Powerbeats Pro in their charging case

Powerbeats Pro is Apple's newest set of Beats-branded earphones. They're the first of their kind from the Beats line in that they are the first truly wireless headphones from the department. Because Beats understands audio and Apple understands quality, the culmination of the two teams learning from each other has produced an incredibly set of in-ear headphones that have a much broader appeal to music fans.

The Powerbeats Pro are amazing. We've all already heard the positive feedback, including my own and Rene Ritchie's first impressions. But why are the Powerbeats Pro so impressive? What makes them stand out from other earphones? That's what I'm here to talk about. By gathering questions that people are asking and researching details about frequency levels and harmonic distortion, I'm not just going to write about my personal experience with the Powerbeats Pro, but I'm also going to back it up with facts.

Sporty music magic

Powerbeats Pro

The only truly wireless headphones with Apple's H1 chip guaranteed to stay in your ears.

If you've always wanted a pair of truly wireless headphones, but the AirPods weren't right for you, the Powerbeats Pro are your salvation. They come in ivory, moss, navy, and black.

For people who want

  • An incredible audio experience in earphones
  • Truly wireless headphones
  • Independent left/right bud usage
  • Fast pairing and device switching
  • Any other color than white
  • Long battery life
  • A sporty earphone option
  • Sweat/water resistance
  • Variety in ear fit options
  • Voice-activated Siri support

Not for people who want

  • Over-the-ear or around-the-ear headphones
  • Minimal earphone design
  • Apple's iconic earphone look
  • No ear hooks
  • No canal buds
  • A tiny carrying case
  • Wireless charging

The re-inventing of the Beats sound: No more heavy bass

Powerbeats Pro

The first question, and the most-asked question, I got when talking about Powerbeats Pro was whether they are bass-heavy, the way other Beats headphones tend to be. The short answer is a definitive "no," but my first-hand experience has some additional information to back it up.

First, let's start with just a bit of background. Beats was founded in 2008 by famed rapper Dr. Dre and Interscope records cofounder Jimmy Iovine. The company developed headphones that were intentionally bass heavy because they were being designed for hip-hop. This sound was revolutionary and polarizing. It was revolutionary because, until this point, headphones were designed for broad listening styles, not for a singular market.

Zack O'Malley, writing for Forbes in 2018, interviewed Noel Lee, a prominent member of the Beats development team early on.

"It was the first time anybody had heard that bass — Sennheiser didn't do it, Bose didn't do it, Sony didn't do it," says Lee. "They were still doing studio or orchestral stuff, but they weren't doing hip-hop. ... The kids, when they listen to music, they want to hear it like they hear it in the club."

It was polarizing because the popularity of Beats By Dre and other Beats headphones brought them into the mainstream, where not everyone was listening to hip-hop. The "Beats Curve" was considered muddy and too low-end, cutting off the balanced mix of mids and highs. As the Beats brand grew, so did critizism from audiophiles that blasted the company's frequency curve. It wasn't just audiophiles, though. Critics were everyday people that listen to a broad range of music, and even fans of hip-hop that just didn't think it was a good approach to bring the club sound into our ears.

Fast forward (or, skip to the next track?) to April 2019 when Tech Radar's Olivia Tambini interviewed Beats president, Luke Wood about the changes that have been made with Powerbeats Pro.

"No one was making headphone products to articulate the bottom end" Wood says – but he concedes that Beats' reputation for overly bass-heavy products was "absolutely taken into consideration" when creating the new PowerBeats Pro.

Since then, Wood says Beats has "got better and learned the tools of [its] trade" in the years after it released its first studio headphones in 2008.

"Hopefully people will respect the fact that we learned and grew."

For Powerbeats Pro, the sound designers at Beats have taken what they've learned and combined it with their understanding of music to completely change the Beats Curve, at least in this instance.

The new linear piston driver in the Powerbeats Pro headphones is the "driving" force behind the major audio upgrade. Beats markets the driver as delivering "powerful and consistent airflow in a small package" with a 60% reduction in total harmonic distortion as compared to the driver used in the Powerbeats 3.

Powerbeats Pro in my ears

A driver is the mechanism inside headphones and earphones that turn electric signals into sound. There are many different types of drivers, each type with different pros and cons. Beats' "Linear Piston" driver, as far as I can tell, is a new driver, which seems to be some sort of hybrid of a dynamic driver. Dynamic drivers are the most common headphone drivers because they provide a good balance between lows, mids, and highs. Their Kryptonite is that they tend to distort at higher volume.

The Powerbeats Pro are able to keep distortion levels low because of an acoustic venting design that allows for better airflow. Basically, music doesn't distort as much with bass-heavy music, like hip-hop.

No. The Powerbeats Pro are not bass-heavy the way other Beats headphones and earphones have been known to be.

So no. The Powerbeats Pro are not bass-heavy the way other Beats headphones and earphones have been known to be. I've spent more than 30 full hours (at least 8 hours per day since I received the review unit) listening to a wide variety of music, much of which was recommended to me via Twitter, and can say from my personal experience that the only time I heard a bass-heavy sound was when I was listening to a song that was intended to have a bass-heavy sound. In those instances, the bass was "thic" and chest thumping (as much as can be while listening to music through earphones).

What's my expertise in audio, you may be asking? I don't consider myself an audiophile. I don't have a frequency or distortion level tester sitting in my garage. I am, however, one of those types that prefers to listen to music on vinyl over digital because it sounds warmer and more real. I do think it's important for fans to hear songs as close as possible to how they were intended by the artist. I did totally reject the idea of digitizing music originally, and absolutely hated the iPod for the first few years of its existence. I still buy vinyl regularly and haven't touched a CD in a decade. I'm one of those types of music fans.

I am also an active musician in my local town. I play shows, book bands from around the world, and am co-owner of a very small record label. I've collaborated in recording, engineering, and mastering well over a dozen albums over the past 20 years. No, I'm not a sound engineer. I am, however, a huge fan of music with a decent understanding of what goes into making quality sound.

The comfort factor: Are they better than AirPods?

Powerbeats Pro in my ear

Whether Powerbeats Pro are more or less comfortable than any other design of earphones is obviously going to be different for each person. For me: They're the most comfortable in-ear headphones I've every used and significantly more comfortable than AirPods. That's just me.

Let me explain why I like the way Powerbeats Pro fit so much and what it might mean for you and your ears.

Canal bud vs earbud

The Powerbeats Pro earphones are in-ear canal bud style headphones. That means they rest deep in your ear canal. For some people, this is an absolute no go. I asked my friend to try out the Powerbeats Pro and she squealed and shuddered as she stuck them into her ears because it felt too weird for her. That's not even taking into account people that experience pain when using canal buds. I am completely sympathetic to this idea. I have the same problem with earbuds, especially hard shell earbuds like the AirPods.

For those of you wondering whether these in-ear canal buds are more comfortable than other in-ear canal buds, you may be disappointed. Here's what I mean.

The soft silicone ear tips that come with the Powerbeats Pro come in four different sizes for a very customizable fit. Beats notes in its marketing guide that they've been "redesigned with better sculpting and softness for improved comfort and acoustic seal." So you might be thinking, "Maybe they will be more comfortable than other in-ear canal buds." Probably true.

What is also true, from my experience, is that, even when redesigned to be more comfortable, there are certain types of earphones and headphones that are just never going to be comfortable for some people. When the first-generation AirPods came out, I was very hesitant to buy them because the EarPods were so painfully uncomfortable for me. So many people said AirPods were "way more comfortable than EarPods" that I decided to go for it.

Yes, they were more comfortable, but they still made the conchal bowl (I had to look this up; it's basically the big hole of your ear before entering the canal) of my ear hurt terribly after just about an hour. So, yeah. They're more comfortable, but if you experience pain with canal buds (the type that go deep into your ear canal), "more comfortable" probably isn't going to do you much good.

With that in mind, in terms of canal bud comfort, they're great. They are very comfortable, more comfortable than most, though not revolutionarily more comfortable. If you like canal buds, you're going to like these. Especially because you can customize the fit.

Hooks vs no hooks

Powerbeats Pro in my ears

Ear hooks are an interesting design that certainly takes a bit of getting used to. I couldn't even figure out how to put them on at first. Do I go hook first or bud first? Don't worry. I did eventually figure it out, and am pretty good at quickly inserting them now.

The Powerbeats Pro use the ear hook design, which for some, are a big turn off, partly because of the way they look and partly because of the way they feel.

In terms of comfort level, the ear hooks on the Powerbeats Pro are very pliable, so they don't press on the backside of the ear with any significance. They also aren't the main way to keep the buds in the ear. The buds are not so heavy that they would fall out without the hooks so they're not putting extraneous pressure on the back of your ears. Some people, just like those that can't stand canal buds or on-ear design, are not going to have a good experience with ear hooks under any circumstance.

They appear to be overall comfortable for glasses wearers. Rene Ritchie has more on that, but I'm not a regular glasses wearer, so my experience is clouded by the fact that I don't have to deal with headwear design affecting my comfort on a daily basis in that way. What I can say, from my experience with wearing sunglasses, is that I think it's a bit awkward of a fit.

I fiddle around with the hooks and sunglasses arms, trying to make it all feel right. Sometimes, I put the hooks inside the sunglasses arms, against my head. Other times I put the hooks outside the sunglasses arms. I've even tried one in and one out. Each method is ... fine. But I'm aware that they're there. It's never a "set it and forget it" kind of experience for me.

Would I prefer no hooks at all, like the way Apple's AirPods are? Very much yes. The ear hooks aren't a problem, but they're not a welcome addition in the least. They are necessary to the design, which is to keep the buds in your ears no matter what type of activities you're doing. The ear hooks do this very well, whether you like the way they look or not.

How comfortable is comfortable?

The four ear tips that come with the Powerbeats Pro are designed for a better fit and a better seal. The three main ones are best described as small, medium, and large, with a third set of tips that have a very small radius, but a wider seal that's more pliable than the other tips. It's a dual-tip design more akin to higher end earplugs. This last tip is the one I prefer. It's the smallest radius and also has a softer seal, so I don't suffer cartilage pain at all.

The first day I received the Powerbeats Pro, I wore them for about eight hours straight with only about a 20 minute break while I charged them up. I've never been able to wear any earbud, canal bud, or even standard headphones for so long without feeling some level of ear fatigue. Every day since then, I've been rocking the Powerbeats Pro for extended listening sessions at a time. Mostly, the only time I've taken them out of my ears is when I'm eating. Why while I'm eating, you're wondering?

Because it feels weird. The Powerbeats Pro ear tips have such a good seal on them that wearing them while eating is just like wearing ear plugs while eating. The sound of your food being chewed reverberates in your ears. It's just awkward.

Similarly, wearing the Powerbeats Pro generally feels like you're wearing ear plugs. This is fine, and even a good thing, when you're listening to something. But if you want to have a conversation with someone between music tracks (like, if your partner asks you a question and you hit the "pause" button to respond), everything you say or do sounds like its being bounced off of your inner ear. You can hear the outside world without needing to pull out the ear buds, but you hear yourself a lot more than normal.

The H1 chip: How well does it work?

Powerbeats Pro

The H1 chip in the Powerbeats Pro performs exactly the same as it does in the AirPods. When you first take the Powerbeats Pro out of the box and open the case, you'll immediately see the prompt pop up on your iPhone, asking if you want to pair them. Tap Connect and you're ready to go. That's it. No going into the settings section, pressing a pair button, or any other extra steps. Just tap "Connect" and wait a few seconds. Bam!

Once paired to your iPhone or iPad, all other devices that are signed in with your Apple ID get the same immediate treatment. They're already paired to every device and are just waiting for you to connect them. For iPhone and iPad, by default, auto connection just happens when you unlock a device (when the Powerbeats Pro aren't connected to any device first). For Mac and Apple TV, you just have to select them in your Bluetooth section.

Pairing isn't the only place the H1 chip shines, though. It's also how you are able to use either the left or the right earbud independently for everything. Whether you're playing music, talking on the phone, or answering a call, either ear bud performs all functions. There is no "host" bud that relays the data to the other. If you want to use a single bud in your left ear while you drive, but in your right ear while you jog, you do you. There isn't even a settings function you have to set to switch them. It just happens.

The speed at which the Powerbeats Pro connects to any device or switches from music to a phone call is pretty much exactly the same as with AirPods. Within a second on iPhone and iPad, less than three seconds on Mac, and switching from music to a phone call is less than a second of delay.

Taps or buttons; Who would win in a fight?

Powerbeats Pro and Airpods side-by-side

Are you a tapper or a presser? When it comes to on-ear controls, the Powerbeats Pro have physical buttons that you press. For some, this is a big improvement. For others, it's not as intuitive as the AirPods' tap gestures. Personally, I love the on-ear controls. I don't have to remember which ear does which action when I tap. I also rarely accidentally trigger an action on the Powerbeats Pro, unlike AirPods, where a simple hair readjustment would often accidentally trigger an action.

With AirPods, you can assign taps to do different things on the right or left ear, allowing you to customize how you control playback and Siri. On Powerbeats Pro, however, the buttons do what the buttons do. You have to learn what those actions are.

Play, pause, and volume controls are obvious. Press the B button to play or pause a song (this is also how you answer a call). Press the volume button on the top of the buds to adjust the volume up or down.

Everything after that gets a little bit tricky. Press and hold the B button for three seconds to trigger Siri. Press the button twice to skip ahead to the next song. Press the button three times to jump back to the previous track. Press two times and hold to fast forward through a song. Press three times and hold to rewind through a song.

Memorizing these controls may be a bit tricky for some. I've found it to be relatively easy, though. Honestly, it's been easier to remember physical actions than it was for me to remember what action I had assigned to the left and right earbud on my AirPods.

Siri listens, even when you whisper

Siri on Powerbeats Pro offers the same functionality as it does on AirPods. Call on the virtual assistant to control playback or ask some simple questions, like what time it is or what the weather is like.

Siri's got sensitive ears. You can whisper and it will hear you. When I'm whispering at about 10% of total silent (like, a medium-level whisper), it hears my request just about every time. If I try to whisper really quietly (like trying to ask a question during a quiet meeting and you don't want anyone to hear you), it doesn't hear me most of the time.

The good news is, you can trigger Siri without needing to say the magic words. Press and hold the B button on the earbuds for three seconds and it'll trigger Siri.

This also works with Android phones and your digital assistant of choice.

Noise isolation is not a lonely number

The Powerbeats Pro earphones are noise isolating (not noise canceling). To explain in shorthand, it means the design of the earphones themselves blocks out or muffle some sound from the outside world, as opposed to noise canceling, which uses actual hardware to cancel out nearly all outside noise.

Does that mean you can play music while mowing the lawn? Sort of. I don't have a lawn mower, but I do have a weed whacker. I do have to turn up the volume higher in order to hear music or audiobooks with the motor running, but not to full volume. The Powerbeats Pro do cut down on the loud noises you'll hear around you, but you'll still hear them. Because the ear tips go into your ear canal so deep, it makes the length the sound has to travel shorter, which also helps isolate the noise.

No-lag brag

Since Apple updated its headphone chip to the H1, there's been a significant reduction in perceptible lag. Like, zero. That's when watching movies and playing video games.

I tested the Powerbeats Pro against my favorite high-octane flicks to put them in the hot seat. I didn't notice any lag at all, not even with those train heist blaster shots in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

As for games, I tested the Powerbeats Pro against some low-graphic, high audio reaction games — tapping games that require precision timing alongside audio. No lag. I also tested them against high graphics action games like The Elder Scrolls: Blades. Still no lag.

If you're concerned that the Powerbeats Pro will have a negative impact on your movie watching or game playing, have no fear. There is no lag.

A case for the case

The Powerbeats Pro charging case is too big for skinny jeans

It's time to address the elephant in the room. The case. Obviously, Powerbeats Pro are too big to squeeze into a tiny little dental floss sized case. The earphones are bigger, therefore the case has to be bigger.

Beats took a bit of liberty with the case size, however. I think, with a bit more thought in the design, the case could have been a lot thinner, though probably not smaller in length or width.

If you're a skinny jeans wearer, they're not going to fit well, if at all, in your pocket. Imagine the very thickest wallet you've ever owned. Now double its thickness. That's about where the Powerbeats Pro case fits.

The great thing about the AirPods case is that you could shove it into your pocket or purse, or in my case, fanny pack, and never worry that it's taking up too much space.

With the Powerbeats Pro case, I'm faced with a tough decision as I walk out the door; Do I leave the case behind and have enough room in my tiny bag for everything I need or do I bring the case with me, ensuring 24 hours of charging, but basically requiring me to leave behind some other essential item to make it fit.

Powerbeats Pro case with Airpods case inside

Most of the time, you're going to walk out the door with your Powerbeats Pro and not need the case. When you do, you're probably going on a trip somewhere, and therefore have enough room in your bag to fit it.

There are, however, many daily activities I can think of where the larger case really messes with your flow.

Heading to work, for example, with just your binder in hand, you bring your Powerbeats Pro so you can listen to podcasts on the train. Stick them in your pocket while you're at work all day and suddenly, when you're ready to go home, the battery is completely drained (I can confirm that the sensor that triggers sleep mode detects movement, so if your Powerbeats Pro are in your pocket, they won't go to sleep).

At launch, there are no extra cases you can buy to have a spare at work. There also aren't any third-party cases for your case or a convenient carrier.

This is definitely something that needs to be addressed ASAP. We need the option to buy a second charging case.

Drop the mic

Powerbeats Pro with the glowing pairing light

The Powerbeats Pro earphones don't have a stem with a microphone at the end the way AirPods do (a design plus for some people). Instead, they've got long-range optical sensors, which detect when you're speaking.

Calls are handled remarkably well. I took a walk outside down a busy street with semi trucks driving by and was able to carry on a conversation with Rene with no trouble at all. He didn't hear the loud trucks driving past and I could hear him as clear as a bell, even with the outside noise.

Android can play this reindeer game

Powerbeats Pro with Android

Even though the Powerbeats Pro are Apple earphones, they're not exclusive to Apple devices. They're a standard set of Bluetooth earphones that can pair with any phone, tablet, or computer that has Bluetooth support.

You also get all the great features of the H1 chip with Android devices and PCs except for three. First, pairing is like a traditional set of Bluetooth headphones. They won't automagically send a signal to your phone with a cute little "Connect" animation right when you open the case.

Second, they won't sync up with all of your other devices that you're signed in to, like with Apple devices signed in with your Apple ID. Each time you want to switch between your Android phone, tablet, or PC, you'll need to follow the same steps as pairing and connecting with standard Bluetooth.

Third, no support for Siri. Siri belongs to Apple, so you're going to have to get your weather report from someone else. Luckily, you can actually do that with the Powerbeats Pro. When you press and hold the B button for three seconds on an Android phone, it will also trigger your voice assistant.

What Powerbeats Pro can and can't do

I've been asked a lot of questions about the features and performance of Powerbeats Pro, so I'm going to list some of the things the earphones can and can't do here, for your inquisitive minds.

  • Live Listening works with them.
  • The mic is very good.
  • You can't customize the button controls.
  • They pair like standard Bluetooth headphones on any non-Apple device (on Apple devices, they pair like magic).
  • They are rated at IPX4, which means they are splash resistant from all angles, but are not resistant to streams of water. They are also not rated for dust and debris.
  • The charging case uses a Lightning port. The package comes with a black Lightning cable, no power plug.
  • Sleep mode is triggered when the Powerbeats Pro are not moving. If you put them in your pocket, they don't go to sleep (thus conserving battery power).
  • While in sleep mode, they drain battery at about 2.5% per hour.
  • Switching between devices is very fast: 1 - 3 seconds.
  • The charging case is not heavy, but you need to use both hands to open it (the magnet closure is strong).
  • You probably can't use these while working if you're supposed to be able to hear people talking. The noise isolation muffles voices when you're listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks.
  • You can wear them while mowing the lawn without having to turn your audio up full volume, but you'll still need them to be a bit loud.
  • They are definitely not comfortable for sleeping in. Even if you sleep on your back, the hooks get in the way and press against your pillow, which then pushes the buds against your ears (I tried this and managed to sleep with them in for about two hours before I awoke in pain).

Bottomline

Powerbeats Pro Conclusion

Powerbeats Pro in my ears

Nobody likes a perfect score in a review. It makes the reviewer sound like they're too bias. So, I'm not giving Powerbeats Pro five stars, but it crossed my mind. I've never been happier with a pair of in-ear headphones before.

They're incredibly comfortable (though for some, canal buds are painful), have rich and well-balanced EQ for an amazing listening experience, and stay put in your ears.

Their only real flaw is in the charging case, which is bigger than it needs to be and isn't particularly convenient. There is also no way, at this time, to purchase a second charging case, so you can't have one at home and an extra sitting at work.

If you've been waiting for a pair of truly wireless earphones that have the H1 chip, but aren't AirPods, you're going to love Powerbeats Pro.

If you already own a pair of AirPods and are wondering if the Powerbeats Pro are better, it depends on what you need headphones for. If you need your earphones to stay put in your ears while you exercise, Powerbeats Pro are better. If you are a music fan that wants a full, rich, well-balanced sound, Powerbeats Pro are better. If you want extreme portability with a pocket-sized case, AirPods are better. If you prefer a minimalist looking earbud with an iconic Apple design aesthetic, AirPods are better. For everything else, AirPods and Powerbeats Pro are pretty much exactly the same, so don't worry about that FOMO. Your AirPods are nearly perfect, too.

Sporty music magic

Powerbeats Pro

The only truly wireless headphones with Apple's H1 chip guaranteed to stay in your ears.

If you've always wanted a pair of truly wireless headphones, but the AirPods weren't right for you, the Powerbeats Pro are your salvation. They come in ivory, moss, navy, and black.