It's been a few years now since Apple splurged a few billion dollars to buy the Beats by Dre brand, and over the past couple of years, we've finally started seeing the fruits of that partnership. By incorporating a dedicated Apple chip in its most recent audio products, Beats have been able to offer superb convenience to iPhone users.
Now, in 2019, we're seeing that relationship develop even further. The Powerbeats Pro may share a name, and a similar look to the Powerbeats 3, but inside, everything has changed. This advanced internal tech - and improvements made to the design - have been made possible thanks to thousands of hours of research and development, and only possible thanks to the Apple.
In a sense, the Powerbeats Pro is the true culmination of this Apple/Beats partnership, and on first listen, it's been worth the wait.
Designed for everyone's ears
- Sculpted/light build
- Flexible over-ear hook
- Water/sweat resistant
- Navy, Ivory, Khaki and Black colours at launch
Glance at it for a couple of seconds and you'll immediately see the similarity between the Powerbeats 3 Wireless and the Powerbeats Pro. Look closer, or even put them on, and you'll feel you're wearing a completely new pair of in-ears.
The housing has slimmed down a lot in size and weight, but perhaps more importantly, there are softer angles and contours around the plastic to ensure that they're far more comfortable to wear. In fact, Beats even re-angled the plastic protrusion that features the drivers and the ear tip to ensure it doesn't press against that slight ridge within the ear.
Then the over ear hook has been redesigned and re-angled too, making sure it grips nicer to the ear, but without ever tugging or digging in and becoming uncomfortable to wear.
Just wearing them for ten minutes or so, the difference was so noticeable. They felt light, and were well fitted without feeling too snug or stretching the ear at all. Obviously we haven't got to test them on a run or during exercise yet, so we'll reserve judgement until then. With that said, we're very hopeful and pretty confident they'll be a great running partner.
Another reason Beats redesigned the contours and angles was for those sweaty workouts, to ensure that no excess sweat sticks or sits on them. The angles and gaps help create channels for any light splashes or perspiration to work through and filter out the other side.
Even the silicone ear-tips have been redesigned to create a nicer seal in the ear, and one that's comfortable and sits in exactly the right place. This not only means a comfy fit, but the seal is absolutely key for good sound. Anyone who's been running with in-ears will know that as soon as that seal isn't sitting right, you lose all the presence in the music and end up listening to tinny, quiet songs.
That's not all either. Both of the Powerbeats Pro earbuds have the exact same selection of controls. You get a volume rocker on both, as well as a button to play/pause or skip tracks, meaning it doesn't matter if you use the left or right. Not only does that mean you don't have to remember which controls are on which earphone, but you can also be right or left handed, and have all the same controls if you're using just one earbud for phone calls.
- Aluminium piston driver
- Bass reflex
- Noise cancelling + beam forming for calls
As well as reshaping the externals, the sound mechanics have changed too. On the outside, you'll see tiny pin holes near the ear tip, as well as a small grille on the back of it. Combined, this acts as a sort bass reflex, similar to what you get in a pair of high-end speakers; there to ensure you don't end up feel too much pressure in the ear at any time.
Adding to that, Beats opted not to use a traditional style speaker/driver. There's no "skin" stretched over a driver that can become fatigued and lose its quality over time. Instead, the engineers implemented a piston style aluminium driver that moves up and down inside the earphone. This mechanism means more reliable, consistent and precise control over sound, minimising distortion and increasing range.
Again, we listened to a variety of different songs, and the result is genuinely great for an earphone in this price category. At the low end, very low bass notes like the kick of a bass drum - or low bass guitar notes - were tight and controlled. Similarly, both treble and baritone vocals were clear and dynamic, while songs with plenty of reverb were given space to expand, without ever feeling like one aspect was giving way to the other.
One example was Karma Police by Radiohead, which starts off with some nice quiet acoustic guitar and vocals, before introducing the heavier drums and bass. What we loved was the acoustic guitar was still present, clear and retained its acoustic characteristics, while the heavier rhythm was driving it on top.
Of course, this is only a first listen, but it was an enjoyable one. We still need to test them further in different environments. With no active noise cancelling, we still need to see how good the passive noise cancelling is in busy environments, or if the sound still impresses after 30 minutes pounding the pavement on a hot day's run.
- H1 chip and "Hey Siri" support
- 9 hour battery life
- Fast Fuel charging
- Auto play/pause when removed from ears
Apple implemented the H1 chip inside the second generation AirPods, and that same processing unit lives inside the Powerbeats Pro. It enables some advanced features, like the "hey Siri" wake up, and also helps keep the connection strong between the two earphones. But there is more that makes a big difference - or so is the claim.
Firstly, using some external microphones and accelerometers, the Powerbeats Pro uses beam-forming to ensure that it's always picking up your voice during phone calls or video calls, and cancels external noise.
Secondly, the H1 chip is a great battery optimiser, and has enabled Beats to claim up to 9 hours of music playback outside the charging case. That is - quite frankly - ridiculous for a pair of wire-free earphones. Combined with the battery in the case, that's up to 24 hours of music away from the Lightning cable between charges.
To help keep battery use to a minimum, there are sensors to detect when the earphones are removed from the ears. On the underside of each earbud, there are optical sensors. They can detect when they're covered by your ears, while accelerometers detect when you move them, to pause the music. If they're held in the hand, away from the ears and charging case, they switch to low power mode to conserve even more battery.
Like the previous wired versions, there is fast charging tech built into the Powerbeats Pro. Just five minutes docked in the charging cradles is enough to give you more than 90 minutes of playback.
Then for Apple iPhone users, you get the benefit of easy connection and pairing. An attractive pop-up window appears on screen to connect the earphones as soon as you open the case lid, and once paired, it's automatically paired with all other Apple devices connected to the same iCloud account.
Beats was keen to point out to us that, while Android/PC users don't get that iCloud/instant pairing, you do still get all the other primary benefits of the Apple tech inside the earbuds. You still get that beam forming for voice calls, great sound, battery life and connection. So while there's some convenience missing, these still look like a great pair of wire-frees, especially if you're active.
On the whole, the Powerbeats Pro essentially seem like a better pair of AirPods. They're better fitted to the ear, they sound better and last longer. If there's any downside, it's that the case doesn't feature wireless charging. You have to use a Lightning cable. But given that you don't need to charge them that often, that's not exactly a major inconvenience.
We left our first try with the Powerbeats excited to take them on a run and use them in daily life, because on initial impressions, they seem to be a great combination of sound, performance and convenience. Offering more than the AirPods can, but at a price that's considerably lower than the high-end earphones from the likes of Bose, Sennheiser and BeoPlay.