People are obsessed with Powerbeats—which pair is right for you?
Neckband or flying free? Which Beats 'buds are best for you?
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Beats by Dre’s Powerbeats earphones have been a mainstay in the wireless headphone genre for years, and things have only gotten more interesting since Apple took over. With the Powerbeats Pro, Beats stepped into the true wireless market alongside other fully wireless earbuds like Apple’s own AirPods, offering impressive new features and the best sound from Beats earbuds yet. But at $250 MSRP, they’re also a major investment.
Enter the Powerbeats, which knock a full $100 off the price of their “Pro” sibling, while offering most of the same features. So what’s the catch? Unlike the Powerbeats Pro, the Powerbeats are connected by a small wire, similar to 2016’s Powerbeats3, and other models. There are other differences too, so read on to get the goods on what’s new in the latest Powerbeats, what’s missing, and which pair is right for you.
This one’s pretty simple. As mentioned at the intro, you’ll find the Powerbeats Pro at a full $100 higher than the Powerbeats, barring any major sales. For that extra cash, you’re essentially paying for the freedom of true wireless ‘buds, including a tangle-free design and a handy charging case. That makes them easier to store than neckband buds and better for activities like working out and doing yard work.
That said, with so many of the same benefits at a much lower price, the Powerbeats are the obvious winner here.
Our pick: Powerbeats
Apart from the price, the biggest number that stands out between the Powerbeats Pro and the Powerbeats is the battery life per charge. With a full 9 hours per charge, the Powerbeats Pro are among the best in the true wireless genre, nearly doubling the battery life of the AirPods and AirPods Pro. And yet, they can’t match their connected cousins, which offer as much as 15 hours per charge.
There’s an X factor at play here, though. Like virtually all true wireless earbuds, the Powerbeats Pro's 9 hours of listening time is bolstered by their charging case, which can recharge the buds on the go for around 24 hours of total playback. The Powerbeats have no charging case, so once you’ve maxed out your 15 hours, you’re out of luck.
Both pairs offer rapid charging: the Powerbeats get an hour of listening on 5-minutes charge while the Powerbeats Pro get an hour and a half. Though the Powerbeats offer more up-front listening, with faster charging and a battery in the case, the Powerbeats Pro just snag a win here. In most use cases, the difference between 15 hours and 9 hours is pretty nominal, but the convenience of just popping your buds in the case for a recharge is big.
Our pick: Powerbeats Pro
On paper, virtually all the features of the Powerbeats Pro remain in the connected version. Those include dual beaming microphones and a speech-detecting accelerometer for high-quality calling, 12mm drivers, and IPX4 water resistance for basic protection against sweat, rain, and other elements. (Note: These headphones are not dunkable.) Of course, both sets of earbuds also bear Beats' signature ear hooks to keep them securely in place during your workouts.
Both earbuds also offer no-touch pairing with iOS devices (and with Android devices once you’ve downloaded the Beats app).
There are differences, though, some subtler than others. For one thing, due to their connecting cable, the Powerbeats are not designed to be worn with one earbud at a time like the Powerbeats Pro. Since neither pair of earbuds offers any sort of transparency mode feature to filter in exterior sounds, it's much more convenient to use just one Powerbeats Pro earbud to stay safe in high-traffic areas, while still getting the full picture of your music or podcast.
The Powerbeats Pro also offer mirrored controls on both earbuds, including dual volume rockers and dual multi-function keys for controlling playback and calling. The Powerbeats offer those controls only on the right side, while the left earbud hosts a power and pairing key in lieu of the charging case.
Our pick: Powerbeats Pro
With the same 12mm drivers and, presumably, the same exact sound signature, you won’t hear a difference between the Powerbeats and the Pro. That’s a good thing, too. While the sound here is still “bass-forward,” it’s much clearer and more balanced than previous Powerbeats earbuds.
The midrange and treble provide plenty of instrumental definition and stereo spacing, and even when the bass response gets big, the quality of the lower frequencies makes it less of an annoyance and more of a fun, exuberant characteristic. For both pairs, when it comes to sound, color us impressed.
Our Pick: Draw
One of our favorite features of the Powerbeats is their Class 1 Bluetooth connection, which offers as much as 100 meters of wireless range when connected to supported devices. Seriously, we’ve never tested wireless earbuds with better connection, allowing us to wander all over our house, office, and even into the backyard with the phone resting safely on the counter.
Like most true wireless earbuds, the Powerbeats Pro’s connection is much more tenuous, offering less range and even, for this reviewer anyway, moderate connection drops. That was especially evident in high-traffic areas with lots of wireless signals buzzing around.
Our pick: Powerbeats
Design and fit
Both pairs of headphones have strengths and weaknesses here, mostly related to the ear hooks. While the hooks certainly offer more stability, they can get uncomfortable over long periods, especially for glasses wearers. That’s exacerbated by the rigid plastic housings, which don’t offer much give—though we will say the collection of four different eartips, including flange-style tips, helps dial in a better fit.
The Powerbeats' floppy, rubberized cable that connects the two 'buds together doesn’t do them any favors. It’s not really noticeable for most applications, but it can get in the way when running or doing household chores. In addition, the Powerbeats weigh a bit more, coming in at 26.3 grams to the Powerbeats Pro’s 20.3.
Otherwise, the earbuds are pretty much exactly the same, offering a rugged build-quality that’s designed to take a beating. These being Apple earbuds at heart, they both feel well made, exuding quality that rises above many competitors—though you’ll pay a premium for it.
Our Pick: Powerbeats Pro
Simply looking at the scores, the Powerbeats Pro are the clear winners. That said, they may not be the best choice for you—especially if you’re looking to save money. At up to $100 less (depending on sale pricing) and bearing a much stronger and expansive Bluetooth connection, the Powerbeats could be your go-to pick, so long as you don’t have your heart set on true wireless earbuds.
The good news is, no matter which you pick, both of these earbuds easily edge out all Powerbeats models before them, which is something we can all celebrate.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.