It can be difficult to land a pair of exceptional earbuds, especially when you consider how many brands there are and that each company produces a plethora of tiered models. When it comes to the Powerbeats lineup of buds (Apple-owned since 2014), two classic contenders are the Powerbeats3 and the Powerbeats Pro.
The Powerbeats3 are designed for working out, they blast seriously heavy bass, and, unlike the AirPods and their ilk, they’re handcuffed together by a wire. These days, you can find a pair online from $75 to around $125, although supplies are limited.
The Powerbeats Pro are amazing wireless earbuds that are slimmer, sleeker, and ready to stand as the true Beats alternative to the less-than-sporty AirPods 2. But for around $199, they’re a bit of an investment, and they also revealed an oddly unreliable signal connection at times during our testing. Seeing that you can get the Powerbeats3 for a serious deal these days, we’ve compared them side-by-side with the Powerbeats Pro to help you decide which pair is right for you.
Considering that both pairs are born with the same Beats pedigree, there are plenty of similarities in basic design between the Powerbeats3 and Powerbeats Pro. Both offer an ear hook to keep the earbuds in place when working out, both offer basic water resistance, including an IPX4 rating for the Powerbeats Pro, and both bear the familiar strip featuring the Beats logo on the exterior.
That’s where the similarities end, however. As mentioned, the Powerbeats Pro are fully wireless, meaning there’s no connection between the buds to cinch up (or snag). Unlike the Powerbeats3’s essentially useless rubber carrying case, the Pro come with a hard case that juices them up in between sessions, offering over 24 hours of total playback time. The case is a little big for most pockets, but thankfully, the Pro earbuds also harbor plenty of battery inside (more on that below).
With Apple’s H1 chip onboard, the Powerbeats Pro offer hands-free access to Siri with iOS devices and, unlike traditional wireless earbuds (or even many fully wireless pairs), you can even use just one Powerbeats Pro earbud at a time should you desire.
You can’t account for how much easier it is not to have a wire between your earbuds until you try it, but suffice it to say it’s a real luxury. The Pro are also about 20% lighter, making them even less burdensome for wearing while out and about. They do tend to get a little uncomfortable after a full day of listening. Ear hooks may be great for keeping earbuds in place, but they’re not exactly luxuriant once you hit the third or fourth hour of listening. Finally, if you’ve got an ear for fashion, you might prefer the Powerbeat3’s extensive color choices, which include white, black, red and black, and four “pop” color combinations. The Powerbeat Pro’s color selection is good, but not as extensive, and tends to favor more muted tones. As of January 2021, you can order them in ivory, navy, moss, cloud pink, glacier blue, lava red, plus the original black.
As one might guess, the fact that the Powerbeats3 are connected with a wire means they utilize the recognizable three-button mic piece along the band that connects most traditional wireless earbuds. The three-button setup is familiar, simple, and fairly easy to use. It’s also, however, a bit of a hindrance to access when you’re on the move, and frankly, the one that comes connected to the Powerbeats3 feels a little flimsy.
In contrast, the Powerbeats Pro offer mirrored controls loaded onto each earbud, including a multifunction key and a volume rocker. Both are quite accessible with either hand and make it easy to use just one earbud. Overall, it’s a relatively intuitive experience, though they’re so sensitive, you’ll have to be careful when adjusting the earbuds — we dropped a call or two that way. Like the AirPods, taking one of the Pro buds out during playback automatically pauses audio, too, and an accelerometer inside also puts the headphones to sleep after a few minutes at rest, saving battery. With Siri, you can also complete basic controls using only your voice but, of course, only with an iOS device.
While the Powerbeats Pro’s bulkier case is tough to tote around, the earbuds’ nine hours of playback per charge matches or exceeds just about every pair of wireless earbuds in their class. Add in two recharges in the case for more than 24 hours of total playback, as well as fast charging that can give the buds 4.5 hours of playback on just 15 minutes of charge time, and you’ll be working hard to run out of juice.
For their part, the Powerbeats3’s 12 hours of battery life is also pretty impressive, even four-plus years after their release. There’s no wireless charging case, of course, and the micro USB connection means rapid charging isn’t as fast as the Powerbeats Pro. Still, as long as you charge them every couple of days, they should have plenty of juice to satisfy even power users.
When it comes to sound performance, there’s really no question here: The Powerbeats Pro blow their predecessors out of the water. Oh, there’s still plenty of bass — at times they still get a bit too boomy for this reviewer’s ears. But the low tones are more refined and overall more musical in the Powerbeats Pro. Moreover, the Powerbeats Pro match the bottom end with clear and impressively detailed upper frequencies that focus on the upper midrange.
This allows for great instrumental separation, letting each instrument occupy its own space, and in the process, it also amounts to pretty solid dynamic expression. Now, this may not be as noticeable if taking your daily jog is the only reason to pop in your Beats buds, but there’s no question the sound is much better in the Powerbeats Pro.
While the Powerbeats Pro are superior to the Powerbeats3 in virtually every way, one area in which they surprisingly had trouble in our testing was connection reliability. The first pair we tried exhibited multiple cutouts both on a workout and while just walking around downtown. The second pair Apple shipped us fared better, but still had some intermittent connection trouble, especially with the phone in a back pocket. To find out more about our testing for the connection, head over to our Powerbeats Pro review.
As for the Powerbeats3, we had no issues whatsoever. Of course, it’s a lot easier to make a banded pair of headphones reliable, but that doesn’t let the Powerbeats Pro off the hook. We’ll revisit this down the road, but for now, the Powerbeats3 are the clear winner here.
If you’re looking for the best in sound, convenience, and virtually all other features — and you’re willing to bet you won’t experience the connection issues we did — the Powerbeats Pro are your best bet. But if you’re worried about that connection stability, and you want to save a fair bit of money, you’ll want to opt for the Powerbeats3.
Of course, there are also plenty of great choices not made by Apple, many of which can be found in our list of the best true wireless earbuds.
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