Available for just £50, the Beats Flex do nearly everything you could ask for at this price
- Excellent sound for the money
- Solid battery life
- No waterproofing
- Nothing else of note at this price
Beats once had a reputation for making headphones that cost a fair old whack. Prior to the Beats Flex earphones on test here, its cheapest model was the Beats X, which launched at £130.
With the Flex, however, that’s all changed. At just £50, these are earphones that fall very much within impulse purchase territory. And in even better news, they’ve carried on the brand’s recent good form in being very good everyday earphones indeed.
Beats Flex review: What do you get for the money?
I say everyday headphones, because their lack of waterproofing means they’re sadly no replacement for the Beats Powerbeats when it comes to exercise, despite the neckband design.
Despite that, they’re comfortable to wear for extended periods and the earbuds are magnetic so they’ll stay locked together around your neck when not in use. Rather neatly, they’ll also pause the music automatically when clipped together and play again when you pull them apart.
As you’d expect, they come with a range of different earbud sizes in the box – four to be precise – to help ensure a snug fit. Rather surprisingly, they charge via USB-C, not Lightning, as has been the norm with recent Beats products and battery life is impressive. When fully charged, Beats claims the Flex will deliver up to 12 hours of playback and you can also get 90 minutes of usage from a mere 10-minute charge when the battery gets low.
Elsewhere, the earphones come with Apple’s W1 chip to ensure quick, seamless pairing with iPhones and iPads; just bring the headphones near your device and you’ll instantly see a popup offering to pair them.
For Android users, it isn’t as easy, but the Flex work just like any other Bluetooth earphones and can be paired in the usual way. You can also download the Beats mobile app to enable faster pairing, check battery status and install firmware updates.
As you’d expect for earphones from an Apple-owned brand, the Beats Flex support the AAC codec but not apt-X. And, thanks to their built-in microphone, they also double up as a Bluetooth headset, so you can take calls and speak to your phone’s virtual assistant.
iOS users can also take advantage of Apple’s Audio Sharing feature, which lets you listen to the same music as friends or family with a recent pair of Beats headphones or Airpods. That’s a really handy feature if you want to while away long flights and train journeys by watching TV and films together.
Beats Flex review: How do they sound?
That’s quite the feature list for a pair of budget earphones but, arguably, the most impressive attribute of the Beats Flex is their sound quality. I admit I didn’t have the highest expectations considering their low asking price but the Flex deliver a balanced, neutral sound with much more detail and spaciousness than you sometimes find in budget Bluetooth earphones.
Indeed, when it comes to instrument separation, I’m not sure I’ve heard anything quite like it in a pair of headphones at this price. Where lively rock tracks can easily sound like a compressed cacophony on cheap earbuds, the Flex did an admirable job of separating the snare, the rumble of the bass guitar and spacey guitar riffs on songs such as Cave In’s Shake My Blood.
That’s not to say they’re perfect. Although there’s plenty of detail, until they’re turned up rather loud, the Beats Flex rather lack the dynamism and liveliness of more workout-orientated headphones such as the Adidas RPD-01. Their neutral sound may also leave those who crave lots of bass somewhat underwhelmed; lower frequencies are adequately represented, in my opinion, but if you’re looking for headphones that deliver bass that’ll shake you to your core, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Otherwise, there’s very little to complain about. On the contrary, I’d argue the Beats Flex offer a more enjoyable listen than the pricier Powerbeats Pro, high praise indeed for a pair of headphones that cost less than a third of the price.
Beats Flex review: What else do we like?
Besides their great sound quality, I also found it quick and easy to achieve a secure fit with the Beats Flex thanks to the relatively small driver housing surrounding the silicone tips. If you’ve struggled to achieve a good seal with other models of earphones that have larger housings, these are well worth a try.
Connectivity is very good, too. I never had any problems with audio dropping out when in close range of my phone, and the Beats Flex continued to play as I wandered around my house, leaving my phone in an upstairs bedroom, without so much as skipping a beat. They’re billed as a Class 1 Bluetooth device, meaning they’ll deliver a range of at least 20 metres, and that seems to be in keeping with what I’ve experienced.
And, although I’m never a big fan of the in-line controls you find on neckband-style earphones, I don’t mind those on the Beats Flex. The multi-purpose button is located on a different face of the left remote to the volume controls, meaning you never inadvertently press one instead of the other. And this multi-purpose button only very subtly protrudes, so it’s unlikely you’ll knock it by accident.
Beats Flex review: How could they be improved?
The only significant shortcoming considering their low price is that the Flex don’t come with any waterproofing. That’s likely a deliberate decision so that they don’t cannibalise the sales of the pricer Powerbeats and Powerbeats Pro, which are squarely aimed at the fitness market.
How much of a problem is it? Low-intensity exercise such as walking certainly won’t cause any problems, but anything that generates a significant amount of prolonged perspiration is probably best avoided, along with listening in the rain.
My only other gripes with the Beats Flex are fairly small ones. When pairing the earphones, there’s no audio cue to notify you that you’ve turned the buds on, or enabled pairing mode, although a chime does finally sound when the earphones have paired, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the earphone’s status light to check you’re doing the right thing.
Then there’s that decision to charge via USB-C. If you’re an iPhone user that’ll mean you likely need to bring along an additional charger to charge your headphones. That’s hardly a deal-breaker but it’s frustrating when previous Beats headphones have charged via a Lightning connector.
Beats Flex review: Should I buy them?
These are minor foibles when you consider what an otherwise excellent product the Beats Flex are. With excellent sound quality and battery life, plus a very reasonable asking price, they emphatically deliver in all the areas that matter the most. If you’re an iPhone user, in particular, they offer an experience you simply won’t find anywhere else at this price.
Whether you’re looking to buy your first pair of Bluetooth earphones, then, or you’re the type of person who regularly breaks or loses them, you really can’t go too far wrong with the Beats Flex. They offer unbeatable value for money and should really make you question whether you need to spend more. They’re an Expert Reviews Best Buy.