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Beats Flex unveiled: Apple’s cheapest wireless headphones are $50 – CNET

The Beats Flex will initially ship in black and yellow with light blue and gray colors to arrive in early 2021.

Apple

This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

At today’s iPhone 12 event, Apple didn’t announce its long-rumored, highly anticipated full-size Studio AirPods headphones. But it offered up a small consolation prize: BeatsX, the once-popular neckband-style headphone, has been upgraded and renamed Beats Flex and had its price slashed to $50 (£50, AU$80). 

Beats, owned by Apple since 2014, says the Beats Flex are its “most affordable premium wireless earphones to date,” delivering “a high-quality sound experience for a fraction of the cost of its predecessor.” When they launched in Feb. 2017, the BeatsX cost $150 but you can now get them for as low as $70.

With the new iPhone 12 models no longer including wired EarPods headphones in the box, the Beats Flex becomes an affordable Apple-friendly wireless headphone alternative to the AirPods, which start around $130 for the standard version with a wired charging case. That said, that’s still $50 more than “included for free,” which has been the case for headphones (and power adapters) for every iPhone since its launch in 2007. And, if you want to use any old-fashioned wired headphone, you’ll need that pesky $8 adapter

The Beats Flex moves the inline microphone lower on the cord.

Apple

The Beats Flex earphones look very similar to their predecessor, but there’s one notable design difference: The inline microphone and control module has been removed and incorporated into a module lower on the cord (on the left side) that rests at the base of your neck. As a result, the earphones should feel better balanced.

Some of the other key upgrades include new acoustic drivers for improved sound, an upgraded microphone for improved voice calling, magnetic auto-play/pause earbuds and 12-hour battery life (up from 8 hours). The Flex is also the first Apple headphone to have USB-C charging, with a 10-minute charge giving you 1.5 hours of playback.

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Unlike the AirPods, the Flex has cords.

Apple

The Beats Flex has Apple’s older W1 chip, not the H1 found in the second-generation AirPods and AirPods Pro and also in the Beats Solo Pro. The W1 gives you Apple’s easy-pairing feature with any of your Apple devices that are synced to iCloud and allows you to switch between Apple devices, check battery status or use Audio Sharing with a friend using Beats or Apple headphones (with the W1 chip). Android users can download the Beats app from the Google Play Store to get additional features like quick-pairing, device status (i.e. battery levels) and firmware updates.

BeatsX vs. Beats Flex

I liked the BeatsX but they did have a little presence boost (treble push) that could lead to some listening fatigue. Supposedly, the Flex won’t have that issue. Designed by Apple engineers, the new drivers employ “a proprietary layered driver with dual-chamber acoustics to achieve rich, balanced sound with outstanding stereo separation,” according to Beats.

While they come with four different-size ear tips to help you get a tight seal, I do wish they included a sport fin so you could really lock them in your ears for sporting activities. That said, the earbuds, like the standard AirPods, are not sweat- or water-resistant (they have no IPX rating). Plenty of people run and work out with the AirPods without ill-effect, but Beats would steer you toward its Powerbeats Pro if you want true sports earbuds. 

The other issue, of course, is that the Beats Flex are “wired wireless” headphones — with a cable connecting the left and right earbud — at a time when budget true wireless earbuds are widely available for $50 or less. They may not sound as good, and they won’t have those fancy W1 features that allow for easy connection to other Apple devices, but they don’t have those old-fashioned wires found on the Beats Flex, either.

The Beats Flex ship on Oct. 21 in two color options — Beats Black and Yuzu Yellow — and can be preordered now. Smoke Gray and Flame Blue colors are coming in early 2021. We’ll post a full review of the Beats Flex in the coming days.

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The gray and blue versions will be available in early 2021.

Apple

Beats Flex key specs

According to Beats:

  • New acoustic drivers
  • Magnetic earbuds automatically play music when they’re in your ears and pause audio when they’re attached around your neck.
  • Upgraded built-in microphone helps reduce wind noise
  • USB-C charging
  • 12 hours of listening time.
  • 10-minute Fast Fuel charging gives you 1.5 hours of playback.
  • On-device controls allow you to adjust volume as well as manage music, take calls, or activate your voice assistant.
  • Beats app for Android users
  • Price: $50 (£50, AU$80)
  • Four color options: Beats Black, Yuzu Yellow (available now); Smoke Gray and Flame Blue (available early 2021)
  • Available for preorder now, shipping Oct. 21

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