The PowerBeats Pro are Apple-owned Beats’ first true wireless Bluetooth earbuds that cut the cable and seek to be the ultimate running and gym earphones.

As with Apple’s original AirPods, which looked like a set of the firm’s standard EarPods with the cables cut off, the £220 PowerBeats Pro are basically the firm’s popular PowerBeats 3 neckband Bluetooth earbuds without the cables joining the pair.

That includes the signature ear hook, which tucks behind the top of your ear to hold the earbuds in place. As such the PowerBeats Pro are neither small nor subtle. They come in black, but also a series of attractive colours such as a dark green. Still, if you were looking for a discreet set of earbuds you’ll need to look elsewhere.

beats powerbeats pro review



The Beats ‘b’ on each earbud acts as a multi-function button. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

In effect the PowerBeats Pro are the anti-AirPods, with an unshakable attachment to your ear and a traditional silicone earbud (of which there is a choice of four) to fill your ear canal and block out more ambient noise. It’s not obvious, but the ear hook is actually adjustable. With a bit of force you can bend it into a more comfortable position. It took me a while to get it right, but once bent to fit your ear properly you get a light yet sturdy hold for up to an hour, after which they caused pain in my left ear.

Due to the ear hook going over your ear, they weren’t comfortable with sunglasses and I expect the same with eyeglasses. It’s also worth noting that despite being marketed as fitness headphones, the PowerBeats Pro do not have any capacity to play music on their own. They are simply Bluetooth earbuds that need to connect to a phone or another device for music.

Massive case

beats powerbeats pro review



The case is big, but so are the earbuds. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The biggest downside of the PowerBeats Pro is the giant case. Pocketable this thing is not, and that’s a bit of a problem for true wireless earbuds because once you take them out of your ear they’re easy to lose if you don’t return them to the case. Admittedly the large size of the earbuds makes that less likely than some smaller options, but why the case has to be so big I’m not sure.

Like most other true wireless earbuds, the case has its own battery that’s charged via Apple’s Lightning cable, which is convenient for iPhone users but not so much for Android or iPad Pro users. There’s no wireless charging.

The PowerBeats Pro have class-leading battery life lasting more than eight hours between charges, where most cap out at five. The case will charge the PowerBeats Pro over 1.5 times too, meaning they last for about 24 hours of playback all combined. A quick five-minute trip in the case is worth up to 90 minutes’ playback, which is handy if you forget to charge them.

Connectivity

beats powerbeats pro review



Press the button just inside the case to trigger pairing. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

What gives the PowerBeats Pro their longevity is Apple’s H1 chip – the same one found in the second generation AirPods. It handles the simultaneous attachment to your phone, meaning either bud can be used independently, and provides rock-solid connection even in challenging conditions.

It also handles the instant pairing you get with an iPhone. Open the case for the first time near an iPhone and up pops a pairing prompt on the screen. Once hooked up to one Apple device they can be connected to any others you own that are signed into your iCloud account without having to re-pair them each time.

Pairing with an Android phone is easy too. With the Beats app installed on your phone you can simply open the case near your phone and press and hold the button to pop up a prompt on your phone to pair with one tap. Otherwise simply find them in your standard Bluetooth settings to pair like anything else.

The Beats Android app also gives you the same battery information pop-up when you open the case as you get on an iPhone, which is handy. You can connect them to only one device at a time, but switching between devices is easy: simply demand the connection from another device’s Bluetooth settings and the PowerBeats Pro disconnects from one and connects to the other.

Controls

beats powerbeats pro review



Dedicated volume buttons are on the top edge of the body of the earbud. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The earbuds also inherit one of Apple’s other features from the AirPods: Hey Siri support. You can simply say the wakewords “Hey Siri” while wearing them to access Apple’s voice assistant on an iPhone. Otherwise pressing and holding the multifunction “b” button on the earbuds fires up Siri or Google Assistant on an Android device.

Buttons are one of the strong points of the PowerBeats Pro. Unlike most other true wireless earbuds they have dedicated volume controls on both earbuds, while the main button takes care of playback controls with single, double and triple presses.

You can also set them to pause playback when you take one out and start again when you reinsert it into your ear.

Sound and isolation

beats powerbeats pro review



The silicone earbud tip helps block out a some ambient noise. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Beats has a history of bass-heavy headphones. While the PowerBeats Pro have punch in the low-end they aren’t overly dominated by it, which is a good thing. They sound full of energy, with a very forward and spirited sound, which is most suited to listening while doing activity, whether it’s walking, running or working out.

They do fairly well with most music genres. The silicone earbud tips block out some noise, unlike the AirPods, but not a vast amount. It means you have to crank up the volume to hear your music on public transport more than you might with better isolating competitors. Those looking for the best-sounding earbuds might be a little disappointed at this price too – Sony’s WF-1000X or Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless sound better.

Observations

  • The PowerBeats Pro are only sweat resistant with an IPX4 rating, not water resistant to IP68 like many smartphones, while the case is not sweat or water resistant.

  • Getting the earbuds to snap into the right place in the case takes a little practice.

  • The lid of the case shuts with a reassuring clunk.

  • Call quality was good, coming across loud and clear to the recipient but with a little background noise.

  • Wind noise is a problem because they stick out of your ears quite far.

Price

The Beats PowerBeats Pro come in black, white, navy or green, costing £219.95.

For comparison, Apple’s AirPods cost £159, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds cost £139 and Bose SoundSport Free costs £179.95.

Verdict

The PowerBeats Pro are an excellent set of earbuds marred by a few compromises due to the large form and ear attachment.

They sound good, last a long time between charges, have rock-solid connectivity and an excellent set of controls. They also have the same Apple magic that makes the AirPods extremely convenient to use with an iPhone or any other Apple device, which is a massive advantage other brands simply don’t have. You even get a little bit of it on Android thanks to the Beats app.

But the case is enormous, the fit won’t suit everyone, they don’t isolate that well, and forget wearing them with glasses. They’re also fairly expensive, placing them in a bracket filled with excellent true wireless earbuds. Most fitness-orientated sets are much cheaper than this.

So the PowerBeats Pro are for those who wish the AirPods offered a little isolation and held on to their ears better, particularly for exercise. But I still wish Apple just produced a set of AirPods with proper silicone earbud tips.

Pros: secure fit, rock-solid connectivity, volume controls, good sound, long battery life, fast pairing with either iOS or Android, sweat resistant

Cons: Big, massive case, takes a while to get the right fit, not great with glasses, expensive

beats powerbeats pro review



The lightning port in the case takes care of charging. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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