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Beats Powerbeats 4 review

The Beats Powerbeats 4 is a solid performer at a relatively affordable price.

Beats Powerbeats 4 review
(Image: © Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Our Verdict

The Beats Powerbeats 4 is a noteworthy successor with better aesthetics, battery life, and sound than the Powerbeats 3.

For

  • Highly secure fit
  • Great sound and call quality
  • Steady battery life on a full charge
  • Stylish, durable craftsmanship
  • Apple’s H1 chip with performance perks

Against

  • The wire isn’t practical anymore
  • Fewer features
  • Feels uncomfortable after a while

The Beats Powerbeats 4 is the latest version of Beats’ popular line of Bluetooth sports headphones that borrows several cues from its wireless earbuds counterpart, the Powerbeats Pro. The Powerbeats 4 blends fashion, functionality, and fit superbly, making it one of the best sport headphones you can buy.

That’s not to say the headphones aren’t without their flaws. The lack of certain features (e.g. on-ear detection, charging case) give the Powerbeats Pro an edge, and yes, the whole wire-behind-the-neck design has its drawbacks as well.

Still, should you want Apple-friendly workout headphones that operate just as well as the Powerbeats Pro, but for much less, read our Beats Powerbeats 4 review to see why these should be your ideal choice.

Beats Powerbeats 4 Specs

Colors: White, Black, Red
Battery life (rated): 15 hours
Size: 2.2 inches tall
Weight: 0.93 ounces
Connectivity: Apple H1 chip

Beats Powerbeats 4: Price and availability

The Beats Powerbeats 4 costs $149.95 and comes in three colors: White, Black, and Red. All versions are available at major online retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, or directly from Apple and Beats.

Beats ships the Powerbeats with a carrying pouch, Lightning to USB-A charging cable, quick start guide, warranty card, and four pairs of ear tips in different sizes.

Beats Powerbeats 4: Design

The Beats Powerbeats 4 are basically the Powerbeats Pro, but with a wire running between the headphones, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Beats’ design pedigree is on full display here, from the bold, vibrant colorways to the embossed B logo on the buttons, which are flush and blend beautifully into the overall look. The company also went with its more traditional colorways like the white/grey and red/white variants, while the Powerbeats Pro has its own exclusive colors.

Beats Powerbeats 4 review

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

One of the biggest complaints about the Powerbeats 3 was its fragile build quality. Well, Beats took take care of that by giving this fourth-gen version the same composition as the Powerbeats Pro. This includes high-impact plastic casing, rubberized ear hooks, and IPX4 certification for sweat and water resistance. The materials hold up well against heavy perspiration during workouts, plus the hooks have a solid, pliable feel and won’t snap off no matter how many times you adjust them.

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the wire. It’s the most recognizable change in design between the Powerbeats 4 and Powerbeats Pro. While some prefer the around-the-neck approach, others prefer true wireless form, so it’s really a matter of preference. Beats went with a rounded silicone cord this time instead of the flat one used on the Powerbeats 3. It’s nothing to rave about, though I think they could have done more to make it aesthetically pleasing, like give it a different color to create some cool two-tone variations.

Beats Powerbeats 4

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

Beats bundles the Powerbeats with a generous number of accessories, including a charging cable, extra ear tips and a tiny carrying pouch. The latter makes these headphones more portable than the Powerbeats Pro (that massive charging case isn’t fun to carry around), granted the tradeoff is you can’t charge them on the go unless connected to a power source.

Beats Powerbeats4 : Comfort and fit

Fit has always been the series’ strongest selling point. Thanks to Beats’ signature ear hooks, every version has delivered excellent on-ear stability by remaining intact around the ears during workouts. The Powerbeats 4 is more of the same.

Each earpiece wraps securely around the ear, while the interchangeable tips provide a decent seal to keep them locked in when properly adjusted. You won’t have to worry about any slippage either because the Powerbeats does a great job with sweat absorption. I’m also fond of the gentle feel the rubberized materials provide the skin.

Beats Powerbeats

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

Comfort is a mixed bag, as the elongated sound port sinks into the concha and causes irritation. It’s something you probably won’t notice when exercising, but for leisure, your ears will start pulsating after 30 minutes of listening. And that’s not the only issue with comfort; more on that in the next section.

The Powerbeats doesn’t provide the same airy freedom as the Powerbeats Pro due to its slightly heavier form, and of course, the wire. I like that it’s short and doesn’t flail around much, which is perfect for running. At the same time, it has annoying tendencies; you’ll find it gets in the way when putting on the headphones and tangles with other items you have in your everyday bag.

Beats Powerbeats 4: Controls

When it comes to the control scheme, Beats got a lot right with the Powerbeats Pro. The combination of volume rockers at the top and multifunctional buttons on the face of each earbud made for a more user-friendly experience. Beats switched things up a bit, removing the MF button and volume rocker on the left earbud for a power/pairing button. This does help streamline functionality. However, much like Powerbeats Pro, Beats didn’t account for how the controls would affect the headphones’ comfortability.

No matter what button you press, you’re applying unwanted pressure to your ears. Pressing the MF button several times will leave the concha feeling sore after a while. I found it easier to control music playback directly on my smartphone, so I could relieve my ears.

Beats Powerbeats 4 review

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

Those who can deal with the discomfort will be rewarded with responsive controls, especially the volume rockers. They produce a nice click effect that ensures you of intended commands. The MF button works well too, though on occasion I noticed lag when trying to skip tracks (2x press), but that was mostly on Android devices. 

I do wish the Powerbeats 4 had optical sensors for on-ear detection; this allowed users to automatically pause music when removing the Powerbeats Pro from their ears and resume when placed back on.

Beats Powerbeats 4: App and special features

Powered by Apple’s H1 processor, the Powerbeats 4 has plenty of special tricks and wireless goodness to offer users. We’re talking 50% more talk time, along with newer features like Announce Messages and Audio Sharing to stream music from an iPhone to two pairs of AirPods or Beats headphones.

Connectivity remains one of Apple’s greatest strengths, and the Powerbeats is a benefactor of it. The H1 chip grants these headphones seamless pairing capabilities with all Apple devices; connecting to my MacBook Pro and iPhone 8 was instant. If only the same experience applied to Android devices.

It’s no secret that Apple audio products are not Android-friendly, therefore making the setup process more frustrating. The Powerbeats required several tries before my Google Pixel 2XL recognized it. I found it easier to pair through the Beats app, which you can download on Google Play, though it offers no extra features. Once paired, Spotify and Skype calls maintained a strong connection – no latency whatsoever.

Digital assistant support is a common feature on most wireless headphones, but only Apple products have access to the voice-activated “Hey Siri” feature. It works flawlessly here to execute tasks in hands-free fashion; pulling up calendar events and Apple Music playlists was a breeze. Android users aren’t left out in the cold either, as the Powerbeats support Google Assistant, which is also highly responsive to voice commands. Kudos to the dual beamforming mics that demonstrate great speech recognition and create an effective buffer to cancel out external noises.

Something else I took notice of was how much better the Powerbeats were at recognizing different connections. For instance, I had the headphones connected via Bluetooth on my MacBook Pro, along with another pair of wired headphones via audio jack. Usually, my laptop gives precedence to whatever is plugged in, but it was the exact opposite this time around, as the Powerbeats served as the primary audio source. It’s a small detail, but something worth noting, especially if you’re someone who constantly switches between headphones.

Beats Powerbeats 4 review

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

Beats Powerbeats 4: Audio quality

Beats headphones wouldn’t be what they are without some powerful sonics coming through the speakers. The great news is that the Powerbeats retains the same audio profile as the Powerbeats Pro, including the 12mm linear piston drivers that pump out energetic, crisp sound to fuel your workouts.

To test the bass on these bad boys, I played Mos Def’s “Mathematics” and was met with tight, punchy lows. DJ Premier’s kicks and snares hit hard, while the guitar lick is both infectious and produces nice reverberation that creates an everlasting effect throughout the recording. Switching over to rock, I was surprised by how well these headphones handled Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” finely reproducing the thunderous bass line and giving the soundstage enough room for hi-hats and vocals to shine. Even with its slight bump in bass, the AirPods Pro can’t match the Powerbeats’ depth, though I still prefer Jabra Elite Active 75t for its sound personalization options (e.g. built-in EQ and presets).

Beats Powerbeats 4 review

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

For something lighter, I pulled up Ahmad Jamal’s “The Awakening,” which sounded pleasant when entering recovery mode. The piano keys were lively, and the hit-hats were distinct. I did have to raise the volume higher to hear every instrument clearly, which was something I don’t recall ever doing with the Powerbeats Pro when vibing out to Jazz tracks. It’s more of an observation than a knock. 

I give Beats credit for the amazing work they have done engineering the volume on the Powerbeats. It isn’t too loud, nor too low, meaning it won’t damage your hearing – a bad rap the brand has received with its early models. Most of my time was spent listening at near-max volume and never was I taken aback by the Powerbeats’ loudness during testing. 

The Powerbeats do bleed sound at a high level, which my fiancée noticed a few times when sitting across our living room; she could hear the exact songs I was playing. Dropping the volume down by 2 to 3 notches helped reduce leakage. Noise isolation isn’t the best either. That’s not entirely a bad thing, as it gives outdoor exercisers more awareness of their surroundings. You’ll still be able to enjoy music and be alert of oncoming traffic or emergencies taking place in your vicinity.

Beats Powerbeats 4: Battery life

The Powerbeats operates efficiently on a 15-hour battery, which is realistically about 14 hours when factoring in heavy streaming and high volume. By comparison, this is about 3 hours more than the Powerbeats 3 and 6 hours more than the Powerbeats Pro when fully charged. Having tested the headphones for an entire week, 1.5 hours daily, I still have a good 20% of juice left in the tank.

Beats Powerbeats

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

The one true advantage the Powerbeats Pro has over its wired sibling is the charging case, which extends playtime up to 24 hours. Then again, it’s not a huge deal, especially since the Powerbeats shares the same Fast Fuel charging technology to gain 1 hour of play on a 5-minute charge. You definitely won’t suffer from any low-battery anxiety with these on your ears.

Beats Powerbeats 4: Call quality

I was very impressed with the Powerbeats Pro’s call quality and I’m thrilled to report that it’s just as good here. The Powerbeats 4 is a solid calling headset that picks up vocals clearly and produces great clarity on both ends of a call.

Beats Powerbeats 4 review

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

Since the current pandemic has made it difficult to test call quality outdoors, I set up my apartment with many loud distractions (e.g. blasting my speaker system and TV simultaneously) to get a feel for how well the headphones minimized ambient sound. I was surprised by the results. My parents could hear background noise, but also understood every sentence I spoke, which shows the Powerbeats can handle its own in rowdy environments. The real reward comes when taking calls in quiet settings, as I was able to hear and speak clearly with clients on Skype without any dropout or interference.

Beats Powerbeats 4: Verdict

For $150, the Beats Powerbeats 4 is a great pickup for athletes and fitness buffs who want reliable fit and sound and are still on the fence about true wireless earbuds. Beats managed to integrate all of the hallmarks that made the Powerbeats Pro such a huge hit, from the dynamic audio to the H1 performance perks. Battery life is also steady at 15 hours on a single charge, which is more than sufficient for about a week’s worth of full-length workouts.

However, sticking with wired Bluetooth headphones presents compromises. Having the headphones tethered to a wire isn’t as liberating as going cord-free; it gets tangled easily in your gym bag and may feel irritating on your skin, depending on your sensitivity. In addition, the lack of a charging case means you’ll have to keep one of the best portable chargers or a Lightning cable on hand to recharge when traveling, if necessary.

All things considered, these are still the best sports headphones in their class, just not the best overall. For a few extra dollars, it’s definitely worth checking out some of the market’s top cordless offerings, including the Jabra Elite Active 75t ($199) and Powerbeats Pro, which we’re constantly seeing on sale for $199 at select retailers.