There was good reason to believe that 2019 was going to be the year Apple introduced us to the Apple AirPods 2 – and no, we’re not talking about the half-step up Apple AirPods (2019).
What we were expecting from Apple’s next-gen true wireless earbuds was a massive overhaul, the kind analysts have been promising for the last two years.
Unfortunately, we still haven’t gotten it.
But the new PowerBeats Pro true wireless Beats headphones are something special – sure, they share a lot of the same wireless tech as the new AirPods, but they’re supremely comfortable, sound decent and seem to never, ever fall out.
Price and release date
The PowerBeats Pro are due out on May 10, 2019 and will set you back $249 / £219 / AU$350. They’ll be available in four colors – Black, Ivory, Moss, and Navy – all of which come with a matching charging case.
For comparison that’s a significant jump in price compared to the Apple AirPods, currently on sale for $159/£159/AU$249, and far more expensive than the basic PowerBeats 3 that can usually be found online for under $100/£100.
Still, what you’re getting with the PowerBeats Pro is the significantly improved design, new H1 Chip and a better sound quality than the PowerBeats 3.
In terms of design, there’s a lot to like about the new PowerBeats Pro – it has a sport look to it, while still being practical enough to wear around outside the gym.
On each of the two earbuds the PowerBeats Pro have a center playback control button where the Beats logo is, plus a volume rocker. That means you can control your music with whichever hand is free, which is a nice feature. (Of course, if you have Hey Siri enabled, you can simply say the wake word with a voice command for the same effect.)
It also helps that the Pro is extremely comfortable, and not just in terms of how it fits in and around the ear, but also in terms of how it feels when you’re listening to music.
If you’ve used other true wireless headphones in the past, you might recall feeling a sort of in-ear pressure while listening to music. It’s something we’ve certainly felt while listening to other workout earbuds like the Jaybird X4, but that uncomfortable pressure simply doesn’t exist with the PowerBeats Pro. That’s because of a micro-laser barometric venting hole in the front chamber that, in Apple’s own words, reduces pressure in the ear and improves the bass response… not that Beats headphones needs any help with bass levels.
Another factor that contributes to the excellent fit is how slim the nozzle of the earbuds are – it’s smaller than a lot of other true wireless earbuds on the market and with four different ear tip options, there are still plenty of ways to get that perfect seal.
The biggest faults we’ve found so far with the PowerBeats Pro, and it’s something other reviewers have noticed as well, is that the PowerBeats’ case is enormous. It’s the kind of thing that looks awkward in your gym shorts and can be a hassle to carry around in your pockets. It feels like the only place the headphone case belongs is in your gym bag or locker, and that’s kind of disappointing if you want to wear the Pro while you work at the office.
Apple’s rebuttal to that statement is that the PowerBeats can last up to nine hours in between charges and store about two charges in the case. Combined, Apple claims the PowerBeats Pro have a 24-hour battery and should last a few days between charges.
We can’t tell yet if it really lives up to that claim, but it’s something we’ll definitely put through its paces before we post our final review.
Like other AirPod products, the PowerBeats Pro are the most at home when paired with other Apple devices. On iOS, pairing up the PowerBeats Pro is as simple as opening the case near your iPhone or iPad. Two touches later and your devices are synced.
That said, the PowerBeats Pro aren’t Apple-exclusive and will work with Android and Windows 10 devices – all you need to do is hold the pairing button inside the charging case and select the PowerBeats Pro on the device you want to pair. There’s almost no difference in sound quality that we could hear between a paired iOS device (our iPhone 8) and a paired Android device (our Google Pixel 3a XL), as both connections use Bluetooth 5.0.
One of the key reasons you’d want to use an Apple device is to take advantage of the new H1 Wireless Chip, the same one that just went into the Apple AirPods. With it, you’ll notice faster pairing times and hands-free Siri, but you can certainly survive without those features, too.
But staying in your ear and connecting quickly to your smartphone are table stakes for Bluetooth headphones. What really matters is how good they sound when you’re moving – an area that a lot of popular earbuds don’t really master.
The good news is that the PowerBeats sound good both during a workout and during your time away from the gym. Yes, there’s a slight flimsiness to the sound if you take a critical ear to it – but it’s not the kind of thing you notice during your workout.
What’s more surprising is that the PowerBeats Pro have really turned down the bass this time around. They’re not quite at a flat EQ, but it’s like a gentle v-shape that boosts the highs and lows with a slight recess on the mids. It’s a gentle enough curve that music sounds reasonably energetic, but not too slanted that movies and shows are unwatchable. In fact, Thor Raganarok sounded absolutely fine with them.
The problem here, however, is that music – and audio as a whole – is relatively subjective. Our preferences for an EQ curve aren’t going to be your tastes, and Apple doesn’t provide you any tools to alter the sound. That can be frustrating if you don’t feel like you’re hearing enough mids when you’re watching a movie and worse, if you feel like your music is missing some sparkle in the upper register. As of now, there’s no way to add any of that back in.
A more practical issue people might have with the PowerBeats is that they’re only IPX4 splash-resistant. This means they can take a bit of sweat, maybe an accidental splash from a water bottle or someone jumping in the pool, but they’re not water-proof.
Basically, don’t plan on taking these on your next beach vacation.
After using them for a few days, we feel there’s a lot to like about the new PowerBeats Pro: they’re super comfortable, they have a nine-hour battery life, pair flawlessly and stay connected seamlessly, and have an enjoyable sound.
That said, they’re significantly more expensive than other true wireless earbuds and they really can’t be tuned to your liking. They’re not water-proof so they shouldn’t be taken near the water (goodbye relaxing beach days) and the charging case really isn’t pocket-friendly.
We like them a lot more than the new Apple AirPods, and expect others will feel similarly, but we’ll still need more time with them before we can dole out our final assessment.