Like 'em or hate 'em, Apple's AirPods have been the talk of the headphone world ever since they were announced alongside the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus back in September 2016. But there's another Apple wireless headphone from the company's Beats by Dre subsidiary that's also received its share of buzz: The BeatsX ($150, £130, AU$200). And like the AirPods, the BeatsX was also delayed, but it's officially available as of February 10.
The BeatsX employs Apple's new custom low-power Bluetooth chip, the W1, which is also found in the AirPods, PowerBeats3 Wireless and the Solo3 Wireless, and allows for automatic pairing with Apple devices updated with the latest versions of its operating systems (iOS 10, MacOS Sierra and WatchOS 3). But among that trio of new Beats models, the BeatsX is the only truly fresh model, and the first one designed with the help of Apple's design and engineering teams. (The PowerBeats3 Wireless and Solo3 Wireless just updated the previous models in their respective lines with Apple's new wireless chip.) Another bonus: the BeatsX is the only one that charges with a Lightning cable.
Ultimately, the BeatsX is a fresh take -- or really Apple's take -- on the neckband-style wireless headphone that LG made so popular with its Tone headsets and has been copied in recent years by an assortment of other companies. As in the past, Apple and Beats haven't reinvented the mousetrap so to speak, but they have built a better one.
The BeatsX's neckband -- Beats calls it a Flex-Form cable -- has two wires running through it that are made of nickel titanium alloy or nitinol, which was developed by the US Navy in the late 1950s and is very malleable, durable and lightweight. The key to it here is that it gives the band just enough rigidity and allows you to roll up the headphone so it fits it in an included compact carrying case. You can't do that with an LG Tone headset. (Side note: the soft-to-touch rubber carrying case is a bit of a dust magnet.)
It's also worth noting that the cable is anchored to your neck with two equally weighted bulges in the cord, one of which houses the battery and the other the headphone's electronics. This really isn't any different from what you find with other current neckband-style headphones, such as Skullcandy's affordable Ink'd Wireless, but the BeatsX's design is decidedly slicker and seemingly more durable.
The lightweight magnetized buds, which house 8mm drivers, adhere to each other, so you can pin them together when they're not in your ears and wear them like a pendant. Like other neckband-style headphones, these are designed to be worn around all day and they're light enough to make you forget you're wearing them (when they aren't in your ears anyway). The only design gripe I have is that the cords may seem a little long to some people -- by that I mean people with smaller necks.
In the box, you'll find four different sizes of eartips and a couple of sizes of fins to anchor the buds in your ears. You can opt to use the fins or not, but if you're doing anything active, like running, you'll want to use them; they work well and fit comfortably. The headphones are water-resistant, according to Beats, but are not waterproof.
I got a pretty tight seal with the medium tip but ended up opting for the larger one because it offered the best seal. Like other in-ear noise-isolating headphones, it's crucial to get a good seal to maximize sound quality and bass response.
To its credit, Beats has been trying to get away from its earlier reputation as a company that made uber-popular headphones that sounded mediocre thanks to their loose, bloated bass and lack of detail. The BeatsX has more bass and overall bigger, slightly richer sound than the AirPods, but they can't be accused of having too much bass. As always, whether one prefers that deeper sound to that of the AirPods is totally a personal preference.
I liked their sound, especially for a Bluetooth headphone of this type (they sound very good for a neckband-style Bluetooth 'phone). Ironically, however, my quibbles are with the treble, not the bass. Some may find this headphone has a touch too much sizzle. We audio reviewers sometimes refer to this as sibilance, and it's most noticeable with high-hat strikes and tambourine shakes but also creeps into the upper mids (there's a bit of a harshness to the vocals of The Veronicas' "You Ruin Me" track, for example).
Like the PowerBeats3, the BeatsX has an integrated microphone and Beats has redesigned the RemoteTalk button to make it more tactile and responsive (it's definitely improved). I had no problems making calls -- sound quality seemed quite good and callers said they had no problem hearing me, though they lack the vibration feature of the LG Tone models. I'm not quite ready to declare the BeatsX better or worse than the AirPods at making calls, but I will say that since this is a noise-isolating headphone, it's a little easier to hear people in noisier environments. (We