There's a lot to consider when buying a pair of sports earphones. You can either opt for the "cheap as possible, don't care if they break, buy new ones if they do," approach, or spend a bit more money on something that will sound good, work well and is capable of outlasting even your most vigorous workouts.
In the latter category, you want something that will stay in your ears, that's waterproof, and with enough bass to drive you through your sessions. If that's what you're after, the Beats Powerbeats 3 Wireless might just be the right solution for your needs.
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Beats Powerbeats 3 Wireless review: Design
- Ear hooks for fit
- Black & red colour
- Carry case included
- Three ear tip sizes included
It must be said, the latest Powerbeats were clearly designed with function in mind, rather than looks. They're not the most elegant of earphones we've ever seen. It's an all-plastic affair, but well finished for the most part.
The main housing which plays home to the batteries and components is a little blocky, although the corners and edges are well fitted and assembled. Likewise, the ear hooks won't win any beauty contests, but they offer just the right amount of grip when hooked over the ears. They don't feel too tight, and they hold well enough that the earphones never felt like they would fall out.
Because of their light build, they're not a pair of earphones that become a burden during exercise. They don't pull on your ears, or press so hard into the canals that they get uncomfortable. They're enjoyable to wear, even for longer periods of time.
If the pre-fitted ear tips don't feel comfortable or don't fit well, there are three other sizes packaged with the earphones.
The adjustment built into the flat cable ensures that you can make the earphones fit snugly around the back of your head, meaning you don't have loose cable jumping up and down, which can be annoying you while you pound the miles out of a treadmill. And as there's no weighty neck-positioned cable, like with the Beats X, you can comfortably get away with wearing a collar too.
During our test workouts, if tightened to be really snug, the Powerbeats cable had an annoying habit of tugging on our ears if we moved our head a little up or down. Our advice in this case is to leave as much slack as you're comfortable with, since the ear hooks do a good job of keeping the earphones in your ears, regardless of the exercise you're doing.
What's more, the entire product is built to deal with the sweatiest workouts and roughest outdoor conditions. They're water, sweat and weather-proof.
In terms of ports and buttons, things are kept minimal. There aren't tonnes of tiny buttons everywhere on these in-ears, nor a touch-sensitive panel of any kind. There's a single power/pairing button on the top edge of the left earbud and a micro USB port underneath. That's it.
As with most earphones, the Powerbeats 3 come with a carrying case, although not the usual canvas or cloth pouch. Instead, it's a pill-shaped case made from a rubber of sorts, with a slot in the top.
Beats Powerbeats 3 Wireless review: Features and performance
- W1 chip for easy iPhone pairing
- 12-hour battery life per charge
- Inline remote and mic
Undoubtedly one of the biggest draws to the new wireless Beats earphones is Apple's W1 chip inside. For Android users, that's not an important a feature, but for Apple users, it's a brilliant piece of proprietary technology that adds so much convenience when pairing. It's one of the few real benefits we've seen since Apple bought Beats.
The W1 chip is the wireless equivalent of being able to just slot a pair of Lighting-equipped earphones into the bottom of your iPhone. Switch on the headphones, then press "connect" on the pop-up window that appears on your iPhone screen. There's no having to switch "pairing mode" on, going hunting through your Bluetooth menu, hoping your phone will actually find them.
Switch on. Connect. Done. It's really that simple.
Once connected you can control the volume simply by clicking on the inline remote control which - it has to be said - is delightfully clicky. The middle button doesn't quite offer the same tactile response, but is easy to find blind thanks to being indented. This is used for playing or pausing tracks, and can be used to bring up Siri for voice control too.
Beats claims that the Powerbeats 3 can last up to 12-hours on a single charge. Our testing suggests that real-life use with an iPhone won't be far off. The battery level was down by 24 per cent after around three hours of use.
Beats Powerbeats 3 Wireless review: Sound
- Bass-heavy sound profile
Sports earphones aren't designed to offer studio quality, flat, audiophile grade sound. As such, it would be foolish to expect it from the Powerbeats. What you get instead is loud, immersive and bass-heavy audio with plenty of oomph to get you through a tough workout.
Thanks to the powerful dual drivers, bass levels are impressive. Even songs with loud, chest bursting bass are captured well from the tiny earphone speakers. Low-end bass-heavy tracks are perfect for these sports headphones.
That does means while middle and treble levels are present and accounted for, they don't ring with the clarity or brilliance you'd get from a high-end studio IEM.
For us the Powerbeats 3's sound profile wasn't exactly to our preferences for general listening: but the extra bass and the clear connection were brilliant during runs and workouts.
The Powerbeats 3 aren't the best in-ears around from an audio perspective, but the fact they keep going and going, stay securely in your ears thanks to those ear hooks and pump the bass will be a huge draw to many. As will the W1 chip's pairing sequence, for iPhone users at least.
Being sports headphones, it's a good job these Beats are equipped with sweat- and weather-resistance, but it would be better still to see Beats make use of Apple's experience and expertise in the fitness tracking field. With Apple Watch being one of the best smartwatches around for fitness fanatics, it'd be great to see a heart-rate monitor, or step-counting incorporated into these earphones. Although that might see a huge price bump.
Simply put, the Powerbeats 3 are some of more capable sport-centric earphones we've tested in 2017. Beats, bass, bold looks, a solid fit and the best connectivity going all add up to a powerful whole.
Alternatives to consider...
Bose Soundsport Pulse
They're a similar concept, in that they're wireless sports headphones connected by a short cable. While they're the same price as the new Powerbeats, they do have a built-in heart rate monitor which is genuinely useful during workouts. They also opt for an in-ear fin rather than an over-ear hook for keeping them secure. What's more, the sound profile is a little more balanced than Beats'.
Read the full review: Bose Soundsport Pulse: Fine sounding sports earphones
Jabra Elite Sport
If you want a completely wire-free experience in a headphone that's built for sporty types, the Elite Sport by Jabra offer a secure (if slightly uncomfortable) fit, great sound, a solid connection and no wires at all. They cost £50 more than the Beats, but that's to be expected from a wire-free pair of earphones as good as these.
Read the full review: Jabra Elite Sport: These are the AirPods you really want
JBL Reflect Aware
They cost the same as the Beats, and they're not wireless, but they're supremely comfortable to wear and offer a secure, snug fit. While wireless would be convenient, the lack of it does mean that you don't ever need to worry about running out of battery, ever. It also means you get louder audio, and you get some nice cone-shaped tips that fit really nicely without feeling like an ear canal invasion.
Read the full review: JBL Reflect Aware: Lightning earphones for sporty iPhone 7 users