port. And you can also listen to music without it: if the Beats Solo 4 is connected via cable, it doesn't need its own power supply.

All-rounder for Android and iOS

Another omission is actually a plus: Unlike most Beats models, the Solo 4 does not rely on Apple's in-house chips from the H or W series, which enable faster pairing. Instead, a specially developed chip is installed. Overall, this is an advantage: the Beats Solo 4 chip allows you to take advantage of the advantages of both the Apple and Google ecosystems.

The setup works on both an iPhone and an Android device by simply switching on the headphones – and the first pairing is offered on the nearby smartphone. The headphones can also be easily passed on across multiple devices if the systems support it and the same user is logged in. This means that the Solo 4 offers both Apple and Google users almost all of the same functions – unlike the case with the Airpods, for example. The only differences: Spatial Audio, Siri activation by voice and audio sharing, i.e. sharing music with compatible Apple headphones, are not available for Android.

Conclusion Beats Solo 4: Modern, but not big enough

With the Beats Solo 4, Beats has given its best-selling headphones a long-needed update. The improved sound, the new ear cups and modern audio functions such as spatial audio and audio sharing are welcome innovations. It's a shame: the omission of noise canceling and convenience functions such as switching off by closing the device still leaves a noticeable gap between it and its premium siblings.

This is a problem, especially because of the price: the Solo 4 costs 230 euros. But for just under 40 euros more you can get the Beats Studio Pro – which sits more comfortably and offers active noise canceling. And that's just the competition in-house. Good alternatives like the Sony WH-1000XM3 also offer premium features – and some cost less than the Solo 4. Its price is therefore likely to fall relatively quickly.

In case of doubt, the biggest exclusion criterion is the narrow fit: you should definitely try the headphones on before buying. If you have a wider head, you might not be happy with the Solo 4.

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