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Apple headphone shootout: Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max

Beats Solo 4 [left], AirPods Max [right]

Beats Solo 4 offer a premium experience at less than half the cost of Apple's AirPods Max. Here's how the two Apple offerings compare.

At the end of April, Beats finally updated its seven-year-old Solo3 with a new model. The Beats Solo 4 built upon the legacy of the previous version, but added many improvements.

To Apple users keen to stay within the ecosystem, this gives them a new third headphone option. Aside from the replaced Solo3, there's also Beats Studio Pro and the Apple-branded AirPods Max.

The variety of changes that Beats includes in the Solo 4, as well as its pricing, certainly makes it a premium product. It may also be one that could pull away potential buyers of the ultra-premium AirPods Max.

Here, therefore, are the key details of each headphone. All to help you decide whether to splash out on the AirPods Max or to save money and get the Solo 4.

Beats Solo 4 Headphones in Slate Blue

Beats Solo 4

Beats Solo 4 Headphones offer up to 50 hours of battery life and are compatible with iOS and Android devices.

Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max - Specifications

SpecificationsAirPods MaxBeats Solo 4
Weight13.6 ounces7.65 ounces
ProcessorApple H1Beats Proprietary
Primary MaterialAluminumPlastic
Noise CancellationYesNo
Spatial AudioYesYes
Charging portLightningUSB-C
Battery Life20 hours ANC on50 hours
ControlsDigital Crown,
Space Grey,
Sky Blue,
Matte Black,
Slate Blue,
Cloud Pink

Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max - Physical design

The Beats Solo 4 is designed to be a portable pair of headphones, that can also have great build quality. While chiefly plastic in construction, the Solo 4 also has colored metal accents and extendable sections.

The head band is rubberized with a comfortable padding. The earcups too also have a nice sponginess to the cushioning, but they are of the on-ear variety rather than completely covering the ear.

Where the use case for the Solo 4 is for on-the-go listening and an active lifestyle, the AirPods Max differ greatly. As a product that oozes premium, it's certainly not intended to be worn during a workout.

Blue over-ear Beats Solo 4 headphones on a wooden desk.
Beats Solo 4 is lightweight, and can fold down for easier travel storage.

The AirPods Max are made from aluminum and steel, complete with telescoping arms. A mesh textile is used on the ear cushions, which fit over the user's ears.

The headband also uses a wide canopy design, using stainless steel arms and a breathable knit mesh. While not padded, the way the mesh is used results in a springy headband design, despite no foam.

The difference in construction materials means there's a big difference in terms of weight. At 13.6 ounces, the AirPods Max are almost twice the 7.65 ounces of the Solo 4.

This does make the AirPods Max better suited to more relaxed environments than the Beats rival.

Another big difference is in packing the headphones away for storage. The Beats Solo 4 has a neat folding mechanism, making it take up a reasonably small amount of space when not in use.

You cannot fold the AirPods Max the same way. Instead, you can rotate the earcups to make the headphones flat, and use a supplied carry case.

The Beats Solo 4 and the supplied carry case
The Beats Solo 4 and the supplied carry case

That Smart Case is made especially for the AirPods Max. You do get a case with the Solo 4, but it is a more modest fabric cube with Beats branding.

The Beats logo on one ear is also used to handle media playback and volume.

The AirPods Max uses a Digital Crown as a combo knob and button control. There's also a noise control button, used to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode.

Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max - Audio processing and ANC

Apple tends to include the same chips and components across multiple products. It's not always the case, as demonstrated by Beats Solo 4.

The AirPods Max has Apple's H1 headphone chip in each earcup, which handle all of the processing needed for its audio functionality. Part of this is the management of Apple's custom-designed 40mm dynamic drivers, which aims for a neutral profile.

The Solo 4 instead uses "Beats Proprietary Platform" for its audio, including Beats' own chip. This allows Beats to work better with Android devices, with more features supported on the platform.

Beats does use 40-millimeter drivers, but based on the Solo3. As part of it, Beats custom-designed a passively-tuned dynamic diaphragm transducer.

This means Beats had to tweak the design to create its ideal sound profile rather than allow an active equalizer to do the work. It also means there's no active EQ, something that the AirPods Max benefit from using.

The processing, as well as the differences in on-ear and over-ear designs for the Solo 4 and AirPods Max respectively, also play into another big difference. The lack of ANC on the Solo 4.

Apple has active noise cancellation in the AirPods Max, with eight of the nine microphones used for ANC purposes. It also includes Transparency mode, which lets users hear some environmental noise while blocking out others.

There is no ANC on the Solo 4, but it is usually offered as a premium feature to consumers. It's one that can cause consumers to pay a bit more for the upgrade.

Then again, there are many other features to the Solo 4 that can make up for that shortfall.

Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max - Features

Since Apple is heavily involved in Beats, there's quite a lot of crossover between the two headphones. Mostly, this is down to the integration with Apple's operating systems allowing many features to exist in the first place.

For example, both sets of headphones have Spatial Audio. This feature allows music and video encoded in Dolby Atmos to be played as if it's in a 3D space.

Beats Solo 4 pairing in iOS, Find My, and Spatial Audio options
Beats Solo 4 pairing in iOS, Find My, and Spatial Audio options

Both also support dynamic head tracking, so users can turn their head and the audio elements stay in their relative positions. There's also Personalized Spatial Audio support, customizing the feature for each user.

Then there are things like one-touch pairing, which both headphones use for iOS devices. There's also Hey Siri support as well, saving users from having to press a button to trigger the digital assistant.

There's even Find My support, so you won't as easily loose the headphones.

Where the AirPods Max goes better than the Solo 4 are in other features, such as having an adaptive EQ. There are also optical, position, and case detection sensors to help power it down when not in use.

The difference in processing also gives Beats an advantage over the AirPods Max, specifically over its support of Android.

Android's equivalent of one-touch pairing, can be used by Beats. Google Find My Device is also available if you need to track down the misplaced Solo 4.

There isn't any of the iOS deep integration in Android. Therefore there is a need to use the Beats app to perform customization and software updates when required.

You can connect AirPods Max with an Android device, but it's typically handled like any other Bluetooth headphones.

Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max - Connectivity

For wireless audio, both headphones use Bluetooth. The AirPods Max uses the older Bluetooth 5.0 standard, while the Solo 4 uses Bluetooth 5.3.

Physical connectivity is an option too, albeit with variations.

A pair of blue over-ear headphones resting on a wooden surface with electronic devices in the background.
The USB-C and headphone ports on the Beats Solo 4The USB-C and headphone ports on the Beats Solo 4The USB-C and headphone ports on the Beats Solo 4

Both headphones can connect to the USB-C port of a device. However, the AirPods Max relies on the included USB-C to Lightning cable to connect to its Lightning port for charging.

The Solo 4 has a USB-C port in the base, so it can work with USB-C to USB-C or USB-C to USB-A cables.

You can connect both to 3.5mm headphone jacks, which can allow the playback of lossless audio. While the Beats Solo 4 uses an included 3.5mm-to-3.5mm audio cable, the AirPods Max uses a Lightning-to-3.5mm cable.

Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max - Battery life

Battery life is always quite high when it comes to premium headphones, and there's no exception here.

The Beats Solo 4 can last for up to 50 hours from a single charge. The Fast Fuel quick-charging system supplies up to 5 hours of playback from a 10-minute charge.

The AirPods Max offers up to 20 hours of listening or talk time from one single charge. However, this is said by Apple to cover usage with ANC or Transparency enabled, movie playback with Spatial Audio on, or talk-time.

These actions require active processing, more so than standard playback without the bells and whistles.

The battery life therefore isn't directly comparable, because they're being measured in different ways. But it's safe to say that they will each get a listener through a full day, or even a weekend, of listening.

Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max - Two very different headphones

The AirPods Max and the Beats Solo 4 are certainly premium-priced for the market. At $199.99, the Solo 4 certainly counts, with the AirPods Max going higher to $549.

They're also headphones intended for very different markets.

Close-up of a blue headphone with a prominent lower-case 'b' logo on the earcup, with a blurred background.
The Beats Solo 4 branding also act as control buttons. The Beats Solo 4 branding also act as control buttons. The Beats Solo 4 branding also act as control buttons.

The light plastic construction of the Beats Solo 4 is an attractive prospect for people with active lifestyles. People who want highly portable headphones that won't weigh them down throughout the day.

The AirPods Max is more of a luxury item, in its metal-heavy build and its considerable mass. While you may be walking in a park with the Solo 4, the AirPods Max seems like something better used while lounging at home.

While it lacks ANC, the Beats Solo 4 does offer many features of premium headphones that most users will want. The easy-listening AirPods Max seemingly offers it all, but the premium nature can be a literal weight some users don't want to carry.

Looking towards the price, the $199.99 for the Solo 4 is a bargain for what it offers. There's a lot on offer in this really small package.

Those looking for premium quality will be buying the AirPods Max over the Solo 4. But the savvy shopper will find Beats' latest headphones to be a great option if they want to save money while still getting that premium experience.

Beats Solo 4 vs AirPods Max - Where to buy

Both Beats Solo 4 and AirPods Max are stocked at popular Apple resellers, including Amazon, Best Buy and B&H Photo. AirPods Max are regularly on sale, with the lowest prices across Apple's headphone line at your fingertips in our AirPods & Beats Price Comparison Guide.