Years after ditching the headphone jack, Apple is now doing away with including a pair EarPods with its latest iPhones. That makes finding a pair of affordable earphones more of a necessity than a luxury. Not everyone is in love with true wireless, cable-free options—they tend to be expensive and have mediocre battery life. This is where earphones like the $49.99 Beats Flex (seemingly a successor to the discontinued BeatsX) fit in perfectly, with a neckband-style design and roughly 12 hours of battery life. If you have an iOS device, the earphones also feature Apple's W1 chip (Beats is owned by Apple) for seamless pairing, just like the far more expensive $250 Airpods Pro. From an audio perspective, the Beats deliver a bass-forward sound signature with plenty of sculpting in the highs, and with features like audio sharing and easy-to-use controls, there's plenty to like for the price.
Available in black, blue, gray, or yellow models, the Flex’s neckband design features two compartments that help keep the cable in place, while also housing ports and controls. The left compartment has a multifunction button that controls various functions (playback, track navigation, call management, and voice assistant), as well as a volume rocker and microphone. The right compartment houses a single button for power and pairing.
The Flex’s earpieces magnetically snap together when not in use, making them easy to wear around the neck—and when they snap together, audio pauses automatically to save battery life.
The in-ear fit is secure, particularly because the design eliminates any cable tug. There are four total pairs of silicone eartips included, in various sizes. In addition to the eartips, there’s a short USB-C cable for charging, which connects to an uncovered port on the left compartment.
The earphones look like they’d be good for the gym, but there’s actually no IP (ingress protection) rating, so we can’t recommend wearing them in the rain, getting them sweaty, or rinsing them off. That said, Beats reps inform us that the USB-C connector is waterproof, and the buttons are sealed to prevent potential liquid ingress. So there is a degree of water resistance here, but without a rating to give us a concrete idea of just how water resistant the earphones are, you'd be wise to avoid getting them wet.
Apple's W1 chip is included for seamless pairing—powering the earphones on near an iOS device immediately initiates an on-screen pairing prompt. Another iOS perk: Two pairs of Flex earphones can share the same sound source. All you need to do is have the second pair near your device and follow the on-screen prompts to share audio. There's no app for iOS users, but there is an app for Android with some basic features like a battery status readout, firmware updates, device naming, and a quick pairing function.
The earphones are compatible with Bluetooth 5.0 and support AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but not AptX. A Class 1 Bluetooth rating means they support connections up to 300 feet, which is well beyond the typical 30-foot range you get with most Class 2 Bluetooth devices.
Beats estimates battery life to be roughly 12 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels.
What’s missing? The USB-C cable would be far more useful if it shipped with an adapter for USB-A ports. If your charging station or computer lacks a USB-C port, you’ll need to buy an adapter or a USB-C-to-USB-A cable.
Internally, 8.2mm drivers deliver the audio. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones deliver some serious low-frequency thump. At top, unwise listening levels, this track doesn’t distort, and at more moderate volumes, the bass is still powerful.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Flex’s general sound signature. The drums on this track get some added heft—they sound almost too thunderous, but thanks to sculpting in the highs, the overall sound signature is balanced. Callahan’s baritone vocals get some added low-mid richness, but also some treble edge so that things never sound muddy. The acoustic strums are bright and crisp. This is a dialed-up, bass-forward sound signature with equal doses of brightness.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives enough high-mid presence for its attack to retain it punchiness, but we notice the background vinyl hiss and crackle even more so—the high-mids are sculpted, but the highs seem to be notably boosted, as well. There’s some added thump to the drum loop, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with power and depth—these earphones will not disappoint lovers of boosted bass. The vocals are delivered cleanly and clearly, though some sibilance is added to the mix.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound heavily sculpted through the Flex. It’s not an awful sound, but not an accurate one, either—the lows are dialed up notably, and the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals are more crisp and bright than usual. Despite all of the boosting and sculpting, things still sound balanced.
The mic offers decent intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 8, we could understand every word recorded clearly. The signal was strong, despite some typical Bluetooth distortion fuzzing up the edges of words.
Most of the Bluetooth in-ears we test now are cable-free, which makes the Beats Flex a somewhat unique offering in 2020—not only do they have a cable, but they're affordable, and armed with sophisticated Bluetooth technology that allows for seamless pairing with iOS devices, audio sharing, and long-range listening. For $50, that’s a solid feature set, before we even talk about the audio performance, which is heavily boosted and sculpted, but will appeal to bass lovers. In this price range, we're starting to see a few interesting true wireless options, some of which are even gym-friendly with water-resistant builds, like the $60 EarFun Air or the $35 Tribit FlyBuds 3. For the price, however, the Beats Flex deliver a commendable user experience and solid audio for anyone who wants added bass depth with balance.
The Bottom Line
The Beats Flex earphones offers a bass-forward sound signature and the easy connectivity of Apple’s W1 chip for just $50.
Beats Flex Specs
|Active Noise Cancellation||No|
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