Apple just released their brand new Powerbeats Pro “totally wireless” headphones, and we can’t resist comparing them to Apple’s other premium true wireless earbuds: the AirPods 2. They’re pretty different headphones and they each appeal to different interests, but we’re going to compare them anyway. To that effect, AirPods, with their chic iconic design, appeal to the masses with their simplicity, amazing portability, and everyday usability. On the other hand, the Powerbeats Pro are for those who want to get a little more serious with their headphones. They flex hard in the sports and fitness category, but they’ll also appeal to anyone who wants to cut the cord with a true wireless in-ear fit.
We’re starting off with a strong win for AirPods since the size of the charging case is basically unbeatable in the true wireless market. The AirPods charging case is small enough to discreetly fit in the change pocket of some pants. It’s a little unfair because Powerbeats’ case is housing a different style earbud, but its case is quite large for the market. If you don’t mind a pocket bulge, they’re still portable.
Size winner: AirPods, by a longshot
Take a look at the pictures, they’re very different form-factors. AirPods have become an icon in the headphone market for their unique minimalistic and sleek design. They’re only available in Apple’s glossy white. Powerbeats Pro’s design may not go down in the history books like AirPods, but they also have an iconic design following in the footsteps of 9 years of successful Powerbeats models. Like all Powerbeats, they have a flexible earhook that keeps the buds perfectly and comfortably situated in your ears. The design is a huge improvement over all of the older Powerbeats with its lighter, sleeker, and bolder design. It’s even more Apple-y having ditched a lot of the details and branding for a simplistic “b”. Powerbeats come in ivory, moss, navy, and black.
Design Winner: AirPods for aesthetics, but arguably Powerbeats for versatility and colors.
Powerbeats pretty much blows every “totally wireless” battery out of the water. The buds themselves provide up to 9 hours of listening, and the charging case juices it up to more than 24 hours! AirPods are also above average providing 5 hours of playback, and 24 hours with their charging case. Most headphones in this category are lucky to have half of the battery. Amazingly, Powerbeats can give you 1.5 hours of playback with a 5-minute charge and 4.5 hours with a 15-minute charge. AirPods will give you 3 hours with a 15-minute charge. Neither case will tell you the battery remaining, but both sync to your iOS device to tell you the detailed battery remaining in the case, and each individual earbud. AirPods gets some bonus points for supporting Qi wireless charging with its case, otherwise, both cases charge with a lightning cable.
Battery winner: Powerbeats Pro beats the battery life of almost every true wireless headphone on the market, but AirPods offer a solid battery life too.
Personal preference plays a big role. No one will be able to argue that the Powerbeats Pro stay in-ear much better than AirPods. The flexible ear hook and different sized ear tips ensure these buds will stay perfectly in-ear no matter what. I’m impressed that people can successfully jog with AirPods as I have a hard time comfortably walking with them without feeling like they’re about to fall out. I much prefer a secure and sealed in-ear fit to a quick and airy unsealed fit. Some people don’t want to plug their ears with headphones, which is why they’d like AirPods. If we’re qualifying both as everyday headphones that can withstand some hustle and bustle, we’d have to favor Powerbeats for their secure fit that blocks out more ambient noise and can get you through any activity.
Fit winner: Powerbeats Pro unless you prefer a looser, quicker, and airier fit.
Sports and Gym
This was largely covered above with Powerbeats’ amazingly secure and comfortable fit, but they get another win for being designed for sweat and water resistance. They even feature an IPX4 water resistance rating. While not marketed, we believe AirPods was also designed to withstand a reasonable amount of sweat.
Sweat winner: Powerbeats Pro
The unfair advantage goes to Powerbeats Pro since it has more surface area to work with. We’ve reviewed a lot of earbuds, including true wireless, and the Powerbeats Pro have one of the best offerings for controls we’ve seen. Each earbud has one easy-to-press multi-function button and a volume rocker. This means you can skip tracks, take calls, access Siri, and adjust volume from either earbud! Since pairing and on/off is controlled by the charging case there’s no complicated press and hold for N second processes required. Each AirPod has one configurable tap function with no option to control volume unless you want to tel Siri to do it.
Button winner: Powerbeats Pro
Since AirPods 2 and Powerbeats Pro were recently released with the new Apple H1 chip, they have a lot of the same capabilities and comfort features. They both support the always-listening “Hey Siri” feature. They’re both easily paired to newer iOS devices with proximity pairing. When using them, they both pair to my phone quicker than any other headphones I’ve tested. Both will auto-play and auto-pause when you put them on and take them off (configurable in Bluetooth settings). Both use the new Bluetooth 5 spec for improved range and connectivity. Finally, one feature that shouldn’t be overlooked is that there’s no primary earbud – both buds are paired to your phone individually. Aside from a better pairing, either bud can be used solo if you wanted to make a call or listen with just one bud.
Feature winner: Tie!
This was a tough call to choose a winner. Both headphones are very well detailed, rich, and vibrant. I was surprised that AirPods actually offer better bass and warmth, while the Powerbeats Pro sound bright, comparatively. Beats usually puts a lot of emphasis on bass, and they have a sealed in-ear design. I did find the bass to be influenced by the type of ear tip you choose, and while there’s still some thump to the bass, it’s still lighter than AirPods. Bright isn’t necessarily bad and warm isn’t necessarily good, it will come down to personal preference. AirPods felt more balanced and the Powerbeats Pro put a lot more emphasis on the mids and highs. I prefer a warmer sound, but Powerbeats Pro made up for it with the better seal and less ambient noise. Either way, I got used to both audio signatures almost immediately and found the detail and oomph quite impressive.
Winner: Tie?! Powerbeats are brighter with better noise isolation, AirPods are more balanced with better bass
Mic and calls
Apple has really done a nice job implementing the microphones and focusing on voice. Both headphones have a “speech-detecting accelerometer” and two beam-forming microphones per earbud that focus on the user’s voice and cut out external noise. I received great feedback from callers as if I was talking directly into the phone.
Phone call winner: Tie!
AirPods 2 cost $159, or $199 with the wireless charging case. You can probably still find AirPods first generation for even less and still get most of the same features. Powerbeats Pro cost $249.99.
Price winner: AirPods
Since they’re pretty different headphones (with different price tags), by now you should know which headphones interest you more. They both easily fall into the best-in-class category for true wireless headphones with a lot of market firsts. If you’re looking for sports headphones, or everyday headphones that will never fall out, we highly recommend Powerbeat Pros. They beat out our previous favorite gym headphones, the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100. If you’re looking for easy and portable everyday headphones and don’t mind a looser less-secure fit, Airpods are a great choice as one of the most popular headphones in the world.
Opinionated winner: Powerbeats Pros