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Beats Powerbeats review: Special glow-in-the-dark edition now available

Andy White
30 Nov 2020
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
130
inc VAT

You’ll be hard pushed to find a better pair of workout headphones – 2020’s Powerbeats are a real hit

Pros 
Big, bold, bass-heavy sound
Stable and comfortable fit
Excellent battery life
Cons 
No noise cancellation
Lacks newer Bluetooth codec support
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The Powerbeats are the latest offering from Apple subsidiary Beats, which is best known for its association with co-founder Dr Dre. Dre’s superstar appeal combined with Apple’s marketing clout pretty much guarantees they’ll sell well but there’s a lot more to the Powerbeats than mere celebrity affiliation – they’re also an excellent pair of exercise-focused headphones in their own right.

Beats Powerbeats (2020) review: What you need to know

The 2020 Powerbeats are in-ear Bluetooth headphones that fuse the neckband-style of the Powerbeats 3 (2016) with the updated earpiece design of last year’s Powerbeats Pro. The result is a pair of lightweight neckbuds that hook over your ears for additional stability during exercise.

As with the Powerbeats Pro, the Powerbeats house the latest the Apple H1 headphone chip, giving them an impressive 15 hours of battery life (three hours more than the Powerbeats 3) while also allowing for the integration of voice assistant support, with Siri available at the touch of a button.

The Powerbeats connect to your phone via Bluetooth 5.0 but codec-wise, you’re rather limited: there’s no support for aptX or aptX HD, so you have to make do with either SBC or AAC.

Beats Powerbeats (2020) review: Price and competition

The latest iteration of the Powerbeats will set you back £130, which is significantly lower than the Powerbeats 3’s launch price (£170). If you're looking to make a statement with your ear wear, there is a special edition version of the Powerbeats available for £170 from Selfridges and directly from Apple. The Ambush edition was created by the eponymous Tokyo-based fashion label and is the first-ever Beats product to glow in the dark. 

Should you wish to go completely wire-free, the true-wireless Powerbeats Pro typically retail at £220, while you also have the Apple AirPods (£139) and the Apple AirPods Pro, which add active noise cancellation and cost £249.

Jabra, Plantronics and JBL all produce wireless headphones that have stabilising earhooks similar to those of the Powerbeats. Jabra’s Elite Active 45e, the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 350 and JBL’s Endurance Jump are all available for around £70.

There are plenty of other options out there if you’re not fussed about having over-ear hooks. AKG’s N200A headphones are both water- and splashproof and use fins rather than hooks to stabilise their buds in your ear. The N200A are available for £119, while AKG also offers a cheaper alternative, the Y100, which cost £89.

Perhaps the best-sounding neckbud-style headphones on the market are the Sennheiser Momentum Free Wireless, which feature aptX support and magnetic earpieces. They’re a touch more expensive than the Powerbeats at £150 but come with a premium leather case. Also in that price bracket are Sony’s WI-SP600N. At £140, these offer noise cancellation and ambient sound modes plus Alexa voice assistant built-in.

For a completely different audio experience, you may want to check out the AfterShokz Aeropex, which operate via bone conduction, leaving your ear canals fully open. These fully waterproof headphones are particularly good for road runners who need to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

Some great alternatives and where to buy them:

Beats Powerbeats (2020) review: Design, build quality and features

Available in black, white and red, the Powerbeats are stylishly designed but, ultimately, they look the way they do because they’ve been created for use during physical activity.

Like the Powerbeats 3, the 2020 model has a thin wire that wraps around the back of your neck to connect the two earpieces. On closer inspection, you’ll notice a few subtle differences between these and the older model, though. The cable is round rather than flat, which causes less chafing on the neck when running and it can no longer be adjusted. This wasn’t an issue for me; I found the length just right but others may miss the option to alter it. The most significant difference, however, is that the wire now runs behind your ears to the earpieces, rather than in front of them. This is a very smart design decision and it makes the headphones feel a lot less intrusive when worn.

The earpieces themselves are practically identical to those of the Powerbeats Pro and incorporate a very similar button setup. Positioned on the left earpiece is the power/pairing button, while the volume controls are housed on the right earpiece. Also on the right earpiece (the stem, as Beats refers to it), is a circular Beats logo that doubles as a button for playing and pausing music, receiving and ending calls and activating your voice assistant.

Overall, it’s a very clean design and the Powerbeats look good without doing anything too fancy. The flexible silicone earhooks do make them trickier to put on than your standard in-ear headphones but that’s not to say they’re difficult to fit, they just require a bit of extra fiddling. That extra effort pays off in a big way when exercising, however. The Powerbeats are the most stable-fitting in-ear headphones I’ve ever worn and didn’t move a millimetre while I was running on the treadmill. My treadmill session also confirmed their IPX4 rating - the Powerbeats are most certainly sweat- and water-resistant!

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Beats provides you with four pairs of eartips to choose from and I was able to get a decent seal in my ears with the largest variant. Sound isolation wasn’t the best even with this snug fit. I could still hear a fair bit of environmental noise at half volume and had to resort to cranking them up. This drowned out all distractions but, at close to full volume, you’ll become a nuisance to those around you due to the amount of sound leakage. This might not be an issue in a busy gym but on public transport or at home, it’s liable to rub people up the wrong way.

Also included as part of the Powerbeats package are a small, perfectly serviceable, Beats-branded carrying case and a 2cm-long Lightning (at the headphone end) to USB-A charging cable. Given these headphones exist as part of the Apple ecosystem, it’s to be expected they’d use the company’s proprietary charging connector and it proves effective, with five minutes of charge giving you upwards of an hour’s play time.

Pairing via Bluetooth couldn’t be easier if you’re an Apple iOS user - simply turn on the headphones, hold them close to your phone, tablet or MacBook and wait for the prompt to connect. Android users don’t have this luxury and have to connect through the settings menu. One neat feature Apple users also get access to is audio sharing, which allows two people to listen to the same audio source, as long as you have a compatible device and two pairs of compatible Beats or Apple headphones.

One thing I’d have liked to have seen included is an auto-pause feature when you remove the earpieces. Taking the Powerbeats out of your ears and letting them dangle around your neck is all well and good but you need to manually pause what you’re listening to. I’d also have loved to have seen active noise cancellation incorporated but that would have undoubtedly pushed the very reasonable price up.

Beats Powerbeats (2020) review: Sound quality

Beats headphones are renowned for a bassy sound signature and the new Powerbeats don’t disappoint. There’s all the weight and punch to the low end we’ve come to expect from the brand and it reached ear-shattering levels while listening to the Drum & Bass Arena 20 Years playlist on Spotify. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I’m a bass addict so I was in my element as I pounded out the kilometres but it’s fair to say that this sound signature won’t be for everyone.

While it’s easy just to focus on the excellent bass representation, that’s not all the Powerbeats are good at. They do a respectable job representing mids and high frequencies as well, and I found that, despite the thumping low end, vocals weren’t overshadowed. In fact, it was actually at the other end of the audio spectrum that I felt the Powerbeats were slightly overtuned. I found the highest-pitched vocals to be piercing to the point that they were difficult to listen to, particularly at higher volumes.

One consequence of the Powerbeats’ focus on bass is that this creates quite a claustrophobic listening experience. Like the Powerbeats Pro, the soundstage is narrow so you hear everything in very close proximity and this can be quite overwhelming aurally. Again, I actually enjoyed this sensation but others may not be so keen.

Should you need to make or receive calls when working out you’ll be glad to hear that the Powerbeats’ microphone functions very well. I had no issues with being heard, though at times I may have been a little out of breath.

Beats Powerbeats (2020) review: Verdict

For £130 you’ll be hard pushed to find a better pair of headphones specifically designed for physical activity. The Powerbeats are comfortable, very stable when worn and the on-earpiece controls are a breeze to use.

Sonically, they’re somewhat of an acquired taste. If like me, you have a mild addiction to bass, you’ll love how the hard-hitting lows envelop you in sound and the Powerbeats will prove a worthwhile investment. If, however, you’re after a relaxing listen to accompany your morning jog, you may want to steer clear.

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