Powerbeats Pro full review

When AirPods launched in 2016 they were the earphones that launched a thousand thinkpieces. They were mocked for looking like toothbrush heads, alien ears and criticised for their high price.

Fast forward to 2019 and cities in the UK and US are rife with AirPods. They are as common to see on your commute as the classic white iPod headphones were back in the mid-2000s.

The Apple-owned Beats is still making headphones as a separately to their parent company. The Powerbeats Pro are the first true wireless Beats and they are excellent because they take all the best things about AirPods and substantially improve the fit and audio performance.

In fact, aside from the enormous charging case, there isn’t much to complain about for most people – so long as you have an iPhone.

Price and availability

Powerbeats Pro are £219.95 in the UK and $249.95 in the US. This is a substantial amount more than the cheapest AirPods at £159 / $159.

But the AirPods comparisons are a little misleading in some areas as they are quite different products. The more comparable Jabra Elite Active 65t are £169.99 / $189.99 – so you are paying a Beats premium by going for the Powerbeats Pro.

Design and build

From first wear they justify that premium though. I have always had issues with in-ear headphone fit and comfort but the Powerbeats Pro immediately felt great. Only once on a run did the right bud fall out, scratching it slightly but no other damage done.

They come with four tip sizes, and when paired with the adjustable earhooks they are more flexible (literally and metaphorically) than many other wireless earbud and earphone designs.

The design is much improved from older Powerbeats like the recent wireless Powerbeats 3. Powerbeats Pro come in black, green, blue or white and are a much more refined and sleeker, modern design compared to the garish green older models. Even though you’re paying a premium at least you’re getting a premium looking product.

A downside to this excellent design is the case it comes in. It’s an absolute monster – though the earhook design means it was never going to be as small as the AirPods dental floss sized enclosure.

But it meant that I realistically never went out without a bag when I took the Powerbeats Pro with me because they are too large and bulky to fit in a jeans pocket, and it doesn’t have wireless charging built in like the £199 / $199 AirPods do so you’ll need to lug the included Lightning cable too.

Powerbeats Pro are geared towards ‘motivated athletes’ according to Beats and the ad for them features sporting royalty Really Going For It to some tunes. Beats is expecting you to throw the large case in your gym bag and hit the treadmill. Its size does mean that when fully charged via the Lightning port it’ll provide the buds with 24 hours battery overall, and they go for a full nine before needing to be charged, which is excellent.

For this reason, the earphones are water and sweat resistant and I found that I could wear them for several hours on end before taking them out due to discomfort – much longer than other designs I’ve tested.

Each earphone has the same controls for play, pause and volume on them, a relatively rare find in wireless earphones of all shapes and sizes. The physical buttons don’t take too much pressure to tap and means you can wear one rather than two for phone calls and still have all the controls.

It’s always a risk buying in ear headphones in case the fit doesn’t work for you, but I’m confident that the versatile design of the Powerbeats Pro will work for most people given I usually struggle yet they have been very comfortable for me.

The only slight issue will be if you wear glasses, as I do – sometimes for a snug fit the earhooks need to sit where glasses arms rest, resulting in the hook and arm tapping audibly against one another.

Sound quality and features

Down to business, then. And forgive me as I one more time compare the Powerbeats Pro to AirPods. I’m allowed, because they have the same H1 wireless chip to allow incredibly quick and reliable pairing with iCloud devices – iPhone, iPad, Mac (and iPod touch).

You need to have the Powerbeats in the case in order to pair them, but all this requires on iPhone and iPad is to open them near your unlocked phone, et voila. It’s great and yes, it just works.  

This great connection is unfortunately exclusive to Apple devices in my experience. It is possible to pair the Powerbeats Pro with Android phones, and I did, but I found there to be drop outs and inconsistencies. They’re also a pain to manually pair after being spoiled with the simplicity of the Apple method.

Pairing really is a one step process

The dropouts usually happened when the Android phone was in my pocket or bag, which is not much of a barrier for Bluetooth. I’d recommend considering other headphones if you won’t be using them with an iPhone.

Much like other Beats headphones, the Powerbeats Pro are set up for the low end, though are not quite as bassy as the over-ear Studio 3 Wireless. Hip-hop, rap, dance, EDM and pop sound great. ‘Ooh Wee’ by Mark Ronson, ‘We Don’t Care’ by Kanye West and ‘The Space Program’ by A Tribe Called Quest sound brilliant with booming but not too loud bass, snappy high end and a good shine to the tone.

It’s not to say that other genres sound bad, but as ever the Powerbeats are not the best earphones if you are all about guitar music. They struggle a tad to separate the mix, leaving ‘Sweet Leaf’ by Black Sabbath feeling a little muddy. That said ‘You Ain’t Worth A Dollar’ by Queens of the Stone Age is thumping in all the right places with good tone and levels.

I’m being a bit picky too. Powerbeats Pro are headphones for everyone, and the fact you can’t meddle with the tuning yourself (some rivals allow this via companion apps) shows that these are designed to be easily paired grab and go everyday headphones. And in that they succeed.

That clever H1 chips also allows for hands-free Siri. Just say ‘Hey Siri’ with the Powerbeats on and it’ll start listening. I personally still feel a bit of a wally doing this, particularly when I find Siri rarely gets my query right but you might want the feature, and the trigger phrase does work every time. It means you can reply to messages at the gym without touching the earphones or picking up your phone, for example.

While the in-ear design means the Powerbeats have natural noise isolation to keep outside sound down by sealing the ear canal, there is no active noise cancellation tech here but this is rare on earbuds

Just be aware that on planes and loud trains you have to crank the volume to hear clearly. If you want full noise cancellation you should plump for over ears with ANC

Verdict

The Powerbeats Pro are the best in-ear Beats yet and a fine choice if you have an iPhone and want excellent all-round wireless earphones. They are more expensive than AirPods, but they have better battery life, better fit and better audio.

Connection issues arise when not used with Apple products and not everyone will like the design, especially the very bulky charging case.

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