Are the Powerbeats Pro better than AirPods? [Review]

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Powerbeat Pro in charging case
They’re cool and futuristic, but can they dethrone the AirPods?
Photo: Ian Fuchs/Cult of Mac

Back in 2014 – long before the AirPods – I picked up what would become my go-to fitness earbuds – the PowerBeats2. A year and a half later, the AirPods came out, replacing my PowerBeats2 that were literally falling apart.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve been using my AirPods – both my first gen, and more recently, my second gen – in almost every situation. I use them all the time and carry them almost everywhere I go. But sometimes I hate my AirPods. No matter how simple and convenient they are, they insist on slipping just a little when I wear them while exercising. And if there’s any background noise or wind, even the loudest volume is inaudible while wearing the AirPods.

Even with those minor drawbacks, they were my favorite headphones. Then I got the new Powerbeats Pro.

Powerbeats Pro & AirPod similarities

In a surprising number of ways, the Powerbeats Pro are very similar to the AirPods. Both are fully wireless, sync across your iCloud devices, offer the same auto-pause feature when you take them out. Both headphones pack the new H1 chip, which brings faster connectivity and device switching, and support the Hey Siri feature for fully hands-free use, as well.

But the Powerbeats Pro don’t need to rely solely on the H1 like AirPods. Instead, the beats logo on either Powerbeats Pro serves as a multifunction button for playing, pausing, and skipping forward or backwards. A long press on the button also activates Siri.

On top of either earbud is a volume rocker, which controls the volume for the pair.

To me, having physical buttons is awesome – when I remembered to use them – but after 2+ years of wearing AirPods, I’ve gotten used to not having them, and even occasionally bumped the button when adjusting them.

The Powerbeats Pro pack up to 9 hours of battery on a single charge – almost doubling that of the 2nd generation AirPods. Both the AirPods and the Powerbeats Pro, with a fully charged case, claim roughly 24 hours of listening time, but the Powerbeats can go much longer between charges. The Powerbeats Pro case also does not support wireless charging, so you’ll always need to lighting cable to top the case back up.

For me, I’m rarely wearing any pair of headphones for longer than an hour or two at a time, so the extra battery life isn’t as critical, but if you’re running marathons or riding centuries, that bonus battery between charges could be the difference between finishing in silence and jamming to your victory song!

Not just another AirPod

Looking at the design of the Powerbeats, I find them both cool and futuristic. Some of that is the physical shape, some of that is the matte black finish. They’re a little more understated and less braggy than AirPods, though that is entirely subjective.

From a comfort standpoint, the Powerbeats Pro are good and bad. The ear hooks are great for keeping the earbuds in place and making me confident they won’t slip and fall. The ear tips work well to keep outside noise out, allowing me to listen at lower volumes. At the same time, the combination of ear tips and ear hooks put pressure on the back and inside of my ear – especially on the right side.

For shorter bursts – up to an hour or so – the Powerbeats are great. For longer wearing, I definitely still prefer the AirPods. But that preference may not be universal.

Powerbeats Pro
Bigger isn’t always better.
Photo: Apple

Another comfort consideration to make is in the charging case. With the AirPods, the case is super compact. It can easily fit into almost any pocket and go with you anywhere. The case for the Powerbeats Pro isn’t so discreet. In fact, it’s nearly twice as large in every dimension. In general, the case is still technically pocketable, but it’s much less comfortable – especially in slim fit pants. For me, I’ve kept the Powerbeats case in my backpack, trusting that if I take them out while away from my bag, that I won’t lose them before making it back to home base.

In considering the sound – the Powerbeats definitely have an advantage over AirPods. This is largely due to the way they fit into your ears. Because they are more snug, and sit deeper into your ear, the sound is fuller and more punchy. The Powerbeats also keep outside noises at bay by creating a better seal than AirPods. Neither are noise canceling, but if avoiding background noise is important, the Powerbeats definitely have the leg up.

Which is right for you?

Ultimately, there’s a ton to love about the Powerbeats Pro. To my ears, they have better sound, they keep outside noises isolated better, stay in place better, and can go way longer between charges. If you’re looking to upgrade from an older model of the Powerbeats, or worse, wired headphones, these are a super solid option that won’t disappoint.

For me at personally, the AirPods are way more convenient. They fit into my life, and my pocket, much better than Powerbeats. I’ve never had any major issues working out with my AirPods, and I think they generally sound fine. So while I truly loved my old Powerbeats 2, and I love a lot about the new Powerbeats Pro, I think I’ll be sticking with my AirPods for convenience. Besides, I can alway wear a pair of over-ears when I need more serious sound, right?

The Powerbeats Pro are available for $249.95 from AppleAmazon, and most other retailers.