Praise be, Beats By Dre is finally making some Powerbeats that are actually wireless. Yes cords count, because ‘wireless’ doesn’t just pertain to connectivity. Fight me.
While the new Powerbeats Pros retain an unsubtle bud design (and even manages to add to it), they’re at least free from restrictions now.
I was sceptical about these chunky headphones at first, especially compared to the sleek second generation AirPods. But these bad boys have wormed their way into my heart, and ears.
There’s just one issue. The charging case has given me an existential crisis.
Sony recently dropped its latest offering to the sound gods - the WF-1000XM3 truly wireless noise cancelling headphones. This inner-ear music delivery system is a bold move. It's notoriously difficult to achieve both noise cancellation and great sound quality in non-over-ear headphones. Let's see if Sony managed to deliver.Read more
What Are They?
They’re the latest wireless offering from Beats By Dre. Being truly wireless, they’re certainly encroaching on AirPod territory, which is fine for Apple since it owns the brand.
Being on the aggressively sporty side, they’re positioned as the buds for people who need something convenient and comfortable to exercise with.
At $349 that definitely err on the expensive side. But are they worth it?
What’s Good About Them?
The Pros are blessed with the same H1 chip as the second generation AirPods. This means that they sync up to an iPhone just as easily and it’s glorious.
Once you open the case near an iOS device you will be asked to connect, which takes mere seconds. A few moment later they’re connected not only to your phone, but every other compatible device in your iCloud.
The internal proximity sensor also allows them to connect to a nearby device as soon as you pop them into your ear holes.
It’s also quite easy to pair them with an Android device, you just need to press a button in the charging case and connect via regular bluetooth.
Finicky bluetooth is the worst thing about wireless headphones, so the seamless setup and everyday connectivity of the Powerbeats is a huge tick in their favour.
You can get around 9 hours of life out of the fully charged Powerbeats, which was perfect for my workday and commute needs.
The case itself provides an additional 15 hours of playback, bringing the total to around 24 hours before the case needs to be recharged. This is excellent.
But while great battery life is great, what really impressed me was the Quick Charge functionality – something I fell in love with in the Sony MH-1000XM3s.
I’m notoriously bad at remembering to charge wireless headphones, so I appreciate that I can pop the Pros on charge for 15 minutes while trying to find my pants in the morning and get 4.5 hours of life out of them.
As an FYI, you’ll need a lightening charger for the Powerbeats, which is something to keep in mind if you’re not already firmly locked into the iOS ecosystem.
I’m really not a fan of the Powerbeat Pro’s aesthetic. It’s a bit dorky and has an extreme gym junkie meets sales bro vibe.
But I have to admit that the design makes the buds extremely comfortable, and perfect for exercise.
Hello, welcome to my dorky looking head. Image: Steph Panecasio
I’ve been fortunate enough to never cop a fallen AirPod, despite using them for running quite regularly. However, they always feel like they’re threatening to jump ship.
Comparatively, the Powerbeats are consistently snug and secure when I’m pounding the pavement. While they can be a little fiddly to hook into and around your ears, they’re definitely not going anywhere once you do.
But despite sitting so firmly in the ear, I never had any issues with discomfort, whether exercising or even just wearing them for hours in the office.
The rubbery, water resistant material also meant that sweat isn’t an issue in terms of ruining them or causing discomfort. The AirPods can feel a little gross and slippery after sweating all over them, but that isn’t an issue here.
I don’t tend to expect much when it comes to sound quality, or even noise cancelling, for in-ear headphones. Yeah, even when Dre is involved.
But I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the Powerbeats Pros, especially considering the sport focus. Superb sound didn’t really have to be a priority, but Beats made it one.
While the series in general has been quite good at hitting the bass (which it’s known for), I was impressed by the clarity and complexity that it managed to achieve at the low and mid-range.
And this is probably because of the redesigned acoustic package, which is said to improve clarity and extend the dynamic range.
This is helped by a new pistonic driver that apparently provides a better bass response and minimises distortion.
A tiny hole is also drilled into each bud, which improves the acoustics through air movement.
Everything from the Hamilton OST, to Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated sounded mint.
Laugh at the latter all you want, that woman knows a sick beat and isn’t afraid to wield a kick drum dangerously.
The only let down on the sound front is that Pro’s noise blocking isn’t as hardcore as I would like at this price.
While they’re cheaper than Sony’s new noise-cancelling buds, which seem to be have been woven through witchcraft, they’re only $50 cheaper.
Ambient noise bleeds through on public transport and in the office, so expect to have your ears low-key assaulted by hectic gym music if that’s where you like to work out.
To be fair, Beats doesn’t claim that these are noise-cancelling, instead focusing on the sound quality and comfort – which it has in spades.
But if Beats wants to play in this price bracket, this is something I’d like to see in the next generation of Pros.
What’s Not So Good About Them?
The case for the Powerbeat Pros is comically large. Where an AirPod case can slide easily into your back pocket, the Powerbeat’s one is conspicuous, even when buried in the depths of my vast winter coat.
To be fair, the pods themselves are large thanks to the ear-hook design. But it does make them a tad inconvenient if you want to have your pods on the go without having to take a bag.
Of course, you could tempt fate by keeping them loose in your pocket, but that probably isn’t a good idea. I’m the worst, so I just know that they would disappear into the ether (or down a train seat) after about five minutes.
The Case Also Makes Me Feel Real Dumb
I’d like to preface this by saying that I was not the only one to struggle with this! Most of us were scratching our heads at the product briefing, and several of my co-workers didn’t know what the hell was up. Except for Leah, who worked them out immediately. She’s fired now.
In short, the Pro’s buds are large and oddly shaped, which means that they only fit in the case in a particular way.
If you’re taking them out of your ears ad placing them directly down and into the case, this is relatively simply. Most of the time, anyway.
But I cannot tell you the amount of times I have taken the buds out and left them on my desk, only to find that it takes me longer than I care to admit to put them back into the case.
This is partially because it’s hard to tell the left bud from the right, but also because of the shape.
You get used to this eventually, but it’s definitely the most difficult charging case I’ve ever come across.
It sure has given this tech journalist a crisis of faith in her abilities and general intelligence.
Should You Buy Them?
It really comes down to what you plan on using them for. If you want wireless earbuds for exercise without the constant fear of them falling out, these are a good buy, even with a price tag that high.
You’re getting extremely versatile, water resistant and comfortable buds that have loads of battery life and sound great to boot. If you don’t mind how gratuitous they look, you’ll probably dig them. I certainly do.
However, if you’re not likely to use your next pair of wireless earbuds for exercise, you’re better off spending $249 on the second generation AirPods instead.