I’ll lay it right out there: The degree to which you’ll like the Powerbeats Pro, Beats’ first true wireless earphones, will depend largely on how well they fit your ears. If you get a comfortable, snug fit with a tight seal from one of the four different sized included silicon tips, you’ll probably love these headphones and feel OK about dropping $200 on them. End up with something less than that and you may question their worth.
I came close to getting a great fit. I would rate it between a B+ and A-. The issue wasn’t one of security; I never had to worry about them falling off. With a few tweaks to the iconic earhooks — they’re bendable — the Powerbeats Pros were essentially clipped onto my ears. I shot some hoops with them on and I suspect that they’d stay on even if I was capable of, say, a 360-degree slam dunk. (Alas, I am not.)
My little problem: Even with the largest ear tips (yes, they’re large but not quite large enough), my ear canal wasn’t completely sealed off, so more ambient noise leaked in than I would have liked and sound quality was impacted in noisier environments — like on the subway or the streets of New York. I was in the minority, however. I had CNET colleagues who were able to get a tight seal and not only really liked the fit but were immediately impressed with the sound.
These did fit me better and more comfortably than the earlier Powerbeats3 Wireless, which — unlike the Pro — have a wire connecting the left and right earbud. And, in fact, the Powerbeats Pro have been engineered to be compatible with a higher percentage of ears than past Powerbeats. That’s because Beats, which is owned by Apple, refined their exterior design. According to Beats, the Powerbeats Pro are 23% smaller than the Powerbeats3 and 17% lighter. They’re not rated as being fully waterproof, but they are sweat- and water-resistant. With an IPX4 certification, they can be splashed from any direction but could fail if sprayed with a sustained jet of water or are fully submerged.
One thing that’s definitely not compact is the charging case. Although it isn’t heavy, it’s a good three to four times times the size of the AirPods ($130 at Amazon) charging case. It’ll leave a pretty big bulge in your pocket, so you’ll probably want to leave it in a bag or locker at the gym. Considering these cost $200, it would have been nice if Beats had thrown in a protective pouch to carry them around in for those times you want to leave the charging case behind.
It’s also worth noting that the case doesn’t offer wireless charging, as the new AirPods Wireless Charging Case does. However, it does charge via an included Lightning cable, which is better than Micro-USB. Beats’ earlier BeatsX also charged via Lightning.
Big sound upgrade from AirPods
Beats says these guys use new upgraded piston drivers that are supposed to cut down on distortion. They sound significantly better than the original AirPods, which isn’t that high a bar to clear, but the Powerbeats Pro deliver richer, cleaner sound with bass that’s not only much bigger but tighter. As I said, a full seal is crucial to maximizing sound quality with these types of noise-isolating headphones, so if the tips aren’t sitting snugly in your ear canals you can lose some bass.
In contrast, the AirPods have an “open” design and sit more loosely in your ears (though the newer AirPods Pro feature a noise-isolating design). They let in a lot more ambient noise as a result. Assuming you get that good seal, the Powerbeats Pro would be much better for, say, listening on an airplane than the AirPods, for instance.