With mediocre sound quality, problematic connectivity and a bulky carrying case, the new Beats headphones are a stylish letdown
- Excellent battery life
- Pairs well with Apple devices
- Secure fit
- Connectivity and latency issues on Android
- Mediocre sound for the price
- Cumbersome carrying case
Apple pioneered true wireless earbuds back in 2016 with the launch of its iconic AirPods. Now the company’s Beats by Dre subsidiary – known for its product placement in more or less every R’n’B music video – has entered the game with the Powerbeats Pro, a sporty spin on the wireless formula.
Beats Powerbeats Pro review: What you need to know
The Powerbeats Pro are of a quite different design to the AirPods. They use in-ear drivers with removable silicone tips and, unlike the AirPods, they have over-the-ear hooks, ensuring they won’t pop out even during vigorous exercise.
They also come in four alluring colours (while the AirPods are available only in white), with physical buttons on the outside for media controls. The charging case, meanwhile, is much larger than the AirPod case and can’t itself be wirelessly charged.
The two sets of headphones do, however, have one thing in common: they both use Apple’s H1 chip, which delivers seamless connectivity for iOS and macOS users.
Beats Powerbeats Pro review: Price and competition
Outside of the Apple product stable, there’s a wealth of other options. You might go for the audiophile-grade Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless at £249, the well-designed RHA TrueConnect for £150 or my favourites, the Creative Outlier Air, which cost only £75.
If you’re primarily looking at the Powerbeats Pro for their sporting credentials, you should also consider the excellent JLab Epic Air Elite at £150, the waterproof E’NOD Mini Ring Pro at just £72 and JBL Under Armour True Wireless Flash at £160. Truly, you’re spoilt for choice.
Beats Powerbeats Pro review: Build quality and features
Design has always been a strength of Beats by Dre and, as you’d expect, the Powerbeats Pro are a stylish set of buds. They come in four colours – ivory, “Moss”, navy and black – the last being the variant I was sent for this review.
They have a smart arrangement of physical buttons, with an easy-to-press volume rocker and the same functions available on both left and right sides. By long-pressing one of the buttons, you can access your phone’s voice assistant or, if the headphones are paired with an iPhone, you can also just say “Hey Siri” and instruct the assistant to adjust the volume, check the battery life of your devices and skip tracks.
Voice control works extremely well, thanks to an array of microphones positioned around the earbuds, and these also did a good job of picking up my voice during phone calls, even in noisy environments. There’s no “hear-through” feature for quickly tuning into your surroundings, however, as found on the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless.
Build quality is similarly hard to fault. The malleable over-the-ear hooks provide a secure fit, and stay put no matter the activity: they’re every bit as good as the JLab Epic Air Elite, which adopt a similar design.
If you get sweaty during your workout, it shouldn’t be a problem as the Powerbeats Pro are advertised as sweat and water-resistant, which should mean they survive the rain. Their actual certification status is unclear, however, as these don’t have an Ingress Protection (IP) certification. I’d be wary of using them while swimming, whereas the IPX7-certified JBL Under Armour True Wireless Flash and E’NOD Mini Ring Pro can be fully submerged in water.
In terms of design, the most annoying thing about the Powerbeats Pro is the charging case. With a product like this, you’d expect a portable, lightweight case. In fact, you get the opposite. It’s unusually large and weighs a relatively hefty 109g without the earbuds and 130g with them inside. In comparison, the AirPod case weighs 38g and 46g respectively.
It’s also worth noting that it charges via a Lightning port, instead of a much more universal USB connector, and that, unlike the latest AirPod case, the Beats case can’t be wirelessly charged.
On the plus side, the case holds around two full charges, and the earbuds themselves last for nine hours – so with everything fully charged, you’re looking at over 24 hours of playback, which is very good indeed. If your headphones die at an inconvenient time, a five-minute fast charge will give you 90 minutes of music.
Unusually, the case is also used for pairing the Powerbeats Pro pair with your audio source. The logic is that the headphones should be ready to play as soon as you pop them into your ears – and I found that pairing and media playback worked seamlessly with an iPhone Xs Max.
Things didn’t go so well on Android, however. When paired with an Honor View 20, the Beats suffered lip-sync issues and sometimes failed to register as a media device at all, showing up as only available for phone call audio. When paired with the Asus ZenFone 6, I encountered hiccups with the choice of codec, where the phone would resort to SBC over the higher-quality AAC codec instead. These aren’t the sorts of issues you’d expect from earbuds costing this much.
Presumably, these quirks are down to Apple’s H1 headphone chip, which prioritises AAC and can cause complications with Android devices that don’t favour said codec. SBC, which is more widely supported is your secondary option but this degrades audio fidelity. And there’s no support at all for the higher-quality aptX, aptX HD or LDAC codecs; that’s sadly no surprise from Apple, but it’s something most competing earbuds offer.
Beats Powerbeats Pro review: Sound quality
I’ve mentioned the Powerbeats Pro have some issues with codec support on Android. To avoid complications, therefore, I tested them with an iPhone Xs Max, which uses the AAC codec and immediately I recognised something of the signature Beats sound.
However, unlike the company’s original over-ear headphones, which suffer from a bloated mid-bass, the Powerbeats Pro sound nicely controlled throughout the low-end. Blasting out Dr. Dre’s very own “Kush”, the bass hits hard but doesn’t overpower the mids. The vocals aren’t pushed back either, coming through with plenty of presence and energy. By contrast, the Mobvoi TicPods Free have a more subdued low-end, although their mid-range performance is impressively clear.
There are shortcomings to the Beats’ performance, however. They lack deep, progressive sub-bass extension and they also sound a touch rolled off at the top-end. The difference between these and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless, which excel at both extremes of the audio spectrum, is unmistakable.
The stereo image is narrower than I would like, too, with “Slide” by Calvin Harris feeling slightly claustrophobic. Here it’s the Creative Outlier Air that shows up what you’re missing, with a huge soundstage and excellent instrument separation.
Beats Powerbeats Pro review: Verdict
The Powerbeats Pro have a secure fit, an aesthetically pleasing design and work superbly with Apple devices, including “Hey Siri” integration. Unfortunately, the Android experience is less seamless and the charging case is unnecessarily bulky.
Perhaps more importantly, these headphones simply don’t sound as great as they should for £220. Earbuds from Sennheiser and Creative offer a better musical experience, and the latter cost only £75. Fitness fans should also check out the JBL Under Armour True Wireless Flash and E’NOD Mini Ring Pro with their fully-fledged waterproof designs – or the JLab Epic Air Elite, which has ear hooks that keep them securely in place while you work out.