Apple hates wires. Over the years, it’s plucked them away from its products. It even kicked off a frustrating no-jack trend when it removed the 3.5mm headphone jack from all of its iPhones. Its AirPods have set the tone for how a pair of wire-free earbuds should look and operate. They’re petite with no wires at all (not even between your ears), get five hours of battery on a charge, and come with a pocket-sized charging case that can top them up a few times before it too needs some plug time.
With its Beats brand, though, Apple is widening the door. The new Powerbeats Pro are made for working out, and they’re fantastic. They’ll never fall out of your ears, sound much better than the AirPods, and last almost twice as long on a charge.
Sorta Colorful, Quite Comfortable
You can see Apple’s influence more than ever in newer Beats headphones (it bought the company in 2014), like the Studio3 headphones. New Beats sound more balanced, have cleaner lines, and are chummy with iPhones and Macs. So it’s no surprise that the $250 Powerbeats Pro look like a tamer, classier version of the Powerbeats3, which we’ve recommended since 2016. They’re about $50 more expensive—and 17 percent lighter, according to Apple.
For now, the Powerbeats3’s many crazy colors are gone. The Powerbeats Pro come in earthy tones like black, navy, moss, and ivory. Apple sent me a black pair, but the green moss is more my style. It’s sad that there are no purples, oranges, or reds for people who live more vibrant lives than me, but hopefully Apple will taste the rainbow again soon.
The new Powerbeats may not be colorful, but they are comfortable. I don’t wear Powerbeats often, so it took me a few days to get used to putting them on (and in). They hook over your ear like glasses and you twist to lock them into place. The earhook stays in place, but if you give it some force, it’s bendable. You can push it to the exact place you like it and it seems to stay, making it comfy for many ear sizes. The default eartips worked well for me (my ears are pretty “default”), but there are three other large and small sizes available.
Each earbud is splash and sweat resistant (IPX4) and they won’t jostle or come out no matter how hard you work out. I can verify this because, at one point, I literally started whipping my head back and forth to get them to shake off, like a backup dancer in that Willow Smith music video.
Each bud also has mirrored controls. The main Beats logo is a button to play and pause—hold it to activate Siri or Google Assistant, depending on your phone—and there’s a useful volume toggle above it. Most wire-free earbuds have a mess of confusing button combinations to get anything done, so it was nice to just know how to use the Powerbeats without having to memorize what three taps on the left earbud means, and how it differs from three taps on the right bud. (I’m a product reviewer not a master of morse code.)
The only button that’s missing is a power button. Much like the AirPods, and all the wire-free earbuds around, these buds are slaves to their charging cradle—though they do last much longer than most competitors.
These last about nine hours on a charge—and I listened to a full day of music to find that out. If you take them out of your ears and, say, lay them on a table, they will enter sleep mode and drain over the course of 30 hours. So basically, you’ll need to charge them within a day of taking them out of their case. Most earbuds last less than five hours outside of their box, so a nine-hour runtime incredibly impressive, but I wish I didn’t need that clamshell case for so many vital functions. I’d love to turn them off without it (not possible) or initiate Bluetooth pairing mode without it (also not possible).
It’s easy to magnetically snap the earbuds in and out of the case. Unfortunately, as charging cradles go, it’s portly: 3 inches square and 1.5 inches tall. The space isn’t wasted. It holds another 18 hours (2 full charges) of battery power, which is great … it just won’t fit in your pocket. This is the kind of clamshell case you’ll gladly carry with you in a bag or purse, but not one you’ll want on your person. It also charges via Apple’s iPhone lightning cable, which may be an annoyance for Android users (no wireless charging). Fortunately for Beats, just about every other pair of wire-free earbuds you can buy are just as case-dependent.
Balanced Sound, Smart Calls
Music also sounds a lot clearer than the AirPods and many truly wireless earbuds. (Better than the $130 Galaxy Buds, too.) They aren’t as heavy on the bass as the Beats I’m used to listening to, which is nice. The bass still booms, but doesn’t drag the whole sound down with it. The Powerbeats Pro are more balanced. I’ve been listening to the new Vampire Weekend album this past week, and it comes to life as well as it would on any set of earbuds I own. Apple credits the improved sound to new drivers and extra venting that significantly reduce distortion.
Likely thanks to a combination of an onboard sensor and H1 wireless chip, Beats also solves one of the most frustrating parts of pairing almost any wireless headphones to my phone. It gives up phone calls when I’m not wearing the buds. If I’m getting a phone call while wearing my Beats, the call routes through them (and sounds just fine). If I take them out of my ears, it instantly reverts the call back to my phone’s receiver. It’s brilliant, and has already saved me a few seconds of awkward silence on more than one occasion. The sensors also auto pause your music or podcasts when you remove a Powerbeat from your ears.
There’s no active noise cancelation, but you may not need it. The Pro isolate a lot of noise on their own. So well, in fact, that I missed dinner the other night. After a half hour of blissful tunes, I came out to a cold meal and an annoyed partner. That reminds me … Apple really should add an ambient noise mode that boosts outside sounds.
Completely wireless, wire-free earbuds are still evolving as a category, and the Powerbeats Pro are an important step in their evolution. These are the best wire-free earbuds for workouts I’ve ever used. They stay in place, come sweatproof, sound incredible, get twice the battery life of similar buds, and work well whether you’re on an iPhone or Android phone. On top of that, they also smartly recognize when you take them out of your ears and route calls appropriately. You’ll just have to remember all that when you look at price tags and see that $250 is about $100 more than many rivals. Like all Apple products, convenience comes at a cost for these Beats.
(Our Buy button links to Amazon, but the $250 Powerbeats Pro are also available at Apple, Best Buy, and B&H Audio.)