When Apple took the wraps off its second-gen AirPods, the distinctive white Bluetooth earbuds that have become cultural touchstones, I was disappointed. I wanted a pair of water- and sweat-resistant AirPods that could withstand workouts and unexpected rainstorms. We eventually got that with the AirPods Pro, but in the meantime the Powerbeats Pro showed up to put Apple's great audio tech into a true pair of workout headphones.
The Powerbeats Pro combines water- and sweat resistance, a low-profile design and signature Apple-y integration, making them a no-brainer for workout buffs with iPhones. They're pretty pricey, but they're worth it. So much so, they've made several of our top pick lists including Best headphones, Best wireless headphones and Best wireless earbuds.
Powerbeats Pro price and availability
The $199 Powerbeats Pro is available to buy now through Apple or Best Buy. At launch, the earbuds came only in black, with ivory, moss and navy options releasing later.
Powerbeats Pro review: Setup
If you've used a pair of Bluetooth earbuds not made by Apple or Beats, you know the usual setup drill: Power on the 'buds, put them in pairing mode, open your Bluetooth settings and tap on the device name to connect them to your phone. Some wireless earbuds, like Jabra's Elite Active 65t and Jaybird's Run XT, have apps that give you deeper controls after pairing, but that initial power-on/pair process doesn't change.
That's where Apple has perfected the Bluetooth-headphone setup. I unlocked my iPhone XS and opened the Powerbeats Pro case, and my phone instantly displayed the Powerbeats animation. I tapped Connect, and that's all there was to it. I'll never have to power on the earbuds; they automatically know when I put them in my ears.
You can turn off Automatic Ear Detection in your Bluetooth settings by tapping on the name of your Powerbeats and toggling that setting off. That will prevent audio from automatically playing when you put your earbuds in.
Powerbeats Pro review: Design and comfort
The Powerbeats Pro sticks with the Powerbeats lineup's signature around-the-ear hook, which offers stability while you're working out. That's key now that the Powerbeats buds are completely wire-free, without a cord behind the neck to anchor them.
I noticed that the hook is less flexible than the Powerbeats3's version, which makes it more difficult to slide it around your ear. I had to use both hands to insert each earbud every time I put them in, to make sure the tip was nestled securely in my ear and the hook wasn't tangled in my hair. Otherwise, the hook was perfectly comfortable, even when I wore my glasses.
The Powerbeats Pro earbuds come with a medium-size set of silicone tips attached, and three additional options in small, medium and large sizes.
It took some trial and error to figure out which tips fit best. On a subway ride, the smallest tips let in too much ambient noise (chattering tourists, screeching trains). But on a run, the medium tips stuck out of my ears too much, making for an insecure fit. I eventually settled on the smallest of the four options, which created a better seal than the others, but it still wasn't perfect. Your mileage will vary, of course; earbud fit is incredibly personal.
Powerbeats Pro review: Controls
Each earbud has identical controls, so you can listen with one earbud in and still pause and play songs, take and reject calls, trigger Siri and control the volume. If you take an earbud out, the music will pause, but you can resume it.
The controls are incredibly easy to find, even without being able to see them. This is crucial for working out. Just run your fingers over the earbud, and feel for the B logo. Press once to pause or resume playback, twice to skip a track and three times to reverse, and long-press to activate Siri. The volume rocker is located on top of each bud.
Like the second-gen AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro uses Apple's new H1 chip, which allows both earbuds to connect to your phone. Because neither earbud takes priority, each is paired constantly, and you can charge one while using the other. The Powerbeats Pro connected to my iPhone almost instantaneously; I could hear the distinctive "bloop" of the pairing noise even before the first earbud was securely in my ear canal. My first-gen AirPods, with Apple's older W1 chip, take a few seconds to connect to my phone, and that's after both buds are in my ear.
Powerbeats Pro review: Fitness performance
I haven't had any issues running with hook-free wireless earbuds, but the Powerbeats Pro's hook did make them feel more stable, particularly when I ran outside on windy days; they didn't budge at all.
They also survived a collision. A quick-walking pedestrian rounded a corner and walked smack-dab into me as I sprinted down a sidewalk. The left earbud dislodged; but the hook remained around my ear, so I could quickly regroup and keep running (after we exchanged apologies, of course). I'm not sure if other earbuds, like Jabra's Elite Active 65t or Apple's AirPods, would have stayed put.
I also wore the Powerbeats Pro to run while wearing my glasses. I didn't experience any discomfort, but I felt the arms of my glasses push the ear tip outward a tiny bit — enough to lessen the bass impact.
I also liked the addition of hands-free Siri, which meant I could have Siri call up playlists while I ran (though my command tumbled out breathlessly). I didn't have to wait for Siri to recognize my voice before continuing my command; when I followed "Hey, Siri" immediately with "play today's hits," Apple's virtual assistant understood and carried out my command quickly.
Powerbeats Pro review: Audio performance
One common complaint about Beats' headphones has been that the audio is too bass-heavy. That's less of a concern with the Powerbeats Pro, which produces well-balanced audio.
Other Bluetooth earbuds, including Jabra's Elite Active 65t and Jaybird's Run XT, let you use their respective apps to customize the sound — bass-forward for running, vocal-prominent for acoustic tracks, etc. But the Powerbeats Pro makes every song sound finely tuned — no manual app controls required.
The pounding beat on Peaches' "Boys Wanna Be Her" didn't dominate the guitar hook; each played off the other when filtered through the Pro. The vocals — which combined singing, chanting and sighing — were perfectly distinctive. The beat drop toward the end of Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy" is absolutely killer in a huge spin studio, but it sounded just as awesome in my Powerbeats — a great motivation for crunches timed to that beat. Eilish's acoustic "I Love You," a bittersweet song filled with layered vocals, sounded just as beautiful in the Powerbeats Pro as "Bad Guy" was motivating.
The Powerbeats don't offer full noise cancellation, but I don't expect that feature from a pair of sport earbuds. I could still hear traffic and kids playing in the park as I ran around and through Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park. But the earbuds do offer noise isolation, which is useful for phone calls. Taking a call is as easy as pressing the multifunction button on either bud. As I discussed after-work plans with my husband while at the office, I couldn't hear my co-workers' chatter.
Powerbeats Pro review: Battery life and charging case
I used the Powerbeats Pro for four days, averaging a few hours a day as the buds accompanied me during workouts and commutes and helped me drown out my co-workers to focus on writing at my desk. Every time I popped the Pro buds in my ears, they were 100% charged — and I haven't yet plugged in the case that powers them up between uses.
The charging case itself is massive, which is the biggest problem I have with it. The thick, squared-off puck fit in the front pocket of my Levi's, but just barely. It looked ridiculous. It reminded me of my makeup compact, except it's at least a third larger (and, you know, square). I wish Apple had stuck a mirror on the inside top lid so the case could serve double duty for quick lipstick checks.
Other completely wireless running earphones, including the Elite Active 65t and the Run XT, come in much smaller packages. Even the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 3100, which sports a similar hook design, comes in a slimmer charging case.
The design of the case interior is a bit strange, with a deep, arched groove. The earbuds' main body sits magnetically on each side of the groove, and the ear tips slide into a smaller oval groove in the center of the case. I still haven't quite nailed the placement of the earbuds in the case, but at least the magnets serve as a helpful guide.
But I appreciate the gigantic battery inside the case that provides up to 18 additional hours of battery life. That, combined with the 9 hours in each earbud, means you can squeeze out up to 27 hours before charging the case. After two days of use, the case was down to 60%. By day three, the case had dropped to 40% — but the Powerbeats was fully charged, with more battery left to sip on.
Apple includes a black Lightning cable in the box. Charging the case for 5 minutes adds another 1.5 hours of music playback. A 15-minute charge gives you 4.5 hours. If your earbuds and case are dead, it'll take 2.5 hours to fully recharge both. If just the earbuds are dead, 90 minutes will juice them back up all the way. You can always see the battery percentages for both the case and each earbud from your iPhone's Spotlight screen, a swipe to the right from the home screen.
Powerbeats Pro review: Verdict
If you're looking for a pair of sweat-resistant earbuds that you can wear to the gym, on the trail, on the train or at work, the Powerbeats Pro is worth the money. The Jabra Elite Active 75t is cheaper, but it lacks an ear hook for added stability. The Powerbeats Pro also offers Apple's magically seamless integration with other Apple products, so using the Powerbeats Pro with an iPhone is a far better experience than using any other pair of earbuds.
If you don't need workout earphones, Apple's second-gen AirPods are the better buy for daily wear. Because they don't offer a sealed fit, you hear more of the outside world, and the distinctive white earbuds are more comfortable for lengthy conference calls or music-streaming sessions at my desk.
The Powerbeats Pro is a pricey, premium product for gym rats and athletes. If you fall into those categories, and you own an iPhone, these are the fitness earbuds to buy.