In this article, we're looking at two of the premier completely wireless Bluetooth headphones on the market - the Beats PowerBeats Pro vs. Apple AirPods Pro.
While their Apple DNA might be similar, they are substantially different earbuds depending on what you do - running, biking, gym, working out, gaming, casual listening, or talking on the phone.
Given the Powerbeats Pro's slant towards fitness and exercise, we'll be giving special consideration for that.
So given both headphones have a great track record with successful previous models, and similar cost, which should you spend your hard-earned money on? Read on to find out.
Why Should You Trust This Review?
I bought the Powerbeats Pro and the Apple AirPods Pro with my own cash - no sponsorship or bias here whatsoever. You'll get complete honesty and transparency.
I've owned the previous versions of both earbuds, so I know them well, and I have tested a LOT of headphones in my day. This site (Equipboard) is a music gear site, and the team has tested dozens, if not hundreds of headphones:
You can read more about me in my bio above and below this article, but I will add to it that on top of being a gear aficionado, I'm keep pretty active (gym, running, biking, etc.).
If I narrow my life down to 10 essentials, wireless Bluetooth earbuds would be one of them, so the mission of finding the right ones that can provide the perfect balance of comfort and sound quality is very important to me.
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 Completely Wireless Headphones Were Tested
I tested both the Powerbeats Pro and Apple AirPods Pro over a month. Sometimes I would spend extended periods of time with just one of them, and sometimes I would swap them out back and forth to notice immediate differences.
I mostly tested them with my iPhone X and MacBook Pro.
I brought both pairs to the gym, on runs, bike rides, motorcycle rides, car commutes, my office, the grocery store... pretty much everywhere I went over a month.
I put some minor everyday stress on them, but did not purposefully try to break them, stomp on them, run them over with a car, dunk them in water, put them in the blender, etc.
Unboxing and First Impressions
The Beats Powerbeats Pro come in a bulky box, with another sturdy box inside of that, and then finally the charging case. The packaging definitely feels like you're getting into a premium product. Here's what's included:
Powerbeats Pro earphones
Eartips (four sizes)
Lightning to USB-A charging cable
They don't come out of the box with a full charge, but enough to where you can get plenty of use out of them right away. Being that the Powerbeats Pro are part of the Apple family, connecting on iOS on my iPhone was seamless.
You open the charging case, and provided your phone is nearby a graphic pops up showing that the headphones are connected (as well as alerting you of battery life).
For non-iOS devices, you simply go to the Bluetooth menu and connect that way.
The AirPods Pro unboxing experience is quite similar. The box is slimmer, and as soon as you remove the lid you're greeted with the charging case. Here's what's included:
Wireless Charging Case
Silicone ear tips (three sizes)
Lightning to USB-C Cable
Like all Apple products before it, lots of attention to detail has been put into the packaging and unboxing. The box is very sturdy, and the wireless charging case opens and closes with a very satisfying click. Everything feels well appointed, as it should.
They connected to my iOS device immediately, the same seamless way as the Powerbeats Pro (it did however suggest a software update on my iPhone to take "full advantage" of the AirPods' features, which I'm not quite sure the implications of).
Beats Powerbeats Pro Review - Pros & Cons
» Fit & Feel
The Powerbeats Pro feature completely wireless separate left and right ear pieces. They "lock" around your ear with rubberized fins, a design which has become common for workout oriented headphones (more on this in the next section).
The ear pieces have a matte rubberized finish (they're available in black, ivory, moss, or navy color). The finish inspires confidence if you plan on sweating a lot or running in the rain with them. Unlike their predecessor there are no exposed USB ports so they're "sealed off" from the elements.
Both the left and right earphone have the same controls, which is convenient no matter if you're right or left-handed. Volume control is done via the rocker on top. The "b" Beats logo on the side of the earpiece is also a button, which has various functions (press once for play/pause, twice to skip a song, thrice to go back, and long press to deny an incoming call). Unlike the AirPods, the controls on the Powerbeats Pro are actual buttons that click which is less "futuristic" and slick, but more practical.
Hooking the Powerbeats Pro around the ears can be little tricky at first. Compared to the previous model, the fit is a little "tighter," but not in any way that makes them uncomfortable.
If you're like me you might struggle a bit to get the fin around your ear, but once you do, you rotate the main earphone piece to lock them into place, so to speak.
As far as the actual seal they create, they come fitted with the medium sized eartips, but Beats includes three other size options in the package, so 99% of people should be covered.
All in all, I found them to be very comfortable while wearing them across all activities. Like the previous Powerbeats 3, after a while you're likely to forget you're even wearing them, which is a very good thing.
It feels as though over time post-Apple acquisition, Beats has shed a bit of that reputation of their headphones being overly bass-dominant. I've tested numerous Beats headphones over the years, and I can definitely say these immediately sounded more well balanced than any previous Beats earbuds.
Don't get it twisted - these are still capable of sounding very loud and booming. Electronic music, hip-hop, pop, hard rock and metal bring all the low-end you could need. Luckily it's not at the expense of the midrange and high-end.
Obviously they're still tuned for entertainment - the bass and treble is properly emphasized. They're not at all designed for detailed pro audio studio work (that said, if you do make music, they're a good headphone to test your mixes on).
Your needs may vary, but admittedly I like my music pretty loud when I exercise, and the Powerbeats Pro deliver in a big way! They're capable of pretty exorbitant volume levels while remaining crisp and clear - no distortion to speak of.
I've said this in the past and I'll say it again - your hearing is precious, so I am NOT advocating compromising it by listening to these on full blast.
» Battery Life
Battery life is a huge selling point for me when selecting ear buds. We all have busy lives and we're already charging a bunch of devices, so the less frequently I have to think about it the better.
My previous headphones, the Powerbeats3, had a very solid 12 hours of listening time (they don't have a charging case).
Luckily, the Powerbeats Pro feature up to 9 hours of listening time. With a fully charged charging case, you get over 24 hours.
The Fast Fuel feature is awesome, and I used it a LOT with the Powerbeats3. The way it works is if you just have a workout or a commute and the battery is low, a quick 5-minute charge gives you 1. 5 hours of playback when battery is low.
» Anything Else?
Based on Apple's H1 Chip, they work a lot like the AirPods, in that they're pretty "smart." If you remove either ear piece the music you're listening to automatically pauses, and resumes when you place the earpiece back in.
That said, they're not completely noise cancelling, so if you turn your music down you'll be able to have a conversation with someone.
One minor gripe, depending on your traveling habits, is the size of the charging case. It's quite large - about twice as tall and twice as thick as the AirPods Pro case.
If you're just headed on a run or the gym and back, that's not too much of an issue since you can leave the case at home or in your car. But if you're a frequent traveler or like to take the headphones with you everywhere, you're going to need the case for protection and charging. It's not the most pocket-friendly thing in the world, and I wonder if Beats couldn't have designed something a little more sleek.
Like the Powerbeats Pro, the AirPods Pro are completely wireless left and right ear pieces which connect via Bluetooth.
There's no "fin" or protruding parts to ensure they don't fall out of your ear. As you can see in the photos, the AirPods Pro are much more sleek and minimal than the Powerbeats.
With headphones this small, there's always going to be a chance to lose one (or both), so keep that in mind!
Other than that, they look stylish, feel extremely nice to the touch, and are incredibly light. They are glossy white plastic, save for the silicone tip.
Controlling them is done via a faux "button" present on the stem of both ear pieces, which is marked with an indentation. It took me a while to get used to that. When you successfully press it, a little "click" plays through the headphones to give you feedback. Without that it would be very difficult to tell if you got it.
When stationary at my desk, it was easy to feel for the indentation and do what I need to do, but on a jog it proved quite difficult to skip a track forward and back; I slightly prefer the real buttons on the Powerbeats Pro.
When it comes to comfort, the AirPods Pro are unmatched. One gripe of previous versions was their "one size fits all" nature.
Now, with interchangeable silicon tips that satisfyingly click on and off, most people will find something that works.
The default medium ones worked perfectly for me. I placed the earbuds in my ears, and the world around me floated away due to a perfect seal and being completely immersed (more about that in the next section).
There are no hooks or fins to ensure they won't fall out during exercise, but because of a clever design and a curvature that angles down, the fit is very snug and secure.
Jogging, burpees, squats and jumping jacks were not enough to ever dislodge them. Even shaking my head wildly from side to side didn't dislodge them.
Granted, with no hook or fin mechanism, accidentally grazing the earpieces or hitting them against something could cause them to fall out. Perhaps they're not the best headphones to wear during contact sports.
The major improvement over all previous EarPods is the EarPods Pro's Active Noise Cancellation, and it's absolute magic. Each ear piece has an outward-facing microphone that detects ambient noise, and almost completely makes it vanish.
If you've ever experienced active noise cancellation, it's quite impressive, and it's even more so on these tiny lightweight earbuds. They don't drown everything out; certain sudden loud noises (like a blender being turned on) are still audible, but I don't want to take anything away from how good the noise cancelling experience is.
Provided you've tried the different eartips to find the best fit, with the noise cancellation enabled, if anyone around you tries to talk to you all you perceive is their lips moving. Ambient noise, whether in the car or a noisy gym, is all but gone.
I'll caution you, the feature works so well that I probably shouldn't have had it on in a few scenarios, including driving, and the time I was locked in the bathroom taking a bath and I couldn't hear my family members calling me at all which caused them a minor panic. I even tried them on under my motorcycle helmet, and a good percentage of the wind and road noise was cancelled out (I do not condone noise cancelling while driving, you need to stay alert).
With that out of the way, let's talk actual sound quality. They sound great! The audio is very balanced, and not harsh or distorted in any way.
They get decently loud, though maybe a touch less than the Powerbeats Pro. With the noise cancelling enabled, you probably don't need to turn them up as loud anyhow.
I did a lot of side by side testing with the Powerbeats Pro, and I've concluded that the AirPods Pro have a substantially different sound signature. They sound more tame and mellow, whereas the Powerbeats Pro are much more lively and sibilant in the high-mids and treble.
The Powerbeats Pro are slightly more bass-heavy, though the difference is not as dramatic as it is with the high frequencies.
The more "excited" aural character of the Powerbeats Pro can be explained by their intended use. The Powerbeats are very much marketed toward athletes, while the AirPods are used by a much more mixed crowd. You see them in the gym just as much as the grocery store, and they get plenty of use in offices by people who spend lots of time on the phone.
» Battery Life
The battery life is great, though slightly inferior to that of the Powerbeats Pro. Most likely, the Active Noise Cancellation is a bit of a drain on the battery.
On one charge, you get 4.5hrs of listening time, though with multiple charges from the case you get 24 or so total hours.
Like the Beats, the AirPods Pro have a 5 minute quick charge which provides an hour of listening time.
You can charge the case with the Lightning connector, or wirelessly using a Qi-certified charger! I have a Qi charger on my bedside table so I really appreciate that convenience.
» Anything Else?
Here's one thing I find really annoying about the AirPods Pro - there's no way to turn the volume up or down from the earbuds! You have to control the volume from your device. Whether shopping or working out and a song I love came on, I really missed the ability to kick up the volume. Everything on the AirPods Pro feels so seamless, except for this big omission.
Music aside, the Apple EarPods Pro are fantastic if you need to do a lot of talking on the phone. Siri integration works well, and the Active Noise Cancellation is a life saver if you need to take a call in a noisy or windy place.
You can turn the noise cancellation off by pressing and holding the force sensor, which toggles what Apple calls "Transparency mode."
Like AirPods that came before, removing either earbud pauses the music, and resumes when you put the buds back in. Very slick.
In iOS, going to the Bluetooth settings for the AirPods Pro gives you some customization settings.
Other than that, for intense exercise or trips to the pool or beach, you'll appreciate that they are water resistant. I've sweated profusely while wearing them, and had no problems whatsoever both in terms of fit or sound.
The time has come to pit these headphones head-to-head and determine a winner.
Fit & Feel
It's a tie. Both earbuds have an excellent design and feel like premium products. The build quality is equally as good on both.
Winner: Apple AirPods Pro
I'll have to give this one to the AirPods Pro. While the Powerbeats Pro are quite comfortable, the earhook is noticeable and they're quite a bit more hefty.
The AirPods Pro are light and airy; you barely feel anything is there.
If it was just a matter of sound quality, I'd give it to the Powerbeats Pro due to their louder, more accentuated sound. If you're working out and listening to music, it's exactly the sound you want out of headphones.
The AirPods Pro by contrast sound more subdued and even, but the game changer is the Active Noise Cancellation.
Winner: Beats Powerbeats Pro
Slight edge to the Powerbeats Pro here, since on one charge they last about twice as long (9 hours vs. 4.5 hours). Using the charging case however, you'll get around 24 hours of play time on both models.
A tricky one, because it will fluctuate over time, and as new models are related the price of these will inevitably drop. MSRP is about $249 for both, so we'll call it a tie.
Winner: Apple AirPods Pro
If you're taking calls, the AirPods Pro have the edge because of the noise and wind cancelling.
Overall Winner: It's a Tie!
I hate to end it like this because I really wanted to pick an outright winner, but it's true folks, these are both pretty awesome earbuds.
I will say this:
If your primary use is the gym/exercise, get the Powerbeats Pro. They're louder, and are guaranteed not to get knocked out of your ears due to the secure-fit earhooks.
If you exercise, but also find yourself wearing your earbuds many other places - especially in the office for phone calls - get the AirPods Pro.
Another reason to get the AirPods Pro is if you're a frequent flyer (or any other very noisy form of commute), where the Active Noise Cancellation is a game changer.