The Beats Flex Are the Best Cheap Bluetooth Earbuds You Can Buy

Illustration for article titled The Beats Flex Are the Best Cheap Bluetooth Earbuds You Can Buy
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Cheap Bluetooth earbuds are usually very shitty. You have to make trade-offs for the lower price tag, which means that, depending on the earbuds, you end up sacrificing battery life, audio quality, or Bluetooth performance. But after nearly a week of using the $50 Beats Flex, I can’t find a single downside. These earbuds are a steal.

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The audio world has fully embraced completely wireless earbuds, but they don’t come cheap. Beats’ top-of-the-line Bluetooth buds, Powerbeats Pro, are $250. So are Apple’s AirPods Pro. Wire-free options also aren’t without their issues; I myself have had trouble with the charging cases on both the base model AirPods and the Pro version. And some people just flat-out don’t want completely wireless earbuds, which can be easily misplaced. So Apple-owned Beats made the $50 Flex as an entry-level Bluetooth option for iPhone users (though the buds also pair fine with Android phones). They just work, no thought required.

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I haven’t worn a pair of corded Bluetooth earbuds in a minute, so I was curious to see whether the neckband design of Beats Flex feels like a downgrade. It doesn’t. The buds themselves, which come with four sizes of silicone ear tips to choose from, are incredibly lightweight. The neckband is well-balanced with a power button on the right and volume controls and a multi-function button on the left. The button lets you play or pause tracks with a single press, or skip tracks with a double-press. You can also summon Siri with a long press for more granular music controls using your voice in Apple Music.

Basically, Beats Flex look and feel like a more premium version of the three-year-old Beats X—for $100 less. The buds even retain the magnetic connector that snaps them together when they’re not in your ears. That connector automatically pauses whatever you’re listening to.

The cord is lightweight and the controls on each side balance each other out.
The cord is lightweight and the controls on each side balance each other out.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

The Flex, despite being drastically cheaper than the Beats X, sport upgraded audio, including a new driver and laser-cut vents on each bud to relieve ear pressure. Beats has also improved the digital processor that tunes your tunes, and the results are well-balanced. On a layered track with a lot going on like “I Know the End” by Phoebe Bridgers, the Flex easily separated the horns, rollicking guitar, drums, and Bridgers’ screams. The same was true of Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs,” in which the percussion, piano, and guitars backing Stevie Nicks’ impassioned chorus were clear and distinct.

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It’s well established that Beats products are bass-forward, and while I think Beats has become less heavy-handed in that arena with recent releases, bass lines shine with no fuzz whatsoever on the Flex—a rarity for cheap earbuds. I listen to dance-y tracks when I run outside, and though the Flex lacks active noise cancellation, I couldn’t hear much ambient street noise while I pounded the pavement. Saweetie’s “Tap In,” which uses Too Short’s signature “Blow the Whistle” hook, absolutely slaps on the Flex, as does Bad Bunny’s “Yo Perreo Sola,” which features a classic reggaeton beat and drums.

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I’ve been using the Flex for close to a week now for a couple of hours each day, listening to jams while I work out and podcasts while on long walks or watering the lawn. I just hit the 20% mark, which mean the Flex can easily last a week on a charge. (Apple promises 12 hours of battery life.) Even better, Beats finally embraced USB-C with these earbuds, so you no longer need a Lightning cable to charge up. This makes the Flex a more appealing buy for Android users, who likely have no Lightning cables on hand. The USB-C cord included in the box is, like, two inches long, rendering it almost useless. But it’s the thought that counts, I suppose.

You get a little more out of the Flex with an iPhone due to the earbuds’ built-in Apple W1 chip. The pairing process is as seamless as pairing AirPods; simply power on the Flex next to your iPhone and the phone will immediately recognize the earbuds. Tap to complete the pairing process, and you’re set. You can also use the iOS Audio Sharing feature with Flex to stream audio from one Apple device to another pair of Beats or AirPods. I tested this feature by sneak attacking my husband with Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “W.A.P.” as he wore his AirPods, and it was a delight.

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Beats Flex can take advantage of iOS features like audio sharing.
Beats Flex can take advantage of iOS features like audio sharing.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

For $50, I wasn’t expecting all that much, but the Beats Flex are a pleasant surprise. You get an Apple experience for much less than most Apple products cost, and you don’t have to give up any important features. The audio quality is great, and the battery life is solid. My one criticism is that the neckband design does seem a bit outdated in 2020, but for some folks, this design is just more useful. Most importantly, the price is right.

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README

  • $50! For very good earbuds!
  • Audio quality for the price is superb.
  • The buds themselves are comfortable to wear, with four tip sizes to choose from.
  • The experience of using Flex with an iPhone is similar to using AirPods, with seamless pairing and iOS-specific audio features.
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Consumer tech editor, Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

Onn bluetooth ear buds at Walmart. $10. Sound is passable, I can get nearly 8 hours of listening on them, and I wear them at work all day, most days. They’re moderately comfortable, although the 2-piece ear bud rubbers aren’t the best design. Phone performance is adequate.

And at that price if I lose them I don’t care. I actually have two pairs of them and I’ve had both for more than two years now. They still work.

Would I use them for serious music consumption? Hell no. That’s what my Sony MDR7508 headphones are for. For listening to audio books, podcasts, and light music while working or exercising? Can’t beat ‘em for the price.

So go ahead and pay $50 for little more than exactly the same thing.  It’s your nickel.