Apple’s Beats Powerbeats Pro are a popular choice among fitness enthusiasts because of their deep-bass sound, excellent battery life, and secure ear-hook fit. But their $249 price can be tough to swallow. We’ve already identified a number of excellent Powerbeats Pro alternatives, but today we’re looking at three specific models that seek to deliver as much or more value as Apple’s true wireless workout buds, but for way less cash.
The contenders are the $100 Skullcandy Push Ultra, the $50 Back Bay Audio Runner 60, and the $50 Aukey EP-T32.
All three use the same ear-hook design as the Powerbeats Pro, are rated at least IPX7 for water resistance, and all are way less expensive than the Powerbeats Pro.
Let’s take a look at how they stack up.
Skullcandy Push Ultra
At $100, the Push Ultra cost way less than the Powerbeats Pro, but they’re also twice the price of our other two models, so they clearly have the most to prove.
They definitely score on overall features. With a wirelessly charging, zippered case, built-in Tile tracking for finding them when they get lost, and ear-hooks that can be twisted and molded to fit your ears, there’s a lot to like.
The earbuds only hold six hours of battery life (compared to the Powerbeats Pro’s nine hours), but their case stores another 34 hours, for a total of 40 hours — 15 more than you get with Apple’s buds.
However, the biggest difference between the Push Ultra and all of the other models is their semi-open design. Instead of a silicone ear-tip wedged in your ear canal, the speaker simply sits in your outer ear and projects sound inward, just like Apple’s AirPods.
The offers two key benefits. The first is comfort. Without a silicon ear-tip, your ears don’t get fatigued as quickly. The second is safety. The semi-open design increases your ability to hear external sounds, arguably a key safety consideration when running or doing any activity near traffic. It can also help with being able to hear your coach or workout partner.
Unfortunately, there are also some drawbacks. The Push Ultra are the bulkiest of the three models. It also means that without the anchoring effect of a silicone ear-tip, the ear-hook can end up acting as a lever, prying the speaker away from its ideal position within the outer ear.
Anything less than that ideal position weakens sound quality a lot, which is a problem because semi-open designs are already prone to weaker sound quality when compared to true in-ear designs. Of our three contenders, the Push Ultra definitely has the least dynamic sound and the weakest bass.
The physical controls (three buttons per earbud) are perfect for workouts, when you may not quite have the coordination to execute taps precisely, and you can control everything from volume to track skipping. Each bud can be used independently while still letting you control every function.
The one big problem we encountered with the Push Ultra is the design of the charging case. The zippered closure is clever in that it’s probably going to deal with long-term abuse better than a regular hinge, but the placement of the charging contacts for the earbuds needs to be re-thought. If you’ve molded the ear-hooks to your ears while wearing the buds, you need to pay close attention when placing them back in the case. If the ear-hooks are even a millimeter or two out of shape, they force the earbuds away from their charging contacts the moment you close the case.
Back Bay Audio Runner 60
The Runner 60 are the leaders of this pack when it comes to sound quality. They use the more traditional silicone ear-tips to provide a tight seal with your ear canal, and they ship with six sizes of ear-tips which should mean that most people can get a good fit, which is the key to great sound.
Bass response is very good even with the default setting, but when you engage the optional bass boost mode, the Runner 60 are more than a match for the Powerbeats Pro in the low-end department.
The ear-hooks, however, are not adjustable. This means they slip into the wireless charging case effortlessly, but they may not offer everyone a totally comfortable fit.
Battery life is excellent, with eight hours per charge in the earbuds and a huge 72 more hours when you factor in the charging case. The Runner 60 is also the only model that features visible indicators on the outside of their charging case — the Push Ultra and Aukey EP-T32’s indicators sit inside their cases.
The Runner 60’s touch controls give you full access to all functions, but if you choose to use only one earbud, you’ll only be able to play/pause and answer/end phone calls.
Touch controls can be, well, touchy, and we found that the Runner 60 had trouble recognizing some of our taps. Single, double, and triple taps are all part of the control scheme, and the most common problem was double or triple taps being misunderstood as single taps.
We also wish the Runner 60 had an ambient mode — the ear-tips do such a good job sealing off the outside world, it can be hard to hear potentially hazardous situations developing.
The EP-T32 are the Goldilocks of our three contenders. Thanks to their in-ear design, they sound much better than the Push Ultra, but they don’t pack the same deep-bass punch as the Runner 60.
They’ve got seven hours of battery life per earbud (one more than the Push Ultra; one less than the Runner 60) although, at 34 hours, their total battery life is the lowest of the three. Strangely, the EP-T32’s charging case is the biggest of the three. It’s very well built, but we wish Aukey had put the three LED charging indicators on the outside instead of the inside.
The earbuds are the smallest and lightest of the group, with very flexible ear-hooks. These can’t be molded into shape like the Push Ultra, but they’re a lot more accommodating of different ear shapes than the more rigid Runner 60. Amazingly, Aukey has given the EP-T32 an IPX8 rating — the highest water protection you can get in a set of true wireless earbuds.
The controls are touch-based, but because they have a larger touch-sensitive area than the Runner 60, we found that taps were recognized more consistently. On the other hand, Aukey doesn’t let you control the volume, which you’ll have to do on your phone.
Much like the Runner 60, an ambient mode would have been a great addition to the EP-T32 to help with situational awareness, but these earbuds do have one feature the others don’t have: Wear sensors that automatically pause your tunes when you need to remove an earbud — not a bad compromise.
Given the substantial differences between these three models, declaring an overall winner is tricky. Instead, here are some buying guidelines:
- Looking for the closest thing to the Powerbeats Pro? The Back Bay Audio Runner 60 have the longest battery life and the best sound quality.
- Concerned about being able to hear the world around you? The Skullcandy Push Ultra are the only earbuds on this list that let outside sounds in, even though it’s at the expense of higher sound quality. Their Tile tracking is also pretty handy if you have a tendency to misplace your items.
- Want a comfortable, lightweight set of buds that still fit securely and sound better than the earbuds your phone came with? The Aukey EP-T32 will do nicely.
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