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AirPods Pro vs. Beats Powerbeats Pro: Which wireless earbuds win?

AirPods Pro vs. Beats Powerbeats Pro
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Apple surprised us with something we never saw coming – releasing three wireless earbuds in the same year. We got the second-gen AirPods in early April and it was a hit with critics and consumers, but failed to deliver on the must-have features that most iPhone users clamored for, such as better sound, longer battery life, water resistance, and the mother of all wants, active noise cancellation.

This led to Beats’ first category launch via the Powerbeats Pro, which checked three out of the four boxes and was dubbed “sporty AirPods” by the media. How original. The product overachieved, becoming a hot seller and earning praise for its well-rounded performance. While considered an amazing alternative, several Apple fans decided to wait for the long-rumored AirPods 3, which analysts predicted would hit the market by end of 2019.

It turns out they were right, and after months of endless leaks and reports surfacing online, the Apple faithful got what they wanted: the AirPods Pro. Slightly redesigned to accommodate in-ear fit, while adding noise cancellation and water resistance into the mix, the earbuds have become the ones to beat.

So, which is the ideal iDevice companion? We’ve pitted Apple’s two biggest audio products against each other to answer this burning question.

AirPods Pro vs. Beats Powerbeats Pro: Specs Compared

Apple AirPods ProBeats Powerbeats Pro
Price$249.00$249.95
Wireless Charging CaseYes, includedNo
ChipH1H1
Rated Battery Life4.5 hours (24 hours with charging case)9 hours (24 hours charging case)
Water ResistanceIPX 4 (can withstand sweat and water, but not for use in water sports)IPX 4 (can withstand sweat and water, but not for use in water sports)
Case Size1.78 x 2.39 x 0.85 inchesUndisclosed
Case Weight1.61 ounces4.58 ounces
Special FeaturesActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, customizable fit, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistanceAudio sharing, announced messages with Siri, customizable fit, Fast-Fuel Charging, control music and calls on both earbuds, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance

Design

Beats’ penchant for stylish design is on full display here, as the Powerbeats Pro remains one of the most ruggedly handsome pair of earbuds money can buy. Each bud is covered in durable plastic built to survive accidental drops to the ground. Beats hasn’t officially divulged the IPX rating, but the buds are water-resistant; several months of sweat-inducing cardio and they’ve yet to short circuit on me. The embossed B logo and striking colors (Black, Ivory, Moss, and Navy) give them the panache to stand out amongst the wireless crowd.

Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Beats)

Some people find the AirPods design attractive and others find it hideous. Even if your opinion of the aesthetic sways more towards the latter, there is much to admire about the AirPods Pro. Apple finally made the buds sweat/water resistant, so you’ll feel safer sporting them in wet conditions. A black microphone vent has been placed at the top of each stem, which makes them more distinguishable. The angled sound port with silicone ear tips and wider charging case should also help you identify them in the Apple Store.

Another detail you’ll pick up on are the AirPods Pro’s shorter stems. The difference is more noticeable when lined up next to the regular AirPods. Something else that’s been recently discovered is that Apple made the AirPods Pro from recyclable materials (kudos to them for thinking eco-friendly). The buds also retain the signature chrome accent at the bottom.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Future)

All notable changes aside, the AirPods Pro are not very durable. One spill to the concrete will leave all types of blemishes (e.g. nicks, scratches, scuffs) on the buds and charging case. I learned the hard way. The Powerbeats Pro case doesn’t fare any better, but at least it’s solid enough to keep the buds secure. And is it too much to ask for some new colorways on the AirPods?

Winner: Powerbeats Pro

Comfort

Apple tried everything to sell consumers on the original AirPods “universal fit.” Yes, it was comfy and accommodated all ear types. On the flip side, it provided such poor on-ear stability that some consumers spent extra on third-party accessories like EarBuddyz Ultra Ear Hooks out of fear of losing the buds down a subway grate.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The redesigned sound port and integrated silicone tips rectify that issue to provide a relaxed and secure fit. Apple even went a step further and developed an Ear Tip Fit Test (checking the settings) to determine which tip sizes offer you the best fit. The tips really do make all of the difference and I felt assured sporting them outside when powerwalking through the city.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

I was always the type to quietly judge gym rats for wearing AirPods at the gym, but the AirPods Pro offer enough grip to justify this move. They stayed put when running hard on the treadmill, which was all I hoped for. Read our workout test to see just how much of a “game-changer” they are.

Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Regna Coule/Tom's Guide)

The Powerbeats Pro were made specifically for exercising and serve that purpose extremely well. They are light, have a slim profile that isn’t obtrusive, and stay latched onto your ears. Integrated hooks keep the buds properly positioned no matter the activity. I’ve worn them during 5K runs and basketball games and never once worried about them falling out. Unfortunately, those with sensitive ears will experience fatigue after an hour of wear; the front cavity sinks into the concha and creates some discomfort.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Controls

What made the previous AirPods fun to use were their simple tap gestures. Well, Apple swapped those out for pinch gestures that are initiated by squeezing the new haptic force sensors. One pinch will play/pause music or answer calls, two will skip forward, three will skip back, and a long pinch will switch between ANC and Transparency modes. This control scheme works well once you get used to it and produces a click sound that confirms your intended commands, but I found the tap system more convenient for playback.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Those who prefer a more traditional setup will feel at home with the Powerbeats Pro. Each earbud has a volume rocker at the top and a multifunctional button on the side for playback, call management, and digital assistant support. I love the tactile feedback each button produces, but there is some latency with the MF button. The other issue is that pressing the buttons applies unwanted pressure to your ears.

Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The AirPods Pro and Powerbeats Pro have on-ear detection, too. Removing either set of buds from your ears will automatically play and pause music. The feature works accurately on both.

Winner: Draw

Active noise cancellation and special features

The one killer feature that sets the AirPods Pro apart from the Powerbeats Pro is active noise cancellation. How good is it? Really good. Whether it neutralizes noise better than the Sony WF-1000xM3 is still up for debate. However, they outperform the Amazon Echo Buds, which uses Bose’s active noise reduction technology.

Apple developed a two-mic noise-cancelling system – one for the outside to deal with external sounds and the other for the inside to block any noise that gets through. The earbuds do a remarkable job of hushing nearby chatting, loud TVs, and whisking taxi cabs. They’ll even keep street drilling to a minimum from several feet away. Just don’t expect them to keep you jamming noise-free through a construction site. I was satisfied with simply tuning out my cat’s meows inside the house, so being able to block out close to 85% of street noise had me elated.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The AirPods Pro also have a Transparency mode, which is new to the series, but something we’ve seen on other models like the Jabra Elite 65t. Enabling it opens up the soundstage to let in ambient noise, something that bike riders and outdoor runners value to stay aware of their surroundings. It allowed me to communicate with the coffee shop barista and hear train announcements clearly without removing the buds.

Dig deeper into the iOS settings and you’ll discover more AirPods Pro tricks. You can use them independently for calls or music listening, as well as active ANC mode on just one bud. Toggling between the listening modes can be done directly through the Apple Watch. There is even a way to adjust the press speed and duration on the force sensor. That’s only scratching the surface.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The Powerbeats Pro runs on the same H1 chip as the AirPods Pro, so standard features like 50% more talk time, instantaneous connectivity to iDevices, and hands-free “Hey Siri” functionality are available. Newer iOS features like Announce Messages, Audio Sharing, and Live Listen are also supported on the two devices. All of them operate as smoothly as expected, but pairing to Android smartphones remains a problem with Apple earbuds.

An unsung feature of the Powerbeats Pro is noise isolation. The buds create a nice seal around the ear canal to limit external sounds from leaking onto the soundstage. It’s not as effective as noise cancellation, but decent enough where that you won’t feel bothered in busy settings, especially the gym. However, they do bleed sound when blasting music.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Audio quality

The Powerbeats Pro has the sonic edge over the AirPods Pro. Lows are more emphatic, mids are tighter, and highs, while recessed at high volume, are more pronounced on orchestral-heavy productions. The groovy synths and pounding drums on Daft Punk’s “One More Time” hit my eardrum with enough impact to trigger a second wind on long runs. That same vigor carried over to hip-hop tracks with thumping basslines like Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph;” vocal reproduction was impressive, and each rapper’s rhymes commanded the beat.

Audio quality on the AirPods Pro is marginally better than the regular AirPods, delivering clean, balanced sound. The Powerbeats Pro just has more going for it on the sound front. I noticed a boost in bass on the AirPods Pro, which is punchier than its predecessor, thanks to the tight seal created by the tips. Although, the low end can be hit or miss depending on the song.

Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Hard rock classics like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” sound great, especially the iconic, rambunctious jam session towards the end. Then there are songs like Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” that lose percussive elements and rhythmic ambiance. One positive is that the low end remains the same whether ANC mode is turned on or off. The hard-hitting drums and stabbing piano keys on Gang Starr’s “Lights Out” maintained their energetic presence in either mode.

Neither earbuds lend themselves well to lo-fi recordings. A song like Slum Village’s “Players” didn’t have the same gritty, unfiltered resonance to it as it would on more fine-tuned buds like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. Clarity took a huge hit, making it tough to hear and discern the rappers’ rhymes word for word. Vocals were slightly clearer on the Powerbeats Pro.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Several competitors offer a companion app to personalize sound via custom EQ and presets. Not Apple. These options are nonexistent on both models. However, Apple did program an Adaptive EQ into the AirPods Pro, which is said to adjust the frequencies based on your ear shape. I couldn’t really tell much of a difference in the output.

Winner: Powerbeats Pro

Call quality and digital assistant

Call quality is where Apple usually hits a home run. The AirPods Pro round the bases with ease, using its noise-cancelling mics to provide an extra layer of clarity. Outdoor calls sounded clearer and background noise was kept to a minimum for the most part; my fiancée did hear a fire truck whiz past me. Wind resistance was solid as well.

I’ve always liked the Powerbeats Pro as a calling headset and believe it to be one of the best in the category. The beamforming mics do an admirable job of blocking out noise. My mother heard me loud and clear when chatting outdoors. Screening calls in high-traffic areas like Rockefeller Center wasn’t the best idea, as I could barely make out what others were saying on Facebook video chat. Drafty conditions made it tougher to communicate.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Siri has always been a smooth operator and gets better with every new Apple product. That remains true with the AirPods Pro and Powerbeats Pro. “Hey Siri” makes hands-free voice activation a breeze on both devices. Whether it’s reading your messages or pulling up an Apple Music playlist, Apple’s virtual assistant is highly responsive to all commands. Speech recognition on the AirPods Pro is exceptional.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Charging Case

Size does matter here, but for all of the wrong reasons. The Powerbeats Pro charging case is a bulky and hefty sucker that will weigh down your pockets. Apple made the AirPods Pro charging case wider and slightly heavier this time around, but it’s the more portable-friendly option and has wireless charging capabilities. The real kicker is that these two charging cases offer the same amount juice: 24 hours.

Winner: AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Battery life

One long-standing issue with the AirPods has been battery life. Nothing has really changed. Instead of the AirPods Pro taking a leap forward, they take a step back, offering only 4.5 hours on a full charge. This usage rate is shorter than the AirPods  (5 hours). Enabling ANC mode and Bluetooth drain juice quicker; my buds died after 4 hours.

AirPods Pro vs Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The Powerbeats Pro claims 9 hours of playback, which is really like 8 hours, but almost twice as long as its sound-silencing cousin. Beats applied some clever engineering tricks to achieve the most playtime possible. For instance, the buds’ have a motion accelerometer that automatically enables a power-save mode when placed them on a flat surface.

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Quick charging is available on these devices as well. Beats’ proprietary Fast Fuel technology will give the Powerbeats Pro 4.5 hours of use on a 15-minutes charge. It’s unclear whether the AirPods Pro uses this same technology, but it is capable of powering the buds for 1 hour on a 5-minute charge.

Winner: Powerbeats Pro

Price

The asking price isn’t cheap for either of these two products: $250. That’s as much as a pair of premium over-ear ANC headphones. As expensive as they are, they also happen to be the best wireless earbuds for Apple enthusiasts. Minor distinctions may influence your decision, but it really comes down to active or peaceful listening. The AirPods Pro does the better job of balancing the two because of the versatile fit and optional ANC.

If you’re looking to score either set of earbuds for a lower price, be sure to bookmark our Best AirPods Black Friday Deals and Best Beats Black Friday Deals pages for the latest updates.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Apple has two stellar options that are well worth the look and money. Each model offers its own unique experience that caters towards a specific use. You can’t go wrong with either, but if we’re talking overall performance and higher value, splurge on the AirPods Pro. The improved ergonomic design, extra features, and shockingly good ANC placed them atop the true wireless throne.

Apple AirPods ProBeats Powerbeats Pro
Design (15)1113
Comfort (10)97
Controls (5)44
Special Features and Apps (15)1411
Audio (25)2122
Call Quality and Digital Assistant (5)54
Charging Case (10)97
Battery Life (15)1114
Total Score (100)8482

Full-on fitness buffs will benefit more from owning the Powerbeats Pro. These sporty earbuds have the sound, stability, and longer battery life necessary to push through long, intense workouts. The fact that they operate on the same H1 chip also means that you’ll have access to many of the same performance perks as the AirPods Pro. You’ll just have to live with a gigantic charging case and zero noise cancellation.