Hands-on with Beats Powerbeats Pro totally wireless earphones [Video]

I went into this review of the $249 Powerbeats Pro with high expectations. Even prior to reading Zac’s review, I was pretty much convinced that these would be the best wireless earbuds ever made, and, despite not beating the AirPods in every area, I wasn’t disappointed.

To be clear, the Powerbeats Pro aren’t perfect, but they’re better than the AirPods if you’re using them for workouts. The Apple AirPods set the groundwork for Beats’ first truly wire-free earbuds, and the team at Beats took the baton and ran with it.

Watch our hands-on Powerbeats Pro video review for more details.




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Truly wireless

AirPods’ claim to fame was the fact that they featured no wires whatsoever. Unlike previous Bluetooth headphones from Beats, such as the BeatsX or Powerbeats3, there was always a wire connecting the two earphones. With the Powerbeats Pro, the experience is devoid of wires.

Each Powerbeats Pro earbud is completely independent and connects independently to your iOS device via Bluetooth. That means that, like the AirPods, it’s possible to use only one earbud at a time if you choose to do so. The lack of wires is quite the liberating experience, as users of the AirPods can attest to.

Powerbeats Pro video review

Specifications

  • 9 hours of listening time per earbud
  • More than 24 hours of total battery life with charging case
  • Fast Fuel: 5 minute charge yields 1.5 hours of playback; 15-minute charge yields 4.5 hours
  • Linear Piston Driver results in 60% reduced total harmonic distortion compared to Powerbeats3 Wireless
  • Built-in ergonomic earhooks
  • Four ear tip options
  • IPX4 water resistance rating
  • Apple H1 headphone chip
  • Always-listening “Hey Siri” voice control
  • Optical sensor for automatic play/pause and call handling
  • Motion accelerometer to detect when earphones are idle
  • Automatic sleep mode to conserve battery life
  • Ambidextrous tactile control buttons
  • 6-hour battery life in each earbud for phone calls
  • Speed-detecting accelerometer
  • Two beam-forming microphones per earbud
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Included Lightning to USB cable for charging

Workout ready fit

As good as the AirPods are, they are non-starters for a sizable swath of Apple fans due to their fit, or lack thereof. While the AirPods fit my ears decently enough, they’ve never fit perfectly, and sometimes fall out of my ears when running, riding a bike, mowing the lawn, etc.

That’s frustrating enough, but for some people, the AirPods simply do not fit at all. Apple went for a minimalistic approach with its wireless earbuds, and while that’s one of the product’s endearing qualities, the design influences the AirPods’ inability to stay in the ears of some users.

The Powerbeats Pro addresses this issue on two fronts:

First, Beats includes four sets of different sized ear tips, lending users a more custom fit for their ear canals.

Secondly, Beats employs the use of adjustable earhooks. The earhooks wrap around the outer ear to secure the earbuds, and can be adjusted to wrap tighter around your ear. Unlike wingtips, used in products like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, the earhooks rest completely on the outside of the ear instead of applying pressure to the outer portion of the inner-ear.

The end result is a product that fits much more securely than AirPods. The fit is such that I wouldn’t even consider using AirPods while engaged in any sort of rigorous activity now that the Powerbeats Pro have arrived.

Earbud design & comfort

Powerbeats Pro come with a reinforced design for sweat and IPX4 water resistance, essential for any serious workout earbuds. Though you won’t forget that they’re in your ears like I sometimes do when wearing the featherweight AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro, with their soft rubber earhooks, are smaller and lighter than the Powerbeats3 Wireless. Beats notes that it performed extensive ergonomic iteration and testing to yield a stable and comfortable fit with a wide range of ears. I can attest to this as, even after prolonged usage, they didn’t irritate my ears.

The ear tips, I feel, will be the main polarizing design element of the Powerbeats Pro. I don’t like how ear tips seal off your ear canal, which makes it difficult to hear the outside world, and there is a subtle pressure sensation in the ear canal as a result. This sensation isn’t exclusive to Beats earbuds, it’s the case with any ear tip design that creates an acoustic seal.

To be fair, Beats says that a micro-laser barometric venting hole was placed in front chamber of housing to not only balance bass response, but also to reduce pressure in the ear for optimal user comfort. I understand why Beats uses this method, as it results in improved sound quality and a better fit, but not everyone is going to like it.

As far as visual design is concerned, these earbuds are a far cry from the sleekness of the AirPods, which can be good or bad depending on your outlook. Some users will prefer the look of the Powerbeats Pro due to the AirPods’ almost jewelry-like design.

Powerbeats Pro AirPods Earbud compare

With the Powerbeats Pro, you’re sacrificing the sleek, minimalistic style of the AirPods for the sake of improved fit, battery life, tactile buttons, etc. Truth be told, I’d give up on having a sleeker design every time if it meant not worrying about the buds falling out of my ear.

Powerbeats Pro battery life

Powerbeats Pro users can expect up to 9 hours of listening time with the earbuds per full charge, versus just up to 5 hours of listening time with the AirPods. Like the AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro includes a charging case that provides a combined battery life rating of more than 24 hours, i.e. an extra ~2 full charges.

Powerbeats Pro Charging Case Opened

If you’ve used Beats Bluetooth headphones before, then you’re likely familiar with the “Fast Fuel” nomenclature, which is Beats’ term for fast charging. With just a 5-minute charge, users can garner over an hour and a half of listening time, while a 15-minute charge yields an impressive 4.5 hours of playback. Fast charging is a great feature for those times when you want to workout, but forgot to charge beforehand.

Even when the Powerbeats Pro are not in use, great care has been taken to help extend battery life. Built-in motion accelerometers will detect when the earbuds are idle, causing them to automatically enter into sleep mode.

Charging case

One of the most obvious differences between the AirPods and the Powerbeats Pro has to do with the charging case. The charging case for the Powerbeats Pro is significantly larger than the AirPods charging case, and therein lies one of the biggest potential downsides of Beats’ latest offering.

If you plan on traveling with your wireless earbuds, then nothing beats (hah) the size and portability of the AirPods. That’s not to say that the Powerbeats charging case is massive, but it’s not nearly as inconspicuous as the AirPods, which can easily slide into a pocket and go unnoticed.

Powerbeats Pro Compared to AirPods

The size of the charging case is one of the reasons why I plan on keeping my AirPods around. When I’m walking through the airport, or traveling around a city, I highly value the portability, not to mention the fact that you can better hear the outside world when wearing AirPods.

Powerbeats Pro Charging Case

Otherwise, the charging case for the Powerbeats is well designed. It’s comprised of high-quality black plastic with an embossed Beats logo on top, and does a great job of rejecting fingerprints.

Powerbeats Pro Earbuds Charging Contacts

Inserting the Powerbeats Pro earbuds inside the case and properly aligning the charging contacts takes some practice, but you simple need to get it close enough so that the magnets handle the rest of the alignment. It’s similar to the AirPods charging case in that it’s sometimes easy to place the right AirPod in the spot designated for the left AirPod, and vice versa.

Powerbeats Pro Removing Earbuds

On the front of the charging case is an LED charging indicator, which is normally green, but turns red when less than 40% power remains, representing less than one full charge.

On the rear of the charging case you’ll find a Lightning port for charging. Included inside the box is a black Lighting to USB cable, just like the cable that comes with the iMac Pro. Unfortunately, the Powerbeats Pro charging case is not Qi-enabled for wireless charging, which is a feature touted by the recently-released 2nd-generation AirPods.

Pairing and status checks

The Powerbeats Pro feature the same H1 wireless chip found on the 2nd-generation AirPods, which means that pairing with an iOS device is about as easy as it gets. Simply open the charging case with the earbuds inside, and place it next to an unlocked iOS device with Bluetooth enabled. You’ll see a card slide into view with a Connect button for quick frustration-free pairing.

Powerbeats Pro iOS card

What’s great about this setup is that pairing is synced with iCloud, so all of your eligible iCloud-enabled devices, like Macs and iPads, are automatically ready to work with the Powerbeats Pro.

If you wish to pair with a non-iOS device, then you’ll need to utilize the System button inside the Powerbeats Pro charging case. Press and hold this button while the earbuds are inside, and you’ll be able to sync to any eligible Bluetooth-enabled device.

Powerbeats Pro sound quality

Beats says that sound quality in the Powerbeats Pro is a marked improvement over the Powerbeats3 Wireless. The Powerbeats Pro were completely re-engineered from the inside out, and include a Linear Piston Driver that Beats notes results in a 60% reduction in total harmonic distortion. This results in a cleaner sound with powerful bass and less muddiness.

Fit aside, sound is one of the areas where the Powerbeats Pro really separates itself from Apple’s AirPods. Traditionally speaking, Beats don’t enjoy the most sterling reputation among audiophiles, in part due to their obsessive focus on bass during the company’s early days. Recently, the headphones have enjoyed a more balanced approach to audio, although low frequencies remain a point of emphasis.

Whereas the AirPods are a bit more limited on the low end due to their open design, the Beats thrive on punchy bass. This is thanks largely in part to the ear tips that help to create an acoustic seal in the ear canal.

Beats also touts the acoustic housing used by Powerbeats Pro, stating that its housing improves frequency response, drives bass performance, and assists with contour tonality. I can attest that the bass is tight, enthusiastic, and just plain impressive considering how small the earbuds are.

After comparing the AirPods and the Powerbeats Pro, I still prefer the more balanced sound of the AirPods, as the bass on the Powerbeats has a tendency to outshine the rest of the frequency range. Some listeners, especially those who prefer music that emphasizes the low end, will definitely prefer the sound of the Powerbeats Pro and I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. Neither product will blow you away from an audio clarity standpoint, but both are more than adequate enough for daily listening when on the go.

Like Apple’s AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro includes a speech-detecting accelerometer along with two beam-forming microphones in each earbud to help filter out external noise and target the user’s voice. This results in enhanced call quality even while conversing in noisy environments, similar to the AirPods.

Powerbeats Pro technology

Being based on much of the same technology found in the AirPods means that many of its technical advantages are present in the Powerbeats Pro. For example, there are built-in optical sensors that can detect when the Powerbeats Pro have been removed from your ears, in which case music playback will automatically pause. This is great for when you need to quickly hear something or converse with someone nearby. When you place the earbud back into your ear, music playback resumes right where you left off, just like the AirPods.

I touched on the benefits of easy pairing with the H1 wireless chip, but another benefit is the tight integration with iOS to learn about battery status. Instead of having to rely on a series of ambiguous LED indicators, users can learn about battery life via a widget within Notification Center, or via a handy card that appears when you open your Powerbeats Pro charging case next to your iOS device.

Users also have the option of asking Siri about battery life, which brings us to one of the most exciting technological advantages enjoyed by both the AirPods 2 and the Powerbeats Pro — hands-free Hey Siri capability.

Indeed, always-on, always-ready, hands-free Hey Siri support was the biggest advantage of the recent AirPods refresh, and having such tech built into the Powerbeats Pro provides the same significant benefits. It means that you can easily interact with Siri at any time just by speaking into the air. This is super-handy when you’re exercising or when it’s not convenient to lift your hand to manually invoke Siri.

When paired with a cellular Apple Watch, Hey Siri on the Powerbeats Pro is even more compelling. It means that you can work out without your iPhone, and communicate with your Apple Watch hands-free to perform all sorts of commands, including controlling music playback, starting workouts, making phone calls, checking the weather, and so-on.

Other H1 chip benefits

Additional benefits are made possible thanks to the new H1 chip, versus the old W1 chip found in older AirPods and wireless Beats products. The new chip makes it 2x faster to switch between active devices, and offers a 1.5x faster connection time for phone calls. This results in a device that feels more responsive to your desires than prior W1-enabled devices.

Powerbeats Pro mirrored tactile buttons

Whereas the Apple AirPods rely on customizable touch-sensitive controls for things like play/pause, skip, etc., the Powerbeats Pro offer ambidextrous tactile buttons that are mirrored on each earbud. There’s a volume rocker on the top portion of the earbud module, along with a multifunction button on the front that doubles as the Beats logo.

The inclusion of a volume rocker is a welcome feature considering that AirPods lack any way to adjust volume outside of asking Siri or adjusting via your paired iOS device. With the Powerbeats Pro, users have the option of adjusting volume directly from the hardware itself, and because these controls are mirrored, you can do so from either bud.

Powerbeats Pro Volume Rocker

The same goes for the multifunction button, which can be used to play, pause, skip, play previous, scan forward, scan backward and invoke Siri. Like the volume rocker, this button is available on both earbuds, but I find that it’s somewhat lacking in the area of tactility. I would have preferred if the button was slightly recessed, and wasn’t so sensitive. As it stands, the button operates like it’s on a hair trigger, which can pose a problem when issuing some of the more complicated commands.

9to5Mac’s take

The Powerbeats Pro are essentially souped-up second-generation AirPods with tactile controls, a much better fit, and an unsurprising emphasis on bass.

If you’re an active person, then the Powerbeats Pro are unquestionably better than AirPods for the simple reason that they will stay in your ears and are sweat resistant. If a workout-ready fit is at the top of your list, then these are the earbuds for you.

The design of the Powerbeats earbuds lends you up to an additional 4 hours of battery life for each individual earbud when compared to the AirPods, which means they are the better choice when running long marathons and things of that nature.

If you don’t use earbuds for sports and workouts, and you only use them when lounging around or when traveling, then the sleeker-designed, more portable, and cheaper AirPods are the better choice. That said, I’m happy to see another truly wireless earbud solution in Apple’s lineup. The Powerbeats Pro significantly improves on the one area — fit — that most people will agree is the AirPods’ weakest link.

What do you think about the Powerbeats Pro? Do you plan on purchasing a pair? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts and feedback.


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