What makes a good pair of headphones or earbuds? The most basic qualities should be outstanding sound quality and that they don't hurt your ears. But what makes headphones truly outstanding? Fast pairing, excellent battery life, a wide soundstage and easy controls often top the list.
For me, the new Powerbeats Pro ($249.95; amazon.com, bhphotovideo.com or bestbuy.com) represent a doubling or tripling down from Beats by Dre on those two features: sound and comfort. At $249.95, they're more expensive than Apple's AirPods ($159.99; amazon.com), but after more than a week of various tests, these represent the new standard for true wireless headphones.
After all, this is the first new product since Apple acquired Beats by Dre in late 2014, and the effort here clearly seems like the audio brand is turning a new page without forgetting its roots.
Powerbeats Pro are fully wireless earbuds, meaning that the left and right side sit on their own, with no connection between them. Inside is Bluetooth 5.0 and Apple's proprietary H1 chip, the same one found in AirPods. However, while you get the fast pairing features with iOS and iCloud sync across your Apple devices, Beats by Dre took it a step further to ensure easy use with other devices.
Upon opening, the substantial carrying case, they will start casting a signal to connect. There's not much leg work at all: just open it. There are also physical power buttons and playback controls on each earbud. The circular Beats by Dre logo can be used for play, pause, forward, reverse and for calling a virtual assistant. These came in super handy, and definitely put this a little higher than AirPods in the control department.
The return of an iconic ear hook design
Beats didn't throw the classic ear hook design in the garbage, but instead took a long hard look at it and crafted something that fits nicely. You'll still get the rubber-ish ear hook section that wraps around your ear like a vine. Ear hook headphones might not be for everyone, but these are non-obtrusive. The pliable and soft build won't cause extra pressure on your ear, in your ear or over your ear.
The design doesn't stop there though, you'll also receive three additional ear tip designs, plus the one on the Powerbeats Pro. Not all headphones add this rubber cover, but it's helpful for sound isolation and comfort. After all, some people hate AirPods because of their design; the Powerbeats Pro are definitely more sporty with an in-ear canal design that fits better.
These are comfortable, but putting them in and taking them out might be a challenge for the first couple of times. At least it was for me, but I shortly got the hang of it.
If AirPods or Apple's classic corded earphones never fit your ears, but you were craving the same fast pairing and reliability, then you'll likely be sold on PowerBeats Pro.
Sound is great and wide
The days of Beats by Dre having overpowered bass are gone, and the Powerbeats Pro are a testament to that. On first listen you'll notice that the bass is still aggressive, but it's tamed and fits nicely with treble, low, mid and high tones. For tracks that aren't bass heavy, it will almost serve as grounding and add to the track. If a song is super bass heavy, it will shine extra light on tones and present a terrific experience.
Either way, the Powerbeats Pro truly rock (pun intended). I tested it with a variety of artists, such as Bruce Springsteen, Little Steven, Beck, Taylor Swift, Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran. And they all sounded terrific. The bass is a lot better than AirPods, and I think, as a whole, the sound is delivered in a crisper and clearer form.
Ultimately, it's a vibrant sound presenting an extensive stage. If you're listening to a live track, you'll hear it all around you. If you pick up a pair, try out a live version of Springsteen's "Born to Run," and you'll hear the difference.
A large charging case, but really great battery life
So yes, the case for the Powerbeats Pro is massive. It also doesn't include wireless charging support and opts for a Lightning connector (although iOS users will be happy with this port). Beats by Dre is kind enough to include a Lightning connector in the box, and the truth of the matter is, I don't think you'll use the case a lot.
I got nine hours of battery life even with full sound and constant listening on the Powerbeats Pro. It's impressive and speaks to the hardware inside of them. It beats the five hours on Apple's second-generation AirPods by quite a bit and outperforms other leading true wireless earbuds. With the case, you can expect a bit over 24 hours of life, since it can charge the Powerbeats Pro two extra times. Additionally, the earbuds are trained to conserve power, so if you take them out for a few minutes, they'll detect that and go into idle mode.
The new true wireless buds to beat
It certainly took a while for a new product from Beats by Dre, but it was worth the wait. Sure, the Powerbeats Pro are expensive, but you're getting what you pay for. These should last a lot longer, sound a lot better, deliver longer listening times and be more comfortable than a run-of-the-mill, sub-$100 pair of true wireless buds. I swore by AirPods for a while, but I'm making the switch to Beats for the Powerbeats Pro ($249.95; amazon.com, bhphotovideo.com or bestbuy.com).
So I can say, they beat out AirPods in every way ---- but also in the two that count the most: sound and comfort.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.