The term “pro” is being tossed around so much it seems to have lost its meaning. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be a professional user to make full of it anymore, now it just signifies the best that a particular company has to offer. In this case that company is Apple. The Powerbeats Pro and AirPods Pro are two very different looking earbuds with basically the same price point. So which one is better for you? The best Beats in-ears, or the best AirPods?
Editor’s note: this article was updated on March 22, 2021, to include microphone poll results and additional information about the Apple AirPods Max.
Do the AirPods Pro or Beats Powerbeats Pro have a better fit?
The answer to this question seems like a no-brainer at first glance, but it’s not so simple. The original AirPods were notorious for having a terrible fit, but that was fixed with the AirPods Pro which makes this a way cleaner fight. Now, these come with three different sized eartips that snap on easily to the end of the earbuds thanks to a proprietary system giving them a much more versatile fit in the ear that most people can make use of. So they no longer have the terrible fit and isolation problems that plagued the originals.
The Powerbeats Pro on the other hand also come with three different sized eartips, but they have the over-ear hook design as well. This gives them a slight edge when it comes to how they fit. Even if the nozzle falls out of your ear, at least you know they’ll be held in place by the ear hook. Anyone who has ever dropped a single true wireless earbud on the street knows how helpful having an around-ear hook can be.
Winner: Powerbeats Pro
Are the Powerbeats Pro better for working out than the AirPods Pro?
In short, the answer here is yes, but it isn’t that simple. Depending on what you’re looking for you don’t want to disqualify the AirPods Pro just yet. The Powerbeats Pro are the winner here because, unlike the AirPods Pro, they have full playback controls including volume so you never have to reach for your phone while pumping out a set. On top of that, the Powerbeats Pro have the hook design that keeps them from flying out under even the most intense workouts as I mentioned earlier.
That ear hook may not seem like a huge help when working out, but by increasing the overall size of each earbud, they distribute their weight more evenly over your entire ear. Additionally, they’re much easier to locate in the far less likely event that they fall out.
Still, the AirPods Pro are no slouch here. They too have the same IPX4 sweat and water resistance and thanks to the aforementioned new and improved ear tips, they do a decent job at staying put in your ears as well. Still, the lack of volume controls means you’ll have to reach for your phone every time you want to lower the volume unless you don’t mind being the weird person speaking to Siri in the gym.
Winner: Powerbeats Pro
Which has better features?
If you’re not going to be lifting iron in the gym, then maybe you just care about which pair of headphones has the best and most convenient features. If that’s what you’re after then your path forward is clear, just get the AirPods Pro. Not only has the design of the AirPods been given a makeover between these and the originals, but they also have some new and improved features as well that blow the Powerbeats Pro out of the water.
For one, there’s the new active noise cancelling which is surprisingly good considering how small these headphones are and how small the microphones in them need to be. Furthermore, the AirPods have a transparency mode that is one of the best I’ve used in any pair of headphones, including the larger WH-1000XM3 over-ears. Rather than just let you hear what’s going on around you, these almost amplify those sounds and give you a sort of machine-assisted hearing that could earn you a spot on the Justice League… or at least Teen Titans. I’m exaggerating a bit of course, but it really is useful as all you have to do is long-squeeze the stem of the AirPod Pro in order to activate it and hear exactly why your train will be stopped at 59th street for the foreseeable future.
While active noise cancelling is intended to help block out the world around you, the release of iOS 14 brings Spatial Audio the AirPods Pro which aim to further immerse you in your content. The feature is compatible with content mixed in 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound, in addition to Dolby Atmos. Apple’s approach to spatial audio uses the gyroscope and accelerometers within the AirPods Pro, mapping out the earbud’s position relative to your iOS device. This promises to deliver an immersive experience with accurate spatial reproduction, making it feel as if you’re in a reality other than your own. As of now, Spatial Audio is only compatible with a handful of apps, including Apple TV, Disney+, Plex, and HBO Max.
Features: AirPods Pro
Do the Powerbeats Pro have better battery life than the AirPods Pro?
Yes, and this one isn’t even close. When it comes to battery life all you really have to do is look at the stats. Just given the projections that Apple provides for each product you can tell that the Powerbeats Pro is going to overtake the AirPods Pro here (9 hours vs 4.5 hours, respectively), but that isn’t enough for us at SoundGuys. Which is why we perform our own battery testing where we play music at a constant output of 75dB until the battery gives out.
We chose 75dB because constant exposure to 85dB can result in noise-induced hearing loss and most people tend to hover around this 75-85 mark anyway when listening to music. The results speak for themselves. We were able to push a little more than 10 hours of constant playback out of the Powerbeats Pro. Compare that to the five hours we managed to get with the AirPods Pro, and it’s clear which one is better here. Of course, both feature quick-charging but here again, one is better than the other. The Powerbeats Pro will give you 1.5 hours in about five minutes in the case, while the AirPods Pro can only give you 1 hour in five minutes.
Winner: Powerbeats Pro
Sound quality and isolation
If we’re being honest, you’re probably not picking either of these because they sound amazing. Spoiler alert: they don’t. While they’re good enough for their respective use cases, aka the gym and just walking around, you’re not going to see any audio engineers using these to mix tracks. First, let’s talk about frequency responses.
As you’d expect, the Powerbeats Pro has that signature emphasis to the low-end frequencies in order to provide a little more bass while exercising. The mids are slightly underemphasized so that it gives the bass a little more room without muddying up the mix, but if you’re exercising maybe that mix is exactly what you’re looking for. The high end is a little more predictable with a sharp dropoff just around 12kHz to avoid cymbals and synths coming across too loud and piercing when you have the volume blasted.
The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, are tamer throughout the frequency response with just a slight nudge in the low end so you can make out some of the basslines in your favorite songs while outdoors. It’s worth noting that you’ll need a near-perfect fit to get the seal required to enjoy that, so make sure to give the fit test that Apple made a try, which lets you know which eartips to use. We’re giving this one to the AirPods Pro because while the sound quality isn’t as great, the isolation combined with the ANC gives these the edge as far as being able to focus on your music.
Winner: AirPods Pro
Which has better microphone quality, the AirPods Pro or the Powerbeats Pro?
Plenty of people use their headphones to take phone calls, and thankfully both the Powerbeats Pro and the AirPods Pro are fairly good in this respect. You won’t sound terrible on either, but the AirPods Pro do have a slight advantage when it comes to the lower frequencies in your voice. The Powerbeats Pro tends to hover slightly below the 0dB mark in the 100-300Hz range, which means some lower and lower-mid tones in your voice won’t come through as loud as they are being deemphasized slightly by the microphone.
Apple AirPods Pro microphone demo:
Beats Powerbeats Pro microphone demo:
The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, hovers around the 0dB mark all the way up to 1000Hz. It’s a little bumpy sure, but the overall effect will be a more natural-sounding voice coming through on the other end, assuming there’s no other issues affecting your microphone quality.
On the whole, though, the Powerbeats Pro are better at noise rejection (but not as good against wind), and they also seem to be able to capture voices a bit more naturally than the AirPods Pro (you can hear in the sample above). While neither option is bad here, we recommend the Powerbeats Pro if you use a VoLTE chat service or need to record your voice.
Winner: Apple AirPods Pro
Which has a better connection?
One of the biggest concerns with true wireless earbuds is how well they stay connected to each other and to your source device. Constant skipping and stutters can just be super annoying, but thankfully both the Powerbeats Pro and the AirPods Pro have Apple’s H1 chip which helps to make that a thing of the past. It’s a dedicated chip that works alongside the Bluetooth 5 chip in order to provide a more stable, lag-free connection, and it works pretty well.
In our testing, skips were minimal with both of these pairs of ‘buds and because of the H1 chip, pairing is super simple as well. All you have to do is hit the “Connect” button that pops up on your iOS device in order to automatically pair them with all the devices on your iCloud. If you’re an Android user then you’ll still have to go through Bluetooth settings and you’ll likely experience a few more stutters than iOS users, but even then they’re few and far between.
As far as Bluetooth codecs go, both of these use AAC which is great, unless you’re on Android. Our testing shows that the codec just doesn’t play as nice with Android as others do, but if you’re on iOS you need not worry as the only codec Apple supports (other than the universal default SBC) is AAC anyway.
Which is more portable?
Some would say the whole point of true wireless earbuds is convenience. You’ll never find a pair of these ‘buds that sound better than some giant over-ear cans, and the battery isn’t going to last nearly as long as some of the top active noise cancelling models on the market, so why bother? The answer is because it’s just so damn easy to use. Just pop these little bad boys out of the case, put them on, and you’re ready to go about your day.
So which one is more convenient? That’s obvious, it’s the AirPods Pro. The case is only slightly bigger than the original AirPods and it’s just as well-built and easy to slip into your pocket. The charging case of the Powerbeats Pro, on the other hand, is a large, bulbous case that is best suited for gym bags and backpacks. If you’re going to be carrying around a bag all the time, then this might not matter so much to you. But if you tend to just walk out the door with nothing but your wallet and keys, then the AirPods Pro is hard to beat.
Winner: AirPods Pro
So should you buy the AirPods Pro or the Powerbeats Pro?
For those keeping score at home, this means that when you pin these two “pro” true wireless earbuds head-to-head, what’s “best” depends entirely upon what you value in a set of true wireless earphones. And that isn’t to say that the models discussed here aren’t great pairs of ‘buds in their own right, especially if you’re the kind of person who is going to make use of taking them to the gym. Most people, however, will get the most bang for their buck out of the AirPods Pro for their noise canceling, and portability.
What about the Apple AirPods Max?
For those who want a pair of over-ear headphones, and don’t want to step outside the Apple ecosystem, you may want to get the Apple AirPods Max. These premium noise cancelling headphones outcompete the ANC performance of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort 35 II, and their sound quality is just as sweet.
The AirPods Max inherits a lot of features from the AirPods Pro, including the use of hybrid noise cancelling technology, Transparency Mode, Apple’s H1 Chip, Adaptive EQ, and Spatial Audio. It also boasts a 20-hour battery life with fast-charging, giving you 1.5 hours of playtime after just 5 minutes of charging.
If you have enough cash to cover the Apple tax, which in this case brings this product’s total up to $549, the AirPods Max could be your next—and probably only—pair of headphones.
Frequently Asked Questions
Beats Updater is an online utility that allows you to update the firmware of your Beats product using your computer. This is especially useful when you may not have access to a mobile device. While Beats Updater is still compatible with products released before 2020, including the Beats Powerbeats Pro, the utility will not support future Beats products.
The Apple AirPods Pro firmware can only be updated with an iOS update. Unfortunately for Android users, this means you are stuck with the firmware version that was installed when you purchased the AirPods Pro. The Beats Powerbeats Pro, however, can be updated with an iOS update or with the Beats app for Android.
AAC performance can vary drastically between Android phones due to poor feature implementation. Android OS has yet to find a unified way of processing the resource-intensive codec across all devices in the ecosystem. That being said, if you're looking for a pair of true wireless earbuds, you're better of getting a pair that supports aptX, aptX Low Latency, LDAC, or even SBC.
AirPods Pro hands-down. Unfortunately for the Powerbeats Pro, the earhooks can sometimes interfere with glasses arms, or even change the way they fit. Consequently, any earphones that simply use your ear canal/concha as the main support will fit better for glasses-wearers out there.
The Beats Powerbeats Pro are known to be more compatible with Android. Beats offers an app for Android which gives you access to features such as product firmware updates and basic device controls. This is in contrast to the AirPods Pro, which can only be updated and configured using compatible iOS devices.
Yes. Both models both support the SBC and AAC, allowing communication with any phone that supports either codec.