From the outside, Beats’ new over-the-ear headphones, the Studio 3, look exactly like the Studio 2 and the Studio 1. They have the big can ears, the prominent “b” logo, the slick unibody headband. What’s different is less visible.
Like the Studio 2, the new wireless headphones are noise canceling—but not in the way you’re used to. The new cans use Pure ANC, a technology that continuously monitors ambient noise and dynamically alters its noise-cancelling approach as the surrounding sound changes.
Typical noise canceling headphones use microphones on the outside of the headphones to pick up unwanted noise, whether from a jet engine overheard or the chatter of someone next to you on the subway. Software then recreates the amplitude and sound wave of that noise and inverts it 180 degrees. When piped in through your headphones, the noise mixes with the ambient sound, effectively canceling it out and allowing you to better hear your music.
The problem? “Traditional noise canceling is the enemy of good sound,” says Luke Wood, president of Beats. “Those things are diametrically opposed.” Most noise canceling technology is applied like a blanket. It’s very good at blocking the low hum of a jet engine or even adult voices, but not so good at canceling midrange sounds, like a crying baby or wind whipping against your headphones.
Similar to other ANC headphones, the Studio 3 uses two microphones to pick up ambient sound. But it also has software that continually compares the ANC-altered music with the original sound file on your device. “We overlay the two in real time and see where there are artifacts and anomalies in the two waveforms,” Wood says. From there, Beats’ software strips out digital artifacts, like spikes in the low end from canceling out a bus or jet engine, and reverts the digital file back to its original sound. This monitoring happens 50,000 times a second—basically in real time—which makes the alterations barely perceptible. You’ll notice the music in your headphones, and nada else.
This kind of continuous processing power usually means a tradeoff in battery life, but Beats claims its Studio 3 will last 22 hours with ANC, or 40 if you turn it off. When you get down to two hours, the headphones automatically switch into power saving mode, which turns off ANC and extends battery life for another hour and 45 minutes. Those energy savings come from Apple’s proprietary silicon chip, the W1, which makes Bluetooth more efficient and easier to use. (Beats will automatically connect to Apple products—no pairing necessary.)
These seeming incremental technology improvements don’t lend themselves to a flashy new pair of headphones. But they do add up to a better experience. If Beats’ new ANC technology does its job well, you won’t notice it at all.