A couple of weeks after Apple shipped its second-generation AirPods, the company’s Beats division is finally making its own entrance into the true wireless earbuds market. The new $249.95 Powerbeats Pro ship in May and are Beats’ most significant product in years. I get the feeling that, for many people, these are going to prove even more compelling than AirPods. They offer longer battery life, they seal fully in your ears without letting in outside noise, they include the same Apple H1 chip as the latest AirPods for hands-free “Hey Siri” voice commands, and yes, to my ears, the Powerbeats Pro sounded better during my brief introduction to them.
Beats says its Powerbeats wireless earbuds are the most popular fitness headphones in the world, and the new Pro model sheds the cable that links the left and right buds together. They retain the look and identity of Powerbeats, but Beats didn’t just snip the wire; it redesigned the entire product in the move to a true wireless design. The Pros are 23 percent smaller and 17 percent lighter than the regular Powerbeats neckbuds, and Beats is offering color options beyond white: the Powerbeats Pro will come in black, white, dark green, and navy.
What’s good about the Powerbeats Pro?
- Battery life: Beats says the Powerbeats Pro can reach nine hours of continuous listening. That’s no match for the best traditional Bluetooth headphones out there (including Beats’ own Solo 3s) but, if accurate, it’s an exceptional achievement for true wireless earbuds. Nine hours handily beats the AirPods, Galaxy Buds, Jabra Elite 65t, and the rest of the field. The charging case holds enough extra juice to get you around 24 hours of total listening time.
- Apple H1 chip: Just like the second-gen AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro include Apple’s H1 chip for hands-free “Hey Siri” voice commands and quicker switching between your Apple devices.
- Fit: Beats aimed for a comfortable and secure fit, and my initial impression is that it nailed it. Wrapping the ear hook around my ear was a bit awkward — such is life for those of us with glasses — but once they were in, the Powerbeats Pro didn’t budge. I didn’t get to take them for a run or do cartwheels while wearing them, so more testing is needed. But don’t judge these based on older Powerbeats earbuds. Beats says “over 20 configurations were electronically modeled and physically tested. The result is a completely new, ergonomically angled acoustic housing that nests comfortably in the concha bowl of the ear with an off-axis nozzle.” Four sets of ear tips should hopefully mean you’ll find the perfect seal or something close to it.
- Physical controls: You don’t need to worry about gestures or awkward touch-sensitive tapping zones here. Both earbuds have identical physical buttons for volume and track controls. When you’re in the middle of a workout, you’ll appreciate the no-fuss controls. There’s no power button, but the earbuds contain motion sensors that automatically put them into sleep mode when idle.
- Automatic pause and resume: Like AirPods and many other true wireless earbuds at this point, the Powerbeats Pro will pause your music when you remove one or both earbuds and then start playing again once they’re back in.
- They can be used independently: Like the AirPods, both Powerbeats Pro earbuds connect to your device independently. Many other true wireless buds use a linked system where only of them is connected to your phone, and the other is connected to the first earbud. This limits you to using only one side for phone calls, for example. With the Powerbeats Pro, you can pop in either earbud and you’re set.
What’s not so good about the Powerbeats Pro?
- Large charging case: It’s very clear that Beats expects people to keep the charging case for the Powerbeats Pro in a bag of some sort; whether it’s your gym bag or daily carry doesn’t matter. But the case is significantly larger than the competition. It’s hard to surpass Apple here, and you’ve got to factor in the ear hooks on the Powerbeats Pro, which demand a larger case. Still, this one is way bigger than what you get with Beats’ competition. You could probably squeeze this thing into a pocket, but it’s not going to be comfortable.
- No wireless charging: If there’s one obvious thing that separates the new AirPods from the Powerbeats Pro, it’s this. The case doesn’t support Qi wireless charging.
- No LED light to show earbud charge status: Apple’s AirPods also lack this, so I’m not surprised. But some true wireless earbuds have separate LEDs to reflect how much charge the case and earbuds each have. The tiny circular LED on the front of the Powerbeats Pro case is only meant to show its own remaining battery. Checking the battery level for the earbuds themselves requires flipping the case open near your iPhone; a menu will pop up to show you charge status for the earbuds and the case. You’ll also see the percentage whenever you’re using them in the iOS battery widget.
- Water-resistant, but no rating: Beats isn’t disclosing an IPX water resistance rating for the Powerbeats Pro, but the company insists they’ve been engineered to handle all of your sweat without fail. (The charging case is not water-resistant, so you’ll want to wipe down the earbuds before dropping them in there after a strenuous workout.)
How do they sound?
Look, I really didn’t get enough listening time to make a definitive call here, but my initial impression is very positive. The Powerbeats Pro put a lot of oomph behind The Hold Steady and my rock-centric workout playlist. They exhibited a really nice dynamic range and wide sound stage as I shuffled through my library over the course of a couple of minutes. Yes, there’s an emphasis on bass. And no, no one’s going to confuse these with neutral studio headphones.
If you want Beats’ take on the sound, here’s that: “Completely re-engineered from the inside out, the earphones boast an upgraded linear piston driver that leverages an efficient, pressurized airflow to create a powerful acoustic response in a small package.”
- Case charges with Lightning: Beats put a Lightning jack on the Powerbeats Pro case instead of USB-C. It’s not the first time the company has done this; the Beats X also use Lightning. I can see reasonable arguments on both sides here: if you’ve got an iPhone, you’ve obviously got a Lightning cable at the ready. But isn’t USB-C the future? Either way, the Powerbeats Pro can still charge plenty fast. Beats says you can get an hour and a half of playback with a 5-minute charge and four and a half hours after a 15-minute top off.
- Call quality is supposed to be excellent: Lousy voice calls are a common complaint with true wireless earbuds. Check out my colleague Becca’s video review of the Galaxy Buds for just one example of that. The AirPods’ long stem helps out tremendously here. But Beats came up with its own solution: it put both speech-detecting accelerometers (to sense when your mouth is moving) and two beam-forming mics in each earbud that should be able to pull in your voice and block outside noise reasonably well. I haven’t tested it yet, so I can’t vouch, but I’m optimistic.
- They work fine with Android: The Powerbeats Pro are compatible with Android, of course, and Beats says you can expect the same battery life of up to nine hours on a charge. A Lightning charging port is a little inconvenient, but there’s nothing you’re really losing out on aside from Apple-only features like “Hey Siri.”
These or AirPods?
Beats (and by extension Apple) view the Powerbeats Pro as complementary to the AirPods — not a direct threat. They’re in a different price bracket ($250 versus $159 or $200). They isolate sound, which some people will prefer but others will not. If you frequently run outside on busy city streets and like being aware of what’s happening, that might be a deciding factor. The Powerbeats Pro don’t have any kind of ambient noise mode to pipe in outside audio.
But if AirPods don't fit you well or if you do want to block out surrounding noise, the Powerbeats Pro are looking very impressive out of the gate. That nine-hour battery life sets a new bar for true wireless earbuds. They fit snugly and securely.
Where do they fit in terms of pricing?
The Powerbeats Pro are firmly in the high-end tier of true wireless earbuds. They’re not the most expensive, but they’re certainly up there.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8: $299.99
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless: $299.95
Master and Dynamic MW07: $299
Beats Powerbeats Pro: $249.95
Sony WF-1000X: $199.99
Apple AirPods with wireless charging case: $199
Bose SoundSport Free: $199
Sony WF-SP700N: $179.99
Jabra Elite 65t: $169
Apple AirPods with regular case: $159
Samsung Galaxy Buds: $129
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air: $79
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge
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