PowerBeats 3 vs. Bose SoundSport
*** Check out our updated comparison, Powerbeats 3 vs. Apple AirPods Pro ***
- Why Should You Trust This Review?
- How These Bluetooth Wireless Headphones Were Tested
- Unboxing and First Impressions
- Bose Soundsport Review - Pros & Cons
- Beats Powerbeats 3 Review - Pros & Cons
- Verdict: PowerBeats 3 vs. Bose SoundSport
If you’re in the market for wireless bluetooth in-ear headphones for running, the gym, working out, and casual listening, there’s a great chance you’ll find yourself debating between the Beats PowerBeats 3 and the Bose SoundSport.
Both of these bluetooth earbuds are similarly priced, and the brands behind them have good track records of making solid audio products. These two models in particular are aimed at consumers that want to use them while exercising and sweating (e.g. if you’re running or biking or at the gym), which means you need to consider a whole set of criteria that you might ordinarily not care about if you just wanted headphones for your office or daily commute.
There are very good options out there for wireless bluetooth earbuds if you’re not interested in being active, such as the Apple AirPods, BeatsX Wireless Earphones, and Bose QuietControl 30. There are dozens of reviews out there for each of those, but you don’t have to research very long to learn they are not good fits for being active. You’ll be frustrated that they’re not sweat-proof, and can easily slip and fall out of your ears.
Why Should You Trust This Review?
There are several reviews and videos out there comparing the PowerBeats 3 vs Bose SoundSport. What I can promise you with this review is honesty and transparency. This site (Equipboard) is primarily a music gear site, and we don’t typically cover gear outside the scope of creating music.
That said, we love our audio gear, and in this case I simply thought it would be fun to do something a little different, and pit two popular earbuds against each other. I have years and years of experience listening to headphones, from cheap earbuds to pro studio grade headphones costing several thousands of dollars.
I bought both of these myself with my own money, so there is no sponsorship of any kind in this review. I’ll probably end up selling the one I like less on eBay to recoup the cost.
So, to sum up, while I do make and play music, I’m a music lover at heart and am always looking for the best speakers and headphones that let me enjoy my tunes. On top of that I’m a pretty active person, and it has always been a bit of a struggle to find the best earbuds for sports that provided the ideal balance of comfort and sound quality (I’ve gone through quite a few pairs).
To be completely transparent, some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means if you click on them and end up buying headphones I earn a small commission (paid to me by the retailer, not you). Aside from that little perk, I mostly just wanted to have some fun testing these two popular in-ear headphones, and hopefully I can help you make a decision!
How These Bluetooth Wireless Headphones Were Tested
I tested both the Bose SoundSport and Beats PowerBeats 3 for a week straight each. The first week I tested the Bose, then I put those away and the next week I tested the Beats.
During those weeks, I wore each pair as much as possible - in my relatively quiet office, at a loud Whole Foods, on a run or two, a weight lifting gym session, and a crossfit-style class. I paired them up mostly with my iPhone 6, and a little bit with my MacBook Pro.
I put some minor stress on them, but nothing excessive (I did not purposefully try to break them, dunk them in water, or attempt to blend them in a blender).
Unboxing and First Impressions
I won’t spend too much time talking about the unboxing of these two earbuds. Sure, there’s a nice dopamine hit when taking any nice new gear out of the box for the first time, but I’m personally much more interested in the way they sound, how they perform, and how comfortable they are.
The Bose SoundSport wireless earbuds come in an elegant little package. After unpacking the contents, you’ll find the following things included:
- The headphones
- 3 sizes of eartips
- USB charging cable
- Soft carrying case
- Quick setup guide
Upon first touch, the Bose SoundSport just feel like a very high quality product. The design of them is quite attractive, there’s a nice mix of gloss and matte finishes (I got the black ones), and they feel very solidly built in your hand. Of course, I would expect nothing less from the likes of Bose.
Having never messed with bluetooth earbuds in the past, I was pleasantly surprised by the design of the quick setup guide. It truly does help you get from unboxing to listening to music in about a minute, with an easy to follow 1-2-3 step guide with large illustrations.
Basically you push a switch on one earbud, which illuminates a small light indicating that they’re ready to pair (my headphones came out of the box about 80% charged). I went to my iPhone’s Bluetooth settings, and the Bose SoundSport popped up immediately. I tapped that option to connect, and a female voice spoke to me in the earbuds indicating the connection with my iPhone was successful (props for pronouncing my name correctly, too). My iPhone nearly immediately prompted me to download the Bose Connect app, to which I agreed to. This step is optional, and I wish there was more of an explanation as to why I would want to take the time to download yet another app (I’ll talk more about the app later).
Including multiple sized eartips is par for the course these days, but it’s nice to be able to find the fit that’s best for your ear. The USB charging cable has a USB Type A on one end (the wide USB you’re most used to seeing), and a USB Micro B on the other end, which is the tiny flat connector, which plugs into one of the earbuds to charge the internal battery. My MacBook Pro is the newest generation which only has Apple Lightning ports, which means I need my dongle to charge the earbuds. A tiny gripe, nothing more.
The unboxing of the Beats PowerBeats 3 was very similar. The packaging also felt nice and elegant, with the headphones themselves displayed prominently under a clear plastic. The box contents are exactly the same as the Bose SoundSport:
- The headphones
- 3 sizes of eartips
- USB charging cable
- Soft carrying case
- Quick setup guide
You can tell these two products heavily compete against each other since the unboxing is nearly identical. I will say that while the PowerBeats 3 are certainly attractive from a design standpoint, they don’t feel quite as high quality as the Bose. They have a little less heft, which actually might end up being a good thing since you don’t really want heavy headphones when working out. The best way to describe is is there’s a little bit more of a plastic feel with the Beats.
Getting them connected to the iPhone couldn’t have been easier. In fact, when I went to my phone’s Bluetooth settings a dedicated popup came up prompting me to connect the PowerBeats 3. My thinking is this has to do with the Beats being an Apple product, and these headphones being powered by the Apple W1 chip. Connecting these is a slightly more seamless experience. Unlike the Bose, there’s no dedicated app for these earbuds.
The USB cable for charging them is identical to the Bose, meaning the charging procedure is exactly the same.
All in all, up to this point, if judging on initial presentation and connectability, it’s very very close between the two but I’ll give the Bose a slight edge for feeling like the better quality headphone in terms of construction. Keep in mind though we haven’t gotten to the good stuff yet!
In the next two sections I’ll do a mini-review on both models and talk about the things that count - how do they feel, how do they perform, how do they sound, how’s the battery life - all that good stuff.
Bose Soundsport Review - Pros & Cons
Fit & Feel
Let’s talk about how they feel on the ears. When you look at them you can sort of see they’re chunky headphones, due to the large “case” (not sure what else to call it) the earpieces are attached to. This led me to think they might feel heavy and be prone to possibly fall out of my ears more easily. Luckily, that’s not the case. Sliding them into your ears is easy - I tended to over-complicate it at first, but basically you put it in your ear and slightly rotate the headphones back so that the fin “locks” them in place. Easy-peasy, and provides a snug fit. You’ll of course want to experiment with the different eartips and fin sizes to find the one that best fits your individual ears.
Despite looking chunky, the Bose SoundSport feel pretty light. Unlike the PowerBeats, there’s no hook or anything else that makes contact with your ears, and in fact more so than the PowerBeats, with the Bose I felt like I wasn’t even wearing headphones at times. From the outside, aesthetically, the casing definitely juts out a bit. Fortunately as the wearer of the headphones, I could barely feel they were there.
Unlike Apple’s AirPods, these left and right earbuds are connected to each other with a wire, which goes behind your neck. The wire has a little clip on it which you can clip to your shirt collar, which prevents them from falling off of you if you happen to take the earpieces out. The PowerBeats don’t have this clip and I think it’s a nice inclusion. Unfortunately the length of the wire isn't adjustable. With the clip attached to the back of my t-shirt collar, I was afraid that it would get in the way of a barbell during squats for instance. Fortunately that’s not the case, as the barbell sits on that meaty part of your traps, where the clip and wire doesn’t interfere at all (you’re free to remove the clip if you don’t like or need it).
Overall, these get maximum points for fit. Most other reviews I read seem to agree - initially the Bose SoundSport look kind of bulky, which makes you think they might fall out, but that couldn’t be further from reality. Regardless if I ran, did a CrossFit type class, or lifted weights, these earbuds never got in the way or felt like they would come loose. The fit is awesome, and even while wearing them for multiple consecutive hours at my desk I never once felt any discomfort.
I would expect any headphone made by Bose to sound good. If you buy into a more premium brand like Bose, it’s just what you expect. In that respect, the SoundSport definitely do not disappoint. I tested them with a variety of music genres, and everything sounded rich and full. Keep in mind these are made for exercise and entertainment, so I am not saying these have a flat frequency response and are a good fit for mixing and mastering music. They’re meant to enjoy music while you’re on-the-go, plain and simple. And for that, they do a stellar job. Versus the Beats PowerBeats 3, the edge goes to the Bose SoundSport ever-so-slightly when it comes to richness and clarity of music.
Unfortunately, this leads me to one of my biggest gripes with the SoundSport - maximum volume. Even with my phone or laptop cranked up all the way, the SoundSport did not get as loud as I wanted them to. I’d like to think I have good (or at least normal) hearing, and especially in a noisy environment like an indoor gym (which tends to have it’s own music blasting through the speakers, people talking, and weights clanging together), I just wish I had 3 or 4 more clicks of volume to push them a bit louder. For me, this lack of volume bummed me out the most at a loud gym where I was unable to fully drown out the background noise, and during a run when I needed some energy and one of my favorite songs came on, and I was unable to crank it up.
As much as I love the way they sound at normal volume, for me the lack of maximum volume is a big detractor. Maybe if you work out in quiet environments or you simply don’t listen to music very loud, they will be ok for you. Most people I know that exercise love that extra bit of oomph that loud music can give, and it’s a shame the SoundSport fall short.
6 hours is the battery life cited by Bose on one charge. I was able to get between 5 and 5.5 hours, so close enough. Admittedly it’s not a ton of battery life. The PowerBeats 3 somehow manage to get double this battery life, so it seems strange that Bose wasn’t able to do any better here. If the SoundSport could even do 8 hours, that might be enough for me to call it a wash, but with half as much battery life as the Beats offering, I’m going to have to majorly tip the scales in the PowerBeats’ favor. I don’t know about you, but the fewer times I need to plug things in to charge, the better. For what it’s worth, a 15-minute charge provides approximately one hour of play time on the SoundSport.
The Bose SoundSport come with a little soft carrying case, which doesn’t excite me too much, I don’t see myself using it. Being my exercise headphones I want these ready and within reach for me on my desk or in my gym bag.
Close to the wire on the right earbud is a volume and play/pause control which works well. I like the fact that it’s labeled with a “+” and “-” symbol, which for some reason the PowerBeats didn’t do.
They claim to be waterproof and sweat proof, which is very nice considering you’re likely to sweat when using them. I haven’t used them long enough to say whether they will last through copious sweat sessions, but the reviews I’ve read say they are indeed sweat-proof. The marketing materials also tout the benefit of being able to run through the rain, which is nice considering you don’t want your $150+ headphones to break due to a few raindrops. Speaking of, the USB charging port is covered by a rubber flap, which gives me peace of mind that sweat/water/dirt won’t get in it (as opposed to the PowerBeats’ USB charging port, which is exposed with no cover).
Perhaps I’m being harsh here, but the Bose Connect app seems largely useless save for a couple of features. The app is admittedly sleek and well-designed, and I like that it tells you battery life % at-a-glance. The other useful feature I noticed is “Find My Buds,” which geo-locates your earbuds if you misplaced them. Finally, the app prompted me to install some kind of an update. I wish it would have specified what the updated was or accomplished, but I went ahead and did it. It took some time (30 minutes or so), and I assume it was a firmware update of some sort which I hope improved the way the headphones work.
Beats Powerbeats 3 Review - Pros & Cons
Fit & Feel
Perhaps I’m being nit-picky, but the Beats PowerBeats 3 don’t feel quite as refined as the Bose SoundSport. I like how the Bose earbuds mix glossy and matte elements, whereas the PowerBeats 3 are 100% matte and feel more “rubbery.” Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, and in the back of my mind I have the notion that Beats products tend to sometimes be pricey despite not having an outstanding build quality. To be clear, nothing in my experience with the PowerBeats 3 leads me to believe the quality is inferior; quite the opposite, they handled all of my uses beautifully.
Unlike the Bose which use an ear-fin to keep them locked in place in your ears, the Beats have a more obvious mechanism - a big rubber hook that wraps around the back of your ear. Maybe it’s just me but I had to fumble around with the hook a bit before I got the hang of putting them on.
Once they’re on your ears, these things are there to stay! It’s hard to argue with the earhook mechanism, since even pulling hard on them won’t dislodge them. Even though the Bose SoundSport never once fell out of my ears, the PowerBeats 3 definitely inspire more confidence in this area.
Because of the hook touching the back of your ear, you tend to feel these wireless earbuds a little more as you go about your exercise. However, I’m glad to say they never once hurt or irritated my ear.
Like the Bose SoundSport, both left and right earbuds are connected to each other by a wire. It lacks the clever clip of the SoundSport, but in its place is a little loop that allows you to shorten or lengthen the wire. Neither mechanism is necessarily that much better than the other, it’s just a matter of preference.
I don’t have too much else to say about how these fit, and in this case no news is good news. Make sure to experiment with the four eartip sizes that are included to find the ones that fit your ear the best. While I think I like the way the Bose SoundSport felt on my ears a tiny bit more, I can appreciate that with the PowerBeats 3 hook, they are more secure. Aesthetically, the Beats are less bulky which looks a little better from the outside.
November 2017 UpdateAfter continuing to wear these, I have an update on the way they feel when wearing them. The cable that joins the earbuds tends to get stuck on either side of your neck, causing it to tug on the earpiece. Luckily, the earhooks make it so that the earbuds never fall out, but it’s enough of an annoyance for me to need to adjust and push the earpiece fully back into my ear. My theory as to why this happens is that the cable Beats uses is flat. Flat cables work well for wired headphones since they are more tangle-proof, but I wish Beats had used a normal thin round cable, like the one on the Bose SoundSport. The flat cable tends to be a little heavier, and there is more surface area to cause friction with the skin on your neck. Another theory I have is that without a clip to secure the wire to your shirt, the loop that allows you to shorten or lengthen the cable freely bounces around, causing more tugging on the left or the right side. The play/pause/volume remote also adds weight on the cable, which might contribute to the tugging. If you buy the Beats, one way I recommend which seems to help with this issue is to not tighten the cable close to your neck. Keep it as loose as possible, and you should feel less tugging on the earpieces (I know it sounds counterintuitive but it works better for me).
For better or worse, Beats headphones have a bit of a reputation about the way they sound. They tend to be a bit “boomy” and over-emphasize the bass, at the expense of some clarity and midrange detail. I’ve tested various Beats over-ear, on-ear, and in-ear headphones, and can definitely confirm that reputation is there for a reason. It’s as if they’re targeting the consumer that will listen to more bass-heavy genres like EDM and hip-hop, which both benefit from thumping low-end.
The PowerBeats 3 continue this trend. Don’t get me wrong, they still sound good; it’s just that you can definitely tell they sacrifice a bit of richness and clarity as compared to the Bose SoundSport.
Now, here is where the PowerBeats 3 win big - volume! These things get plenty loud, and more importantly, loud without introducing distortion. In the middle of my runs and workouts, when a good song came on and I needed a bit of a kick in the pants, I cranked up the volume using the inline remote and really felt the music. Given these are headphones to be worn during exercise, they get major points in my book for being able to achieve loud volume levels.
As a disclaimer I feel like I have to say that just because these things get very loud doesn’t mean you need to listen to music at max volume all day long. Your hearing is precious so be mindful of that!
A whopping 12 hours of battery life is what Beats claims. I was able to achieve between 10 and 10.5, but was also listening to music fairly loud on them. At more reasonable volumes you can probably hit 12 hours. Regardless, that’s mighty impressive! They also come with “5-minute Fast Fuel” which means that if you’re low on battery life, a 5-minute charge will give you one hour of play time, which is typically enough for a workout or a run (I used this feature once and it was indeed pretty awesome).
With double the battery life of the Bose SoundSport, the PowerBeats 3 get major, major points here (apparently the efficient Apple W1 chip is responsible for this beautiful battery life).
A soft rubbery case is included with these earbuds, but I found it difficult to stuff the PowerBeats 3 inside comfortably (perhaps it’s just a case for the accessories). Regardless, it’s not a major selling point.
Like the Bose, there’s an inline remote with volume and play/pause controls. It works well, but it’s a tiny bit less user-friendly than the one on the Bose earbuds.
Beats claim these are waterproof, though in reading multiple other reviews it seems hard to determine whether they truly are or not. The Bose SoundSport definitely win in this category, since their waterproof abilities have been tried and tested more than the PowerBeats 3. Sadly the USB charging port is fully exposed with no rubber flap to keep sweat and water out, which I can see being a potential trouble spot after using these for a long time.
Verdict: PowerBeats 3 vs. Bose SoundSport
Alright, now that we’ve covered the PowerBeats 3 vs. the Bose SoundSport individually, let’s pit them head-to-head and determine a winner.
Fit & Feel
For me, it’s dead even. The Bose have a slightly more luxurious feel, but the Beats are more secure during exercise with the earhooks. That said, neither fell out during my week-long rigorous testing. Both earbuds are quite comfortable and don’t get in the way of exercise.
While the Bose sound more even, rich, and full, I just can’t get past the lack of volume. Music really gets me going during a workout, and being able to crank it up is very important. The Bose didn’t provide me with that adrenalin rush, and they failed to drown out external noise in a loud environment. I wish I could give it to Bose here because an audiophile would say they do sound better, but I simply can’t.
Winner: Beats PowerBeats 3
No contest. 12-hour battery life vs. 6-hour battery life. The PowerBeats 3 takes a 5 minute charging session to give you one hour of play time, and the Bose SoundSport takes 15 minutes for the same.
Winner: Beats PowerBeats 3 by a mile
Price is tricky to judge as it tends to fluctuate over time. As of the end of 2018, the Bose SoundSport have a street price of around $150 USD, whereas the PowerBeats 3 can be had for around $130 USD.
Winner: Beats PowerBeats 3
I would maybe give a slight edge to the Bose SoundSport here for proven waterproof ability, and a sleek app that helps you upgrade the firmware on the headphones as well as locate them if you misplaced them. However, none of these things drastically tip the scales.
Winner: Bose SoundSport by a hair
Overall Winner: Beats PowerBeats 3
It’s kind of strange - I wanted the Bose SoundSport to win. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a brand and design snob, and the Bose just look and feel a little more refined. And, heck, they actually do sound better! But when it comes down to it, I will mostly be wearing these when I’m active, whether that’s a run outside, a CrossFit style HIIT class, or a weightlifting session in the gym. For those purposes, the PowerBeats 3 sound good enough, and being able to turn them up loud is an important factor for me. Combine that with double the battery life of the Bose, and you’ve got a pretty clear winner.