“The new PowerBeats are exceptional wired fitness headphones.”
- Extremely secure fit
- Water/sweat Resistant
- Excellent 15-hour battery
- Excellent wireless range
- Cumbersome cord
- Not comfortable for all ear types
It’s March 18, 2020, and I’m in a Best Buy parking lot.
A short line extends from the entrance of the electronics retailer. Though no official shelter-in-place order has been issued (yet) in Oregon, Best Buy is limiting occupancy to 15 customers at a time. One customer leaves, and the next in line is admitted entrance. A Best Buy associate asks if I know what I want to get. I tell her I’m after the new PowerBeats 4. She checks her iPad and points at the PowerBeats 3. I tell her I’m after the new version coming out today. She calls an associate inside.
It turns out Best Buy doesn’t have the new PowerBeats 4, despite a press release I received indicating a March 18 release date. Perplexed, I travel down the street to Target, where I saunter into the store unabated. I can see there are no PowerBeats 4 in the locked display case — only PowerBeats 3 and PowerBeats Pro. An associate calls his manager. Apparently, the “street date” for the new PowerBeats is March 19.
Twenty-four hours later and twice exposed, I left with a brand new set of PowerBeats headphones. The things I’ll do for a headphone review.
What’s in the box
If I hadn’t known better, I might’ve walked out of Best Buy with the old model. There’s nothing printed on the box indicating the PowerBeats 4 is the new version of the PowerBeats series, replacing the PowerBeats 3. The two look similar, and have very similar packaging. In fact, the official name for these headphones isn’t PowerBeats 4. It’s just straight-up PowerBeats.
You can spot a pair of Beats headphones a mile away.
The Beats brand is iconic, and remains so even after Apple’s acquisition of the company. You can spot a pair of Beats headphones — and their packaging — a mile away. Folks love the design, and I can see why.
Inside the box, the PowerBeats are positioned as if they are a pair of jeweled earrings. Mine are the classic Beats red. Underneath the display tray are additional eartips in three sizes and a laughably short USB-C cable (Sony does this, too) sheathed in a sleeve that reminds me I can get 1-plus hour of play with just a 5-minute charge. FAST FUEL, it blares.
Inside a hidden pocket is a slick user guide, a slip reminding me to download the Beats App, and a Beats sticker.
Despite the vague name printed on the box, I was confident I had walked away with the right headphones based on key design changes illustrated by a product photo on the back of the box.
The new PowerBeats have an earhook design similar to the PowerBeats Pro, with the wire connecting the two emerging from behind one ear and immediately wrapping around to the other side. The new model has a tighter, more refined design. The wire doesn’t dangle loosely across your neck, as it did before.
That means the familiar mic control pod, which previously dangled near your mouth, is gone. The microphone, and its controls, are now integrated into the earbuds. This is in line with the design of Apple’s other earbuds, like the AirPods Pro.
Less visible changes include improved battery life, which is up from the PowerBeats 3’s 12 hours to 15 hours in this new version, and a reduced price. These new PowerBeats are just $150. That’s 50 bucks less than the PowerBeats 3 when they released, though you can find them for around $80 now.
At 15 hours, the new PowerBeats more than double the battery life of their closest rival, the Bose SoundSport, which offer a 6-hour runtime. By comparison, the Jaybird X4 max out at 8 to 10 hours and the Jabra Elite Active 45e top out at 9 hours.
Fit and function
Apple is clearly targeting athletes with the new PowerBeats. Like the Pro model, they have an IPX4 rating for sweat and water resistance. The earhooks are adjustable, though they’re so stiff you might not think so at first.
The wireless range is exceptional
Once you adjust them, the earbuds can provide as snug a fit as you want. Keep in mind that the tighter the fit, the more difficult taking them on and off will be. I’m sure the process will become easier with repetition, but for now, I still consider it a pain.
Inside the PowerBeats is Apple’s H1 wireless chip, which gives Apple users the same instant connection and battery-monitoring capability as other Apple headphones like the AirPods and AirPods Pro. Wireless range is exceptional, which is great for athletic types who prefer to stow their phone nearby in the gym and go about their workout without having to tote the phone around from station to station.
The new onboard controls will work for anyone but, again, athletes will especially enjoy having quick access to play/pause, track advance, call answer/end, and — for iPhone users — one-button access to Siri, all from the button hiding behind the Beats “B” logo on the right side. Volume is controlled with a rocker switch atop the right earphone.
Most of Beats’ competitors are still stuck on in-line control microphones, save the Jabra 45e, which do offer a one-touch assistant button.
As for comfort, I’m on the fence. I love the secure feel. These earbuds aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much you jostle your head. However, the little bulb sitting behind the silicone eartip is big for my ears and grew uncomfortable after an hour. Your mileage will vary.
Virtually all of the PowerBeats competitors are going to be more comfortable, as most of them use a conventional wired earbud design. Again, the exception here is the Jabra 45e, which I still find to be a little more comfortable.
These earbuds aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much you jostle your head.
Though Powerbeats 4 improves wire placement, and the earbuds enjoy superior battery life because of its presence, I find it cumbersome. I don’t like feeling it all the time, and it can’t decide whether to stay inside a collared shirt or work its way out. The cord still feels longer than it needs to be.
Also, the argument in favor of a wired wireless headphone versus a fitness-friendly true wireless earbud is increasingly thin. Battery life and connection stability of the Jabra Elite 75t Active is good enough for most, never mind all the advanced fitness-focused features the Jabra buds bring to a workout that the PowerBeats don’t.
Sound quality & call quality
All the essence of the Beats signature sound is here. It’s driving, powerful, exciting, and motivating. It leans heavily on the bass and has a particular penchant for shining in the treble in certain spaces.
The PowerBeats offer good-enough sound quality, and they don’t pretend to be an audiophile headphone. They aren’t here to sound balanced, reveal nuance, or bring you closer to the music. They are designed to get you off your butt.
What about call quality? It’s great. Right up there with the AirPods Pro, thanks to multi-microphone monitoring. which actively silences background noise when you talk. This is an area where Apple has consistently excelled.
All Beats products come with a one-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. You can also purchase an AppleCare extended protection plan for $29.
The new PowerBeats are a respectable improvement over their predecessor, with better design and improved battery life, all at $50 less. Clearly targeted at athletes, the PowerBeats offer a secure fit, excellent wireless connection, sweatproofing, and long-lasting battery life to meet the needs of the most ambitious athletes. If you want a pair of wired earphones to drive your workouts, the PowerBeats are the way to go.
Is there a better alternative?
For $50 more, I would suggest considering the truly wireless Jabra Elite Active 75t. They do everything, and do it all exceptionally well.
How long will it last?
These headphones seem built to last. With a rigid earhook, high-impact-plastic casing, and silicone-protected wiring, I imagine these headphones should last as long as the battery holds out.
Should you buy them?
Sure. If you want the ultimate in secure fit and excellent battery life, with a sound that is bound to motivate your workout sessions, these are the headphones to get.
- The best true wireless earbuds for 2020
- The best earbuds for 2020
- The best headphones for 2020
- JLab Epic Sport2 review: Wired for workouts
- Don’t miss these Memorial Day sales on the AirPods Pro and Powerbeats Pro