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Apple AirPods 2 vs. Beats Powerbeats Pro: Which Wireless Earbuds Are Best?

When it comes to truly wireless earbuds, it's Apple versus the world. The AirPods (2019) remain a bestseller across the globe, but just recently, a new member from its extended family tree has hit the market: the Beats Powerbeats Pro. Does a sportier design, powerful sound and seamless iOS integration make Beats' latest offering the true flagship accessory for iPhone owners? We've pitted these two against each other to determine Apple's best wireless earbuds.

Apple AirPods (2019) vs. Beats Powerbeats Pro: Specs Compared


Apple AirPods 2019Beats Powerbeats Pro
Price$159; $199 (with wireless charging case)
$249.95
ColorsWhiteBlack, Ivory, Moss and Navy
What's in the BoxCharging case and Lightning cableCharging case, three pairs of ear tips, and Lightning cable
Battery Life5 hours, 24 hours (charging case)9 hours, 24 hours (charging case)
Size0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6-inchUndisclosed
Weight0.14 ounces, 1.4 ounces (case)0.72 ounces, Undisclosed (case)

Design

Beats' pedigree in creating stylish audio products is on full display with the Powerbeats Pro. These buds achieve a middle ground between luxury and sporty, standing out as the more fashionable choice. The Powerbeats Pro is 17% lighter and 23% smaller than the Powerbeats3 Wireless, and boasts a slimmer silhouette.

Build quality is spot-on with the frame composed of sturdy plastic and water-resistant coating. Beats hasn't revealed the IPX rating for its buds, so you'll want to refrain from cannonballing into any pools while wearing them. Nonetheless, the buds are highly durable and fend off perspiration to ensure long-term use.

Beats Powerbeats ProView Deal

The new AirPods look exactly like the 2017 version. Apple presents the same long-stem design constructed from glossy white plastic, capped off with a chrome accent. They are still fragile and break easily when stepped on. And as much as fans have campaigned for new colors and sweat-resistant protection, it looks like we'll have to continue holding our breath.

Winner: Beats Powerbeats Pro

Comfort

The greatest fear with truly wireless earbuds is losing a bud (if not both). This is where the Powerbeats Pro is so clutch, thanks to its secure in-ear fit. The multiple ear tips that come bundled accommodate different ear shapes and create a tight seal that lock into the ear canal. The integrated hooks also keep the buds stabilized during workouts. That means I wasn't worried about them falling out of my ears and down a sewer grate when running outside.

Are the Powerbeats Pro made for leisure? That depends on your listening habits. They won't weigh you down at 0.7 ounces. However, the new "ergonomically angled acoustic housing" created to improve wearability caused some discomfort after an hour of wear. I could feel the front cavity applying pressure to my concha when stationed at my desk. This wasn't an issue during workouts, however.

The 0.1 ounce AirPods have the same pros and cons as the original. On one hand, they still offer great comfort and rest gently on the ear. On the other hand, the dangling design doesn't provide a stable fit, therefore increasing the risk of falling out. In addition, the AirPods create a poor seal and leak ambient noise into your ears.

Winner: Beats Powerbeats Pro

Controls

The Powerbeats Pro has a practical control scheme that uses physical buttons for call and playback management. There is a volume rocker on each side located at the top and a multifunction button on the side to play/pause (1x press), skip a track (2x press), reverse a track (3x press) and activate Siri (long press).

Each button offers great tactility, executing commands accurately with every press. These buds also have optical sensors like the AirPods that automatically pause music when removed from the ear. My only complaint is that pressing the MF button slightly shoves the buds into your ear canal.

While the AirPods allow you to assign only one feature to each earpiece at a time, the tap gestures are very responsive and make playing music simpler. However, not having any track navigation or volume options limits their capabilities. Adjusting the double-tap shortcuts (Siri, Play/Pause, Next Track and Previous Track) in the Settings becomes tedious after a while, and is the only way of personalizing the buds for routine use.

The AirPods and Powerbeats Pro support the new "Hey Siri" feature, so you can access Apple's digital assistant hands-free and perform voice commands by speaking the phrase out loud. As expected, it performs smoothly on both devices.

Winner: Beats Powerbeats Pro

Apps and Special Features

Comparing both of these Apple-based products is like comparing red apples with green apples, as both have around 90% of the same special features and no companion app.

What do they have in common? Let's see: Automatic ear detection, fast charging, Lightning connection, voice-activated Siri and all other perks that come with Apple's all-new H1 chip. This update to the universally praised W1 chip provides seamless connectivity and interaction with Apple devices. Pairing each set of buds to an iPhone takes no more than a few seconds, although the PowerBeats Pro required a few attempts for my MacBook Pro to recognize it.

Apple AirPods with Wireless Charging Case (2019)View Deal

Testing the two models in New York City and West Palm Beach, I maintained a strong Bluetooth connection, even in high-volume areas like bars and public parks, where dropout is most frequent. The buds' range held up strong on the Powerbeats Pro, allowing up to 50 feet of wireless listening. The AirPods tapped out at the 40-foot mark.

MORE: Best Wireless Earbuds: AirPods vs. AirPods Alternatives

The H1 chip also brings enhanced battery life, with Apple claiming up to 50% more talk time on devices. "Hey Siri" support worked better on the AirPods with its dual mics providing better speech recognition. The Find My iPhone feature is also available for the AirPods to locate missing buds, although Beats confirmed it's not compatible with the Powerbeats Pro.

Sadly, these two devices aren't Android-friendly. The Powerbeats Pro was easier to pair with my Google Pixel 3 XL, and the physical buttons worked well for music management. But the AirPods' touch gestures were not functional at all. I encountered lots of dropout on the Powerbeats Pro's left bud, along with stuttering issues on Spotify; songs would pause and play erratically. Another odd occurrence was that I wasn't able to screen calls on my smartphone with either device.

Winner: Draw

Audio

Bass is the driving force of the Beats' sound profile and it is tighter on the Powerbeats Pro than its predecessor. Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" kept these buds thumping with punchy lows that didn't overshadow the vocals. When listening to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," I felt the percussive elements and vocal intensity on jams like "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "Beat It." Orchestral tracks received a boost in bass as well, but masked highs in the process.

Apple deserves credit for making some adjustments to the AirPods' soundstage. Lows have more kick to them and mids sound cleaner. Highs weren't given the same treatment. The crashing cymbals and hi-hats on Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly" were recessed. Bass feels more aggressive this time around, which is fine for alternative rock and hip-hop lovers, but can be overpowering at times. The infectious bassline on KRS-One's "Outta Here" knocks hard (in a good way), but on Green Day's "Basket Case," it affected vocal clarity.

MORE: Best Headphones - Top Earbuds and Headphones

Noise isolation factors heavily into the sound quality, especially with video content. You'll want to keep the Powerbeats Pro hooked onto your ears when binge-watching Netflix and YouTube, since they filter out unwanted noise better than the AirPods. Volume is also higher on the Beats' buds, which is crucial for hearing podcasts and dialogue-heavy programs.

Winner: Beats Powerbeats Pro

Call Quality

Call quality is impressive on these devices. Granted, I found the AirPods performed better in drafty conditions. The dual-mic system picked up vocals clearly in loud settings. My girlfriend thought I was speaking directly into my smartphone when we chatted. She also detected my heavy breathing after a workout, which speaks to the clarity on these buds.

The Powerbeats Pro buds are capable of producing clear-sounding calls as well. The beamforming mics underneath the hood are effective at keeping noise to a minimum when chatting in public spaces. My friends could tell I was speaking through a Bluetooth device, but they still heard my every word. The one knock I have is that the wind resistance on these buds is weaker than the AirPods'.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Charging Case

Apple's done something incredible with the AirPods' charging case, squeezing a 24-hour battery into a compact design. This puts the AirPods at an advantage here. The case is 1.4 ounces and measures at 1.7 x 0.8 x 2.1 inches, so it slides easily into slim pockets. Users get about four to five charges out of the case, perfect for one-way flights or quick commutes to work. Apple also sells a wireless version for $40 more that works with any Qi-compatible charger.

The Powerbeats Pro case generates 18 hours of playtime, but is massive compared to Apple, Jabra and Jaybird's cases. It's suitable for tossing into briefcases, satchels or gym bags, but not slim jeans or jacket pockets. Also, it's heavier (4.5 ounces) than the other cases and doesn't support wireless charging. On the plus side, the thick, square design is more durable than Apple's plastic chassis.

MORE: How Does Wireless Charging Work? Everything You Need to Know

Oddly, the most frustrating part about the Beats case isn't its size, but the charging system. You have to place the buds into a deep, arched groove at the correct angle, and trust me, this takes a few attempts to master. Apple makes recharging the buds simpler with its magnetic drop-in setup.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Battery Life

The Powerbeats Pro earbuds are rated at 9 hours on a full charge, but my hands-on test showed the buds tap out at 8 hours. This is higher than the previous king of wireless bud battery life: the Samsung Galaxy Buds. I enjoyed a full week of gym time and Spotify sessions before recharging. The Powerbeats come with Fast Fuel charging technology, netting users 1.5 hours of playtime on a 5-minute charge and 4.5 hours on 15 minutes. There's even a motion accelerometer inside the buds that enables a power-save mode when placed on a flat surface.

The AirPods are rated lower at 5 hours, which is more like 4.5 hours. Quick charging is also available to generate 3 hours of use on a 15-minute charge.

Winner: Beats Powerbeats Pro

Price

The AirPods are a bit pricey at $159, but offer the better value based on convenience. The charging case is more attractive and portable, and holds more juice. An extra $40 gets you the wireless charging case, so you won't have to stay tethered to a Lightning cable. Having the H1 chip also ensures the same wireless performance as Beats' buds.

For $249.95, the Powerbeats Pro doesn't come cheap, nor does it bundle enough accessories to balance out the cost. That's not to say fitness buffs or music lovers won't find value in its performance hallmarks. It'll just cost them extra.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Overall Winner: Beats Powerbeats Pro

Based on audio, design, and the fact that it shares the same feature set as the AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro is the clear-cut winner. Sound is superb and produces enough boom to satisfy bass heads. Adding a sporty fit and longer battery life (on a single charge) into the mix, Beats offers the better iPhone companion.


Apple AirPods 2019Beats Powerbeats Pro
Design (15)1012
Comfort (10)78
Controls (5)34
Special Features and Apps (15)1010
Audio (25)1822
Call Quality (5)43
Charging Case (10)97
Battery Life (15)8 9
Total Score (100)
6975

I'm not dismissing the AirPods by any means. These all-white danglers are the more contemporary option, highlighted by responsive touch controls and a sleeker charging case that houses more power. They're also more affordable. But Apple's design is less practical and lacks the super-secure fit of Beats' buds. The AirPods' soundstage has also been tweaked for the better, although it doesn't match the dynamic range of the Powerbeats Pro.

Credit: Regan Coule