If you’re an Apple or Beats fan, true wireless Beats are finally here. The Powerbeats Pro may cost $100 more than the AirPods, but they offer far better isolation, sound quality, and comfort than the aforementioned earbuds. iPhone owners should absolutely jump at these if they want an audio product that not only offers the benefits of the H1 chip, but also the freedom afforded by some of the best true wireless earphones on the market.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on November 1st, 2019 to add information regarding the release of the Apple AirPods Pro.
Who are the Beats Powerbeats Pro for?
- Apple iPhone users unsatisfied with the design shortcomings of the AirPods, and need double the battery life of the AirPods Pro
- Android users looking for true wireless earbuds with an earhook design
What’s it like to use the Beats Powerbeats Pro?
Apple’s Beats Powerbeats Pro are an example of really good design for a product category that’s hurting for it. Truly wireless earbuds have seen a lot of entrants in recent months, but few have addressed some of the bigger difficulties inherent in the unconnected earbud design. For example, how do you hold the earbuds in the ear if the fit isn’t perfect? If you own unsealed earbuds, you’ll find they fall out quite often. The ear hooks of the Powerbeats Pro do just that: not only do they relieve pressure on your ear canal, but they also keep your earbuds in place should the seal break.
If you have an iPhone, all you have to do to pair the Powerbeats Pro is open the case, and tap the bubble that pops up on your phone. Dead easy. For Android, it’s slightly more complicated. Open the case, and then hit the pairing button that’s almost flush with the inside of the case. Hold that button until the LED on the front turns white, and then pair the device like you would any other Bluetooth device. Just be sure to leave the earbuds in the case until they pair.
Once you’re paired, you can slide the earhooks behind your outer ear, and gently rock the nozzle of the Powerbeats Pro into your ear. If you find the fit uncomfortable, there are two additional sleeve sizes, and one pair of dual-flanged tips to replace the stock option with. Once the earphones are in place, push the ear hook in to tighten the fit to your liking.
Just like their Apple brethren, the Powerbeats Pro are loaded with sensors. Each earbud has a proximity detector to pause your music when you pull them out of your ears. Additionally, each bud has accelerometers to detect when you speak to better guide the microphone when you’re in a loud environment, and to turn themselves off when they’re just sitting on a desk.
Each earbud has a multifunction button, and a volume rocker that has the same function for each side, so you can choose whichever side is easiest to reach at the moment (a godsend for new parents). The multifunction button offers the normal controls, but also allows you to toggle Siri with a long press.
Are the Powerbeats Pro waterproof?
The Beats Powerbeats Pro aren’t waterproof, but they do offer IPX4 protection against sweat and water. Sure, that may not be what you’re looking for, but true wireless has a dearth of good waterproof options at the moment. If you like to work out with earbuds, you may find that these fit the bill, as their ear hook and sweat resistance can more than keep up with you.
How is the battery life of the Powerbeats Pro?
Battery life on the Powerbeats Pro is a little ridiculous. At a level of 75dBSPL, our test unit was able to play back music for 10 hours, 52 minutes with an iPhone XS Max. That’s insane for a set of true wireless earbuds. While that result can only be had with a newer iPhone, even on Android the Powerbeats Pro outlast most true wireless models at 10 hours, 34 minutes.
Whether it’s the H1 chip or the larger unit size or both that’s the culprit here, it’s clear from the giant battery case that longevity was a chief concern if the design team. And considering how poorly true wireless earbuds tend to perform in regards to battery life, this is a standout product at this point in time.
The battery case uses a lightning cable to charge up, which is frustrating for anyone who doesn’t use an Apple product for their computer or phone. However, it’s not as big of an inconvenience as it could be, given the other side of the cable is a normal USB-A connection, so it can go in your computer or wall charger.
Editor’s note: we achieved these results on a loan unit from Apple/Beats. Once we get our hands on a retail copy, we’ll re-test and update should a difference be found.
What is the connection quality of the Beats Powerbeats Pro?
True wireless earphones are in a strange way at the moment, as their sound quality is often very dependent on what phone you use. Beats will work with Apple devices far better than they will with Android handsets, simply because of the Bluetooth codecs used, and the H1 chip hidden inside. Without said chip, your phone will likely display issues with latency, and extremely minor noise.
It’s just a fact of life that Android just doesn’t handle AAC, the chief codec used by the Beats Powerbeats Pro, as well as it should. However, unless you’re extremely young: you probably won’t notice a huge difference. Probably.
The Powerbeats Pro boast Apple’s best efforts at true wireless connectivity, allowing each earbud to be paired independently of each other, meaning your iPhone can simply connect to each bud instead of connecting only to one or the other. Additionally, the Bluetooth 5 connection offers a much better connection with battery life, compression advantages.
How do the Beats Powerbeats Pro sound?
Objectively, the Powerbeats Pro sound… pretty decent. Sure, there are a few challenges inherent to the design of true wireless earphones that make some sound quality issues apparent, but all in all the new Beats in-ears offer a consumer-friendly sound that doesn’t rattle your skull (see: How to read charts).
Much of the ability to maintain sound quality is afforded by the included ear tips, as isolation is by far the most important performance metric for commuters. While the Powerbeats Pro offer a decent level of isolation, you may want to see if you can find third-party foam tips if you have trouble with the silicone sleeves. The included tips won’t do much to block out common “low” sounds like engine rumble, or low voices, but they will take the edge off a baby crying (tested that myself) or common commuter noise.
Bass has a pretty noticeable bump as is emblematic for a Beats product, and highs and high mids are boosted a bit to help instruments stand out a little bit from the crowded cacophony of a loud song. While it may not satisfy the pickiest listeners out there, a response like this lends itself well to most modern music.
However, that dip in the low-mids is a little bit of an issue, as it means that the highest half of a piano, most wind and stringed instruments, and some vocals will sound roughly 3/4 to one half as loud as the bass notes or highs. In mixes with lots of instrumentation, vocals—especially higher-pitched voices—can sometimes sound a little quiet in comparison to the rest of the track.
For example, the vocals tend to be very hard to understand in The Midnight’s Sunset. In the presence of a rather strong bassline and lots of highs, you’ll find the vocalist’s voice just isn’t that easy to hear in the chorus as it should be.
The microphone of the Beats Powerbeats Pro is surprisingly good for a set of true wireless earphones, and while it doesn’t measure perfectly: the flaws aren’t going to ruin your voice. I have a deep voice, and as such would be the kind of person most affected by that dip from 60-200Hz, but as the clip below demonstrates: it’s not so bad.
With a downward-facing microphone in either earbud, wind noise seems to be attenuated fairly well. This is great, because if you’re on the phone a lot like I am, you can really annoy the heck out of your friends and coworkers with wind noise if you like to talk when you’re not cooped up in an office. If they sound bad over your conference call, realize that it’s probably not their fault.
Why should you get the Powerbeats Pro over the AirPods?
While the decision to go with AirPods or the Powerbeats Pro might have more to do with money (for most), I’m a fan of the Beats over the AirPods because they address what I believe to be some of the most egregious design flaws of a set of true wireless earbuds on the market. Though the up-front cost of the Powerbeats Pro is between $50-100 more than the latest iteration of AirPods, the Beats in-ears offer isolation, better sound quality, tactile controls, sweat resistance, better fit, and even some earhooks to relieve pressure on your ear canals.
There’s really not anything the AirPods have that the Powerbeats Pro lack outside of gestures, but if you’re like many of us older listeners: those aren’t going to really make that big of a difference in your day-to-day.
The picture gets a little more sticky when it comes to the Apple AirPods Pro, though. For the same price as the Powerbeats Pro, the AirPods Pro offer a smaller battery case, ANC, a slew of iOS-specific features, a smaller battery pack, and that distinctive Apple aesthetic. While we here at SoundGuys don’t particularly care for it, AirPods have become a sort of status symbol, and that matters to some. Where the Powerbeats Pro trash every other true-wireless option on the market in terms of battery life, the AirPods Pro might be enough for you if the 5-hour runtime is enough for your daily use.
Should you buy the Powerbeats Pro?
If you’ve got the money, sure. These things are expensive, and a stellar example why people are willing to pay a lot of money for headphones on general. They may offer a lot, but you’ll have to spend to get it.
The Powerbeats Pro directly address the most egregious design shortcomings of Apple’s AirPods, and hit the market as a credible alternative for iPhone users. However, there are cheaper true wireless earbuds out there, and if you have an Android phone: AAC earphones tend to fall short a bit.
That said, no other models of true wireless earbuds come close in battery life, and these are going to be very popular doing the exercise crowd. Really, their biggest shortcoming is limited to price, and the lack of an equalizer app. Even without that last item, they’re still one of the best iPhone earbuds you can buy.
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